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How Sydney recruitment startup Curious Thing scored $1.5 million just months after it was founded

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Curious Thing

The Curious Thing team. Source: Supplied.

Sydney Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) startup Curious Thing has secured $1.5 million in seed funding just six months after it was founded, as it prepares to roll out its AI-enabled HR software.

The funding was co-led by Singapore-based Qualgro, and Aussie VC Reinventure Group.

Founded in July 2018, Curious Thing is headed up by three founders who are no strangers to the startup life.

Sam Zheng previously founded Aussie analytics startup Hyper Anna, while Han Xu is former head of machine learning at Flamingo, and David McKeague co-founded video engagement platform Incoming Media.

Curious Thing is an AI digital interviewer, aimed at smoothing the process of hiring when there are between 50 and 100 applicants.

Recruitment processes in these cases can be incredibly time consuming, and employers tend to spend relatively little time actually reading resumes, Zheng tells StartupSmart.

Curious Thing will “allow everyone a chance to interview with the AI, so hiring managers can make better decisions”, he says.

“We believe it’s an opportunity for us, and the whole talent acquisition market,” he adds.

“Conversational AI will be a massive wave, changing how we interact with machines and with each other.”

“We didn’t really think about it”

Curious Thing may have raised significant funding in a very short time, but according to Zheng, the founders weren’t necessarily looking for investment so soon.

“When we started we didn’t really think about it,” he says.

“We spend 120% of the time building the product.”

It’s a “purely technical entrepreneur team”, he adds, and the founders were focused on coming up with and validating the hypothesis, and iterating various versions of the software.

“The company started with the concept of the tech,” Zheng says.

But, after just a few months, the startup had its first paying client.

“From there we realised it might be right for us to start thinking about fundraising.”

And for Zheng and the Curious Thing founders, it was about more than getting cash in the bank. They also wanted alignment in the vision.

“We were thinking about who could be the best fit in terms of the stage, the market, the vertical,” Zheng says.

He for one is “super happy” to have Reinventure on board he’s familiar with the fund, as it is also a backer of Hyper Anna.

“They’re real early-stage investors, they understand how early-stage tech companies work,” he adds. “They’re always supportive.”

Qualgro, based in Singapore, will also add value in terms of helping the startup to expand overseas, Zheng says.

Curious Thing is a “pure SaaS product”, he says.

“So the timeline for going out to the global market is early.”

This funding will be used to build up the Curious Thing team. In January, the founders recruited three people, but they hope to increase the total headcount to 10, creating a “small, fully functional team”.

They will also continue working on product development, and will start looking at international markets by the end of the year, “or maybe even earlier”.

Just another software company

He may have two startups under his belt, but Zheng says he still doesn’t feel experienced enough to be dishing out advice to other founders.

However, when pushed, he says the best thing to do is just to focus on the product.

“Fundraising comes as a result of you focusing on the right problems for the company,” he says.

Saying you work in a startup may sound cool, but you’re “just another small software company”, and you have to focus on the service you’re providing.

“Focus on your core business and keep doing it run iterations with your clients and your team,” he adds.

NOW READ: Melbourne startup Black.ai secures $1.2 million raise to bring robots into 21st century, and to stop you stealing tomatoes

NOW READ: Cash is your oxygen: A guide to funding your early-stage startup

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is the editor at StartupSmart. You can contact her at [email protected].

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