STARTUP

These 2 Co-Workers Quit to Build a Startup. 3 Years Later, Their $14.6 Million Company Crushed Their Old Employer

Six weeks after the co-founder’s baby was born, they landed their biggest customer.

Share on
BY Liz Welch - 31 Aug 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In 2013, former co-workers Julie Dacar and Amrita Grewal paired up to build their own staffing firm. Neither imagined that three years later their upstart, Washington, D.C.-based TalEx, would dethrone an industry giant, which also happened to be the parent of their former employer. --As told to Liz Welch

Julie: We worked on the AOL account at the same recruiting firm and placed hundreds of people at the company. When I decided to start TalEx, I begged Amrita to come with me.

Amrita: By then I had left that firm, gotten married, bought a house, and was looking to start my own company. I told Julie I was in if we could base our operations in Washington, D.C.

Julie: I said yes, and within two weeks found a daycare and a house, and then moved my family to Virginia from Maine.

Amrita: In 2013, we reconnected with an old AOL contact who was trying to fill a role, and luckily we had the right candidate.

Julie: AOL's staffing company at the time was a behemoth, and it also happened to be the parent company of our old employer. When they found out that Amrita was working on filling the role, they called us to say that AOL would not be working with her because they had already been hired to do the same thing. Someone from AOL called the next day, confused, explaining that its staffing company wasn't accepting any new vendors, which meant us. All of this was an $8 billion competitor's attempt to block us--and we're literally two women dancing in our upstairs home offices, thinking, "They know we're a threat!" AOL insisted we stay.

Amrita: By 2015, we had grown to 42 clients. That August, AOL called to say it was doing a lot of hiring. It wanted us to review its hiring system, which was filling, on average, one role every 45 days. It needed to fill 200 spots over a 90-day period and wanted our help. I went onsite to identify the bottlenecks. I identified many issues AOL could improve, and by November we had helped fill almost 200 positions and helped reduce AOL's time-to-fill ratio for contract workers from 45 days to nine. So when AOL asked me to come on as a full-time employee, I seized my do-or-die moment and said, "Actually, TalEx would like to become your full-time staffing provider." I knew it was gutsy--the industry giant was the company responsible for all of AOL's hiring.

Julie: Right before Thanksgiving, our AOL contact called and said, "We decided to go with a small, unknown firm. Have you heard of TalEx?" I started screaming, and Amrita had tears coming down her face.

Amrita: There wasn't much time to celebrate, as we had so much to set up in order to take over. We needed financing partners to help cover payroll for 90 days. Before then, we had small contracts and could cover it. But now, we had a $13 million contract. We started calling banks. They kept asking, "Who's TalEx?" One finally agreed to work with us--but then days before the closing called to say, "I don't think this will close."

Julie: We requested a meeting with the bank's CFO, who, at the final hour, agreed to the financing. Meanwhile, I gave birth to my second child four days before we became official providers for AOL. My baby was 6 weeks old when we went to New York City to introduce ourselves and educate AOL managers. My mom stayed in the hotel room with the baby while we did training sessions. I pumped in between. Now, we have eight full-time employees and a proper office in Dupont Circle. It's been one hell of a ride. Did I mention I am expecting my third child?