How She Got There: Kristen Hamilton, Co-Founder & CEO of Koru

Name: Kristen Hamilton
Job Title and Description: CEO and Co-Founder of Koru, the leading talent marketplace that lands gritty college graduates in great jobs in high-growth companies
College Name/Major: The University of Western Ontario/Honors Business Administration with minor in German language
Website: www.joinkoru.com
Twitter Handle: @Kristen_hammy

 
What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Kristen Hamilton: No day is ever the same. As a startup CEO, the most important thing is to make sure you’re not running out of resources, that your company’s vision has clarity and to build a solid culture within your growing team. I’ve described running a startup that is working well like a game of Whack-a-Mole. You have one hammer and a field of problems that pop up unexpectedly. But that’s what makes it great, especially when you have a team that’s passionate about the problem you’re trying to solve.

What is the best part of your job?

KH: When you start a company, you get to pick the people you’re going to work with—the people who are going to make your vision come to life. Like I said, I have a great, passionate team and we’ve created an amazing company culture together.

The other best part of my job is the congruence of my passion (helping people achieve their potential and having a massive positive impact on their lives) and the incredible opportunity Koru presents. We’re breaking into a new space and tackling a massive problem that demands a solution. It’s incredibly exciting.

What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?

KH: My first job was doing market research for a distributor of hydraulics. A friend had called me and asked me to do a project with him. In my career, I’m constantly reminded that it’s all about the people and investing in those relationships. From this first job to the one I’m at now, I’ve always found that if you share your dreams with people who you have developed an authentic relationship with, they will go out of their way to help you achieve them.

What is one thing you wish you knew about your industry when you first started out that you know now?

KH: That college students don’t worry about jobs until it’s far too late. My advice to you—don’t wait! Hiring companies move fast, and so should you. 

Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?

KH: The first venture investor in my first business, Nancy. She was VP of Engineering at a top tech company and headed a venture fund in the Silicon Valley—and for me, she was the first woman I’d witnessed being an outstanding leader by behaving equal to those around her. She’d spent her entire career in a “man’s world,” but did not let it phase her or change the way she behaved. She was incredibly authentic and incredibly powerful, and she inspired me to be who and how I am today.
 
What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?

KH: “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” - Goethe

It reminds me to have grit, trust my gut, and go all in. It also reminds me that when you commit to something, and make it known that you’re committed, it’s much easier for people to help you. Like I said—if you share your dreams with others, people will go out of their way to help you achieve them.

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

KH: At 27, I co-founded a company called Onvia with my college friend. It was the era of the dot-com craze, and our goal was to become the Amazon of small businesses and surf the e-commerce wave. For us, it was all about achieving something together—and winning. That was our purpose, all the time.

Looking back, my biggest failure was not being intentional about creating a culture where it was okay to not know all the answers.

We were growing fast. We started in 1997. The next year, our revenue was 17 million dollars. Then 27 million dollars. We hit 147 million dollars in revenue in 2000 and grew to 500 people. Then we went public. We were working hard and having a blast.

And then the dot-com bubble burst. Six months after going public, our trading stock had gone from 65 dollars to three dollars. Then to one dollar. It was brutal. And the worst part of it for me was that our tribe crumbled. We hit a wall and crumbled. Yahoo chat rooms were filled with employees turning on us. Insiders were telling true and painful stories about us.

Why? We did not invest intentionally in our culture. We didn’t have a solid foundation. We were young, we were athletes, we were also Canadian (a culture by default). But we didn’t lay the groundwork, and as our team grew, it became less solid.

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

KH: Taking a company public for the first time.
 
What do you look for when considering hiring someone?

KH: Grit. I want people who have the tenacity to overcome challenges, roadblocks, even their own boredom to keep with a task and see it through. I want people who will get over, under, around or through brick walls to get it done. It’s also incredibly important to me that the person fits in with my company’s culture and is as excited as I am about the problem we’re tackling.

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

KH: Don’t be afraid to fail. Learn from it when you do. Invest in the right relationships. Treat feedback as a gift. And be your best self always.

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