Los Angeles-based 81cents has helped more than 900 underrepresented employees successfully negotiate their salaries with an average 18% increase.
For founder Jordan Sale, it was meaningful work that paid off both for her members and, eventually, her — in the form of an acquihire.
The pay equity startup, founded 2018, grew into a community of more than 3,000 hiring managers and recruiters who supported candidates pro bono through salary negotiations with affordable and virtual support.
Bootstrapped, the company also sold Market Value Reports, priced at $245. The 25-page report offered personalized feedback, tactical advice and market data collected from professionals, hiring managers and recruiters specific to the candidate’s field.
Landing on this price point proved to be one of the most challenging aspects of the business, Sale said.
“You’d think that working in pay equity I’d have no problem charging for my work, but, ironically, setting high enough pricing was one of my biggest challenges,” she said.
Sale leaned on mentors as she navigated the process, and she ultimately landed on the realization that, if she didn’t charge competitively enough, 81cents wouldn’t even exist.
“Isn’t it better if we exist and charge for a version of our service than not exist at all?” she said.
In its early days, 81cents raised $75,000 in non-dilutive funding through five grants:
- The CommonBond Social Impact Pitch Competition
- The Jewish Free Loan Association
- The Hansoo Lee Fellowship at UC Berkeley
- UC Berkeley Haas School of Business Entrepreneurship Program
- UCLA Anderson Venture Accelerator
A 4-year-old cold intro turns into an acquihire for 81cents
After working on 81cents full time for two years, Sale got a full-time job to financially support herself. She then dedicated her nights and weekends to 81cents, and with the help of about five contractors, managed to increase their annual revenue to mid- to high-5 figures.
Along with the 950 paying members, they had about 5,000 email subscribers.
Even so, Sale said she wasn’t looking to sell — until Brian Liou, founder of Rora, pitched her the idea. Rora provides 1:1 salary negotiation support for tech professionals. Liou’s vision? To join forces and use the 81cents brand and community to build out Rora’s DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) arm.
Sale had met Liou about four years prior. A professor at the University of California, Berkeley, where they had both attended school, suggested they connect.
“I think founders often get these kinds of asks and, while you definitely need to set boundaries and shouldn’t say ‘yes’ to every call, it’s kind of cool that one could turn into an acquisition offer a few years down the line,” Sale said.
Leading up to the acquihire, Sale and Liou met for an hour every week for at least six months. They even embarked on a 12-hour road trip together — the ultimate bonding experience.
“Along the way, we realized how complementary our skill sets and visions were — and, more so, the exciting potential of combining the 81cents mission and community with Rora’s impactful, personalized coaching model,” Sale wrote in a press release announcing the acquisition.
Sale also told us she came to realize this acquihire could be her path back to going all-in on the business again.
The acquihire: “It feels like the sky’s the limit”
For Sale, the legal process of the acquihire was more rigorous than she expected — even for a small deal.
“It requires you to spend lots of time thinking about what can go wrong, which, while a healthy exercise, can also lead to some paranoia about all the ways in which the deal might backfire,” she said.
She had a few calls with Liou along the way to make sure they both wanted to move forward. It was also an opportunity to remind each other why they were doing this.
“Being a solo founder, I was really interested in being a part of a larger team and having more support and resources, which is what I ultimately found with Brian and the team at Rora,” Sale said.
The deal became official in May 2022. The majority of the payment Sale received from the acquihire was in Rora stock, though she’s unable to share exact numbers. She will unlock additional equity over the next 1.5 years when she hits certain milestones.
Immediately following the transaction, Sale took some time off to decompress, and then moved into a general manager role at Rora, to lead its marketing and impact work.
“It’s been an awesome experience, and I have the kind of energy and excitement I had during my first year of working on 81cents — where it feels like the sky’s the limit,” she said.