Partnering with Kleiner Perkins to help every student find the right job, from the snowy tundra of Michigan to Silicon Valley

Three years ago, I was frustrated by how difficult it was for my college friends and I to plan our careers and find great jobs. So I started Handshake with a simple and very personal goal:

To help every college student find the right job for them, no matter where they go to school, what they’re majoring in, or who they know.

While it seemed straightforward at the time, it turned out to be a little harder than I imagined! During our last years of college, my cofounders Scott Ringwelski, Ben Christensen and I worked tirelessly to build the ultimate college career network, uniting students, college career service centers and employers together into one system that:

  • Democratizes access to opportunity for all students
  • Makes it easier for companies of all sizes to find the right talent, and
  • Gives all colleges the tools to help students achieve their dreams

While we’ve made amazing strides since launching in 2014, taking on such an ambitious goal hasn’t been easy. It quickly became clear that we needed to raise money and bring in world-class advisors to help us grow the team (come join us!) if we were going to have a chance at achieving our goals.

Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers

Today we’re excited to announce that Handshake has raised $10.5 million in our Series A funding round, led by Kleiner Perkins. We’re thrilled to be able to lean on the advice and expertise of Eric Feng, Swati M, John Doerr, bing gordon, Andy Chen and the rest of the tremendous KPCB team. And we continue to appreciate the tremendous support of our friends Toni Schneider at True Ventures, Will Kohler at Lightspeed Ventures, Matt Mazzeo at Lowercase Capital, Bob Mylod at Annox Capital, Hans Robertson and Charlie Cheever. The new funds will provide a massive boost to help grow our team (really, come join us!) and achieve our ambitious goals.

We’ve made a lot of traction with our small team already. Today, Handshake:

New student dashboard Handshake’s new interactive Student Dashboard

Where Handshake Started

This is all a far cry from when I was trudging through the snow of Houghton, Michigan, to find discarded servers for my first Hadoop cluster!

Michigan Tech is a fantastic engineering school, but its location in Houghton makes it difficult to find a technology job. Houghton sits at the far end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (or as we call it, “The Yooooop!”), is an 8-hour-drive from Chicago or Detroit and gets blanketed by 200 inches of snow per year. I loved going to school there, but we didn’t see many companies coming to recruit on-campus from outside of the Midwest.

Michigan Tech's football field in the snow Michigan Tech on a nice day in the winter!

Thankfully, my Hadoop tinkering was discovered by a professor who referred me to an internship at Los Alamos National Labs, where my colleagues told me I should try to find a job in the promised land for CS majors: Silicon Valley. I had no idea how to do that. So I just started.

My strategy: basically stalking the recruiters from the most interesting companies. I emailed, wrote handwritten letters and then just showed up on the ground in Palo Alto to say “Hi!”. I think I scared them into giving me a job. But it worked, and I got an internship at Palantir!

Garrett winning the hackathon at Palantir Garrett winning the hackathon at Palantir

At Palantir, I won the company-wide hackathon two summers in a row, and I met some of the smartest, most creative, and hardest-working people in the world. I also made $60k referring all of the top engineers from Michigan Tech to companies in the Valley, who otherwise weren’t recruiting at MTU, helping pay my way through college.

I realized there was a big problem here, and a problem that employers would pay a lot of money to solve. So I started building Handshake as a sophomore in college with Scott and Ben.

Original Handshake team in Houghton, MI The early Handshake team at our original HQ in Houghton, Michigan

For the next few years, we devoted our lives to building Handshake. But since we had no money and were living in a remote part of the country, we had to be scrappy! We bought a tiny Ford Fusion and drove it all over the country, sleeping in our car and sneaking into college gyms to shower in the morning, as we tracked down university career service center leaders and spoke to students and employers. (Note to aspiring entrepreneurs: keep hustling!)

As Paul Graham and Steve Blank say, there is no substitute for talking to your customers.

Garrett speaking at Stanford Speaking to university career service center experts at Stanford University.

How Handshake is Helping

What we learned is that university career centers are filled with amazing people who want to transform their students’ lives. They wake up every day excited to help their students find the right career and the right jobs for them. They court alumni as mentors and recruit great employers to come on-campus to interview their students. But they need help.

College students told us that they wanted to see more data about careers and jobs, and have access to more opportunities — more industries, more employers, more jobs — not just the companies who had traditionally recruited on campus.

Employers and recruiters told us they wanted it to be easier to recruit at multiple campuses. They were stuck with spreadsheets showing unique username and password combos for 50+ schools, each requiring the company to login separately to post jobs, find students and review applications.

Handshake has brought all three sides — career centers, students and employers — together in a national network that:

  • Allows students to find jobs from employers of all sizes, in every industry, across the country;
  • Makes it easy for employers — big and small — to efficiently post jobs to a wide variety of colleges, and search for students by specific attributes like GPA and leadership positions, all with just one account; and
  • Gives every college career service center the tools and analytics they need to help manage employers, students, career fairs and on-campus interviews — and to report on their progress to school administrators, government agencies, parents, students, and the press.

First Destination Survey Handshake’s new, interactive First Destination Survey gives students feedback as they take the survey

Thank You!

Despite our progress, we realize we have a lot — a lot — of foundational work to do. We are so thankful for all of our customers — career centers, students and employers alike— who have been so patient and continue to spend so much time giving us detailed feedback on our current product and roadmap. We appreciate your support and are working tirelessly to be worthy of your trust. And we have some amazing features coming out soon!

I particularly want to thank all of our university career center partners, and, crucially, the 5 original schools who took a chance with Handshake: Aquinas College, Eastern Michigan University, Hillsdale College, Valparaiso University and Wabash College .

Original Handshake schools Thanks to the first five schools on Handshake.

How You Can Help

I’m so excited to work with our great team to help build this company, to help students across the country find the best jobs, and to help employers find the right talent! Here’s how you can help too:

Help build Handshake! We’re looking for great engineers, product managers, designers, marketers and sales / account managers to help build the college career network of the future.

Get Handshake for your school! Handshake is great for any university looking to help your students find the best jobs, and to better manage all of your career fairs, events, on-campus interviewing, and reporting. Find out more on a webinar!

Join Handshake now! If you’re a college student or young alumni who wants a great career, or an employer looking to recruit the right students for internships and full-time jobs, Handshake is the place for you.

Tell me what you think Handshake needs. We’re obsessed with getting input from everyone we serve — students, colleges career centers and employers. Do you have any ideas? Let us know.