What’s job success: money, promotions, accolades? Joseph Fung from Uvaro answers that question
Originally published on xfund.com
What does a successful career look like? Money? Promotions? Accolades?
Uvaro co-founder and CEO Joseph Fung is working to create a more holistic definition of career success — one that includes financial success, but also fulfillment and community. To that end, Uvaro provides career coaching, live classes, workshops, and lifelong support for tech sales professionals.
Joseph is a board member of Communitech, a collective of founders and investors supporting the tech ecosystem in the Waterloo, Ontario, area. He is also a repeat founder who previously launched TribeHR, an HR software company that was acquired by NetSuite.
Here, he discusses his definition of career success, how Uvaro shifted from a B2B focus to selling a consumer experience, and what makes the Waterloo-Toronto tech community special.
What’s the founding story behind Uvaro?
My co-founders Derek Hall, Donna Litt, and I have had a history in startups of trying to help people do their best work. We had the good fortune of selling our last company to a much larger one. We left the acquiring company to build what became Uvaro because it felt like our mission — to help people do their best work — hadn’t been accomplished yet.
What problem were you trying to solve when you launched Uvaro?
It’s always been a perennial challenge for businesses to hire and ramp up effective customer-facing staff. We built an incredible tool to make that a lot easier and more effective.
But when we were launching Uvaro and scaling it, we actually heard that there was a bigger underlying problem. It wasn’t just about knowledge and skill; it was actually about the more foundational abilities of talent.
So, we started Uvaro originally as a value-add to our business partners, helping them find the right talent in other industries and bringing them into tech. We quickly realized that the consumer demand and consumer experience — people’s desire to achieve more in their careers — was a much larger challenge. And so we brought our attention to the consumer experience, and we haven’t looked back since.
Uvaro is positioned as a “career success” company, not a training, upskilling, or staffing service. What does that term mean to you?
We want to reclaim the idea of career success. A lot of people think it’s simply a job title and a salary. And those extrinsic things are indicators, but they’re not enough on their own. Career success is, yes, financial health, but also work you enjoy and feeling fulfilled in your life choices in your peer community. We’re really trying to reframe the way people think about career success.
What was the most difficult challenge you experienced when you were launching Uvaro, and how did you get around it?
At the core, one of the biggest challenges was that we have a repeat founding team that has a lot of experience in B2B firms. But what we’re selling now is not only a consumer experience but a very emotionally charged consumer experience.
Our customers come to us in moments of crises and moments of decision. They’re trying to shift careers and directions in life. That’s a really emotional experience. It was tough to make sure that our customer-facing teams were equipped to handle that without becoming overwhelmed by the lived experiences of our members.
It looks brilliant in hindsight, but it was quite a journey of discovery to sort out that, actually, the best way to solve that is to eat our own dog food and drink our own champagne. So, our sales team is primarily populated by our own members, because they’ve had those same experiences. They’ve been through the same journey as our customers, so they can empathize with them better than even our founding team can.
You emphasize live classes, rather than self-service courses you can complete at your own pace. Why?
We have a lot of self-service content, but the core of what makes Uvaro effective is live cohorts. We have the wonderful influence of the University of Waterloo right here in our backyard. They have one of the world’s largest work-integrated learning programs, and we’ve been able to learn from some of their approaches.
But the underlying motivation was straightforward. A lot of courses that focus on self-service content can’t get you to the finish line. It’s a lot like trying to learn the piano just by reading the theory; if you don’t have the practice, it’s never going to work. Whether you’re dealing with qualification criteria, navigating customer concerns, navigating eternal meetings, or even practicing interviews, having that live practice time is super important. Our live classes are not about a sage on the stage broadcasting; they’re about creating a safe environment for people to practice, a safe place to fail, and a safe place to learn.
How did you connect with Xfund?
Xfund is one of our earliest investors. When we were out looking for introductions, we wanted to speak to people who had strong convictions and thoughts about the future of work and the future of education, and whose ethos fit the impact we’re trying to have on our customer base. So the connection was definitely values-driven.
What has Xfund’s support allowed you to do?
Patrick and Brandon have both been incredible enablers. Very often, funds will say things like, “If you need any intros, let us know. If you’re recruiting, let us know.” Xfund is one of the few funds we’ve worked with — not just in Uvaro, but in my SaaS companies — who really put their time where their mouth is. They follow through; they make those introductions. They’ve passed us customers, prospects, and investors, and that’s been really, really huge. Having them lean in when we need help in the way we need help is exactly what you hope for in an investor. They’ve set a benchmark that’s helped us engage with our other investors in the right way, too.
Uvaro is based in the Waterloo-Kitchener area, and you’re on the board of Communitech there. What makes this startup ecosystem special?
The community here is special because it’s incredibly accessible. Often, when you come to a community, it’s difficult to engage with it. That’s not the case here.
Communitech is a part of that. It was founded by a group of tech entrepreneurs, and its mission is to help companies to start, grow, and succeed. It’s been a huge eliminator of barriers. For example, when we founded Uvaro, we didn’t have our products built yet. We didn’t have much of a team yet, but we had a clear vision of what we were trying to create. We went to our group at Communitech and said: “Hey, here’s the problem we’re trying to solve. Here’s how we resolve it. We’re looking for some paying customers to help us validate and make it easier for us to raise money.”
We had five companies sign on to be paying customers before we even had the product finished. That’s the power of this ecosystem. We wouldn’t have had that in any other area.
How does Xfund fit into this community?
They are one of the few firms that actually take the time to travel here regularly — they don’t just line up a bunch of meetings when they happen to be in town for a conference. They come regularly, and so they build good connections in the Toronto and Waterloo area. That consistent drumbeat of engagement makes it a lot easier to stay connected and stay aligned.
How is Uvaro contributing to equity in tech?
Not everyone has equal access to opportunities for career success. We do everything we can to make our pricing accessible. Sometimes, still, the barrier is too high. So, we’ve partnered with a number of organizations, mostly venture funds and nonprofits, to offer sponsored scholarships. The goal is to address some of the systemic inequities along the lines of gender and race. Over time, we will support other demographics and other equity-seeking communities.
For example, there’s the Reva Pellerin Women in Tech Scholarship sponsored by Vidyard. Reva was one of Vidyard’s most successful sales reps. Some companies would honour her by buying her a watch or a plaque for her desk. Instead, Vidyard wanted to recognize Reva’s trailblazing personality by funding a scholarship in her name, to help other women get into tech sales.
Many of the other organizations we’ve paired with have a similar objective with the scholarships they sponsor — that’s what’s been really awesome. In addition, in many cases, our program can help our partners reach their impact goals faster than they can on their own. So it’s a great win-win.
What advice do you have for early-stage founders?
Get serious about what you want your culture to be. A lot of founders make the mistake of thinking culture is something that happens to them, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Imagine what your culture will be, then write it down — the values and the characteristics. If you use that as the framework for your first hires and for your investors, you’re going to have way more cohesion, and everything else is going to seem magically easier. You have to be serious and intentional with the culture you want to build, right from day one.