November 20, 2012

Tips for Growing a Startup with Colin Day

Colin DayIt’s all about getting the right opportunity and being prepared to take advantage of it once it falls into your lap. At 23, Colin Day said this was exactly what helped him start iCIMS, leading provider of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) recruiting and hiring software.

The right opportunity

Day graduated from Cornell with a Degree in Psychology knowing one thing he wanted to do with his life: be near his girlfriend.  He researched companies near her Staten Island home until coming across Comrise Technology. Day was especially interested because the company was looking for “college students who could come in, learn a trade (recruiting), help grow a company and, ultimately become their own boss.”

“Sounded too good to be true, but they made good on their promise,” he said. “Not so lucky with the girlfriend.”

Taking Advantage

Day accepted a position as a technical recruiter, which ultimately led to him growing the start-up that is a multi-million dollar company today. Check out’s interview with the unique entrepreneur as he shares his tips and advice on growing a startup in the recruiting space:

  1. Did you ever dream you’d become an entrepreneur at age 23?

Believe it or not, I absolutely did. I had a father who started his own business late in life, so I had a really strong role model. I had also written about five business plans prior to iCIMS. I knew that I wanted to start my own thing, but it took a while to learn that ideas are cheap and it’s really about finding the right timing/opportunity/funding for your ideas.

iCIMS almost fell into my lap, as the CEO of Comrise had both the original software to sell us and the money to fund us in the early days. It’s all about getting an opportunity like that and being ready to take advantage of it when it falls in your lap.

  1. What challenges did you face when attempting to start iCIMS?

My biggest challenge was essentially running a company by trial-and-error. At 23, I didn’t have much experience to draw on; so, I found that I made a lot of mistakes early, mistakes that I am sure CEOs with more experience could have avoided.

In looking back, I would not change a thing. It was actually having the ability to make the mistakes that brought us here today, making us so much more confident in some of the hard decisions we have to make every day when it comes to focus, killing off products, geographical expansion, etc. Deciding what not to do has become so much more important than trying to decide what to do, and that usually comes from lessons learned and bruised shins (sometimes egos, too).

  1. What has been your greatest accomplishment since founding iCIMS?

Without a doubt, my greatest accomplishment has been continuously finding people who are more capable than me. I knew my limitations early on (hopefully one of my strengths), and sought every day to try to surround myself with people who were smarter, more competent, and had more experience than I. I’d walk around with an Org. Chart 24/7, often in amazement at the caliber of talent we have been able to put together. When they look good, I look good, and I’m fine with that equation.

It gets harder and harder as you get bigger (we are now over 250+ employees) to keep your standards high, but that’s what I think great leadership should be all about: quality over quantity at all costs.

  1. What is software-as-a-service (SaaS) ? Why is this so important for HR personnel?

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS; now often referred to as Cloud Computing), at its most basic level, is delivering your software over the internet. The value propositions over traditional software (installed) are immense. You lease it; not buy it. You configure it; not customize it. You pay a lower flat monthly fee for it. You can walk away if it’s not working for you. And it looks great!

There’s no denying SaaS is the future of software. The difficulty lies in the fact that not all SaaS is created equal. We are firm believers in the fact that there is p-SaaS (pure SaaS) and g-SaaS (ghetto SaaS) out there. Pure SaaS is more religion than delivery mechanism. It means supporting all customers on the same platform, same release, same code, never customizing, and never supporting local install. The benefits of going with a p-SaaS vendor show up on two levels: 1) p-SaaS vendors are often more profitable due to a lack of complexity (vendor stability), and 2) p-SaaS vendors typically deliver higher levels of customer service due to a lack of complexity.

  1. What is the most difficult part of your day as the CEO of a $40 million company? The easiest?

The hardest part of the day is understanding that there is really no such thing as over communication. Start ups can give one directive, and people just mobilize. It takes much better communication to get 250+ people moving in exactly the same direction.

The easiest part of my day is going to bed at night. I have a 3 year-old and a 1 year-old at home. Sleep comes easy (my wife would kill me for saying that).

  1. Define a maverick management style. How can this be used to grow a business?

Maverick is about the last word I would use for myself. I tend to play things very safe.  If I don’t think we can win at something, I try to steer away from it. I’ve killed a lot of things at the helm of iCIMS, including products, offices, territories, features and more. They’re my proudest moments. We’re not trying to be first-to-market or most-to-market, we’re just trying to be best-to-market at whatever we do.

  1. If you could do it all over again, what is one thing you would change on the road to becoming an entrepreneur?

It took me two years to figure out that I needed to be the company’s no. one sales rep, not just its CEO.  My first reaction was to simply hire a sales team and allow myself to run the company from the home office. After watching that fail miserably, I finally threw myself out there and became the leading sales rep for the company. This period taught me that nothing beats talking to potential customers when it comes to starting a company. I would come back from lost presentations and, that same day, literally have our developers start working on the features that lost us the deal.

  1. What advice can you offer to those looking to start their own business, specifically in the HR/recruitment field?

While market research is an important step to understanding what you are about to get into, don’t worry too much about it (or the competitors out there).  It’s amazing how many business plans I talked myself out of once I started to do market/competitive research. If I’d done the same thing with iCIMS, I most certainly would never have started the company (some estimates had over 200 Applicant Tracking competitors in our marketplace when we started).

Sometimes, extreme competition offers a huge opportunity for someone to come in and finally present some clear market differentiation.

Read more in Entrepreneurship

Marks’ stories have also been published in a variety of newspaper, magazine and online formats including The Arizona Republic, The Daily Herald, Arizona Foothills Magazine and various classroom magazines of Scholastic Inc. Service is her passion, writing is her platform and uplifting and inspiring the community is her purpose. Marks received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication from Arizona State University.
Google+ Profile