Robyn Grable, Navy Veteran & CEO of Talents ASCEND
Tell us about you and your military background:
I am Robyn Grable, currently living in Simpsonville, SC. South Carolina is the ninth state I have lived in since growing up in Indiana and joining the Navy right after high school. I served for nine years in the United States Navy. I joined on July 24, 1979 and left the service on April 1, 1988. I had just passed the written test for E-7. I left the Navy before going through the initiation process to actually get my anchors pinned on.
I joined the Navy undesignated and didn’t choose an occupation until one year later. There weren’t enough female company commanders (drill instructors) so I was one of five new recruits chosen to be an assistant company commander just days after graduating basic training myself. I advanced from E-2 to E-6 in six years. Notable duty stations are NAS Keflavik, Iceland. Absolutely beautiful country. We tracked submarines and I learned a lot about national security. What I didn’t know or at least remember being aware of, the real threat of Russia and nuclear war. After Iceland, I was stationed at NAS Jacksonville, FL and then Topsham, Maine near NAS Brunswick. After that, three years at DPSCPAC, Pearl Harbor, HI, I then went to programming school in Quantico, VA with orders to the National Weather Station in Monterey, CA when I made the decision to leave the Navy.
Tell us about your business:
My business is Talents ASCEND. We are headquartered in Simpsonville, SC. Our entire team works remotely from all corners of the country. I started the business as Veterans ASCEND in 2018 for veterans only. We added military spouses in 2019 and in 2020 I created Ability ASCEND for the disability community. In 2022, we consolidated and formed Talents ASCEND.
Our mission is to be the beacon of intentional change for talent diversity, equity and inclusion. We make employment simple. We make sourcing talent simple. Simplicity lowers the barrier to entry by increasing the number of people who can participate. Using AI, we work with businesses to support a skills-based sourcing process inclusive of talent from the military, disability and justice-involved communities.
Our company’s primary goal is to shift the sourcing paradigm, eliminate antiquated recruiting processes and replace them with a web-based, skills matching technology that serves both employers and candidates. Sourcing talent today is broken. Resumes are exclusionary. Job descriptions are outdated or simply a list of tasks to be performed, not skills needed to perform the job. Talents ASCEND translates and matches skills while our team becomes a trusted partner to our clients, helping them value the skills in diverse talent pools, ensuring equity and inclusion in their hiring process.
Businesses with less than 1,000 employees are our target market although our platform works for any size business who is intentional about eliminating bias and barriers to connect with the right talent with the right skills for the role, regardless of gender, ethnicity, background, age or how they earned their skills (school, military or life).
Coming up with the idea for Talents ASCEND was years in the making and truly a gift of the creativity I am blessed to have. Coming up with the idea started with being a female in the Navy during a time when females could not be in certain occupations. Skill didn’t matter. My gender did. Leaving the Navy and having a resume writer tell me, my skills didn’t translate but because I am a female, I could go to any staffing agency and easily get an administrative job. The catalyst though hit me twenty-five years later when an Army veteran’s wife told me her husband had been out for six months, could not get an interview, he was spiraling downward and she didn’t know how to help him. I knew then I had to do something and the simple idea of matching a veterans’ skills to the skills an employer needs, without a resume or application barrier, was born.
Describe how you got the business started:
I came up with the idea in 2014. We didn’t have the money for development though until we sold a house in 2018. We used the profit from the house to get the development started. Then we ask family and friends. We went to a big bank for a loan but they felt software was too risky and with nothing to sell if we didn’t make the payments. The cost to build the software was six figures to start and of course, kept going up. Developers in the US are expensive and ours saw the opportunity to take advantage of someone who had never built a SaaS before. It was a tough lesson to learn.
As for research, I knew from my own experience getting out of the Navy that translating skills is an issue. I also have over 30 years experience in human capital planning with a lot of time spent as a recruiter and HR consultant. I started out volunteering for a local veteran nonprofit, being a traditional recruiter and documenting the barriers. When we started building the platform, we jumped right in without training or mentors initially.
We launched the platform on January 2, 2019 and our first client signed up on January 5, 2019. We started networking and talking with potential clients in September 2018 once the candidate side was live.
Tell us why you wanted to become an entrepreneur:
My inspiration started with my experience in the Navy as a female. My experience when I left the Navy and found myself undervalued and the catalyst was meeting a veteran’s wife who shared her husband’s struggle with getting an interview. Through my years in HR, I witnessed countless employers struggle to find talent for their organization. Many of them want to hire military veterans but without the knowledge to translate skills or how to connect, where to find them and other misperceptions.
I have worked for several small/medium sized businesses to a few large corporations as well. I do have several friends, family and fellow veterans who are entrepreneurs. I’ve learned a lot from and with them along the way.
Describe how your military background prepared you for entrepreneurship:
The military most definitely prepared me for anything including entrepreneurship. Resilience, persistence, perseverance, courage, dedication and purpose. I was fortunate to get a lot of training on computers, programming languages, human resources and account management. I’ve come full circle using all those skills creating a software platform. Being an entrepreneur requires resilience, persistence, perseverance, courage, dedication and purpose.
Tell us about some of your obstacles and challenges, and how you overcame them:
My family and friends are one of the main reasons I keep going. Their faith in me, their love for me is my fuel. My mother was 17 when she had me. She didn’t get to graduate high school because she chose to let me be born. My biological father being 20 years old couldn’t handle the responsibility so he enlisted in the Air Force and my mother made the hard choice to leave me with an aunt and uncle for the first year of my life and then when I was two, she remarried. Another alcoholic. Pregnant again and I took a back seat. My biological father remarried a woman who abused me physically and mentally. I subsequently grew up with limited beliefs and mindset issues. I survived. It made me stronger.
There are plenty of resources available to entrepreneurs. It’s a matter of finding them and asking for help. Several times over our five years though, we have lacked the funds we needed. A major issue for female entrepreneurs and worse for those creating a SaaS. We are fortunate to be a fully remote company with no need for production or distribution. We are blessed that my life experience has given me what I need to build this company.
Describe how you’re doing today and what the future looks like:
Our revenue doubled 2020 over 2019. It quadrupled 2021 over 2020 and quadrupled again in 2022 over 2021. Our mission is to be the beacon of intentional change for talent diversity, equity and inclusion. Our priority is to advocate for military veterans, military spouses, the disability community, the justice-involved community and first responders. Our goal is to replace the antiquated resume and application process with skills-based hiring to ensure people are valued and not dismissed. Our future is bright because we are here to make a difference. Have a positive impact and provide a service to those who have served our country and those who face unjustified barriers. We are the future of hiring.
Share some advice with your fellow vetepreneurs:
There are so many lessons we’ve learned over the first five years. Seek knowledge from those who are where you want to be and find out how they’ve gotten where they are.
You will need help. No matter what business you are starting, you will need help at one time or another. Look for people you can help along the way. Helping others, helps you. Trust your instincts and your advisors. Learn about finance and how to budget and forecast. Even if your business makes a lot of money from day one, learn how to manage it and plan for what happens when it runs out. You may not think it will but if you aren’t prepared for when it does, it will sink you. Read and absorb as much motivational information and professional development as you can. As a veteran, there are a ton of resources to get free certification, assistance and tools for your business. Have fun. Be grateful. Know your why.
Where can we go to learn more: