The other day Michael Krupa signed the paperwork for a two-year renewal of Cisco's subscription to software from Textio, whose technology helps people write job ads that resonate with a diverse pool of people.
Krupa didn't hesitate — it was fairly priced, and it's made a measurable contribution since Cisco launched it for all of the company's recruiters to use around the world.
Cisco now gets 10 percent more female job candidates and it takes less time to fill positions, said Krupa, senior director for digitization and business intelligence inside the company's office of inclusion and collaboration.
More from CNBC Upstart 100:
How a tiny company that explains the news got Ryan Seacrest and Jimmy Iovine to invest
Two Shark Tank winners are turning TV success into millions with one key ingredient
CNBC unveils its annual list of 100 promising start-ups to watch
"We are the most diverse Cisco we've been since the year 2000," Krupa said in an interview with CNBC, pointing to the company's latest diversity report, which shows 24 percent of Cisco's worldwide employees are women, while 47 percent of U.S. employees identify as nonwhite or non-Caucasian. Textio has contributed to the improvements, Krupa said.
Many technology companies have been rushing to improve their diversity numbers after the biggest ones began to report statistics in 2014.
Textio was founded the same year, but improving diversity through the analysis of the words people use wasn't really the original point of the company, said co-founder and chief technology officer Jensen Harris.
At first he and his wife, Kieran Snyder, who is the other co-founder and the start-up's CEO, imagined putting together a company that could help parents find nearby playgrounds from their mobile devices. The couple, who met while they both worked at Microsoft, incorporated a company called Kidgrid.
But then the couple got a better idea: predicting things like whether Kickstarter campaigns would be funded based purely on the text included in the page about the campaign. They raised their first funding round based on this technology. That's when they started working on their first product, called Textio Hire, which uses artificial intelligence to analyze job posts as people type them out or edit them, and highlights words that could lead to positive as well as negative outcomes.
As you tweak a job post and improve its content, Textio updates the score for the post, based on how gender-neutral and jargon-free the language is, so that fewer people are discouraged from applying. The service stays hip to changes in language in job descriptions over time.
Krupa, at Cisco, keeps an eye on scores company-wide.
"We started probably at the beginning of the year, I think, at 78, and we've been inching up. It looks like we're at about 87, so that's pretty good from the start of the year," he said.
Software company Atlassian has been a Textio customer for more than three years now. Back then it was hiring 10 percent of women for technical roles. In Atlassian's most recent fiscal year, which ended on June 30, the rate was 22.9 percent. Aubrey Blanche, global head of diversity and belonging at the company, said Textio is one of several things that have helped the company improve its statistics.
Textio has helped in changing the mindset of the hundreds of Atlassian employees — primarily in recruiting —who use its web application, Blanche said. But some people in marketing at Atlassian also use Textio to refine text destined for the company's website, she said.
"It's been a really crucial part of helping us build a balanced team over time," Blanche said.
Today Seattle-based Textio has more than 100 employees — whose paychecks still carry the old Kidgrid name — and it has expanded its focus to messages recruiters send directly to candidates. The start-up is on CNBC's 2018 Upstart list and has raised nearly $30 million in funding, from investors like Bloomberg Beta, Cowboy Ventures, Emergence Capital and Scale Venture Partners.
Other technology companies on its customer list include Box, Dropbox, eBay, IBM, Intel, Twitter, VMware, Zillow and Presidio. Outside tech, customers include American Express, CVS and Lockheed Martin.
The collection of clients isn't shabby for such a young company. It probably helps that Textio doesn't have many competitors at the moment. The only obvious alternative, Harris said, is when companies insist on following the hunch of certain people who believe they know the language that might be making a difference.
Textio could continue to grow by sticking with diversity in hiring. Next year the start-up will bring its tools to new areas, though, as it looks to make what it calls "augmented writing" more pervasive, Harris said. He declined to be more specific.