From Vend to Populate: Kirsti Grant's 'audacious' goals

A recruiter's own redundancy sparked the birth of a new success story, reports Tao Lin.

Tao Lin / Stuff.co.nz

Former Vend VP of talent Kirsti Grant's latest venture, Populate, is just the first in what she plans to be a whole raft of tools to help businesses grow smarter and faster.

The brains behind the rapid growth of a leading Kiwi tech company is taking on the challenge of recruitment in her latest start-up.

Kirsti Grant and partner Lance Hodges have set up Populate, a tool to help companies recruit better and smarter.

Grant was the vice president of talent at cloud-based retail point of sales company Vend for more than two years, growing the company from 37 people based in Auckland to more than 250 staff around the world. Hodges was a vice president of product at the same company.

Passionate about diversity in business, Kirsti Grant is excited to see more womennot just doing great things, but ...
LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

Passionate about diversity in business, Kirsti Grant is excited to see more womennot just doing great things, but sharing how to do them.

When Grant's role was disestablished, the pair decided to go it alone.

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Now, their fledgling firm Populate has a growing client base, with some United States-based companies to sign on from July, a new employee is due to start tomorrow and there will be more hiring to do in coming months. 

Kirsti Grant and trusty companion Moose are planning on world domination with new business growth tool Populate.
LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

Kirsti Grant and trusty companion Moose are planning on world domination with new business growth tool Populate.

The idea for Populate came from Grant's personal experience in growing Vend's workforce.

"I was in a position where I needed to hire all of the people, and I had a blank canvas. I had a company that had a really great culture - all of the perfect ingredients to build something really cool," she says.

But the hiring plan involved multiple spreadsheets and the headache of keeping everyone from human resources and finance to executive management and team leaders in the loop.

It was a mess that had to have a solution and according to extensive research they conducted, it was something other businesses struggled with as well, Grant says.

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The research unearthed the need for tools that allow companies to better collaborate on recruitment, have better planning and get more insight on how the business is doing.

Populate also fits nicely with what Grant and Hodges want to ultimately achieve.

"Our focus has always been on building better companies and helping companies scale smarter. If you can get an organisation to scale right, then you may not need to do things like restructures that can really impact on your organisation," Grant says.

Some time in San Francisco earlier this year, thanks to a programme by the Kiwi Landing Pad and BNZ, gave Grant invaluable insight into the ultra-competitive US market.

This included a lesson on a rookie mistake many Kiwi entrepreneurs may not be aware of.

"Don't call it 'San Fran'. It's either San Francisco or 'SF'. If you say 'San Fran', it basically means you don't know what you're talking about. So when you're talking to potential investors or potential customers, that's a really important thing to know," Grant says.

The month-long experience has shaped the business plan and gave Grant and Hodges the insight to build a product that could be supported in the future when they started to scale it overseas.

Grant started her career at Trade Me Jobs as an account manager in 2008 before setting up her first company, Social Sauce, in 2012, specialising in helping companies use social media to recruit.

She was already helping Vend with some LinkedIn content when the company entered a capital-raising stage.

"I knew what that meant from a hiring perspective, so I asked the question of whether or not they would need some help with that."

Three weeks later, she started the company on its way to exponential growth.

Her experience in growing Vend also taught her that sometimes it helps to slow down the pace to build the culture, encourage diversity and care for the staff.

The approach to growing Populate is therefore relatively laid-back; seeing how the first month goes before moving on to the next.

But with "big hairy audacious goals" to achieve in the next 12 months, Grant says there is a bit of hustle involved at the moment.

"But it's a good hustle," she says.

The original story incorrectly stated that Grant took on her former employer Vend as a current client. This has been modified and more context around Grant's career history has been added.

 - Stuff

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