Today is a memorable day for me. I am thrilled and keen to share my first investment with Robin Capital. I am grateful to partner with the Kombo Team: Alexander Kuebel, Niklas Higi, Fabian Rothfuß and Aike Hillbrands to support them on their journey. They are building integrations, so you dont have too. Unified APIs to unlock an ever-growing suite of HR and ATS integrations. I am happy I am close to this vertical and can support the front line. Likewise glad to work with fellow entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and peers from the HR Tech world, such as Brad Flora (Parter @Y-Combinator), Bernhard Janke (Partner @468), Paul Forster (Co-Founder / CEO @Indeed), Sultan Saidov (Co-Founder and President @Beamery), Carsten Thoma (Co-Founder @Hybris), Jonas Rieke (COO @Personio), Sebastian Dettmers (CEO @Stepstone), Jean-Denis Greze (CTO @Plaid), Tido Carriero (Former CPO @Segment), Sidharth Kakkar (Co-Founder, CEO @Freckle Education), Humberto Ayres Pereira (CEO @Rows) and more.
Hi Alex, Please tell me about yourself.
Hi Robin, I am Alex, the Co-Founder of Kombo.dev, the unified API for HR Tech. Here are some fun facts about me: I collect owls, have been playing basketball since I was four years old, and enjoy challenging my boundaries.
You have always been a founder. You had started two other companies before Kombo.dev. - you are a supposedly born founder. Are founders born or made? Could you tell us about your story and how you feel about entrepreneurship?
As Bill Aulet describes in "Disciplined Entrepreneurship," I also believe that entrepreneurship is a skill that can be learned. However, I have never delved deeper into this idea, as it has felt natural since childhood. From the earliest venture at seven years old (reselling my duplicate Panini Sticker in branded packages) to my first legal startup at 18, and now with Kombo, it has always felt like I could use my strengths to the best of my ability.
During this journey, you went through programs. You went to CODE University and Y-Combinator. How did these experiences support your journey? There is a hands-on component, but what did it do to your mission and vision in this life, how impactful, and what have been the turning points?
Both institutions have had a significant impact on my personal trajectory and that of the entire team. CODE was the place where I first felt like I wasn't alone in my drive to make a difference. Additionally, my co-founders and I got to know each other there, gaining two years of experience in what makes a bad startup and how to improve it. Joining Y-Combinator was the perfect next step for us after CODE. YC helped us understand startups and how to think big, and gave us the confidence that, despite our age, we could make an enormous impact.
Can you speak about YC particularly? Many founders admire becoming part of it all over the world - what happens there - how did it impact you and your team?
At Kombo, we had already developed strong engineering power house before joining Y-Combinator. However, YC helped us improve in every area besides engineering, including B2B sales, maintaining co-founder relationships, fundraising, and product prioritization, among others. Essentially, YC shared a decade's worth of trial and error with us, enabling us to focus on pushing boundaries while minimizing repeated mistakes. Besides that, the YC brand helped us to increase the trust in Kombo for our GTM.
Please tell us about your co-founders and why you started Kombo.Dev.
Before starting Kombo, the four of us worked as software engineers and had a desire to work on a project together. After brainstorming, we founded a company based on an open-source project by one of my co-founders (apk-mitm). Our main service was helping companies extract and analyze data from mobile apps. During that time, we gained expertise in communicating between APIs. Additionally, since one of our projects was in TA, we also encountered integration issues between job boards and the ATS of their customers. Having already spent a lot of time breaking up data silos at an API level and seeing a rise in HR Tech across the globe, we decided to tackle the integration problem in the HR Tech vertical.
You already work with customers - who should reach out to you today, and how would you support them? What is your business model?
We assist HR Tech companies of all sizes, from startups like Ravio to scale-ups like Factorial and enterprises like New Work, by enabling them to provide streamlined ATS and HRIS integration to their clients. Our customers have faced the challenge of dedicating a significant amount of engineering resources to developing and maintaining integrations prior to using Kombo. This can be a time-consuming and costly process that detracts from their core product features. Our business model is based on the number of integrations a customer has through Kombo, which grows with the customer over time.
What have been recent milestones, successes, challenges, or obstacles that you have achieved or have been facing?
One of the biggest challenges in building Kombo has been establishing relationships and partnerships with HRIS and ATS providers around the world. This was a major challenge in the early days and remains an essential part of our work. However, as awareness of our product has grown and more and more companies worldwide are using Kombo, it has become easier. Nowadays, we even receive inbound requests from HR systems that want to be integrated through us.
What kind of partnerships or collaborations is your company seeking?
We establish strong partnerships with ATS and HRIS companies. Our superior understanding of integrating their public APIs allows us to offer consultation to our partners regarding market standards and best practices for designing and deploying future-proof APIs. This will be a key selling point for our partners' customers in the next decade. Additionally, we help our partners allocate fewer resources to technical partnership support, as their partners can normally connect to their APIs through Kombo.
You are scaling, and Talent Acquisition and team building will likely be a topic. How do you feel about the current market, Berlin as a base, remote work, and macro environment regarding talent?
TA and team building is definitely our biggest challenge. We know that as first-time founders we still have a lot to learn there and therefore we leverage our investors and network as much as possible. We also decided to hire only on-site in Berlin to eliminate additional complexity. As we still have some capital available, the downturn is an opportunity to efficiently attract good talent in the market.
You work with HR companies, likewise payroll and TA companies - do you see a shift in the market? With the companies, you are partnering with or clients you are working with?
We see that many of our partners (ATS & HRIS) now consider the connectivity of their products as a core feature. As a result, many of our integrations partners recommend their partners actively Kombo and have a strong interest in a deeper partnership. On the other hand, the downturn is leading to reduced growth in the TA and HRIS space in general - we see a slight trend from TA towards products focused on cost savings and transparency in the HR space.
You have raised money from YC, 468 Capital, and considerable value add angels and individual investors. How important do you believe is the right equity story? How important are these individuals, and what would you recommend to founders on building their cap table to go long-term?
I believe it's essential to have a combination of investors who understand the investment game and investors who deeply understand the problem we're solving with Kombo. We've done a great job by adding experienced investors, such as YC and 468, as well as individuals who have an in-depth knowledge of the problem we're solving, such as Paul Forster (Founder of Indeed), Sultan Saidov (Co-Founder of Beamery), and Sebastian Dettmers (CEO of Stepstone). Therefore, our institutional investors support us on the overall fundraising, while our individuals help us nail down the details and provide a signal that industry experts are convinced by what we are doing.
Thank you, Alex!
The Kombo.Dev Team