June 3, 2021

Contra’s Unusual Journey

Ben Huffman
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Contra’s Unusual JourneyContra’s Unusual Journey
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Editor's note: 
In honor of Unusual’s three year anniversary, we’ve partnered with our founders to tell their stories in the form of our Unusual Journey Series. This piece is by Ben Huffman and Gajus Kuizinas, Co-Founders of Contra, the first professional community for the freelance, remote, and independent workforce.

We are both serial entrepreneurs, but have had our own unique paths to entrepreneurship. These paths consisted of technology focused on music and music production, telecom and fintech software, and a global data aggregation startup that specialized in the entertainment industry, to name a few. Eventually, what led the two of us to work together was the shared interest in enabling more people to have a project-based and collaborative path to develop their career. To bring our vision to life, we created Contra, the first professional community for the independent digital workforce.

From the beginning of our journey, we’ve been very fortunate to encounter people who have accelerated our goals, interests, and the direction we are passionate about, which has enabled us to create a platform that embodies the same ideals. That led us to Unusual Ventures and the beginnings of our partnership with Unusual Partner, Sarah Leary. From the outset, Sarah and the Unusual Team made it clear our partnership was not just about funding our company. They quickly rolled up their sleeves and helped us set a vision for how we approach market validation, building our team, and defining processes throughout the business.

On the recruiting side, working with the Get Ahead Platform (GAP) Team—Unusual's Team of experienced operators that offer rigorous marketing, sales, and recruiting services—has been huge for us. Having only worked with Unusual for a couple of months, the GAP Team already recruited two engineers and one product manager to our team. That type of direct value add from an investor is incredibly rare. Usually, investors are willing to make the introductions, but to actually have someone come in and recruit for us has been invaluable. 

It’s important to note that the GAP Team didn’t just place talent for us—they opened our eyes to the importance of having an established outreach process and how that leads to great talent. We’re fortunate to have a brand that appeals to many people, but the problem can be that it appeals to too many people. Meaning, we had a large amount of inbound applications coming in, but from applicants that weren’t necessarily a fit for us. The GAP Team added an additional layer to our recruiting process in the form of outreach to people who might not be necessarily looking for opportunities at the moment, but who may be phenomenally talented and would move the needle for us. In less than three days, the GAP Team compiled a list of 40 candidates they would reach out to and defined their profiles. They showed us what kind of companies we should be looking into and created indicators that would show we made a successful hire.

To have this type of mentorship from the talent side has made us realize what is possible from a hiring perspective and has translated into real business impact. In the same vein, having someone like Sarah on the operations side has been indispensable. Sarah brings a unique perspective to consumer social and social networks in general based on her experience building Nextdoor. The information and insights she has shared with us has really helped us think about how to scale and operate Contra. 

Having seen it herself, Sarah has true empathy for the founder’s journey, what it entails, and brings a unique and very valuable perspective to the table. As founders, you’re expected to have confidence in what you’re doing and the ability to deliver. But, we’re human and it’s hard to ignore the voices in the back of our heads, “Are we actually doing this right?” Sometimes you just need validation as entrepreneurs and the personal conversations we’ve had with Sarah have helped us tremendously on our journey as founders to build our company and shape our team. Truthfully, this type of corroboration is probably the biggest value add any founder can wish for from their investors. 

Final Thoughts

In life, you have a lot of conversations and it usually takes a bit to really feel out the person, whether you’ve connected with them, if you have a shared value system, and if you’re actually passionate about the same things. We walked away from our original call with the Unusual Consumer Team thinking, “Wow, these are the people we want to work with to build Contra. They have all of these experiences building Nextdoor, Twitter, Quora, Facebook, and so on, but they also have the emotional intelligence to help us on our journey.”

Shortly after we finalized our partnership with Unusual, we sent swag to Sarah and team. Sarah mentioned that she planned to wear our hat religiously, which we took as a polite gesture. A few days after this conversation, the two of us met up at a restaurant to work and happened to see Sarah walk by with her Contra hat on. It was a surreal feeling and cemented that we had the best partners on our side for what will be a hard, but fulfilling journey.

Check out our Field Guide for tactical content from Unusual Partners like Sarah Leary and our GAP Team to help early-stage founders go from idea to product-market fit

Learn more on how to work the way you want to with Contra

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