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Guest: Jason Corsello, VP Corporate Strategy Cornerstone OnDemand
Episode: 112
Air Date: September 2, 2015



Jason Corsello is Vice President of Corporate Strategy and Marketing for Cornerstone OnDemand. In this role, Corsello is responsible for identifying key market opportunities, driving corporate initiatives and guiding M&A, as well as supporting product strategy and service innovation.

Corsello is an active participant in the HCM community and is a frequent presenter and panelist at industry events. Corsello is often quoted as an industry expert in human capital management, and his research has been featured in leading publications including The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and CIO magazine.

Corsello joined Cornerstone from HR consulting firm Knowledge Infusion, where he developed and launched many new services at the firm and played a lead consulting role with many of the firm’s Global 2000 clients. Prior to his role with Knowledge Infusion, Jason was a research director at Yankee Group.

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Begin transcript

John Sumser:                       Good morning, and welcome to HR Examiner Radio. I’m your host, John Sumser. We’re coming to you live from beautiful down Occidental, California, a couple hours northwest of San Francisco, near the coast. It’s where innovation got its real start in California. The people in the valley here think of it as the cradle of innovation in California. Today we’re going to be talking with Jason Corsello, who’s the vice-president of corporate strategy and marketing at Cornerstone OnDemand. If you’re not familiar with Cornerstone, I’m sure Jason will tell us all about the company, but it is an up and coming very interesting platform play in the HR Enterprise face. Jason has been in and and around the industry for many, many years, beginning his life as an analyst, moving on to being a deep think implementation consultant and now sitting in the chair figuring out what Cornerstone’s going to do next. Jason, how are you this morning?

Jason Corsello:                   I’m great, John. Good morning.

John Sumser:                       Introduce yourself a little bit. Tell us about yourself.

Jason Corsello:                   Yeah, of course. As you’ve kindly introduced, my name is Jason Corsello, with Cornerstone OnDemand. I’ve got I like to say two careers, if you will. I have the pre-HCM career and the post-HCM career. I spent a little less than the first half of my career at a company called Flextronics, I guess they’ve now rebranded themselves as Flex, really in the outsource contract manufacturing world. I spent a lot of time in manufacturing facilities understanding supply and demand, and supply chains, and even working internationally. I did a little stint in a facility, a factory that we had in Guadalajara, Mexico when I was young and was able to do that, so really interesting, interesting time. I soaked it up.

Then about 2004 I shifted careers. I’ve been in HCM for about a little over ten years now, and I took a wild chance in becoming an industry analyst in Boston. I didn’t know much about the job, but it has really shaped what I do today. It’s one of these jobs where you actually get to learn and educate people, and you get paid for it, which was amazing. That was a great stint I had at a firm called Yankee Group that transitioned into Knowledge Infusion, which is now Appirio, really focusing in on strategic consulting for large organizations. We work with companies like Dell, and Nike, and many other large organizations, and then made the shift to Cornerstone a little over four years ago just after the company went public. It’s been an amazing ride at Cornerstone in the four years that I’ve been here.

John Sumser:                       I was at an event you guys do in San Francisco to introduce the world to your investment fund, and I’m really surprised. The company’s 15 years old now, and it’s behaving like a grownup [crosstalk 00:03:43]. Right, right. It’s fun to see that transition. Why don’t you, just to make sure everybody is level set, talk about Cornerstone and the range of things that Cornerstone does.

Jason Corsello:                   Sure. As you said, Cornerstone is now a 15 year old company, founded by three individuals that are still at Cornerstone today. It’s very much a founder driven organization. I think founder driven organizations have a great advantage in the market because they have the deep cultural embeddedness of those individuals but really allow us to continue to think ahead. We’ve gone through a couple of iterations of Cornerstone. We really started in the learning world, as I think most people know us by today, so we like to think we’re the deepest and best at Enterprise learning management today. About I’d call it now seven or eight years ago, really started to expand into the full suite of applications.

Fast forward today, we do everything from recruiting, succession, performance, compensation, social collaboration, and that really drove us to becoming a publicly traded company in 2011. We’ve now been a public company for a little over four years. Now more recently, with the success that the organization has had has really allowed us to start to think even longer term, longer term being new strategies that we’re now deploying around platform analytics and, as you mentioned, our innovation fund that we just formally announced last week but we’ve been actually doing for about a year and a half now.

John Sumser:                       It’s a really interesting concept, so let’s wander down that rabbit hole for a second. Talk about the innovation fund. I think it’s one of the most interesting developments I’ve seen in the business ever.

Jason Corsello:                   Yeah, a little bit about the innovation fund. About 18 months ago, we were dreaming up where does Cornerstone go in the next 5 to 10 years, and probably more importantly, how do we get to become a half a billion and ultimately a billion dollar in revenue sized company. It came down to a couple of things. One is analytics, which is an important part of our strategy today. The second is around platform, and really, platform being how do we open up access to our system so companies can easily integrate or build on top of Cornerstone. The third was the build out of our ecosystem.

There’s a lot of things, as you know, John, in this industry, being in this industry for a long time, there’s a lot of extensions to core systems, if you will. There’s hundreds, thousands of vendors out there that specialize in a lot of areas of HR and a lot of areas, frankly, we’re just not going to go into. What we decided to do is to open up our platform to build extensions into recruiting to be able to do background screening, and assessments, and job postings, things that we’ll never do. The same applies for learning. The same applies for performance. But what we also decided at that time as we’re opening up our ecosystem is it really would be great to focus on the new companies out there and put some skin in the game, if you will.

There’s a lot of interesting innovation that’s happening out into the marketplace today, so why don’t we put some skin in the game in terms of infusing those companies, helping accelerate those companies by not only giving them investment but giving them access to resources and support and finding companies that can play into our ecosystem, that can extend what we do. That was the genesis of what we call the innovation fund. We’ve now invested into five companies, four of which are invested in terms of venture investment, one that we actually incubated [inaudible 00:07:44].

We’re extremely excited because it infuses that startup culture back into Cornerstone. Today we’re close to 1700 employees. As you get bigger, the challenge is putting in process but not putting in too much process and infusing innovation but really focusing on the core. This gives us an opportunity to help them, but at the same time, they help us. These companies help us by giving us insight into the technologies they’re thinking about, the ways that they’re thinking about going to market. It’s a really good complement.

John Sumser:                       That’s great. As part of the innovation fund, you have an accelerator built into the headquarters of the company in L.A. Is that right?

Jason Corsello:                   That’s right. On one of the floors in our headquarters in Santa Monica, we’ve carved out an area for essentially what we’re calling our Cornerstone accelerator. That’s where three of the companies reside today so, as I say, we house them, we feed them, we give them access to a lot of resources that maybe they wouldn’t necessarily have if they were on their own. It’s probably now become one of the cooler areas in the building. There’s dogs wandering. The desks are made out of doors, so it’s got that raw startup feel, but it’s really when you walk into that floor, there’s a buzz that goes on. It’s always fun to go there. It’s just right out … Right outside is what we call our candy wall, so not only do you get buzz from the energy from the startups, you also get infused with lots of sugar that comes with the candy wall outside.

John Sumser:                       That’s so great. If you can figure out how to bottle up what a company like Cornerstone would have learned in 15 years and then figure out how to get  brash, brave, young entrepreneurs to understand the wisdom that it’s possible to receive, you really can accelerate development. I remember sitting in the room with those guys who you’ve invested in, and you could see that they … It was like Chutes and Ladders, and they just did a chute. Everything was moving faster than it usually moves in the small startup. I assume this was your idea, and I also am guessing that it’s going to catch on and become part of the way that people think about designing their ecosystem. It’s an amazing thing to behold.

Jason Corsello:                   John, as much as I would love to claim it as my idea, it was really the genesis of our CEO, Adam Miller, who you know. Adam’s now been running Cornerstone for 15 years, and he still has that entrepreneurial DNA infused into him individually. Part of it was him continuing to infuse that entrepreneurial spirit. At the same, as I think you know, in Los Angeles there’s not a lot of either HR companies or companies focused on HR or Enterprise software companies, so this also … I know a big goal of Adam’s was to continue to build out that L.A. ecosystem of software companies, which isn’t necessarily comparative to Silicon Valley today, but based on the engineering talent there, based on the size of the market, we certainly think it can get there.

John Sumser:                       That’s pretty exciting. In our business, there are only a couple of people who come to mind when you think about somebody who’s got an actual vision that’s actually 10 years long and actually might be achievable. It’s a really nice thing to see. You’re the vice-president of strategy and marketing. What in the world does that mean, and what [inaudible 00:11:47]?

Jason Corsello:                   It probably means something different to every company out there, but I like to say it’s really three things. The first is the investment piece that I just talked about, and then mergers and acquisitions. We aren’t a hugely acquisitive company. The foundation of Cornerstone is our organic nature of our product. We’ve built it all ourselves. It’s all one code base, all multi-tenant, but we have done some smaller embedded acquisitions. That’s job number one. Job number two is really thinking about what’s next for Cornerstone from the product perspective.

When I talked about analytics and when I talked about platform, that’s something that we had been talking about for a while. We actually started working on it and have been working on it for a while, but now we’re just taking it to market, so there’s that internal idea, to incubate the idea, to start the development, to get it to market, and then get it fully deployed and out to our field that we can actually get it in place at our clients and they can draw value from it. That’s typically a multi-year process, so I’m spending a lot of time today in the areas of analytics and platform.

The third is what I call a bucket of all other stuff. That could be new partnerships that we’re looking at. I use the S word. It’s a different S word, not ‘stuff’, but it’s a word I can’t use around my kids, but it’s [crosstalk 00:13:13]. Yeah, exactly. It’s things like our pricing strategy. It’s a bucket of other stuff, but it’s stuff I like because it allows me to stay connected throughout the industry. We just about a month ago, a little over a month ago, announced a relationship with TED, so TED Talks, an awesome partnership that we formed with them where we are the first and only vendor that can deliver their content and their video within an Enterprise software solution. I get to be creative and form new models as part of the job too. I love it. It changes every day. Yes, the question what does my job look like, it’s very different every single day, and that’s what I really like about it is there’s always a new adventure around the corner.

John Sumser:                       Lots of the people who listen to this show spend some part of their lives feeling like they couldn’t possibly get it all done. How do you tell when you’re done?

Jason Corsello:                   I don’t think you ever really know. I mean there’s a great quote. I think it’s distributed from Bill Gates, but I’ve heard [Mark Benioff 00:14:26] say it, where you tend to overestimate what you can do in a year and underestimate what you can do in ten years. I think that’s probably the philosophy I live by, where you want to set ambitious goals, but what you tend to find is that it never goes as fast as you want it to do. It’s almost probably like house projects around … I always tell my wife it’s going to take me two hours, and it probably takes me six hours to do things, but that’s just the nature of the beast. I mean with a lot of effort, and this is the beauty of software, I don’t think you’re ever done. The goal is how do you keep making it better, how do you keep it making it better for your clients, keep making it better for your users. Because the technology is going to shift, so you’re never done.

John Sumser:                       You’ve made this really interesting shift in your career from analyst to operating executive, from thinking and pointing to doing. What was that like? I mean there must have been some very interesting learnings in that process.

Jason Corsello:                   It was very interesting. To layer on top of that, I joined Cornerstone the first quarter that we had gone public, so there was definitely a shift that you need to make. I mean being an analyst, you get to do a lot of work in analysis. I like understanding and looking at data. I’m very data driven myself, but you also get to give opinions and tell people where you think the market’s going to go. When you’re operating at a company, it’s almost … Those aren’t just prognostications, but you’re making bets on behalf of employees, and shareholders, and the like, so they tend to be a little bit more important because there’s ramifications. Being a public company, the trick is being …

Playing both the short term and the long term game, meaning short term, you’ve got to meet the expectations that you set with Wall Street, but at the same time and equally, you’ve got to play the long term, which says, how do I differentiate in two or three years? How do I build new things that are really going to make us different and that we know our clients are going to embrace, and adopt, and love? It’s tricky every single day because you read the papers, and you’re sitting in the middle of the valley of the bubble, and private company valuations have definitely surpassed public valuations, and there’s things that you can’t necessarily control, so we try to focus on the things that we can control, which is deliver a great experience to our clients, and deliver innovative products, and let that stuff play out. But it’s something you definitely watch. It’s hard not to.

John Sumser:                       You began, sort of, in research and now you’re ending up in an operation that would consume research. What kind of research do you use, and how do you make sense out of the competing visions that are available and assert that they’re the picture of reality? What kinds of research do you use, and how do you allow it to influence your decision? I guess that’s the question.

Jason Corsello:                   Yeah, I think there’s two types of research that we really care about today. One is just the research that we understand where we fit in the marketplace. Those are things like the Gartner Magic Quadrant and the Forrester Wave. I know that there’s a lot of [booking firms 00:18:09] that say that stuff is garbage and it’s vendor pay for play. I take the opposite opinion because I know the work that those companies put into that research. It’s never perfect and it’s always going to be debatable, but I get a lot of value and understanding just where we sit and where others sit in the marketplace. I think we individually as a vendor get value out of that.

I know our clients get a lot of value out of that, but I always like to say that it’s an input and it should be one input of many inputs as companies are making decisions. They shouldn’t solely rely on one of those vendor charts to make a decision. Secondarily to that is I love data, as I mentioned earlier, so anything that can give me data around how satisfied are customers, what’s our brand awareness in the marketplace, anything that’s data driven, I absolutely love. Surveys, I’m mixed on surveys. I tend to have the opinion, I think by the way you ask questions you can oftentimes get what you want out of surveys, but I think surveys are an important tool that we use to be able to gauge where we should be investing our dollars. That’s where we spend most of our time.

I’ve been in the research market or as an analyst as well as someone as a consumer, and I hate to say this but there is a lot of bad research out there. We’re not one of these folks that likes to pay a researcher [or his firm 00:19:51] to say nice things about us. I actually don’t mind if people are critical, but do it in a productive way. I don’t think there’s probably enough of that. I think, sure, we have warts. Every vendor has warts out there, and it’s not necessarily exposing those, but I think it’s important to give a client or a prospect an eyes wide open of what you think. I think a lot of research has been diluted over the years, but there still is a lot of great research, the stuff that you guys are doing. You and William as well as I think the traditional guys are so very valuable in the marketplace.

John Sumser:                       Good, good, good, good, good. If you were to encapsulate what you’d like to have done by the end of the year, what does that look like?

Jason Corsello:                   Boy, I know it’s hard to think that we’re now closing approaching the 4th quarter here, but there’s probably not one or two things that we need to get done by the end of this year per se, but we did earlier this year is we made two very significant announcements at Cornerstone. The first was around our Cornerstone analytic strategy, and in particular we’re calling Cornerstone Insights, where we think we can predict a lot of outcomes through the use of data within Cornerstone’s system to be able to enable clients to understand their compliance risks, to understand [flight 00:21:19] risks, being able to predict successors within the organization. There’s a lot of time I’m spending there to get those products to market, and we’ve now got them to market, and we’re adding a lot of fuel every quarter, every release to our [analyst 00:21:34] product.

The other is our platform effort. We announced back in May at our conference Cornerstone Edge, which is essentially that our platform is a service. There’s a lot of work that we’re doing there to bring that to market. We’re working today with a handful of what we’re calling preview clients, so a number of our very challenging, complex, global organizations to start to give them access to the tools and the capabilities of our platform, but the goal is early next year is we actually roll it out formally. It becomes available to all of our clients to be able to use so they can integrate much easier with their third party applications, and in fact even build on top of Cornerstone any unique capabilities they may have. That’s really where I’m spending a big chunk of my time today, is getting those in a place where we can really get them and deliver them to the market later this year and early next year.

John Sumser:                       The platform idea is really a change in the way that we think about companies in general, and it’ll be interesting for me to watch how you execute the platform idea. When you say platform, what I think you mean is the series of orifices and interfaces that allow other organizations to latch onto the work that you do and the relationships that you have in order to make those customers more effective. Is that what you mean by platform?

Jason Corsello:                   John, I think that’s probably a very good way of saying it. The way I describe it is it’s really opening up Cornerstone to everything that we do. It’s really around three things, opening up access to our data so clients can get access to their data and use it however they want, whether it’s integrate, or report, or use it to build on top of. The second is opening up our tools, our development tools. We have a solution that we’re calling our app builder that allows companies to really easily integrate, configure an integration, build an application using drag and drop tools, using very easy non-developer capabilities to build applications, and then the ecosystem piece, so really opening up access to our ecosystem so you can easily install and configure a third party application within Cornerstone. It’s data, development tools, and an ecosystem which we’re trying to do.

We have a philosophy that we think that every [SAS 00:24:17] company needs to be a [PAS 00:24:19] company, meaning everyone that’s doing software as a service today needs to become a platform company at some point. It’s just a natural evolution. For us, we think we have a distinct advantage because of the core tenets of our technology being multi-tenant, so all the clients on the same version. We’re constantly adding new functionality every quarter. I like to think we have a built in advantage versus a lot of companies that don’t have that core multi-tenancy in place, but it’s a big journey. It’s a big investment, and I think a lot of … This is a time where we’re trying to get really in front of the market. Because it requires a lot of upfront investment, this is something that we didn’t just dream up this year. It’s something that we’ve been putting in play for many years now, and I just don’t think a lot of companies either have that willingness, that drive, or even the capital necessary to do it right now.

John Sumser:                       As I would have guessed, we have sped through our allotted time. What should I have asked you? What didn’t I get to that you wish I had put on the table?

Jason Corsello:                   The easy one is, what keeps you up at night? That’s probably always an easy question for someone, so you can go ahead and ask that one.

John Sumser:                       What keeps you up at night? What keeps you up at night?

Jason Corsello:                   Oh boy, I think really it’s two things. One is how can we as an organization keep moving very, very fast with the changes that are happening? I think we as an organization are doing a great job. We’re continuing to grow as one of the highest or the fastest growing vendors in our space. Why that matters is because it does allow us to reinvest into R&D, and services, and things like that. The other thing that keeps me up is just really the pace of change. We are moving so fast, both technologically as well as the way that we deploy software and the expectations. I always have this fear that we’re going too fast, which you never really think about, but organizations aren’t, I don’t think, are structured, organizations being big global enterprises, I don’t think are structured to move at the pace that they need to to adopt the frequency of how technology is moving.

What that means is we’re releasing updates every quarter, every three months. We’re releasing a lot of new innovative things using machine learning and using analytics, and I think we’re now moving at a pace where we’re moving much faster than a lot of enterprises can adopt. Something I think that enterprises are going to need to really … We hear of this thing called transformation, but I don’t think organizations are probably doing enough just yet to really transform their organizations to embrace technology in the way that they could to drive really significant change.

John Sumser:                       It’s a really tough problem I think. The demands on public enterprises are to produce consistency, and that’s just … Consistency doesn’t come from running. Consistency comes from ambling.

Jason Corsello:                   That’s right.

John Sumser:                       If you’re going to get punished for having an extraordinary result, which is … If you beat your bottom line targets by 50%, it’s an extraordinary accomplishment, and your stock price will go down, so there’s a penalty for consuming technology too quickly that’s the other side of that question. Anyhow, thanks so much for taking the time to do this.

Jason Corsello:                   Absolutely.

John Sumser:                       Thank you very much for being here. This was a great pleasure. Would you on the way out take a moment to introduce yourself and give people some idea of how to get in touch with you if they’d like to?

Jason Corsello:                   Sure. I can always be reached via email, which is I’m on LinkedIn, on Twitter, on those popular social channels, so people can always reach out to me there as well. It’s been a pleasure talking to you, John. It was great to see you last week, and I look forward to seeing you probably in Vegas in a few short weeks.

John Sumser:                       Yep. Yep, it’ll be fun. OK, thanks very much, Jason. It was a delight to have you. You’ve been listening to HR Examiner Radio. I’m your host, John Sumser. Thanks very much, and have a great rest of your day. Bye-bye now.

End transcript

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