Smarterer Scores Series A, Looks to Replace Resumés with Skill Matching

6/5/12Follow @gthuang

That Boston tech startup with too many vowels is at it again. Smarterer, a creator of crowdsourced skills tests online, is announcing today a $1.75 million Series A round from previous investors True Ventures and Google Ventures. The deal, which also includes about a dozen angel investors (some of them are new to the company), brings Smarterer’s total funding to $3 million.

As loyal readers may recall, Smarterer offers ways for online visitors and job seekers to prove their mettle—on multiple-choice tests ranging in topic from Excel to Google Analytics, from Angry Birds to banking, from beer brewing to how much you respect your wife. (That last one actually exists, created by a psychiatrist looking to assess patients.) But most of the 500-plus skill areas tested on the site have to do with things like techie tools, software, social media, and finance.

Smarterer recently hit 10 million questions answered on its site, according to co-founder and CEO Jennifer Fremont-Smith. The aforementioned Excel test alone has been taken more than 40,000 times, she says, with more than a million questions answered. The company is still pre-revenue (tests are free), but the number of questions answered is a way to track its growth and how well its tests are engaging users, says Fremont-Smith.

The startup, which began in 2010 and has 11 employees plus interns, has recently inked partnerships with BranchOut (a LinkedIn competitor), Bullhorn Reach, About.me, and The Resumator (not sure what that last one is, but might be better not to know). Basically, the idea for now is to get lots of people using Smarterer—and as much buzz as possible—and see where that leads.

As usual, what I find really interesting is where that could lead. Whether you think there’s a higher education bubble or not, you can’t discount the rising cost of an education, the U.S. jobless rate (especially for recent college grads), and the widening gap between the haves and have-nots in our society. Quite a few entrepreneurs and institutions are trying to do something about these issues via alternative, lower-cost education programs, recruiting technologies, and human resource management tools. Where Smarterer could fit is in delivering a reliable and trusted way to assess people’s skills for doing specific jobs. After all, in a world of alternative and non-traditional educational paths, you can’t just look at the school on a candidate’s resume—and, in fact, that’s exactly what Smarterer is trying to replace.

“We are trying to become the world’s standard in skills measurement,” says Fremont-Smith.

Another interesting aspect is where this whole idea comes from. Fremont-Smith has a democratizing, “make the world a better place” bent to her. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that her professional calling seems to be all about matching supply and demand, and connecting products and businesses with the right people. As a student, Fremont-Smith was a poor match for her traditional high school—“it’s very hard to get kicked out of Detroit public school,” she quips—but she transferred to an all-girls school and did fine, going on to college at Georgetown.

While working on a degree in business administration, she started an incorporation service for companies, and after graduating, went on to found a dot-com-era advertising network and then a customer relationship management service for the financial industry. That’s a wide range of businesses, but a common theme was matching, she says. And in the startup world, she found, nobody cared about her formal education (which now includes an MBA from MIT Sloan School). “It was more about what I could do,” she says. “I forged my own path and developed the skills I needed.”

She adds, “People who bring the most value to the table in a startup are not necessarily people with the fanciest educational background. They know how to get stuff done, because they have skills.”

And that’s the mentality that she, and Smarterer, are now looking to bring to the rest of the world. We’ll be watching to see if the company’s online skills tests continue to gain traction with employers, job seekers, and consumers in general—think millions of people showing the world what they’re good at. “If we do that,” Fremont-Smith says, “we unlock so much potential.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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