Above: Joel Spolsky, chief executive of Stack Exchange.
Software extraordinaire Joel Spolsky figured out some years ago that if you want your startup to get big really fast, venture capital can help. And Spolsky, the chief executive of Stack Exchange, the company that runs question-answering websites like the popular programmer hangout Stack Overflow, is completely convinced that Stack Overflow could become the premiere place on the Internet for finding and hiring the best developers around.
Which is why Stack Exchange is back at it, taking on funding. Today’s news is a $40 million round for the startup, and for the most part it’s earmarked for the careers section of Stack Overflow.
The idea is to create more of a full-on “product suite,” Spolsky told VentureBeat in an interview. That means making it possible for companies to buy packages including job listings, customizable informational websites, and the ability to search through candidates.
If things work out as Spolsky imagines, Stack Overflow could make people forget about CareerBuilder, Dice, Monster, and even LinkedIn for their dev-hiring needs.
The most important distinction for Spolsky is that developers already have a good reason to hang out on Stack Overflow. The site is a place developers hit up when they want answers to their tough technical questions — and it’s also a place where experts like to weigh in and increase their credibility. In short, Stack Overflow has the respect of developers. The authoritative nature of the content makes it popular on Google search results, and altogether it’s one of the most popular sites on the Internet, according to Alexa’s numbers.
Hiring is merely the way Stack Exchange can and does make money, and now the startup is doubling down on it.
Stack Overflow first launched in 2008. It came after the rise and fall of a Q&A website that operated behind a paywall, Experts Exchange. The site “kind of became enemy No. 1 for programmers,” Spolsky said. After it disappeared, years went by with no clear place to go to find possible solutions to software engineering problems. Newsgroups were fragmented, and it wasn’t always easy to determine the right newsgroup for a given issue involving multiple technologies.
Spolsky was well aware of these problems, and he thought features like tags and voting might lead to a vastly better service. At the time he was serving as cofounder of software development shop Fog Creek Software and occasionally writing on his well-read blog Joel on Software. But everyone at Fog Creek was busy working on other things. So he teamed up with fellow software blogger Jeff Atwood, who then brought in a couple of friends. A beta version of Stack Overflow debuted within a few months. Atwood and Spolsky recorded podcasts nearly every week for nearly two years.
More and more developers were signing up, ultimately convincing Spolsky that Stack Overflow could be an essential tool for the average developer. He determined that it ought to receive backing from outside investors, in order to make the thing really grow. And from that point, the careers portion of Stack Overflow became more critical.
Almost five years later, careers remain important for the financial health of Stack Overflow. But that doesn’t mean Stack Exchange is done improving its core Q&A component. The startup wants to improve the experience for brand new users, as well as power users who “log on every night, looking for questions to answer, trying to improve their reputation, playing the game, getting badges,” Spolsky said.
More than 200 people work at New York-based Stack Exchange. The headcount should reach 300 by year’s end, Spolsky said.
Andreessen Horowitz led the latest round in Stack Exchange. Bezos Expeditions, Index Ventures, Spark Capital, and Union Square Ventures also participated. To date the startup has raised $70 million.
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