It’s all about the story.
That’s the main lesson that Bruce Marable, cofounder and CEO of HR tech startup Employee Cycle, got from his time in Comcast NBCUniversal’s future of work-focused LIFT Labs Accelerator powered by Techstars, which ended in November after 12 intensive weeks.
“Storytelling is always key, and that’s what’s been reinforced,” he told Technical.ly. “It’s by far, to me, the number one skill you can have as a founder and CEO.”
Marable is no stranger to launching a company or selling people on his idea. He’d started gatherDocs, a mobile hiring software, with cofounder Alex King and developer TJ Robleto a few years back. After working with Colorado-based Efficient Hire closely for a year, the companies merged in 2015, and in 2016, Marable stepped back.
In 2019, he and cofounder Salas Saraiya teamed up on Employee Cycle, which automates HR reporting by bringing disconnected employee data across HR systems into one centralized, real-time, shareable dashboard. In 2021, the pair was accepted into the hybrid remote-IRL accelerator, where they worked with a “very international and diverse cohort,” Marable said.
They had three main goals walking into the program: To sharpen the company’s story and gain credibility, to continue to raise more capital, and to connect with strategic people who work at companies similar to theirs. They worked alongside two other HR tech companies that were complementary to theirs, and have built out their team.
"The goal is not to do as many things as you possibly can do. The goal is to do just the things that you're great at and hire others to do what they are great at."
A recent hire is Employee Cycle’s first international employee, Canadian Daphne McLarty, whom the founders met through Techstars. She’s the company’s chief of staff, a role often added later in the game; Employee Cycle has just four full-time employees. She brings a finance background to the team, which was essential during the fundraising process, Marable said.
“The way we’ve been able to assemble a team is that we’re all punching above our weight, and we’ve built more mature aspects than others at our stage,” the cofounder said. “So as complexity with the company grew, we needed someone with great operational background and consulting to help streamline and automate.”
They’re in the process of closing a $2.5 million seed round now, with plans to expand Employee Cycle’s go-to-market and development teams. The funding will allow for the company to double its staff in 2022. That hiring aspect is another reason to get great at storytelling, Marable said: Whether you’re pitching to investors, looking to bring on a new hire or explain the business to potential clients, you have to be able to concisely sell your company.
It’s also a time to implement another lesson he learned: Hire smart and delegate.
“The goal is not to do as many things as you possibly can do,” he said, of hiring McLarty. “The goal is to do just the things that you’re great at and hire others to do what they are great at.”
Marable thinks that 2022 will be a good year to be building a business in Philly. The current seed round Employee Cycle is working on comes from a mix of local and non-local investors, and he said he’s noticed a small uptick in local angel and early-stage investors. The city just had its best year yet for investments, which should be encouraging to founders, Marable said.
There’s a shift happening in Philly tech, he thinks, and he encouraged other founders to “think bigger” than they had been, even if it’s not yet known as a place like San Francisco where everyone walks around wearing sweatshirts with the name of the tech company they work for.
“We’re starting to see more bigger companies come from the space, and it’s aspirational for all of us. I would say to any founder from Philly — think bigger,” he said. “It may not feel as doable to create a big tech company here, but it’s happening.”
Or, if you follow his advice: It’s happening, and it’s time to talk about it.