Interview: Juney Ham, former CMO Hired.com, Part 2

  
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My guest today is Juney Ham, co-founder and CEO of Beacon. He was previously an executive at Expedia and Airbnb, and CMO of Hired.com. This is Part 2 dive into the Hired.com business.

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Transcript

Edward: This is part two of my interview with Juney Ham. Today, we're going to dive into his experience as CMO of Hired.

Juney, can you start by explaining what Hired does?

Juney: Hired is a talent marketplace where vetted engineers, product managers, designers, and other professionals can connect with in demand companies that are actively seeking great candidates for their open roles. Hired built the technology platform that allows candidates and clients to connect and interact with each other directly through the system, which also creates more efficiency and transparency throughout the process.

Edward: How is that different from every other recruiting organization out there? Everything from monster.com to our local regional recruiting agency that can find a developer for you?

Juney: It's a great question. Hired is, first and foremost, a marketplace which is one of the first times that a marketplace paradigm was used both in terms of the value proposition for attendants and clients, as well as the positioning in the market whether that's Monster or a boutique recruiting agency.

Hired also pioneered some of the more interesting aspects to the model when they first launched—having companies actually request interviews or pitch the candidate, versus candidates generally entering a company for the interview process. Also to provide salary transparency upfront which is, I'd say, something that still doesn't happen that frequently outside of platforms like Hired.

It's interesting, before Hired rebranded, the company was called DeveloperAuction. The salary transparency was actually structured like companies competing for candidates and bidding on them. Candidates would see who was offering the most before deciding who they wanted to interview with. Base salary was an important component to how a candidate would prioritize the opportunity that these various companies were offering.

Given that the company was first focused on rails engineers in San Francisco during a time when rails engineers in San Francisco were some of the most in demand roles in all of the startup ecosystem, this made a lot of sense given the supply constraint nature of the market at that time.

We also supported candidates. We got a team called talent advocates. They partnered and supported candidates with everything, from navigating the platform, to providing interview best practices, mock interviews, and overall career guidance. It's something that is happening more frequently now.

I would say that there are a new crop of companies providing these kinds of services to candidates directly today. It was one of the first times a company that was primarily being paid for and incentivized by clients provide amounts of free service to candidates. I just thought that that was really interesting. The model is one where Hired had the flexibility to be able to do that.

Edward: Is it not then a monster.com or indeed.com with additional services layered on? You said that it's a marketplace whereas Monster isn't. Why don't you consider Monster or Indeed a marketplace?

Juney: Monster and Indeed are job boards. They're places where companies put their job descriptions. It's a static experience. Hired in terms of the marketplace, we were constantly calibrating the volume of candidates and clients that interact within the space. There was a qualification layer that happened. It allowed for us, being Hired, a little bit more control over ensuring that the overall interaction quality was high.

Whereas a job board like Monster, anybody and everybody can put a post on the job board. Depending on the role, location, all these things—for sure, we'd have a vastly different experience if you have 5000 jobs of which many of them aren’t really qualified or vetted from a job description quality standpoint, or are these roles actually what they say they're representing.

There's a lot of that work that happened within the marketplace for Hired. I think that's one of the key differences between a job board paradigm and a marketplace paradigm.

Edward: You do qualification on both sides, right? You're making sure both the candidates are good enough before they can apply, and that the jobs are good enough before they're allowed to be posted.

Juney: That's right. I would say that in a world where supply and demand are equally calibrated, you would do roughly the same amount of qualification on both sides, but for Hired—especially during the time that I was there—the market was broadly supply-constrained and yet we wanted to make sure that the quality of the candidates' really high and was reflective of the roles that were available on the platform.

There's a lot of vetting that we did on the candidate side and it involves something that we positioned to the market. It was one of the reasons why companies came to us—because they felt that we were doing a lot of that pre-qualification upfront. Therefore, the candidates that were on the platform that they were seeing, there was confidence that those candidates were going to be the right fit for the roles.

Edward: That was my next question. Where is the limiting factor? Was the limiting factor in finding qualified candidates, or is the limiting factor in finding qualified jobs for those candidates?

Juney: It was more on the candidate side to be fair. We did a pretty good job of fueling the top of the funnel. It fueled around the total population test that we thought would be a good fit. Because qualification was done both for the skills, experience, and the tenure of the candidates that were in those relevant roles—and ultimately the role that they were looking for in the next step in their career—it was also what types of skills. At that time, the geographic component was also very important. Remote is obviously an important factor today but not as much a factor then.

The alignment between the candidates, where they were located, what they were looking for, and ultimately, what roles were available in the platform were also factors in how to think about which candidates would be introduced to the platform. Our qualification criteria was such that, about 5%–10% of the candidates were approved, which means 90%–95% of the candidates were rejected from the platform.

Even though from a candidate acquisition standpoint instead of the marketing standpoint we're bringing a wide variety of candidates into the organization and into the funnel, we're only able to surface about 5%–10% of those candidates that are in there at the time. It was definitely a supply challenge for us.

Edward: Your monetization effectively was every time you place a candidate at a job, that company would pay you.

Juney: Originally, yes. The model was transactional. As you describe it, any time a role was filled, the company would pay a percentage of salary as a fee. Over time, as we were also working with more midmarket—and then ultimately enterprise companies—we had played with different models as well. There's also a subscription model. There were base pay type models as well that we experimented with. Over time, the shift in revenue became less on the transactional side and more on the subscription side.

Edward: Even so, even on the subscription side, the company's effectively paying for placements. If you're not getting them placements, they're not going to renew the subscription.

Juney: That's correct.

Edward: You're collecting all these candidates. Out of 100 candidates, you collect only 5 or 10 of them you're putting in front of companies. What do you do with the other 90 people? Is there any way to monetize that exhaust, or is it just gone?

Juney: This is a really great question and one of the challenges that I was addressing over a long period of time in Hired. A combination of things were experimented on and then things that we executed against.

One is, as I was saying before, there are a variety of factors as to why a candidate wouldn't enter the marketplace. Some of those are due to a candidate's specific components, others are related to the client's specific components. Some of those things change every time.

What we started to build was a way to nurture all of these candidates that might not have been the right fit for the platform at the time, but that we believe in the future—or as the client ecosystem of opportunity is changed—that they would be.

There was this long-term candidate nurturing paradigm that we were building to ensure that candidates that did unfortunately not qualify still had an opportunity to be qualified in the future. That was the big component to it.

The other was, the challenge with what we were doing was that if they were not qualified today, there's definitely a chance that they could be qualified next month. Beyond just overall nurturing to ensure that we were top of line in a world where if they're looking for something else, the Hired brand is still a positive experience for them even if they weren't qualified, the other piece was ensuring that as we were seeing the opportunities within the platform change, we had a mechanism to pool those candidates, even if they weren't qualified in the traditional sense to be able to qualify them down the stream.

There are a number of different ways to actually reach out to them for specific opportunities that were specific to their experiences and what the client needed.

Edward: Where did you find the candidates? What marketing channels did you use to go and get these hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of candidates to go and apply?

Juney: We did a lot of performance marketing around Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, a lot of the standard search in the marketing and paid social channels.

Edward: These are people who are looking for jobs. Someone who says, I'm looking for a developer job, and Hired effectively becomes a distribution place, almost like getting the shelf space on search for when someone's searching for a job, you want to be in their face.

Juney: That's right. For the roles that we were working with companies on, we are definitely focused on search. Making sure that if somebody is looking for an opportunity—rails engineers in San Francisco—we would be there. Then, we would bring them onto the onboarding experience, and then once we’ve gotten their information, then we will qualify them or not. In those situations generally, it's a higher degree of confidence that they were qualified.

Edward: In a situation like that, you're competing against every other recruiting organization out there. How do you win at auction? Do you monetize better than those other options because you're more bespoke?

Juney: A number of our features and the things that we called out in our experience were interesting to candidates. Therefore, whether you are competing with every legacy or modern competitor, Hired had a number of things going for it.

One was the Hired brand was actually really well-regarded in the technology ecosystem data companies. The fact that we had "the best companies" competing for your attention within our marketplace was definitely a strong selling point for candidates. As well as the fact that they could work with the talent advocate, the fact that companies actually shared offer details before you even interview with them, makes it such that the experience itself was different for them.

Beyond the fact that we did what we can to be excellent within the operations of managing these channels, some of these value propositions were definitely additive to being able to convince them to apply for the platform.

Edward: It's interesting. When it comes to these marketplaces, effectively, by making it more attractive for the consumer side of the marketplace—or in this case, the employee side of the marketplace—you can better attract candidates, which then lets you get more leverage towards attracting the strongest employer side or the strongest B2B side, which then gives you an advantage in attracting more of the best employees because you have the best employers.

Juney: That's exactly right. We actually hired a lot of our engineers off the platform ourselves. We participated as a client in our own marketplace. It was interesting to be able to do that because it also provided a really great candid experience for those incoming employees.

It connects this idea that our mission externally—which was to transform how hiring works—was something that's basal internally in practice. It's a fantastic employer branding opportunity.

Edward: Roughly what percentage of your placed candidates are coming in through either paid search or organic search, through direct search?

Juney: Paid search and organic search? That number actually changes a lot over time, but I would say, it was a good quarter to a third percent, or 25%–33%. The rest were a combination of direct type-in and other kinds of referral channels. We had a pretty strong referral program on the candidate side. That was leveraged a lot from our existing candidates that participated in the marketplace. It was a pretty significant percentage, but not the majority.

Edward: It's interesting though. If you say that the significant percentage is coming in through direct type-in, or coming in through referrals with existing employees, you have to get existing employees first before you can get the referrals to happen from them. Are the knock-on effects of the paid search 2X, the 25%, is it close to the 50%?

Juney: I would say earlier on in the tenure of the company, the number of SEMs and SEOs representative samples of the total population of candidates decreased over time. In the beginning it was 40%, 50%, 60%, because that's how we were actually building the marketplace initially. To your point, I think there were knock-on effects, but it's also an example of how as the company scaled, and as the population matured, both on the candidate side and the client side really, that these other channels started to bring in value because we were actually continuously engaging this community.

For example, the referral component increased significantly over time. In the beginning obviously, with the first cohorts, that channel’s not existing, so a much higher percentage of our candidates came from SEM primarily. Over time it was SEO, but as the company started to mature, that number hovered up like that, 25%—35%.

Edward: Apart from referrals, direct type-in, and some that are naturally going to come towards you, what were the other outreach channels that you used that were effective? How is paid social?

Juney: We did paid social as well. It was effective as well, but there were different components around paid social that were advantages as well as disadvantages. I think the overall volume adds that we had were higher but the qualification rate was lower.

Edward: When you say qualification rate, there’s different reasons why they're not qualified. Were they not qualified because they weren't good? Because they didn't have the skills, or they were not qualified because they weren't really actually ready to take a job?

Juney: It was a combination of candidates that were not qualified because maybe they were too early on in their career, or they would be in markets that we haven't launched in yet.

For example with Facebook ads, we have a lot of candidates that just weren't qualified due to the fact that we didn’t have the marketplace active there, or we didn’t have roles that were specifically for the skills that they have.

Think about engineering as just one example. You could think about the hierarchy of roles that are associated with being a software engineer. You could be a product engineer, full stack, it could be back-end, it could be data.

There are all these different elements around the role itself that subdivided into more specific categories. It could just be that there's misalignment around that person’s skill set and all of the roles that we had available. Quality is not a perfect word here but quality as it relates to the candidate's experience or what they bring to the table, it's in the candidate’s overall representation in the client-side and whether we have roles for them.

Edward: That’s interesting. That feels like that’s a problem solvable with better targeting. Is it just that at paid social you couldn’t target effectively enough to go and find the people that were the ruby on rails developers in San Francisco, Berkeley area?

Juney: At that time, I would argue that targeting has massively improved as Facebook's platform has evolved and matured. Also, think about this. A candidate that is being marketed to for rails engineer—they might actually have some rails experience, but have never actually developed in an engineering organization for that technology, or have done different things around it.

It’s not super clear whether you're targeting them or whether that person that is being targeted to actually, correctly represents their experience. Some of that filtering and that qualification is a lot more nuance once they actually apply for the marketplace. We have to get through thousands of conversations.

Part of that qualification is the majority of those candidates that were qualifying would actually have some set of interactions with the teams internally to determine if they were qualified or not. Some of that information you can’t really pull until you have that conversation.

Edward: How about podcasts? How did the podcast work for you?

Juney: Podcasts are really effective for us. It’s interesting because there is obviously a vibrant community of creators, podcasts, particularly like engineering, software development, and startups. Podcasts work awesome for us. They work really well.

Over time, we became pretty competitive and just locking up inventory to be able to have a consistent podcast strategy became tougher over time. I would say that one of the main challenges is that there’s no infinite inventory of podcasts that are highly relevant to the audience that we're going after.

That was the main challenge around the podcast. There was more about ensuring that we have enough inventory. There's a consistent approach to being able to not be out bid, or basically ensuring that we can continue to advertise on podcasts. That was the major issue for us, but overall as a channel, podcasts are really effective.

Edward: If feels like that’s kind of the issue across the board. Effectively, you ran out of inventory. There's only so many people searching for ruby on rails, developer jobs in San Francisco on paid search or on SEO. There’s only so many people listening to a podcast about how to be a better ruby on rails developer. Do you eventually just hit them initial returns and now you need to go on branching the other products? 

Juney: It’s interesting that you bring that up. I wouldn’t say we directly address that problem or that challenge during the arc of Hired's growth. Hired initially had a very aggressive stance towards expansion. Not too long after they started, we were expanding into different types of engineering categories.

We started out with rails engineers. They were all engineers. Then, we went to the product vendors. Then, we went to the designers. We actually piloted and launched marketplaces for salespeople and marketers too.

Starting from San Francisco, we launched New York, London, and Paris. We launched Chicago, Toronto, we launched a variety of markets. On a per market cohort basis, we definitely ran into head wins as we thought about both scale and efficiency over a company-growth standpoint. The focus was to continue to launch new markets, categories, and new geographies.

I would not say it directly solves the problem that you’re bringing up at all. But it was a different sort of challenges that we needed to also tackle which was, how do we ensure that for every market we’re launching, we’re actively launching and scaling those channels right out of the gate to ensure that the marketplace has the critical mass of candidates and clients to be able to work and be effective for that market.

The biggest things that we saw were each channel—when we launched each marketplace—had different levels of effectiveness. It was really a matter of calibrating all the different channels that we had under disposal to calibrate the market.

The other thing to note here is it wasn’t that we were trying to massively grow candidates and massively grow clients and that this was this infinite inventory and do whatever you can to drive as many candidates to the marketplace as possible. There was this constant calibration where we want to ensure that if we have a lot of clients on the platform representing a number of roles, that number actually did fit in into how many candidates we ultimately want to bring on to the platform.

It wasn’t so much that it was everything at breakneck speed all the time. There was this bit of information that was being passed between the two sets of marketplace to ensure how much do we want to grow our overall candidate population based on what roles we had on the client-side.

Edward: Juney, this has been fantastic. Before you go, talk to me about your quake book and how it changed your way of thinking about the world.

Juney: My quake book is The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. I remember reading it the first time. I read it essentially cover to cover in one, maybe two sittings. The thing that was so poignant for me was that the problems that founders, entrepreneurs and executives go through are the kinds of problems that I had seen as a founder myself but didn't really see out in space.

These were problems that people weren't comfortably talking about. Sharing issues, challenges, and problems that you had gone through as a founder or as an executive were not things that you did. It wasn’t really celebrated. The book really helped me understand that people, even with Ben's stature, had gone through a lot of these challenges and had to struggle through these problems.

The lessons you learned across every aspect of being a leader were lessons that you learned ultimately but also through a lot of failures. For me, it helped me understand that as an aspiring founder or leader that I will get to the other side. It could be that I will encounter many failures, many hard lessons, and challenges but getting through that was almost like what you earned—the currency that you earned to be able to then continue to grow and move forward.

For me, that was the most important thing which is making everything a lot more real and ensuring that I didn’t have to project this aura of perfection or this ability to solve any problem through sheer intelligence alone. It was that a lot of this is falling on your face and stubbing your toe. The act of falling in your face and the act of stabbing your toe actually is what drives you to learn those lessons and be better over time.

Edward: Juney, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for your time today.

Juney: Thanks, Ed. I had a really good time as well, I appreciate it.