About this episode

This week’s featured founder is Ladan Davia of Beeya. Beeya is a company that is changing the way recruiters and job searchers are connecting. Improving the job search process has been attempted numerous times, it’s true. But so has online dating and that never stopped innovation. Beeya is the real deal and so is its founder, Ladan Davia.

In this episode, you will hear just how important it is to prioritize correctly to ensure the protection of your startup. Plus, you’ll learn firsthand from Ladan the importance of vetting referrals, even if the referrals come from people you trust. Lastly, you’ll discover that nobody will promote or believe in your venture and dreams more than you.

Ladan’s story is an encouraging one because where she is now is very different than where she expected herself to be. Her story helps us to see that it is okay to change our goals and direction regardless of how long we’ve been following a particular path. It takes a tremendous amount of strength and courage to pivot your entire life. Where does that strength and courage come from? Let’s find out...this is Ladan Davia’s startup story.

In this episode, you will hear

  • About how and when Ladan caught the entrepreneur bug, hint: it was not as a child!
  • How at age 20, after receiving a degree in Broadcast Journalism, she realized it was not what she wanted to do and what she actually did instead
  • Her first experience with tech startup, creating a product, and winning a competition
  • Ladan shares about her first startup, how it “died,” and what she did next
  • The beginnings of Beeya, how and when the idea for the software first came to her when she was 21 years old
  • The first steps she took to take Beeya from an idea into an actual software product and how she went about creating a technology solution when she’s not a “tech” person
  • Investors, programmers, and building a team - the trials and tribulations of building a startup
  • Second-guessing and questioning your startup journey
  • The importance of being a good judge of character when it comes to team building, because NDAs are great, but many startups don’t have the funds to enforce them
  • What make Beeya different or stand out in the crowd of the various job searching tools and websites available today

“You have to be able to endure the rollercoaster that is entrepreneurship.” – Ladan Davia, Beeya

Resources from this episode

Connect with Ladan on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ladandavia/
Beeya website: https://www.beeya.com/
Beeya on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/beeyaofficial/
Beeya on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beeyaofficial/
Beeya on Twitter: https://twitter.com/beeyaofficial

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Full Episode Transcript

Special Guest: Ladan Davia.

Sponsored By:

Episode transcript

The Startup Story - Ladan Davia

Ladan Davia: Hi. My name is Ladan Davia, and I'm the founder of Beeya, and this is MY startup story.

James McKinney: Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.

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James McKinney: Before we jump into our episode this week, I want to share a review that was posted on iTunes by The Tiffs, who gave The Startup Story a five star rating and wrote, "From the moment I met James I was instantly excited to be a part of his podcast. His fresh take on telling stories of entrepreneurship really drew me in and inspired me to tell me story. As someone who appreciates the true story behind the success, James was able to highlight the facets of Novel Education as well as myself that were most relatable. Our episode charted at #11 on iTunes and I truly believe this was in part to James's ability to bring out the best in people." Well, in case you did not make the link, that review is actually written by Tiffany Sorya, our guest from episode 12. And she's correct. Her episode hit the iTunes podcast chart at #11 and it was an unbelievable experience. While I appreciate Tiffany's compliment, I actually attribute the success of that episode to her authenticity that she brought to all of you listening.

That is why I created The Startup Story, to tell the real stories of building a company. In fact, there are two stories why I created The Startup Story. The first is so that all those thinking about entrepreneurship have a real picture about what it's like. The other reason is so that all of those in the grind right now, and all of those that have experienced defeat in the journey can know that they are not alone. The success stories we read about today still experience the incredible and crushing defeats. Unfortunately, those stories just haven't been told until now. So for all of you that are listening right now, if you have found value in any of The Startup Story episodes, please leave a review. I will continue to read one each week so plug your brand in the review as well. Giving your business a plug is the least I can do if you take the time out of your day to write a review.

Now let's jump into this week's episode. Our guest today is Ladan Davia, founder of Beeya. Beeya is changing the way that hiring companies and job searchers are connecting. Now, if you're thinking that improving the job search process has been attempted numerous times before, then you're correct. But so has online dating, and that never stopped innovation. I'm sure you're probably swiping left, swiping right all the time. So Beeya.com is the real deal, but even more so, Ladan is the real deal. In listening to Ladan's startup story, you will hear how important it is to prioritize correctly to ensure the protection of your startup. You will learn that just because someone you trust provides you a referral, you need to vet them like any other partner. If you don't, you just might lose far more than capital. And you will discover that nobody will promote or believe in your venture or dreams more than you. That's perfectly okay, because they are your dreams and it's your venture.

Ladan's story is an encouraging one because where she is now is in a very different place than where she expected herself to be during her younger years. What's encouraging about that is that Ladan's story allows us to see that it's okay to change your goals and direction regardless of how long you've been paving this road. It takes a tremendous amount of strength and courage to pivot your entire life, and for such a young entrepreneur, we have to ask the question: where does that strength and courage come from?

Ladan Davia: I had a super normal, middle class, wonderful childhood. Both my parents were dentists. My mom had quit her dental practice I think when my sister was born, and so she was a stay at home mom with us for my whole life. So when I was in first grade, they asked me what do you want to be, and I said I want to be a dentist who quits my job and stays home with my kids. And my mom thought that's not what you're supposed to say.

James McKinney: That's awesome.

Ladan Davia: I wanted to be my mom. That's what I wanted to be. Of course I was six, so at that time I didn't know anything. But my uncle is an amazing entrepreneur. So I always saw him and I loved him and I felt very close to him, so it always was very appealing to me watching what he was doing.

James McKinney: What was he doing?

Ladan Davia: He is a CEO of a medical device company, but watching that go from infancy to public, to where it is now is inspiring. So when I was little, even just watching him do it and all the failures he went through, I loved it. So it's a little bit of both. My parents weren't entrepreneurs but someone I was very close to was.

James McKinney: So you mentioned your sister. How many siblings do you have?

Ladan Davia: I have two. My sister's 15 months younger, and my brother is four years younger.

James McKinney: So you're the oldest.

Ladan Davia: So I'm the oldest.

James McKinney: So you paved the way.

Ladan Davia: I paved the way, yeah.

James McKinney: So being that you're… three's always, I'm not a psychologist, but psychologists always say there's a certain role that the first, middle, and baby child always play. So being that your parents were dentists and you were the oldest, my assumption is your journey in their mind was to be college and some stable job, whatever that might be.

Ladan Davia: Definitely.

James McKinney: What were they hoping for in your career path?

Ladan Davia: So I was very animated as a child. I loved talking, even before I could talk I was pretending to talk on the phone and just making babbling noises and gibberish. So my parents always wanted me to go to college. That was just expected of us, you're going to go to college. You're going to go to Stanford. It didn't happen, but that was the goal. You're going to go Ivy League and then whatever after that. But from the very beginning, I wanted to be in TV. That's what I wanted to do. It was my dream since I was a child.

Now, whether that was something behind the scenes or in front of the camera I didn't really know at that time, but I actually ended up going to college. I went to film school for broadcast journalism and political science. So later in life, I decided I wanted to do hard news, be on TV.

James McKinney: So that's interesting. So real quick, can you define hard news for the listeners?

Ladan Davia: You know, I wanted to do legitimate journalism.

James McKinney: Not TMZ.

Ladan Davia: No, not TMZ, not E, but I wanted to do hard news. Legitimate journalism, reporting real stories, real people kind of thing.

James McKinney: So you went to broadcast journalism school. What opportunities did you have inside of TV news during that process?

Ladan Davia: So I think that sounded a lot better when I was 17 because then once I got to film school and learned I was going to have to go move to the middle of nowhere, just when I learned what you have to do to make it-

James McKinney: Like field reporting stuff you're talking about, right?

Ladan Davia: For sure. You don't just become Barbara Walters over night. So I pivoted. That was my first pivot. I said okay, maybe I won't do hard news, maybe I'll do entertainment. The reason I thought that is I just got lucky and from my freshman year, I was getting all these amazing internships. I interned over the course of my time in college for Kiss FM, Ryan Seacrest, ET, so I had these really good internship opportunities, and I was on the studio seeing how it's done. So I graduated in three years instead of four, so what would have been my senior year I was working in the entertainment industry. Then by the time graduation rolled around, I thought this is not for me. My whole life, I thought this is what I was going to do, but this is just not what I thought it was.

James McKinney: Let's put a timestamp on that. So how old were you when you graduated college?

Ladan Davia: Technically, I graduated when I was 20, but I didn't walk until I was 21.

James McKinney: Okay. So for ease of math, we'll just say 20 because that's when you graduated. So at 20 when you realized it's not what you wanted to do, what was in your mind at the time? Like what do I do now, I have a degree in this. Because I think a lot of people get stuck in a set journey. They get stuck with this is what I'm supposed to do, I went to college for this, and now I don't want it.

Ladan Davia: I think the hardest realization is exactly what you just said. I just spent X amount of money on a degree in broadcast journalism, what the heck am I going to do with that? This doesn't apply to anything else. I just ignored it. I didn't even really think about that. I just thought I'm going to do something else, what do I want to do? I think figuring out what I wanted to do was the hardest part for me.

James McKinney: No pressure from your parents during that time? They were ambivalent to whatever direction you wanted to take?

Ladan Davia: Yeah.

James McKinney: Awesome.

Ladan Davia: Yeah. I was really lucky in that sense I've always had a really supportive family. My mom especially just thought, "You will figure it out. As long as you're working on something and doing something, that's all I require from you." When we were even in high school, our job was to get straight A's and she said, "This is your job. If you don't get straight A's, you can also go get a job. This is your only job, so you really have to get good grades." It didn't always happen, but for the most part… I think she instilled in us at a really young age that you either work really hard when you're young, and then maybe if you work hard enough when you're young you can relax when you're older, or it's the opposite. That's kind of what she-

James McKinney: That's good parenting.

Ladan Davia: Kind of like an immigrant mindset, right? My mom emigrated from Iran.

James McKinney: How do you feel her being an Iranian American, her being a first generation immigrant?

Ladan Davia: Yeah.

James McKinney: Okay, influenced your upbringing versus your standard American born and raised neighbors?

Ladan Davia: I definitely never felt like we were different, and I think that's surprising to a lot of people because I do have a lot of friends that were in similar situations that always felt very different. I didn't feel that way. My mom was pretty Americanized so maybe that's why. But I think the biggest difference was just little cultural things. Like our sense of family. I mean I remember I would always want to go to my friend's house on the weekends and we couldn't do that because our family was coming over. I think that is the biggest thing, but later in life I mean I'm so happy she did that. I think that teaches you a lot about just sacrifice at a young age. I know it's not a sacrifice, but having to pick your family over your friends, it teaches you about loyalty.

James McKinney: Priorities and loyalty.

Ladan Davia: Priorities, exactly. So I think those lessons were important.

James McKinney: And I think there's a balance that you learn as well, so that when it comes time during that entrepreneurial journey, you look at those moments where you're putting in 100 hour weeks, and you realize I have to have balance, and I'm going to have to shut off this weekend. So back to your college, you're like I don't want to do this anymore. What were those first thoughts of, once you realized I don't want to do journalism or TV, what were you thinking?

Ladan Davia: So my main deciding point for why I didn't want to do it anymore really was I just felt it wasn't stable enough to really even matter what I put into it. It would have been me working really hard for maybe 10 or 20 years, with no for sure outcome. That sounds really silly when you compare it to entrepreneurship, because that's not a for sure outcome either, but at least I knew if I worked really hard for myself it would pay off. It's really going to be what I put into it, more than the entertainment industry. It's still not 100%.

James McKinney: Yeah, it's not guaranteed, but the upside is greater.

Ladan Davia: It's not guaranteed, but my fate's not in someone else's hands. It's really me at the end of the day.

James McKinney: Not knowing the entertainment business or the news that you're talking about, it almost sounds like minor league baseball. Just because you make the minor leagues doesn't mean you're going to make the bigs. You can spend six or nine years in the minors and never get called up, and it's the same thing for entertainment.

Ladan Davia: It's true and I still have friends, we all started together, and one of them is doing really well, and the rest of them are not. So there is always that potential, but you just don't know which one you're going to be. It just depends. So I thought why can't I start something on my own. When I was in college, I had a little experience with a tech startup that I had done with some friends from Berkeley. Originally, they had created the product and they said, "Would you help us sell it?" and I said, "Yeah, I have nothing else to do. I could try this." So I had entered us in a business plan competition at Chapman and we won the competition. That was my first win in tech and on my own, and so I think it gave me the confidence. Looking back, I'm like, "Oh my God, I can't believe that really gave me that much confidence at that time," but it did. It was my first just step in the right direction of oh, okay, you did this on your own. There's potential.

James McKinney: There's validation there. There's a chance. It's not, you're not walking into something thinking, "I have no idea if I'm going to fail or not." You had a small win in a pitch competition. I get it, absolutely.

Ladan Davia: Yes. And so from there, that didn't turn into anything huge and we didn't even know what we were doing at the time.

James McKinney: What was that startup?

Ladan Davia: It was a software for the SAT and ACT.

James McKinney: Like a learning system?

Ladan Davia: Yeah, like a learning software. It was a learning software to tell you exactly what you should study for instead of kind of just guessing, which is still how it's done now. You take a practice test and it'll tell you you're going to get 300 out of 800 in math, but you don't know why. So that's what the software did.

James McKinney: Why did that not go anywhere? It sounds like there's an opportunity, sounds like there might be a market for it. I can see some big companies that might want to buy it if it actually took off, and you were in sales, so what happened?

Ladan Davia: So at the time, they were changing the SAT and my cofounders and I, well actually my cofounders I love them so they'll probably listen to this and roll their eyes at me, but really it's them. My cofounders got opportunities to work at Apple and Google, and they thought okay, we're going to take that. We don't really want to put the time it's going to take to change all the things we're going to have to change to be the new SAT. So eventually, that's kind of why it died down. Which is fair.

James McKinney: All right. The system in which your business was built upon, the SAT, was changing therefore your business had to change.

Ladan Davia: Yeah.

James McKinney: Got it, okay. So from that, it shut down. What was your next progression?

Ladan Davia: Then I was trying to get more into the entertainment industry.

James McKinney: So you were still wanting to try to get into entertainment?

Ladan Davia: This was now what would have been my senior year in college, so I was done. I was graduated at this time, but this would have been my fourth year. I viewed that as a fourth year to play around with, let's just see what's going to happen. So by the end of that fourth year, I thought I've got to get out, what am I going to do? So I started applying for jobs. I was putting my resume on all the platforms and if I got anything back, which was rare, it was for like a handyman position or to be a gardener. I'm thinking how are they getting this from my resume? It's not that those jobs are bad jobs, it just has nothing to do with what I was putting on my application.

James McKinney: The matches made zero sense to you.

Ladan Davia: The matches made no sense. So first I thought there's something wrong with my resume, I have to change that. But then once I really started looking into how the systems worked, they just don't work. They're keyword matches and that's the problem. Wow, what if I could create a platform that would fix this problem?

James McKinney: So you were submitting applications on all the major platforms, and you weren't getting anywhere. So you thought I'm just going to make my own?

Ladan Davia: I thought this is a problem. This is a problem everyone I know has, no matter what your age. Even if you're in your sixties transitioning, you still don't know what to do. The other thing I realized was it's so heavily referral based and I didn't think that was right. I was someone who was taking advantage of those referrals.

James McKinney: Employment was referral based or the recruiting platforms were referral?

Ladan Davia: Employment. So if you're not going to go down the online job hunt, what is your other option?

James McKinney: Who do you know?

Ladan Davia: Who do you know. That becomes a big problem because you're then isolating an entire group of people who might be qualified for that job, but they just don't know anyone. When I learned that, I thought okay, this is what I'm going to do. This is the problem I'm going to try to fix, because I had a friend at the time who had gotten into MIT for engineering. He didn't go because he couldn't afford it, and by the time he was graduating from where he ended up going to college was not as high level of an engineering school, he couldn't get a job. That to me showed okay, this is someone who got into MIT. They're smart, they're qualified, but he doesn't come-

James McKinney: Life circumstances he couldn't go to MIT, didn't have that on his resume.

Ladan Davia: Didn't have that on his resume. He's immediately cut. He doesn't have the network now to get into Apple or Google. I thought okay, let's try to fix this.

James McKinney: Okay. Let's put a date stamp on this. So you were 20 or 21 when you finished college, so you were 21 when you had this idea.

Ladan Davia: Yeah, I was like 21 and a half.

James McKinney: How old are you right now?

Ladan Davia: I'm going to be 27 in June.

James McKinney: Going to be 27 in June, so we'll say six year since the idea. And the name of that idea is?

Ladan Davia: Beeya.

James McKinney: Beeya, okay. So if I'm understanding Beeya correctly, the nuance to Beeya is the referral side, it's who do you know.

Ladan Davia: Well, Beeya today is very different than what Beeya was supposed to be at that time. It's actually not even the same concept for so many reasons. It's better now, but back then it was supposed to be for employers. It was geared towards employers and the whole idea was if you could get a match score on each applicant that came through your system, you would know who to bring in for an interview. And on the employee side, it's just a way of breaking through the filter. Just because I have the word "computer" in my resume doesn't mean I want to work in computers, it just means I know how to use Word. That's the biggest problem with these platforms.

So I thought this way, employees can make a profile and if they're a good match for the employer, the employer will see that and then once you're matched, the employer can reach out to you. So it's a way for employers not to be inundated with thousands of resumes that don't apply to them, which happens. It's also a way for employees to get around the referral based business.

James McKinney: Got it, okay.

Ladan Davia: So that was the idea.

James McKinney: That was the idea. Before you changed ideas, let's cover that period when you were trying to make that happen. You had this idea, what was your first step? Are you a programmer?

Ladan Davia: No.

James McKinney: Okay, so let's talk about it. How do you make a technology solution when you're not a programmer?

Ladan Davia: So I had the idea. I wrote a one page business plan. I thought this was everything. And I started to try to raise money, to try to hire a programmer.

James McKinney: Where were you trying to raise money at?

Ladan Davia: Oh, anyone I knew, you know? By the time, I had found one of my friend's dad's actually said, "I don't know about this idea, but I know you, and I'd love to give you the money." So I had gone home and told my family that, and my uncle said, "You know what, I'll give you the money. The fact that you found an investor who would give it to you." And it took me about actually seven months from business plan, obviously because it was a one page business plan and now looking back it's so mortifying that I would go to these people and say, "Here's my business plan. Are you going to write me a check?" I didn't know any better. I was kind of just doing it on my own.

James McKinney: What was the investment offer at the time? Do you remember what the initial one, that one pager, what was the offer? You'd invest X dollars for what percent of equity?

Ladan Davia: God, I didn't know anything.

James McKinney: Even if you're embarrassed, what was it?

Ladan Davia: I am embarrassed, but I'm going to tell you. So I had gotten some quotes from programmers, and they told me it'd be $60,000 to build this site. I would tell people, "I need $60,000." I didn't even think you'd need some cushion, or there are going to be hosting fees.

James McKinney: Marketing.

Ladan Davia: I didn't even think about marketing. I just thought this is going to be such a big idea that everyone's going to be using it, so I don't need to worry about marketing. I mean, again, looking back it's just ludicrous. But yeah, so I was asking for $60,000 and I don't even remember how much. I think I was willing to give up like 40% or something like crazy. So by the time, thank God, that my friend's dad, he's great and he said, "No, I'll give you $200,000 for X amount." And I said, "Wow, I don't need $200,000." He said, "Yes, you do." He said, "Don't tell anyone else that."

James McKinney: That's awesome.

Ladan Davia: So anyway, that's kind of how I end up starting. So I had this money. Now, I didn't know what to do with the money. So I went to the president of my school, at Chapman at the time.

James McKinney: Real quick, but did the money end up coming from your uncle or-

Ladan Davia: It did.

James McKinney: Your uncle. So your uncle is now your business partner, investor I should say.

Ladan Davia: My uncle is now my investor. So I said, "Do you know any engineers?" and he said, "No, I don't." so I said, okay I need programmers. So keep in mind, I had been getting quotes and one of the quotes was from a guy named Jenis, and I said, "Okay, thanks. I'll get back to you," whatever. I go to the president of my school and he said, "I have these two kids in my class. They're amazing. You should work with them." I'm thinking it's like the Facebook startup dream, like everyone's in college doing it, so I'll work with them. They were really well vetted. So about six months in, I started noticing… actually, sooner than that. I started noticing really weird things. I don't think they knew how to do it. I think the original scope of work was a reach for them, and they thought, "Okay, if we run into trouble, we'll go for help." But I think towards seven or eight months in, they just knew they did not know how to do it, and they left.

James McKinney: Just up and left?

Ladan Davia: They stole $50,000 and they disappeared. I never heard from them again.

James McKinney: Did you have the code?

Ladan Davia: No.

James McKinney: Nothing. Just up and gone?

Ladan Davia: Here was the problem. The code was not real code. The code the whole time, the best way I can describe it for someone who doesn't understand coding is it was almost like Photoshop. They had Photoshopped this layer that looked like code.

James McKinney: Like there was progress.

Ladan Davia: They had spent a lot of time faking this code, but it wasn't real code. At that point, I mean they were just total con artists. When they stole that money from me, what was more upsetting to me was the year of time that they stole. So now, I'm 23 at this time and I'm thinking-

James McKinney: 12 months past your investment, so you got your investment and 12 months, got it.

Ladan Davia: Yes. Okay, I just wasted a year of my life on this, and not only did I not create anything, but I just lost someone else's money, which is way worse than losing your own. Do I really want to do this? Do I even have what it takes to do this? Because maybe, since I'm not a programmer, I shouldn't be involved in tech. Maybe that's just not what I should be doing since I'm not an expert in this field. After really thinking about it, I thought no, I really want to do it because I wish there was a rating system where I could rate what they just did to me. I wish I could tell other employers about what these two guys just did.

I had talked to my lawyers at the time, and they said, "You know, we can find them. They haven't disappeared from the face of the earth. We can sue them, but number one, they don't have the money anymore. They were struggling college students, that money is gone. You're going to spend so much fighting them that you're just going to lose more money instead of moving forward. So you need to think about should we go after them or should we move forward." I think that, if I could just give anyone a piece of advice when they're going through that process is give 30% up front, and the rest when it's done.

James McKinney: Yeah, milestones for sure.

Ladan Davia: And I did. The thing is, I did monthly payments, which of course, stupid. But at the time, they were so well vetted and I had such a connection to them because of the school. I was naive. I didn't think that something like that actually could ever happen, but it did.

James McKinney: You mentioned a couple things that I want to talk about. You had said when it happened, you started wondering if entrepreneurship was for me, if a technical solution was something you should be doing because you weren't a technical person. What was that, because a lot of times a person can spin on that for a long, long time. That self doubt creeps in, that narrative starts becoming our identity, and we either jump ship completely, maybe even worse. But what was that spin for you? How long did you sit in that place while you were thinking of what is my out before you thought okay, there's got to be a better solution. How long were you spinning on that?

Ladan Davia: There are two answers. The first, I took about two weeks. The reason I say two weeks, it took me two weeks to kind of pick myself back up and say, "No, let's just jump back on and figure this out." But it really took me about two years to get over what had happened. Even though I was pushing through, I went back to Jenis and I said, "I should have hired you from the beginning. Will you still come on?" He said yes, and he still works on Beeya today. He's our lead programmer, he's amazing. I think it took me a couple years to get rid of the anger that I had towards them, and just the anger of the whole situation.

Because I thought also, the person who had referred them to me, you still communicate with them, you should tell them this is so wrong that you just did this to her. Where's her money, where's her code, right? And I think it was disappointment in so many ways because one, disappointment learning that this person who just referred us is not going to do anything. Two, you just got robbed, you know? And three, just where did I go wrong as an entrepreneur to even let that happen? What I came to terms with after a couple of years of just every time I would think of their names I would just get this knot-

James McKinney: Rage.

Ladan Davia: … in my stomach, this rage inside me. I just couldn't believe it. I think I was in shock. What I learned at the end of that is I wasted way too much time even being angry about it, because that is on them and although I didn't get my money back, I didn't ever get that year back, I learned the biggest lesson I probably have ever learned in my life, which was one, just because someone is your friend does not mean they're going to do the right thing. I think that's super important. I wish I still could really understand that.

James McKinney: And it's hard to get to that place where you can disconnect, like we can still be friends, you're just not the right person for this.

Ladan Davia: For sure, or just thinking just because you're friendly with someone, you should not blindly trust that opinion. Because I had Jenis from the very beginning, and instead of going with him I went based off a friend referral. Which goes back to this whole problem. So two, there's no point in being angry at something because it's not going to change. I had to learn how to let go. And number three, the biggest lesson I learned which I still struggle with too is it's going to happen, and it's okay. That was my first big shock betrayal kind of thing, but that happens all the time.

James McKinney: All the time.

Ladan Davia: And since then, it's happened so many times, but I'm way better prepared and just kind of like okay. You know, another thing is don't be fooled by an NDA. That's not a thing. Sure, they can sign all you want, but what does that really mean?

James McKinney: I mean if you're not willing to enforce it, it means nothing.

Ladan Davia: If you're a startup, you don't have the funds. I think just really be a good judge of character. Connect, it was called Connect at that time, was my baby and I didn't do a good job of protecting it because I was too busy being nice to everyone, and yeah okay, that sounds great. Now, that would never happen just because I know my priorities number one, safety and success of Beeya. And then friendship and fun and all of that comes after that.

James McKinney: You know, you mentioned a couple things that, and correct me if you do not agree, but that I think is important for the listeners. One of them is your second point, the rage you had being upset. It serves no one any good. When they stole the $50,000 and the code from you, that was your only loss at the time. By you being upset about it for years to come, they continued to steal you, your essence, from the project because you just kept stirring on that moment so they were continuing to steal from you. So you allowed them to do that. We need to let those things go quickly.

Ladan Davia: We need to let those things go. And I'm going to sound like such a hippy right now, but I really believe this now. The universe has a way of taking bad things out of your life and bringing good things into your life. I think that when you spend time, it doesn't matter what it is. Whether it's a boyfriend or a friend, or two engineers that steal money from you. Whatever it is, why are you going to try to fight that, and fight for that to come back into your life when it wasn't supposed to be there in the first place? From that experience, I've learned how to kind of sniff that out a lot faster than I would have at that point. I was just giving so much of myself, making myself sick over it, which is not worth it.

James McKinney: I think the other thing, too, that I want listeners to pick up too is just that the mistake and all the self doubt you had, and the reason that a person wants to fight to keep those bad situations in play because the recognize oh, well if I let this person go, it's an acknowledgement of my failure in hiring, partnering, whatever. Because they believe it's more than just the decision, they believe it's their identity.

Ladan Davia: Definitely.

James McKinney: As entrepreneurs, we have got to understand that our decisions are not our identity, period.

Ladan Davia: Definitely not. And how are you supposed to learn if you don't make any mistakes? You will never learn. Even recently I had a huge problem. Well, we can go into that later if you want.

James McKinney: No, let's continue on the Beeya journey and then we'll get into that one.

Ladan Davia: Yeah, we'll get into that one.

James McKinney: So they steal code from you, $50,000. You spin on it for a couple weeks. You decided, "I wish there was a place where I can rate their performance." What's the journey?

Ladan Davia: So I go back to our original business, my original one page business plan, and I just started expanding on it, thinking this is not amateur hour anymore. If you're serious about this, you've got to step it up also as a leader, because I wasn't doing that. I also had to kind of get real with myself, thinking you did allow this to happen, though. It's not your fault because how can you account for people plotting for months and faking things, trying to steal money from you. You can never plan for that, but I could have been better prepared and run a tighter ship so that wouldn't have happened.

So I went back to our business plan and I just started expanding from it, thinking what does the future of Beeya look like, even though it hasn't been born yet? Still, this is phase one. What is phase 20 going to look like? What do I want it to be in five to 10 years? What are all the things it really could do to help people. In hiring and in finding a job. So I think that is where Beeya changed. That's where everything changed, is really when I went back and I thought of every single thing that I would want it to look like. I went back to Jenis and I said, "Would you come on?" and he said, "Yes." It was the best decision I ever made.

One thing that is just reality in this industry is I think a tech product is only as good as its programmer. It doesn't matter how nice or charismatic or smart a CEO is. If you have a tech product and the engineering is not good, it's not going to work. It's a really unique relationship and it takes a long time to really develop that bond between if you're not a tech savvy CEO, your bond with the person who really is creating this. It's kind of like if you're a mother and you have a surrogate. It's your baby, but they're birthing it for you, so there has to be some kind of bond I'd think between the two. You care about the other one.

James McKinney: Of course. What was the next iteration of Beeya?

Ladan Davia: So we started from ground one. He said, "That's not how it's going to go. You need to get your hands dirty." And I said, " does that even mean?" He said, "You know, you need to draw the outside framework of how this is going to look. You need to tell me everything you want this to look like. So it began a real partnership. I designed the entire thing. I told him exactly what I wanted it to do, to look like. I basically drew out the blueprints, and those blueprints-

James McKinney: So you handled all the wire framing.

Ladan Davia: Yeah. That took about six months. All these things, they take so much time. So when I hear that, "oh my God, I had this idea almost six years ago," it's crazy to me because I feel like Beeya's still just beginning. But yeah, so we did the blueprint, outside framework, and then he began coding. About a year later, Beeya was ready to go and it was a flop. I mean, totally flopped.

James McKinney: Flopped from a market perspective of technically?

Ladan Davia: Oh, both. It was horrible. I actually have a screenshot of it because I remember at the time thinking, "You're angry now, but you're going to laugh so much one day when you look at this." I actually took screenshots of what it looked like. It just didn't work. I was thinking, "I'm going to be like Groupon and I'm going to create a marketplace," and I have a one person sales force and Jenis. We were not equipped to do that. I was trying to tackle employers and employees at the same time, which was not going to happen. After about another seven months of trying to make that happen, I got a call from Zip Recruiter. Zip Recruiter told me, "Would you be interested in working with us on an email campaign? We would push our jobs out to your users and we'll pay you per click." I thought, "Of course not, I'm not selling out." Okay, whatever. I thought, "I'm way bigger than that."

So I hung up, and about two weeks later I thought why though? Why am I trying to go anti establishment when that's not working? It's just not working. We've pivoted so many times I've lost count at this point, but this was the biggest pivot we have done to date, was I wanted to do our own employers. And we did have some. We had a big hospitality company and other small businesses, but that wasn't going to move the needle, because the biggest problem was even though we had this big hospitality company and they have I think 6,200 jobs or something with us, which was a lot for what they didn't know at the time was a one man show. We didn't have 12,000 resumes looking for jobs in hospitality.

I always say you need that like sweet spot, and we didn't have that. I think we had like 100 users at the time. I don't know what the heck they were looking for, but it wasn't hospitality. The guy still, to this day, he's become one of my greatest friends and biggest supporters, and he would call me and say, "Hey, Ladan. We don't have any matches." And I'd say, "Oh, they're coming, they're coming." They weren't coming, though. I was trying so hard to make it work, but it just wasn't working. This call from Zip Recruiter was kind of a saving grace for us, because I thought maybe we need to change our business model. So we did.

James McKinney: So Beeya 3.0.

Ladan Davia: God, at this point this is like Beeya 6.0 at this point. We had gone through a bunch of changes just on the user interface and God, it was so clunky at the time. This is like Beeya 6.0 or 7.0. I said, "Okay." So we did this API partnership with Zip Recruiter, and we immediately had like 1.6 million jobs.

James McKinney: So their jobs are now posting on your platform.

Ladan Davia: Yes. So if you had searched for marketing in Irvine, you would see any job in marketing, in Irvine, from the Zip Recruiter platform but it was on Beeya. I thought wow, this is what it should be. We cannot create a marketplace. We have no money and we have no bodies doing this. It's just me and Jenis. So how do we, and I had people in and out. We had some interns and they were great, but nobody full time. They would work for like one hour per week or something like that. So I thought I'm going to do this with other companies. So I started cold emailing other job boards.

After about 65 to 70 emails, I got 13 yes, and that gave us over 9 million jobs. We finally had this database where if people were searching, they would get results. So now that we had that part covered, and a revenue model which we didn't have before, I just thought we're going to have so many users, we don't even need the revenue because data's money, but of course we didn't have anyone using it because there was nothing to use. So now we finally had a company. It took almost four years to get to that point.

James McKinney: So that was two years ago? 2017?

Ladan Davia: This was actually July of 2018.

James McKinney: July of 2018, so coming up on one year that this change happened.

Ladan Davia: Yeah. I think Zip Recruiter approached us that March, March of 2018. By the time we got everything going, it was July 2018 we had launched this new model.

James McKinney: Okay. So what makes now Beeya is a source from multiple different sites for jobs. What makes Beeya different for a user?

Ladan Davia: Yeah. So that's the public version. If anyone goes and types beeya.com, you'll get to a landing page. You can immediately start searching, connect with all those jobs. The real difference is our algorithm. What Jenis and I had been working on for, it took three whole years to create our algorithm and that is the biggest difference because we do not match off of keywords. We match off of AI, and that is the biggest difference. AI has the ability to read your resume, read a job posting, and think and say, "Is this person a good match for this job?" So we get back to that percent match. So if you are a user and you go onto Beeya and create a free profile and put your resume there, you'll immediately get matched to those 9 million jobs with a percent next to it. So instead of sitting there and applying to 40 listings a day, which people usually do and the do that for six or seven months, why would you do that when you could go somewhere and see, "Hey, here's where I should apply to. These are my 90% matches or these are the 80%," if you want to go down there, whatever you want. That's the biggest difference now.

James McKinney: So is your business model now only to go after job seekers? You no longer are working with businesses to-

Ladan Davia: So right now it is that. Right now, we are employee focused. We have millions of jobs. We just need people applying for them. So we focus on employees. Down the line, I would love to get back on the employer side and have people start listing with us, or maybe we won't. I think we need to see how it plays out. I always think, and this is my biggest problem, I'm not a patient person. I want to see results the day we do something. SEO just doesn't work that way.

James McKinney: That is correct.

Ladan Davia: So for us, we needed about six months of just organic growth to see what was even happening. We started growing 72% a month organically, just by doing nothing.

James McKinney: That's awesome.

Ladan Davia: We were just there. It was just I guess my own efforts of going to career fairs and posting on forums, and just the bootstrap way of gorilla marketing. We started growing 72% a month.

James McKinney: So are you at revenue now?

Ladan Davia: We are not, but we are almost there.

James McKinney: Almost.

Ladan Davia: We are so close. So yeah, but then that came a whole other set of problems, because once we did this partnership with them, I started learning oh, we're only going to get paid for certain clicks. It's not just whatever traffic we bring in. The click game is a whole other game. It's a volume game and it's a specific kind of volume game. Some of them will pay you for foreign clicks, some of them won't. Some of them will pay you if someone clicks on an expired listing, some of them won't. So whatever you're going to invoice us for is really what we're going to get paid. But I still think we have a good thing going right now and I think it's only going to grow from here, because now we know what to do. It took five years to get there.

James McKinney: Yeah. That is awesome. I love it. But now, looking back though, and when you look back at those five years and really your whole entire life and all the different obstacles and victories you've had, I truly believe that if we lose sight of those who have contributed to our journey, we begin to think that we did it all on our own. At some point it will inevitably lead to our failure. So when you look back on your journey, who do you look to with immense gratitude that you will always attribute this portion of your success to them and what they poured into your life?

Ladan Davia: Jenis, because he didn't have to take a chance working with me. I was paying him so little and I was 23 years old and had no idea what I was doing. He stuck by me, and he just was patient with me and put up with me and my high demands. You know, I put up with him too and things that he did that would just like irk me. But he definitely put up with me more. He was ride or die for me and for Beeya. He does all the engineering for Sony and these huge companies, and he still makes Beeya a priority. You find loyalty in the weirdest places. Because I think especially when you're young, you think, "Oh my gosh, I have all these friends and they're going to help promote it," and they won't. They won't. You have to separate it, because for a while, I was so annoyed with that.

I thought we were really good friends, so why don't you support my business? Because there's nothing more important than that to me and I think something that you have to just realize is you start something like this, you're not going to have the support of everyone. They're not going to understand it until it starts doing well and you start getting some things here and there, and some cool recognition.

James McKinney: But when you do get that support, oh it is so validating. It lifts you up for that next challenge.

Ladan Davia: I think the biggest thing is I learned not to need it, and that is I think what really-

James McKinney: Very powerful.

Ladan Davia: Takes you through, because I learned I didn't need anyone else's support. I really just needed myself to really believe in it, and then thank God for Jenis, I had him to help me execute it. But I didn't need this big group of cheerleaders saying, "You can do it, Ladan!" When I was 20, I thought that was so important. But as you go along, you just realize it's not there, so don't wait for it.

And I think my mom. And I'm not just saying that because she's my parent. People are always like, "Oh, my mom, so great." But my mom really is so great. She let me live at home with her for forever. For a lot longer than most parents would probably want their kid at home with them. I didn't have money to pay rent. Everything I had went into this. So without that… I didn't get to move to New York with my best friend like I wanted to and do all that, but I got to do other things. I think it's all about the choices that you just… you can have everything in life, but I don't think you can have it at the same time.


James McKinney: That's awesome. I love that.

Ladan Davia: Yeah. I think it's just you have prioritize different things.

James McKinney: And that's a great segue way to my last questions as our time wraps up. If you're sitting with one of our entrepreneur listeners, what bit of advice do you have to offer them right now? You are talking directly to them.

Ladan Davia: If I was talking to someone who had tried over and over again and it wasn't working, the thing that really takes you all the way to the end is if you can withstand the rollercoaster. This is not a 9 to 5 job. It's not easy. Sometimes, I just think to myself, "God, this is so hard." If I would have known how hard it was from the beginning, I might not have done it. But I'm so glad I didn't know that because now that I'm here, it's like I'm so deep in I can't turn back now. I have to make it work. It's the thing that makes you really high and the thing that depresses you the most. I think if you can just be okay with the super highs and super lows, and just know it's going to pass, you'll make it.

James McKinney: After hearing Ladan's story and hearing her bit of advice at the end, I have to ask you a question that pertains to every single listener. Did you think it was going to be easy? Did you jump into entrepreneurship because you thought it was going to be like the movie Field of Dreams, where if you build it they will come? Or maybe you thought entrepreneurship was going to be challenging but more like taking some lightweight punches, but nothing that would ever truly knock the wind out of you. Or better yet, maybe you thought entrepreneurship was going to be more fame and failure, and since you've never experienced failure in any other area of life, your failed startup really beat you down pretty badly. So let me ask that question again. Did you think it was going to be easy?

I'm going to be honest with you, and this might hurt just a bit, but it doesn't matter what you thought. What matters is how you adapt to the truth when it's revealed to you. So what if you're disappointed that your business is not growing at the rate you thought it would when you started it two, five, or even 10 years ago. How are you adapting to that realization now in 2019? So what if you just shut down your fourth startup, and the outcome was the same for this one as it was your previous three? How are you going to adapt to what you learned? You cannot change reality, but you can adapt how you engage and move forward. You cannot control the output, you can only control what you put into it and how you navigate the obstacles. Entrepreneurship is not and will never be easy, but with the right perspective, the entire rollercoaster can be an incredibly joyful journey.

I hope you found real value in Ladan's journey and her willingness to give us some more experience with which to shape and adjust our perspective. If you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. Well, I hope you will help support Ladan's journey and her startup, Beeya. You can do this in two ways. Follow Beeya on Instagram and Facebook @BeeyaOfficial. That's the same on Instagram and Facebook, @BeeyaOfficial. And while you may not be looking for a job, most of your network probably does have a job and around you, you can simply just promote Beeya to your social profiles. So go to Beeya.com, copy the URL, post it on Facebook, post it on LinkedIn, and just let them know you heard an incredible startup story about this founder and their website is pretty awesome. Just simply promote the URL. Entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs, so let's make sure to show Ladan some support for the value she brought us today.

And now, for my personal ask. The Startup Story community has been so incredible with sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We are a startup and the most powerful way you can support The Startup Story podcast is to leave a review on Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcast. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory.co. Share The Startup Story on your social media, either with a link or a screenshot. Make sure you tag or mention us @TheStartupStory.co so we can see your help and say thank you for it.

Lastly, share the podcast on your LinkedIn profile. The Startup Story is for entrepreneurs, so please do not underestimate the power of sharing The Startup Story on your LinkedIn profile so other entrepreneurs can discover us. In fact, most people struggle to share good content on LinkedIn anyways, so if you want to support The Startup Story then search for The Startup Story company page, follow us, and share our posts to help encourage other founders and spread the word about the podcast. Every single founder has a story, and the startup stories we bring you every week can encourage and inspire another founder. It might just be what they needed to hear to keep moving forward on their dreams. I look forward to sharing these stories every Tuesday with hopes to inspire you to start YOUR story.

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May 14 2019
Ladan Davia, founder of Beeya

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