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Building a Fast-growth SaaS HR Technology Company: Justworks CEO Isaac Oates (Part 1)

Posted on Monday, Aug 21st 2017

Justworks is a fast-growth VC-funded startup in New York in the Human Capital Management space, catering to small businesses.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your personal journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?

Isaac Oates: I grew up in New Jersey. I was actually born in California and moved around a lot with my mom. I grew up with a single mom. We moved around the country as she went to different jobs, but I spent most of my childhood in central New Jersey where I had some really incredible opportunities like I went to a magnate school, which was High Technology High School. I got to work during high school at Bell Labs.

Sramana Mitra: What about higher education? What did you do after for college or university?

Isaac Oates: When I graduated from high school, I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for their Computer Science program. When I graduated, I interviewed for a job at CIA and Amazon. It was after 9/11. I took the job at Amazon.

Sramana Mitra: Did you get the job at the CIA?

Isaac Oates: I got the job offer and then I started going through their background check process and it felt a little bit invasive and decided that it wasn’t the life I wanted to have.

Sramana Mitra: So you went to work for Amazon instead.

Isaac Oates: Yes, I was actually there twice. I started there in 2002 and I was on a team called third-party payments. I learned all about the vowels of payment processing. I left to go to business school and came back to Amazon later as a product manager, working on payments again. I spent most of my 20’s working on payments.

Sramana Mitra: When did that second Amazon stint finish?

Isaac Oates: I left at the end of 2008 right in October as the economy was melting down. I had been working on this project there. I just decided that I wanted to start something. Coincidentally, I called a friend of mine from high school. I asked him about starting a company. He was like, “Hey, Jason and I are working on starting a company.” That’s how I got involved with my first startup, which was called Adtuitive. We raised Series A in March of 2009 and proceeded to move into New York city in April of 2009. That was how I ended up in the startup world.

Sramana Mitra: What was that startup about? What did you do there?

Isaac Oates: We were in adtech, which was a pretty crowded space at that time. Jason had built this engine which would generate these contextual ads. It showed different products related to the content that you were looking at. We worked on it for about a year and then at the end of 2009, Etsy ended up acquiring the company.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Building a Fast-growth SaaS HR Technology Company: Justworks CEO Isaac Oates
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