TARA's AI opens the door to a wider pool of coders by using a more objective measure the most important characteristics of an entrepreneur are grit and resilience. Everything else can be learned.
It's often been said that successful entrepreneurs don't just start businesses; they solve problems. Google made search better. Amazon simplified online buying and selling. Uber and Lyft made transportation easy and reliable.
For Iba Masood, that problem was finding a job. She graduated from the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates in 2010, in the middle of a global economic downturn. Although she graduated "magna cum laude" with three internships under her belt, she still couldn't land a job post-graduation.
"My first company, Gradberry, was born of necessity," she explains. " It helped college grads find jobs."
After going through Y Combinator, the prestigious Silicon Valley accelerator program that's produced tech darlings like Dropbox, Airbnb and Coinbase, Masood and her co-founder and CTO, Syed Ahmed, pivoted their business model. The company that emerged was TARA.AI, an Artificial Intelligence platform that aims to eliminate bias from the tech recruiting process.
"There are all these ideas and unconscious biases of what a programmer, a product manager, a CEO looks like," says Masood. "I'm originally Pakistani. I didn't go to a fancy university. When I came to the U.S., I realized we had leaps and bounds to go before we could have a meritocracy."
While many tech companies tend to recruit young, male developers from Ivy League and other prestigious universities, TARA's AI opens the door to a wider pool of coders by using a more objective measure : analyzing the code they've written. Hourly pay is assigned to developers based on market rates and their skill level, so no negotiation is involved.
Companies like Ford, Cisco and Orange Telecom are using TARA to find qualified freelance developers for software projects.
Advice for Founders: Start Lean and Mean
As a two-time founder, Masood has learned the importance of running a "lean and mean" operation. With her first company, Gradberry, she and her co-founder set up the domain and created the website with $200. Their initial "team" consisted of student interns and recent graduates.
"Our tech, marketing and design budget was $0, so we (my co-founder and I) decided to split the responsibility and learn everything we could about launching a start-up. Syed became CTO and learned how to code and design UI on his own. I took the responsibility of marketing, sales and business development."
They had a difficult time fundraising, so they grew the company through profitability and revenue. This turned out to be a good strategy, admits Masood, and helped them build a leaner and stronger business.
"With TARA, we were able to raise a sizable seed round, $3 million, because of the traction we had. Investors wanted to see revenue, customers, growth. At the end of the day, I look at the fundraising challenges we faced as an advantage rather than a disadvantage. I think it just made us work that much harder."
Investors in TARA.AI include: Y Combinator, Moment Ventures, GSV, Lattice VC and Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn.
Grit and Resilience: The Keys to Success
One of Masood's biggest challenges as an entrepreneur has been juggling so many different things at once -- running a business, raising money and applying for her work status in the U.S., to name a few.
"To get my EB1 Visa, or green card, I had to submit a 700-page application that essentially documented my entire career," she explains. "It included investor recommendations, customer recommendations, product descriptions and screenshots that proved I had an established business that was generating revenue and had money in the bank."
She's also gotten used to hearing a lot of "no's" along the way. "It can get you down," she admits, "but the most important characteristics of an entrepreneur are grit and resilience. Everything else can be learned . You just need to be able to keep getting up and keep on going on."
For inspiration, Masood looks to other women, like herself, who are paving the way in technology.
"One of my role models is Therese Tucker, the founder and CEO of BlackLine, an enterprise software company. She has a bachelor's degree in Computer Science and Math from the University of Illinois. She bootstrapped her entire company, and now it's worth billions."
Next Steps For TARA
With its new funding, TARA is planning to grow from 11 full-time employees to more than 30 in the next year. The company is establishing a new office in Buffalo, New York, closer to many of its East Coast customers, and is developing a new bug prediction algorithm that will help programmers cut down the time it takes to finalize their code.