Interview by:

Recently, RNN caught up with Joel Cheesman to discuss his new company, Poach

Some (quick) background: Joel is one of the talent acquisition space's serial-entrepreneurs. He's built product, blogged about other products, sold at least one company, and is currently best known for being the Cheese in the popular HR/ TA podcast Chad & Cheese.

So, things are interesting nowadays. How’re you doing?

I think the same as most of us - watching what’s unfolding. How to sustain this is going to be interesting. Certainly with the podcast, we’re seeing layoffs every week. I’m just wondering how long and deep this thing is going to go. Certainly it’s a rough time - people leave and never come back. But… this is life. How about you?

It’s the same here, just a new normal. We all get better at Zoom as a society. I got curious when I heard about Poach. It’s an interesting problem you’re trying to solve. What can you tell me about your approach and vision?

I’ve got a company called Ratedly. We’ve been tracking and monitoring what’s been going on with the employee review space for four years now. Ratedly is more of an employer brand manager, marketer tool. If you don’t have time to manually go to 30 sites a day to see if there are reviews on you, it’s a tool to monitor that process.

But, I’ve always thought: “how do you use this employer brand tool, this monitoring tool, and turn it into a recruiting tool?” It dawned on me that by tracking sentiment at a company you could start sort of seeing around corners. And that's ultimately what I want to try to do.

Can you talk a bit about that - what’s the practical bit you’re solving for a TA professional? What’s the edge they get?

Sure. Right now, if you go to LinkedIn, you can see who's already quit. You can start seeing trends, like people leaving or layoffs. Basically headcount decreasing at a company.

But that’s very reactionary to me. By the time you call in that company, most people are already gone that were going to be gone anyway. So how can you start looking at sentiment data and how it trends over time to start to basically strike before it's too late? Before the fox has already been in the hen house, so to speak.

The the basic sentiment is with all the data tools out there, as well as what we've learned with with the data that we've been collecting with Ratedly. How do we help a company, a recruiter, basically see the curveball before it, before it's out of the pitcher's hand so that they know when to swing the bat? And that's that's essentially what Poach is.

So, that said, when you launch a company, it's pretty easy to lay out the basic vision. Sort of where we're going with the first version. My experience is that customers largely direct you where you go from there? I have a road map in my head, a north star, so to speak. But what I know is ultimately, winds are going to blow different directions and waves are going to come. Things are going to come up in the landscape that you don’t expect.

What's the core idea behind that?

The basic premise is that there's data out there in terms of in terms of employee reviews and conversations that's already going out on the Web publicly. How do you take that data and start creating sentiment around pro or negative, and then trending that almost like a stock chart. Like moving averages and where things are going so that you know “now's a good time to start calling on this company before it’s too late.”

We're also looking at news data, for example. Anything that’s bankruptcy related or about layoffs or under investigation or any sort of negative term, or even positive term, because we want to track positive sentiment as well. How can that help you create a better strategic advantage in going after your competitions employees? And that's what Poachs vision is like.

I like how the multiple data sources you're looking at kind of triangulate around the action. I’m curious how you bounce the data points off each other, what insights that gives you?

Well, there are so many different things. I can touch on news. Stock prices. What's going on with that? But there are a lot of different pieces, news sources and bits of information that you can start looking at to try to provide information. When timing might be right to go to go poaching another company. Some of that is secret sauce kind of stuff that I’m not going to get too much into yet. But ultimately, there's a lot of data out there. And how do you slice and dice that? That matters too.

And the beauty of it is, timing wise, with the AI tools that Google, Watson, Microsoft all provide, there's an engine now to take this data and you get to use it the way that you want to use it. Whereas I never would have been able to afford creating an engine like that, that they provide for you at a reasonable cost.

So the timing of this is kind of kind of cool, because when Ratedly started four years ago, AI and what that meant and taking data and making sense of it were really in the early stages, particularly with letting third parties leverage that technology to use for their own data.

I'm kind of assuming your algorithm has got a lot of interesting points jumping in that kind of massage things the data. I’m sure that'll evolve over time as you gain insights. What's the line? “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

SoI think where automation is going with recruiting in general. You can start to see how to take that data and act on it with automated tools. it can become a really interesting dynamic with a product like that.

A decade ago there was a rallying cry among some early pioneers “data as a service”. It was smart - just way ahead of its time. It took Google, Microsoft, etc to really build up enough data capabilities to offer this.

Yeah. The ingredients that you have now didn't even really exist even back in those days. So now that there are more the ingredients, it's like, “okay, let's build upon, let's start mixing these flavors and get something tasty.”

I’d love to hear about how you see this helping the industry?

I think time is something that we all have a finite finite number on it. We all have 24 hours a day. That’s it. I’d like to give them some of that back.

Also, there are two camps about AI. One side thinks AI are going to try to replace the recruiter. The other thinks it's going to augment the recruiter and make them an even better recruiter. So if you're in the camp of technology’s going to aid recruitment as opposed to replace it, then providing technologies that help enable a recruiter do their job more ably, to me makes a lot of sense. So things like automated scheduling. No brainer, right? Chatbot that answers questions like: “where is your headquarters located, what time is it when your office hours?” Of course that makes sense to use.

Things that save recruiters time and make them a better recruiter. I think it's going to be where the future of software goes in our industry, and it already is. Without Poach, sure, you  could manually track - it would take a hell of a lot of time - your top 20 competitors in a local market or in a segment. But how much time is it going to take you to do that? Chances are it's going to take you a shitload of time. And the data crunching that a machine can do is going to far surpass what a recruiter can do, although the nuance that a recruiter can add to the to the technology and the data is something that’s something pretty special.

So in terms of what problem am I trying to solve? One, I'm trying to save a recruiter time. I'm trying to make a recruiter smarter. If I was tracking 50 stocks and I did that by just looking at a stock chart and trying to make my best guess, am I going to be better than if I have tons of data crunching in terms of trends and news and things that are gone with the company? The same thing is fairly similar with recruiting.

I could go to 20 Glassdoor pages and see what the star rating is for my competitor. But how much of the story is that really telling? It's actually a pretty small amount of the story. So we're trying to do something you get from the stock market. We're trying to do that for recruiters and help them take data and dig down into data. They wouldn't have time to do manually do that for them. So they're hopefully working more efficiently and working smarter and probably looking at things through our through our data and through what we're looking at.

Who's the who's the target audience for this? Is it sourcers, recruiters? Is it TA execs, all of the above, staffing, RPO?

That's a tough one. Sometimes, you build something and you don't really know who uses it. I certainly expect  in-house recruiters to use it. I expect staffing agencies to use it. Heads of TA departments I expect to use it. But similar with Ratedly - CEOs don't have time to go to 30 review sites to see what their employees are saying. We'd never really considered Ratedly to be a nice add for a CEO who's too busy to track this stuff but thinks it's really important to know what their employees are saying about them. So that was a market that we didn't necessarily see. I'd also say that Wall Street was a market that we didn't necessarily see coming. But if you're an analyst for a company, it makes a lot of sense to know, review-wise, what are people saying about a company that you're analyzing? Right. Because if you see trends that are negative, that may impact your investment decisions or trading decisions on a company.

So in terms of who am I making it for? I think ultimately anyone who has recruiter, TA, sourcing in their title would probably find this a tool that's worth their while and looking into.

What about VCs?

As users, or giving me money?

Well, I guess one question can lead to the other. The question that I was asking was more about them as a target - the smarter VCs have sophisticated recruiting support for their investments, and they might be interested in understanding employee sentiment at potential investments. Just a side-thought. But, that said… how are you planning to fund?

My goal is full bootstrap at this point. I've been approached like “hey, when you’re ready to, let’s chat.” So the fact that there is some interest is certainly positive. But it's something that can be done through through me personally, at least at first. Let's get to version one. Let's see what it can be. If there can be something truly bigger better, or if it's something that can be truly large that I can't grow organically or through my own resources, then I would certainly look at that. But historically, I'm a guy that likes to be in control. I like to do things without consensus or committee. And so to take VC would be something that would be out of my comfort zone. So I don't anticipate that happening. I think ultimately with the first few versions of the product, it can grow organically pretty well. Pandemic, excluded, of course.

So how has our new reality impacted your planning? I'm assuming it is that you've been planning this for more than a few months now.

Or it certainly affects it. But throughout history, some of the best startups have been born out of  disastrous situations. 2008 gave us Uber and AirBnB and many others. 2008 made Indeed, for example, and also killed Monster and CareerBuilder and some of the older companies, what had been the standard bearers in the business.

I think that the trend of cool technology and businesses around our space and tech have been growing on for a long time. And you could build them without a lot of overhead, a lot of headcount, et cetera. So because I'm not getting I'm not getting five million and building a staff and going big, I don't worry too much about that.

And frankly the business that I'm making doesn't need to have 10000 recruiters to be successful.

The tech is already built, at least the hard stuff. The data engine.

For sure. So if you look at , say, healthcare, they’re still recruiting. Trucking is still recruiting. Logistics - still recruiting. Warehousing. Some local markets will come back quicker than others. Certain countries will come back quicker than others. So. Am I worried about it? I'm worried about it if the shit really goes to hell. But then we're all screwed at that point.

So for me, I can get development talent, I can get people focused on this that maybe have time to focus on it. And it's not going to cost me as much as it would if they had a ton of opportunities at the moment. Right now you're looking for contract developers they have time to do stuff now because things have come to a screeching halt. So in many ways, it's a perfect time to build a startup sort of on a bootstrap budget.

Also, the flip-side - potential buyers of customers have time to review things. There's more time for recruiters to look at products, to look at new things. I was talking to Tim Sackett, we interviewed him. It may have been his predictions for 2020, not sure. Tim made a comment. He said something along the lines of, “Everyone who had recruiters on staff, you know, the times were good. The money was flowing. The ones that have laid off recruiters, when things get better again and they have to pay up, when they have to continue to hire, they're going to have to go off the fence of whether I'm going to automate or continue with a huge headcount.”

And my guess is a lot of companies will look at solutions to automate some of this stuff and probably either reduce or just not add to headcount, maybe just keep the best of the best recruiters. But I do think there's a good opportunity to say, look, recruiters are looking, heads of recruiting are looking at new solutions to help create efficiencies in recruiting, to be smarter in recruiting. So solutions like mine will probably get attention than they may have gotten when times were good and the money was flowing.

Joel, thanks for this. I know you aren’t live yet, but how do people get in touch with you if they want to hear more, kick tires, all of that?

We're taking we're taking orders now, so to speak. People can go to the site, submit their email address. We'll have that beta round first for people who have requested early access, have them kick it around, give feedback. They're not just going to go to a Web site and just read a pamphlet, they’ll actually be able to get in early in terms of our beta testing. Our first version so to speak, they'll be able to keep in touch or keep in contact with this company because we'll send emails in terms of what's going on in the company.

I'm happy to chat again, and give you an update once we go live.