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JobBoardGeek podcast: Blockchain meets a job board – what happens next?

JobBoardGeek PodcastIn this episode of JobBoardGeek, we talk to Arran Stewart of Job.com about how he has married a job board to a blockchain-powered sourcing system via multiple staffing firm acquisitions. Yes, you read that right! Jeff Dickey-Chasins of JobBoardDoctor and Steven Rothberg of College Recruiter ask Arran about how the whole thing started, whether ‘blockchain’ is smoke and mirrors or an integral part of his offering, and what he’s planning to achieve by 2025. Jeff and Steven also discuss Jobcase’s acquisition of Recruitology, and Steven makes the case for why he thinks it may succeed.

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Transcript:

[music]

 

0:00:00.8 Jeff Dickey-Chasins: Hello everyone, and welcome to JobBoardGeek. It’s the podcast about the business of connecting candidates and employers. My name is Jeff Dickey-Chasins, the Job Board Doctor, I am your host, and here with me today is the co-host, the pugnacious Steven Rothberg of College Recruiter. Hey, Steven.

[chuckle]

0:00:21.5 Steven Rothberg: Pugnacious. Well, I actually have a Cocker Spaniel Poodle Mix, a Cockapoo, not a pug, but my personality is not unlike that of a pug. So there you go. I’ll take that, I’ll take that as a compliment.

0:00:38.0 JD: I was getting harassed by some listeners over this week’s episode because I didn’t call you anything, I just said, “Steven”, and they’re like, “We wait to hear the word of the week and you have to deliver on that.” And so you know what? You’re saddled with it now, guy.

0:00:53.9 SR: Yeah, the next time, if you forget to come up with some kinda nickname, just say “Steven”, and then spit, and I think everybody will completely understand and endorse that.

0:01:04.2 JD: Yeah, I have more respect for my microphone than that. But anyway, today we have a great guest, Arran Stewart, of Job.com, he’s coming here via the UK, via Austin, to talk to us about his very interesting business, and I think you’re gonna be fascinated by all the different pieces he has to it. But first, I wanted to chat a little bit with Steven. Yesterday, Jobcase acquired Recruitology. Now, for those of you that don’t know Jobcase, it’s been around since 2015, it calls itself “The LinkedIn for blue-collar workers.” They’ve gotten a fair amount of funding over the years, I think in the neighborhood of about 80 million, and they claim an audience of 130 million members, so a sizable organization. Recruitology was actually… Started life as AfterCollege a number of years ago, and rebranded itself and expanded some of its services a few years later as Recruitology. They offer a lot of different things. They have an applicant tracking system, they do programmatic advertising, they have job board software, and a number of other sort of employer-related tools that they have out there, as well as a large network for distribution.

0:02:20.2 JD: When I look at why would Jobcase want Recruitology, it makes a lot of sense to me, just for the reasons they said, which is basically, “We wanna offer more services to our employers, we want to… We wanna make more money from all of our employers, and we want to also get into the programmatic side of things.” I don’t know, what do you think, Steven?

0:02:40.9 SR: Yeah, I love the deal for both sides. One of the things that really hasn’t come out too much in the news, but for people who know these two organizations, it won’t be of any real surprise. Culturally, I think that they are a wonderful match. And Arran, I’m sure, will talk about some of the deals you’ve done and how that must factor into the decision, but I’ve heard repeatedly that one of the primary reasons that acquisitions fail is that culturally, the new people don’t mesh with let’s call them “The old people.” And I’m not talking old people like like Jeff and me, but I’m talking old people, the ones who have been around in the business for longer.

0:03:22.9 SR: I know Fred Goff a bit, I know Roberto Angulo better, the CEOs of Jobcase and AfterCollege. Both of those people are, I think the exception rather than the rule in the media industry, in that they’re not just in it for the money or to build a business or to exit with a big paycheck. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but one of the things that’s always struck me about the two of them is that they very strongly believe in doing good, and if they can also make money at the same time, then fantastic. But I can’t imagine either one of those people ever taking a real immoral or certainly illegal shortcut to make a little bit of extra money, or even a lot of extra money. So I think from what I know about those leaders, their teams are gonna mesh really, really well. And I have to think that’s a big part of it.

0:04:19.6 SR: I did have a conversation yesterday with one of the folks that I know at AfterCollege, and so AfterCollege definitely still continues to exist. It was not replaced by Recruitology, they’re sort of functioning as sister companies, if you will, and what I wasn’t clear about from the press releases is, was the company split apart and was Jobcase only requiring Recruitology, which is essentially the job distribution side of the business. And the answer that is no. The AfterCollege side is part of the acquisition, and so it will continue to operate as a stand-alone job board within the Jobcase family. The person that I talked with at AfterCollege/Recruitology, didn’t say this, but I’m just speculating. I think the reality is the AfterCollege brand will just, over the years, will just fade away, and that the focus will be much more on Jobcase and Recruitology.

0:05:15.8 SR: I think that Recruitology has something like 100,000 small business “customers”, but that’s almost all through a handful of newspaper companies. So they don’t have direct relationships with the local Burger King, who’s posting a cashier kind of a job, but they get those postings. It’ll be really interesting to me to see how Jobcase gets its largely gig and hourly opportunities in front of that Recruitology audience and vice versa. I can see some just tremendously, wonderful synergies between these companies.

0:05:54.5 JD: Well, I guess we’re just gonna have to wait and see what happens. Anyway, I want to welcome to JobBoardGeek our guest today, Arran Stewart, of Job.com. We’re delighted to have you here. Welcome aboard.

0:06:07.4 Arran Stewart: Thanks so much for having me, guys. I am really delighted to be on here too, and like I said, I’m humbled and really pleased to be on the show. So thanks so much.

[chuckle]

0:06:15.6 JD: I don’t think you should be humbled to be on the show, but we are all pleased. So anyway, Arran, I met you a long time ago back when you were running your company as MyJobMatcher, and then obviously, things have changed over the years. But why don’t you give us just a quick rundown on your background and how you got into the industry and all that.

0:06:37.4 AS: Yeah, sure. So I’ve been in RecTech, I guess, for the last 15 years, and again, I always make that joke, but for those that don’t know, I’m a millennial, which means I’ve been in it my all entire career, so it’s about 15 years. I’ve kind of fell into the recruitment space, I think like lots of people say, kind of by accident. I was working for S3, the publicly traded recruitment company in the UK. They own the IT Job Board… Alexandra Farrell, if anyone is familiar and remembers Ray Duggins and those guys back in the day. Great mentors, those individuals, especially Alexandra Farrell, she was awesome. And I arrogantly thought I could do it better. [laughter] And I… And it’s quite interesting when I listened to Joe Casey’s story where they’re like… The LinkedIn for blue collar. You have to believe me when I say this, I founded a job board when I left the IT Job Board in the 2000s and I called it Jobs4Blue and I wanted to create a job board for the middle management downwards, that’s why it was called blue. And it was a catastrophic failure. [laughter]

0:07:41.2 AS: I fell hard on that one, okay. And it really was like a baptism of fire. Learning my own limitations as a young human being, understanding more about what I didn’t know about the industry, about business… Just so many different things. But it then led me on to… I would say to have a good career. Off the back of Jobs4Blue created a piece of software that was effectively like Broadbean but with media buy in and it was called iResourcer. And that got Hamilton Bradshaw… James Caan got involved with that business. And then I sat within Hamilton Bradshaw, Hamilton Bradshaw Technology, we rolled up a number of different recruitment and recruitment technology plays and… My title in HB Tech was I was the chairman which was kind of crazy. It was just me. [chuckle] It was just me rolling, doing these deals. And then in 2011, once that kind of show was over and I’d sort of exited from that, I founded MyJobMatcher with my business partner Paul Sloyan. We’d done some research at the time that showed that the average job seeker in the UK would spend seven hours a week looking for work online and would register with 21 separate employment sites. So it’s 21 separate logins, user interfaces, technical capabilities…

0:08:56.1 AS: And my opinion then was, “It’s a job looking for a job.” And I was like, “Can we use AI or at the time… Kudos to them, Burning Glass, can we use Burning Glass to aggregate content and bring it into one area and just create like this watchdog, daily watchdog.” It was immensely popular. MyJobMatcher grew really, really quickly. We had millions of people register on the platform, we monetized it by basically selling cost per click to job boards, ’cause we aggregate… We were the match aggregator, right. And then we did arbitrage deals on data with lots of different providers and CV writers, resume writers and people that kind of were custodians of large volumes of candidate data, but the longevity of that business was impacted or that business model because of GDPR. GDPR came in, really was like, “We can’t really carry on with this.” Not like this because, we’re not sitting within the rules of GDPR, that’s the reality of it. Coming to America in 2017, we had this good business, it was running well, we were profitable, but we were like, “How can we kind of grow, sustain ourselves and kind of drive into the future, where are we going into the future as a business?”

0:10:01.3 AS: And it was in 2017 that we were acquired job.com. And that was when kind of the pivot happened, where we went from job boards to automated recruitment, automated staffing.

0:10:14.6 SR: From the outside looking in, what it seems to me that Job.com and please shred my analysis. But that the growth strategy is through acquisition.

0:10:26.8 AS: Correct, completely correct.

0:10:27.0 SR: If I’m not mistaken…

0:10:28.2 AS: Completely correct.

0:10:28.4 SR: You just acquired, just days ago, your fifth staffing company?

0:10:34.2 AS: Correct.

0:10:34.4 SR: And so, sort of a two-part question, Jeff says I get one at this point. Too bad. I’m gonna do a part A and part B and deviate from the rules, but… And right, it’s a hard thing just to deal with me and… Oh, well. But anyway, so part of it that I think that the listeners will be interested in as far as a lot of people are… That are listeners are running job boards, they might be owners of job boards, so do talk about the acquisition strategy, but also some of the acquisitions have been with digital media and some of them have been with very traditional staffing companies, those outside of this weird industry that we’re in often don’t see the difference between those two businesses, but they are very different.

0:11:20.1 AS: Correct.

0:11:20.3 SR: Running a burger place is quite different than running a high end sit-down restaurant. Staffing and job boards, at the end of the day, they’re serving the same purpose, but the way they do it is very different. So talk with our listeners about that if you would.

0:11:35.3 AS: Yeah, and I was… Listen Steven, I was so grateful that you’ve teed up the question like that, ’cause that’s the right question. And I get it all the time because people are like, “What the hell are you guys doing over there?” Like, “It doesn’t make any sense.” And I’m like, “Well, if you give me 10 minutes of your time or even an elevator pitch, hopefully, this will help you.” So just for clarity for everyone, we have been on a learning journey ourselves as a business. So like in 2017, ’18 when we decided that we wanted to automate hiring, almost akin to Indeed Hire, okay. Indeed Hire, we want it to be Indeed Hire, but with Job.com. So maybe that… Hopefully now people are like, “Oh, so I do understand a little bit more.” We were like… We went just down the permanent placement market route and we tried to just automate with no humans as Indeed Hire will attest to and it’s not even here anymore, impossible. We’re not… You can’t do it today, okay. And I’m sure people with maybe bigger budgets and bigger ambitions in the future may be able to do it, but Indeed couldn’t do it and we quickly learned that we couldn’t either.

0:12:33.8 AS: But what we did build was a great deal of workflow automation software that we really could prove could remove lots of the low value tasks from a recruitment consultant’s desk every day. And when you look at the 20,000 staffing agencies in America, only 175 of them do more than 100 million, there are manpower industries, so they’re typically low tech, low sophistication. There’s no digital strategy, no digital transformation with these guys. What we thought, what we decided strategically was, I’ll tell you what we’re gonna do, we need access to VMSs, we need access to clients, we need ready-made sales teams and we know that we can raise the revenue and profitability per recruiter desk by introducing workflow automation software. So we’re like, “Okay, we’re gonna go and acquire staffing agencies then and then we will make them use our software which is called Always-On Recruiting.” But then why the Job.com? Because the Job.com is the funnel, it’s the catch-all funnel for all the candidates. It’s the URL that we drive all the candidates through that come through our staffing recruitment process.

0:13:37.8 AS: And Job.com’s goal is to vertically integrate the process akin to what Indeed Hire was looking to do. But the difference between us and Indeed Hire is two things, one, we do direct hire and contract staffing, which Indeed would only do direct hire and two, Indeed would only allow their consultants or recruitment consultants to use Indeed to source candidates, which is cool, but when you consider that leaves out the whole of LinkedIn and everything else. You can’t compete against the other staffing agencies because they’ve got a much bigger plethora of candidates to use. Our consultants can use any source to go and capture candidates to attract, to slot, to search, to mine, but it just runs through Job.com and our software. Our goal is to become a complete data-driven digital staffing company. We’ve bought five staffing agencies so far, we’ve had some incredible growth with some of them, give you an example Fortis, we bought Fortis at 18 million revenue. Fortis is gonna do 12 million revenue in Q1 this year.

0:14:33.5 AS: We did our first million dollar week in the healthcare space with them, all of our businesses are rising and growing, and off the back of this, the other component, which we believe is a value, is there’s different types of machine learning, and we call it supply side or demand side, we did years of supply side machine learning for our AI, which is where you’d send jobs to a candidate in a jobs by email, and let’s say you sent the 20 jobs that match the resume or what the system deemed it matched. And let’s say click on job 1, 3 and 10, you use that as machine learning to say, these were the most relevant jobs for the resume, as I’m sure we’ll all agree candidates think they’re relevant for jobs that they’re not always relevant for, so you don’t get a high level of accuracy.

0:15:11.4 AS: So we went the other route, and went, We should be looking at placement data, we should be looking at the resumes that got hired for the job description, which staff and agencies have decades of data. So we’ve been going that route now to create a much more accurate match. Now hands up before I walk myself into a tiger trap, we’re still capturing data for accuracy, okay? So when I see everyone is like, “Oh, we’ve got AI.” I’m like, “none of us actually really truly truly have AI,” ’cause AI is only as good as the data it has, and we’re all still trying to capture it, right. But we’re all on a journey towards improvement machine learning, so we’re the direct higher staff inversion of Indeed Hire and we’re called Job.com.

0:15:48.5 SR: One thing that’s mystified me, just because I’m not that smart, is that a lot of your most recent promotion of Job.com and the company continually refers to blockchain, and if you go to Job.com, you see references to blockchain, and it’s… To me, it’s not clear why are you’re using that or how you’re defining what you’re doing there.

0:16:11.2 AS: That is actually a little bit on purpose, but I can now furnish you with this because of our patent strategy, okay. So Job.com has multiple patents that are granted, some from acquisitions, some from our own filings. We have submitted 45 patents so far, but we’re averaging about 10 patents submissions a week now. Blockchain for us represent… We have a core use of Blockchain, which is a very basic thing, ownership of a candidate for 12 months with that record that the client was introduced to that candidate on a private Hyperledger fabric. So let me explain what that… ‘Cause I said like jargon jargon. What does that mean? Recruitment companies, right? If they introduce you to a candidate, if you hire that person next 12 months, you owe them a fee, done. We just utilize blockchain as a security level for storing that timestamp to say, this candidate was introduced to the client at this moment, and if they try and backdoor hire them, which lots of companies do.

0:17:05.3 SR: Sure.

0:17:05.7 AS: We have ownership of that candidate for 12 months. That was our very first core basic use of Blockchain by our aspiration, there are 227,827 recruitment consultants placing 16 million people into work every year in the United States, and every single one of those people, they validate their references, their backgrounds, everything else, sometimes over and over again, all that data and all that exhaust gone. They don’t store it, don’t secure anyway. At some point in history, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase and all other financial institutions said, Are we willing to share data with each other to remove friction from the lending process, so that I can now serve customers that I don’t know, but because I know the history of their payments and how they manage their financial life I can lend them. It’s called a credit score. Our goal is to have a score for candidates, and we have built a framework, you’d store this score’s key on a blockchain for security, and the purpose of it is to become effectively the blockchain version of Apple Pay for resumes, and applying for jobs across all staffing agencies, all companies, all platforms and have this information stored as a effectively a credit score, but on blockchain, and we have patented this entire process.

0:18:14.6 AS: Future goal is to try and create the largest database of validating Credit in America. Hugely aspirational, I know before people are like, “Oh, my goodness,” but even today, we’re running rating around… So we’re about 130 million revenue now as a company, and we are set to do seven more acquisitions this year. We’ve got one that closes in two weeks, and we’ve got two more that are under LOI because we are running so many candidates through our process and eventually we’ll launch out this validation piece within our software. We’re gonna start curating and validate database, and we’re gonna look to go to market and create a cooperative governance with all of the platforms out there and go, Can we work together and remove friction from the hiring process and all be governed by a score, kind of like the finance industry, and that is our practical use application of Blockchain in the long-term future.

0:18:58.4 SR: So how far out do you think that is?

0:19:00.1 AS: Well, truthfully, I would love to be able to see an industry use case with ourselves by 2025, that’s when I would love to see it, because you’ve got to have enough data in your own repository that has been validated and it’s got proof of nodes that people trust which would be recruiters or recruitment consultants that have validated data, and then you need to find partners who are willing to accept that that data is truly validated and they’re willing to be bound and listen to that information. I agreed to adhere to this information being accurate, I don’t need to do any further checks. It’s hugely aspirational gentlemen, and it’s something that is phase three in the Job.com sort of strategy plan. We have three phases, this is the last one. We’re already validating this data every day with hundreds of recruiters we currently have, and I’m like, We should be storing this on a log, this should be kept within a key within Blockchain. And yeah, it might not work, it’s more likely not to work or take off than it is, but I feel like I’ve already… I was at SIA literally the other day, ’cause I was a speaker at SIA, one of the presenters. And people were already talking about this stuff already, it’s not just us, I’d love to be like, Oh, we’re the first. This is on the hots and lines of lots of companies, and I had the pleasure of sitting down with, I won’t say her name, but a very senior member of Randstad North America, and they’re already thinking about it too.

0:20:19.0 AS: So for us, it’s like okay, secure in our position, we wanna make sure we have a patent landscape drawn around how we’re gonna do it. Doesn’t mean it might become the commonly adopted way, might not, but I definitely believe that’s a huge exhaust in the industry that really could be captured it could remove friction, it can shorten the time to hire, and our mission at Job.com… And I love that you’ve brought that up, Steven, about people like Fred and Roberto that have a good mission with their business. Our mission is to help as many people feed their families and pay their bills as possible. So we can talk about all the tech you like and all this stuff. We’re here to remove friction, that’s what I care about, and that’s one of the reasons why we’re so passionate about trying to really digitally innovate, not disrupt or displace, innovate to make things better for people.

0:21:06.2 SR: It finally makes sense to me.

0:21:08.3 AS: Did you get it, yes, yes. [laughter]

0:21:12.1 SR: Every explanation that I’ve heard from outsiders about Job.com’s use of blockchain, it basically all boiled down to vapor. It wasn’t real, it’s just a sales pitch. And it’s just like something was gnawing at me. If it was just BS, it would disappear after a few months but it definitely seemed like it was very integral, and you’ve done a really great job of explaining it to us. Thank you.

0:21:38.9 AS: Well, listen, I really appreciate that, and I understand as well. The moonshot that we’re going for, and I accept it, is a big one. But no, this isn’t some sales guff banter. I really am like a tech evangelist and there are way more technical people than me in the world, but I love what this emerging tech could do to remove friction ’cause I’ve just wanna remove… I wanna make it easier for people to get a freaking job. One of those things is, the days you wait for references to be validated, it’s like, I’ve done this twice before. Surely someone must have this recorded somewhere. It just… But then how can we trust it, put it on the most immutable record ever of blockchain, it can’t be hacked, it can’t be changed, it can be… ’cause one of our patents is the storing of a resume utilizing biometrics, so face, fingerprint, password, pin and storing that association key on blockchain. Which means, now you can’t suddenly create… ’cause statistically 85% of candidates lie during the hiring process, that’s a macro statistics, you can Google. Overcoming this issue of, there’s no real accountability anywhere. Well now, we put it on the most trusted server infrastructure known to man, blockchain. Well, we know now that this can’t be manipulated, changed or… It’s the highest level of security, and that’s the reason for the application.

0:22:54.9 JD: Well, listen Arran, we’re out of time but maybe what I’ll do…

0:23:00.1 AS: Oh, I’m sorry. It’s me talking [laughter]

0:23:00.9 JD: No, no, Steven is more at fault than you [laughter] but we’ll come back to you in 2025 and see how things are going. And if you have not hit your goal, you’re gonna hear it from us, so.

0:23:16.0 AS: Yeah, I’ll be waiting Jeff. I’ll be like that, “Oh, they’re gonna rip me apart.” You know that, no, but “I tried, I tried”.

0:23:22.2 JD: We’re just some lowly podcasters. Well, listen Arran, if folks wanna get in touch with you, how can they do that?

0:23:29.0 JD: Well, I mean I have a very unique spelling, so I don’t think there’s many Arran Stewarts with my spelling on LinkedIn, so you can reach me there or just arran@job.com if you wanna reach out and drop me an email.

0:23:40.1 SR: And it’s Arran, A-R-R-A-N.

0:23:42.6 AS: That’s correct sir, that’s correct. Yeah, yeah.

0:23:45.1 JD: Well, Steven, if folks wanna get in touch with you, how do they do that?

0:23:48.9 SR: Email me, I’m like Arran, my spelling is pretty easy, S-T-E-V-E-N @collegerecruiter.com. Gentlemen, it’s been awesome.

0:24:00.9 AS: Thank you so much, I’ve loved being on the show. So great to meet with you guys, honestly.

0:24:03.4 SR: Thanks a lot Arran, it was great. Well, that’s it for today’s episode of JobBoardGeek. Make sure that you subscribe to us via any of your particular favorite platforms like Apple, Spotify, etcetera, etcetera. And if you want to, feel free to give us a review as well, thumbs up or thumbs down. My name again is Jeff Dickey-Chasins, I’m the job board doctor and you’ve been listening to The only podcast that covers the business of connecting candidates and employers. That’s all for now, I will see you again next time.

[music]

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