“If you’re a startup and can build a little momentum, you’re going to have an entire city trying to help you.”
Don Charlton grew up about an hour south of Pittsburgh, in Uniontown, Fayette County, with a “dirty little secret.” Despite his love for art and drawing, he’d been sneaking into the library every morning to computer program.
Had it not been for the watchful eye of a high school guidance counselor, who told him about a field in which he could marry his two passions, he might have quit being an artist. Instead, he headed to the Rochester Institute of Technology to study graphic design and embarked on a career as an interactive designer and developer at some of Pittsburgh’s most notable design firms.
After making the leap to start his own business -- and learning some hard lessons from his first failed venture -- Don began building what would become Jazz (formerly The Resumator). He recognized a market that was underserved by existing products. Applicant tracking systems – the software businesses use to recruit and hire – at the time were big, expensive and cumbersome to use. Employees at many small and medium sized businesses were tasked with hiring, in addition to their regular duties, and they were often using inefficient email, spreadsheets and home-grown systems to try and do so.
Validated by his own experience as the “deputized hiring manager” in the firms at which he had worked, he focused on building something that would make everything -- from posting jobs to wading through hundreds of resumes to selecting the employee to hire -- easy, effective and efficient for anyone from a designer to an HR manager. “I thought, 'Let me see if I can use the skills that I have to solve that problem – especially for people like me, who don’t have recruiting experience.' ”
The effort has gone far beyond his initial aim. In 2009, he earned a place in an intensive, 20-week program run by startup accelerator AlphaLab, availing himself of the training, mentoring and seed capital to launch what would become Jazz, which now has offices in Pittsburgh's Strip District, as well as in San Francisco and just outside of Boston.
Used by more than 4,000 companies spanning all industries, 50 states and 70+ countries, Jazz provides integrated, easy-to-use recruiting tools and social media features to make it easy to source a bigger pool of better talent for every job, quickly and accurately screen every applicant, conduct effective interviews and feel confident in every hire -- all while giving the user reports that help them know how they’re doing in the process. It is prized by companies with and without big HR departments that need to ramp up staffing quickly. Customers include Major League Baseball, Warby Parker, Burning Man, Bitly, Mashable, MailChimp and R/GA, as well as the 2012 presidential campaigns of both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
Pittsburgh has made sense for Jazz – and Don – on both professional and personal levels. As an entrepreneur, he has access to talented graduates of the region’s many universities and the support of its thriving startup community. Recently, Don helped to unveil the "Innovate in PA Tax Credit," a program to help fund small-business incubators in the commonwealth.
“We don’t feel like just one of many companies, like we’d be in Silicon Valley or New York,” he says. “In Pittsburgh, we really feel that the entire city is behind us, helping us succeed.”