Faces of Entrepreneurship: Liz Wessel, Co-founder and CEO, WayUp

  • Liz Wessel

Liz Wessel is the co-founder and CEO of WayUp. WayUp is a US-based job site and mobile app for college students and recent graduates. The Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center took a moment to catch up with Liz on her journey thus far. 


What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you? 

LW: To me, entrepreneurship is identifying a problem and creating a solution to that problem — usually in the form of a business or an organization. 

How did your company come to be? (describe the a-ha moment that lead to its conception)

LW: My cofounder JJ and and I were both very frustrated by the experience we went through as college students looking for jobs. We felt there was a lack of transparency and that we didn’t hear back from many of the jobs we applied to. We wanted to solve this problem for students and new graduates, while at the same time making it more convenient for employers to attract top talent if they didn’t have a physical presence on campus. 

After graduating, our idea was put on hold while JJ and I went on to work at McKinsey and Google respectively. However, we realized we were still very passionate about this problem, so we quit our jobs two years later (in the summer of 2014), and built WayUp.

What is the biggest experience or lesson gained on your journey so far? 

LW: The people are everything. The times we’ve seen our company flourish have been the result of really talented people working together as a team. It amazes me what can be accomplished when the right people collaborate together towards a common goal, and it really just brings me back to why hiring is so important and why we exist as a company.

How is your company changing the landscape?

LW: WayUp is the first company I know of who helps employers scale their Early Career recruitment without scaling their recruitment teams, all with an emphasis on diversity and candidate experience. From a candidate perspective, we are solving what we like to call the “Applicant Black Hole”: a place where the majority of all resumes submitted into jobs are never seen by a company’s recruiting team. With WayUp’s “Source, Screen and Coach” offering, our team finds diverse and qualified candidates that match an employer’s requirements. After that our team of professional screeners will phone screen each qualified candidate quickly — usually within 1-2 days from when they submit their application. Whether they are selected or not, we provide the candidate with personalized soft skills feedback. This process not only personalizes the interview process for our applicants, but it also ensures our clients only spend their time with the most qualified candidates. This approach helps diversity hiring numbers grow, and ensures recruiter time is spent much more strategically. 

What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?

LW: In terms of what I wish I knew when I started — there is SO much. I have learned so much running this business for the past five years that I can safely say there will be a lot of mistakes I won’t make again with the next business I start.

Which brings me to things I wish I had done differently: I have made many mistakes throughout my career, but I have learned something from every mistake I have made. As a result, I don’t think I would have done anything differently, since I may not have learned those lessons otherwise. 

I believe that when a person makes a mistake, you can learn a lot about that person by how they handle themselves. I remember when I worked at Google in India, I made a massive mistake that made it to national news. It was humiliating. And when it happened, my boss looked at me and said: all that matters now is how you handle yourself, how you communicate the mistake, and that you learn from it so it doesn’t happen again.

What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business? What is your professional and personal mission statement? 

Advice I live by as I grow the business is actually our nine leadership principles at WayUp, which serve as the values that guide the business. The leadership principles include ‘Be a master of your craft, but know you’re not the master” and ‘Default to transparency.’ I am a big believer that the people who are achieving their goals most frequently, and who are just enjoyable to work with, are people who not-so-coincidentally mirror our Leadership Principles. In terms of my own mission statement, I’d say it’s just to focus on leaving a large and lasting positive impact on the world.

What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams? 

LW: I work with a Co-Founder and I have a leadership team that I work very closely with single day. My Co-Founder is also one of my closest friends and I advise anyone looking to start a business to try and find a Co-Founder that has complementary skills to your own because starting a business can be very lonely, and having a partner who is on your side along the way will help you significantly.

One of the most important things about being a leader is surrounding yourself with people who are way smarter than you in their respective expertise. No matter what challenge we face, I know someone on my team has the answer, or can work with me to figure it out. It’s Impossible for me to know all the answers but I have made it my priority to surround myself with a team that can collaborate to come up with solutions to any problem that we may face.

Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges? 

LW: I find inspiration in two areas. First, among my team. I work with some of the most amazing people out there and feel incredibly fortunate for the team we’ve recruited at WayUp. Second, among our users (students and recent grads). We even have quotes from our users on the walls of our office, reminding us every day of how impactful our work is to them.

What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it? 

LW: For me personally, success is knowing that I made an impact on the world in a positive way and changed people’s lives for the better. Of course, in order to achieve those things, I also need to be happy, which means I need to have a happy personal life, in addition to a fulfilling career where I’m making a difference in people’s lives.

What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey if you can.

LW: This is the hardest question you’ve asked! In terms of work, my proudest moment was probably when we received a term sheet from BoxGroup for our Seed Round. Now, this may sound weird because we have raised tens of millions of dollars since then, and that term sheet was for a less than $1M fundraising round. However, that term sheet meant so much to me, because it made me feel so much more confident in myself and my business, given how wildly I respect David Tisch and Adam Rothenberg (the team that gave the term sheet). It was also one of my first moments where my cofounder and I actually looked at each other and say: maybe we can do this thing. That really was our first big break.

In terms of my darkest moment with the business, it’s probably been one of the times when I’ve had to let go of someone. Firing is never easy, especially when you really like the person and it’s just not a good fit. It is by far the worst part of my job, and while I’ve never regretted parting ways with anyone, it’s still always hard and just tough to do.

What lesson did 2018 have for you? What do you look forward to in 2019? 

LW: In 2018 we learned a tremendous amount about our business — the biggest lesson I learned was that employers are missing out on amazing talent by not being able to review every single application. So, we decided to dedicate 2019 and all years moving forward to not just helping companies with sourcing talent, but also helping them with screening and coaching talent, which drives more diversity through their funnel and creates a much better candidate experience. The results for the first 20 companies who have been through our “Source, Screen & Coach” solution  are incredibly positive and encouraging.

Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day? 

LW: My morning starts every day by waking up and playing with my dog Trooper for 5-10 minutes. From there, I take a very quick shower, put my makeup on, get dressed, and run out the door. Waking up to running out the door usually takes 20-30 minutes because more often than not I am running straight to a meeting. I don’t typically eat breakfast but I recently started drinking celery juice in the morning, which I heard through my Wellory Health Coach is very healthy. 

What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be? 

LW: I touched on it earlier, but when I think of my legacy I want to be known as someone who had a positive impact on the world. More specifically, I want to be able to impact as many lives as possible. A lot of my inspiration comes from the stories of current students and recent graduates who were able to start their careers through WayUp, and I’d be honored if part of my legacy could live through their success and the amazing things they will achieve throughout their careers. That being said, I’m only 29 years old, so I think I have a lot more to give back to this world!

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