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HRExaminer Radio

Guest: Cary Schuler, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of cfactor
Episode: 114
Air Date: September 9, 2015


Cary Schuler is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of cfactor. Since its founding in 1999, cfactor has rapidly expanded its operations currently servicing clients across the Globe. It has received recognition as one of Canada’s fastest growing companies (Profit Magazine), Hottest 25 Innovation Companies (CIX) and Top 100 Employers (Mediacorp).

Cary has been instrumental in growing the company’s reputation in the market as a trend-setter in delivering innovative human capital management technology through it top rated Vibe HCM product suite – winner of multiple Brandon Hall Technology Excellence Awards.

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Begin transcript

John Sumser:                       Good morning and welcome to HR Examiner radio, I’m your host John Sumser and we’re coming to you live from beautiful downtown Occidental California. Occidental is a little village, like a Swiss village at the top of a mountain on the western coast of Sonoma county near the ocean. It’s were innovation got it’s real start in the railroad labs that Leland Stanford built here in the 1850’s, so innovation got its engineering start here in California in my little town.

Today we are talking to Cary Schuler who’s the co-founder and CEO of a company called cfactor. If you haven’t heard about cfactor, it is an up and coming interesting SASS-based human capitol management firm and we’re going to learn about Cary, how he got where he is, and what cfactor is all about. Good morning Cary.

Cary Schuler:                        Good Morning John.

John Sumser:                       Nice to have you here, so why don’t you introduce yourself and tell the audience who you are and how it is you came to start a company.

Cary Schuler:                        Happy to do that. First thank you very much for having me on the show and the way you described where you’re calling in from is very different from where I’m calling in from. I’m joining you today from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada. I’m up here in the heartland in Western Canada, I was raised in a nice small little town, I think there is 250 of us. We like to refer to it as the land of the Saskatchewan Rough riders football club, Watermelon heads and our mascot Gainer the Gopher, so it sounds very different from how you described your town.

John Sumser:                       Oh you know what, there is only 1,100 in my town so I’m a booming metropolis, but we’re out in the middle of nowhere. I promise we’re out in the middle of no where.

Cary Schuler:                        You probably know most of those 1,100 people I imagine if it’s like my town.

John Sumser:                       Yes, exactly, exactly. Now you’re out in the middle of no where and you start a company. How did you get there?

Cary Schuler:                        How the heck does that work? Great question, actually I think I blame my dad for that. He was the owner of a general contracting company so he was an entrepreneur and I saw first hand, kinda growing up, the challenges of running your own business, what that presented, but I think more importantly I saw the sense of reward that you can get when you really put your mind to creating something. Building something brand new that didn’t exist before, so there’s a ton of reward that goes into that.

Really I got my start, I did my typical university degree and I did HR in healthcare administration and I worked in HR management in the healthcare sector, but I quickly realized that wasn’t for me and had a follow my entrepreneurial roots so I left that kind of career and went and got my MBA in IT management and entrepreneurship. As an MBA student I wrote my great business plan for why we should create cfactor and I co-founded that over sixteen years ago now with my two brothers. I think it was at FEDEX where the gentleman who founded that created his business plan and his prof gave him an F or something, said it would never work well. I think my prof reacted to my business plan as warmly as that scenario.

We persevered, we created it and gosh we’ve had a lot of fun doing it.

John Sumser:                       How long have you been in business, how old is cfactor?

Cary Schuler:                        It’s about sixteen years ago now. We started it when I told my folks that the three brother are going to be working together. We got the usual, “Are you sure that’s going to work?” We’re bootstrappers, we threw $100 on the table each of us and got busy creating a company. Now 16 years later, we’ve built a really nice successful company, We started mainly as consulting, so we’ve been the Sass product world for the last number of years. Really built a solution based on listening to customers and using my HR background. My two brothers are the geeks of the family so they’re the technical guys  and we started from their architecting solution that would impact employee relations, communications and built it from there.

John Sumser:                       Three brothers, sixteen years, no murders, that’s a pretty enviable track record. I saw the other day a documentary of the band the Eagles, Glen Fry said at one point any really successful band is always just about to break up. I imagine you’ve had similar moments like that in your journey. What does a day look like for you?

Cary Schuler:                        Great question, Outside of running the overall business my main areas of focus are in business development and sort of corporate strategy. As you know John, running your own business, or different engagements that you embark on …  the fun thing about it is really no two days are the same. You come into work and you have your list of things you going to try and accomplish and that quickly goes out the window. It’s challenging, it’s fun, it runs the gambit from meeting with customers, prospects, partners, industry influencers like you and William Tincup and others. Really I like to get involved with the product strategy, the market strategy. I have a lot of fun with, how do we architect our product, how do we continue to build on what makes it really cool and how do we get that word out. That’s a lot of what I do, and really getting out there [crosstalk 00:06:00] a new approach of how we handle HR technology.

One of the things we talk about a lot is typical HR systems, frankly they’re pretty boring. They’re systems of records types of systems and we really look at it differently and we like to refer to our system as a system of engagement. Happy to dig into that more with you, but really trying to turn the philosophy on it’s head a bit about what HR technology can do and accomplish.

John Sumser:                       Let’s dive into that, what do you mean by system of engagement?

Cary Schuler:                        One of the ways I like to describe that is when we get out there to prospect or we’re showing our Vibe HCM product to people, one of the first reactions we get more often than not, people sit back and say “this doesn’t look like an HR system.” We love it when we hear that because to us that’s a compliment. That means it’s different from the average system that really, what I would say, the traditional systems were all about automation and transactions and practitioners. How does the payroll person get this data to here from there. It wasn’t really about what was the overall average employee get out of the system. What would make them go back and use it again, what’s in it for them? Really that’s kinda the way we look at that.

We came at it based on where I explained our root were, we really came at it from a consulting kind of employee communication perspective and not the traditional data automation perspective that a lot of HR technology shows when you look at it and you see how the screens are put together and you see how it’s architected.

John Sumser:                       In a quick nutshell let’s dig a little deeper, what is cfactor works, what are the things your system does?

Cary Schuler:                        Cfactor works is the company, that’s the geeks, the developers, the marketers, and all the support that goes behind our cloud based HCM platform, which is Vibe HCM. We picked that name on purpose because really when you look at Vibe HCM it’s not just, as I mentioned both of those kind of transactional things, but it’s about getting to what is the vibe of our customer, what is their story and what is their branding and what message are they trying to get out to their employees.

When we roll out a Vibe HCM solution, they don’t refer to it as Vibe, in California’s Pizza Kitchen’s perspective they would refer to it as calibrate, and calibrate is the central location that all their employees in their different restaurants go to, It’s branded to CPK, their CEO comes out and welcomes people to the company when they’re on-boarded. Even their operational stuff is deployed there so their new menus, their promotions. It’s really that type of approach and that type of example that is the way we put Vibe HCM together to really be in a place that every employee at a particular customer of ours can communicate, connect, of course do their HR transactions, but really be that destination point.

John Sumser:                       You have this really interesting problem, you have the company brand, you have the product brand and then it sounds like most of your customers brand your product specifically to their employee base. There’s three competing branding initiatives. How do you keep it straight?

Cary Schuler:                        Great question, Really our customers know the product as Vibe, and we’re happy with their employees the average person in the restaurant, the person in Devry Education group, the person that is teaching the students. Them referring to it as the Devry commons in their case. Because that’s really one of our key propositions. We want our customers, the executives, the leadership and those customers to feel that that’s their system. It’s uniquely, even though it’s a Sass based multi-tenant application, it’s uniquely branded. Communications that are in there the collaborations are unique to their story and we’re perfectly fine with that.

At the end of the day the decision makers know it’s cfactor and their Vibe product that is delivering that strategic application for their organization. They’re the first ones who get up there and market it, and do case studies and discuss that type of approach is very unique in the competitive offerings out there.

John Sumser:                       When you go to something like, I’m assuming you are going to be at HR Tech in Las Vegas in October. When you go to an event like HR Tech and you’re figuring out how to organize the booth. Is it a Vibe booth or is it a cfactor booth?

Cary Schuler:                        It’s a Vibe HCM by cfactor.

John Sumser:                       Vibe HCM.

Cary Schuler:                        By cfactor, yep.

John Sumser:                       Okay so to dig a little bit deeper, what are the core pieces of functionality? Employees go there so I assume there’s profiles, communication, what are the things you get in the box?

Cary Schuler:                        Overall there are six modules that make up the comprehensive suite. It really goes, John, from even before the first day on the job, so the whole applicant tracking system and that’s really where the experience starts kicking in. Once you, for example, accept a job at a company that deploys vibe, you will get a personalized email as a new employee welcoming you to log in to a personalized pre-boarding experience, you’ll go in and learn about the company. The CEO of the company may walk out on the screen and welcome you to the organization.

You’ll be able to connect with your peers through your personalized communications and role based access to see exactly who you’re going to be working with, their profiles. Ask a question of a mentor. We even have this concept, like a lot of the consumer sites you’re familiar with, if you have a question, you click a button and somebody will answer your question real time through a chat feature in the application. We’ve taken that concept to HR technology as well so through out the whole six modules you can ask a question any time though a live chat feature and that can be routed through a centralized HR, shared service group for example or different experts based on the role they play in the company.

It’s really that type of communication, connection, social starting even before your first day with pre-boarding and following through through all the life-cycle of that employee. Their first day on the job, we’ve got this real cool virtual day one experience that is sort of like a virtual reality venue that you log into and there is moderated sessions and videos and information. Again really to create that really cool first impression that that new employee made the right choice picking your organization. It follows through with the more day to day, your ongoing tenure with the organization, so a full HRMS capabilities. It has an HR service delivery module that has knowledge based real time chat. All those types of features built in. Social ans you alluded to, so full comprehensive profiles, social networks. Peer endorsements and thanks. Talent modules, so your performance management, your nine boss planning, compensation management, all those types of features. Licences, certifications all that kind of good stuff and reporting package. Dashboards of information across all kinds of things, not just necessarily traditional HR metrics but social, collaboration metrics, communication metrics, all of them in one branded unified application for an employee to log in to.

John Sumser:                       I would fee that back to as Vibe HCM is an employee’s life-cycle software tool that meets the employee as they go through their time with the company. Then it sits on top of a database that perhaps in the beginning was a traditional HRMS, but now is sort of a comprehensive record of all those interactions, it’s sort of what people would call core functionality with integrated talent management stuff on the top of it, plus help, feedback and guidance in HR matters. That’s a pretty comprehensive view of the world. What makes it different from the other players?

Cary Schuler:                        I think its a number of things John. It’s when you log into Vibe and its that personalized branded experience with videos and communications and corporate initiatives, It’s got of course, the self-service kind of features built into it, but you can ask a question real time so it’s not like a static type of process based application. We also recognize that not all folks will want to stand down on all their existing HR technology in favor of a new system. We also enable people the flexibility to stand down certain modules over time and implement them with Vibe and we’ll integrate and still be that unified destination point. Because we feel that’s critically important to drive the adoption and usage as you need, that one URL, that one destination that all employees know to go to. We’ll work with our customers to either roll it out either modular basis or if they do want to do a full replacement, we can do that as well.

We give a lot of flexibility in how we deploy it, a lot of flexibility in how it’s branded, configured, a very sophisticated work fol automation engine behind it to enable the automation of not only transactional types of things like a new hire, but all the kind of social and interaction stuff as well can kind of be automated through different work flow processes and approvals as it makes sense. Because of our consulting background we went in there and architected the system to be very flexible in how it can address different customer requirements but still stay true to that multi-tenant fast model that’s important from a scalability and new feature roll out and all those good things.

John Sumser:                       How are you in terms of being able to service companies globally? That’s a big thing these days, everybody has offices everywhere. What are the global features of Vibe HCM?

Cary Schuler:                        We fully support global deployment. We have a number of customers that leverage different language translations, different obviously currencies and different locations and roll ups and reportings all in one centralized system of records. It’s all supported natively in Vibe. If we need partnerships for local compliance or local payroll or things like that, that’s where we engage with partners to work with us on, again with the goal being to provide that integrated kind of experience for employees, and practitioners, managers, executives. We take that vantage point first and foremost and then augment with relationships where we need, but at the end of the day the application is fully multi-lingual, multi-currency support built in.

John Sumser:                       Who’s the target customer? Do you server everybody who got an HR department?

Cary Schuler:                        I imagine when you as this question a lot of people would talk about verticals or employee sizes. We look at that a bit John, but really this is a little harder to asses out of the chute. Where we do really well is when we get that cultural alignment and some of those customer examples I gave you earlier. Those are just spot on for us for when we know the customer is looking to impact how they interact with their employees. The kind of communication they get out to every restaurant, every corner of their organization. When they got maybe a change initiative, where the executive is involved and they want to get the word out.

One of my sales guys he likes to joke, in the few years that he’s been out representing Vibe HCM to our sales prospects, he’s met more CEOs of corporate America then he did working over 15 years in one of our large competitors. I think it’s because the way we impact things through technology that impact the initiative and what’s on the executives mind. That we get engaged at that kind of level in our customers, it’s really some of those cultural DNA markers of our prospects that really, when we get that alignment, we do really well.

John Sumser:                       Let’s drop back to your description of this as a system of engagement. Tell me again what that means.

Cary Schuler:                        Sure. What we do, we really focus on what’s in it for that employee? Some people will talk about engagement and they’ll refer to easy-to-use consumer based kind of websites, or they’ll talk about employing annual employee engagement surveys or reporting, and maybe those are small pieces of it. We’d say it kind of goes a lot further than that. What we look at is how does the technology influence employee engagement? How can you deploy this environment that will impact things like, how do you help employees understand the purpose, the mission and values of the company they work for. I think it was a recent gallop survey where they said, this shocked me, but they said only 40% of employees actually know what their company stood for or what they were trying to accomplish.

How can they represent you out there as your brand when they don’t even know what you’re really trying … why you exist and what your purpose is. Why can’t you use HR technology that’s connected to every employee, knows what their role is, know what their status is, all those good things that a core system can do. Why don’t you use that to push out your message, push out your mission to all corners of your organization, and do it in a fun way. Do it with things like videos and webos, impactful communications. Things that when you are introducing launch why don’t you push it out through an application like this to make sure every employee knows about it and can comment on it.  Things like personal recognition, “so what’s in it for me?” Things like peer endorsements, or having that available on your profile, so people know what your an expert in and what others are saying about you. Give everybody a voice. We hear that through social tools, but make it as an embedded feature of everything, every conversation about your company that you can weigh in  as an employee on that particular topic.

Things like that “ask HR” feature,  I mentioned where you can actually go in and ask a question real time and get an answer. That’s very different than the traditional way that employees interact with HR. All those kinds of things that deliver that HR kind of environment or service environment that is highly productive and efficient, but also engages the hearts and minds of your employees that are out there.

John Sumser:                       Got it. Getting people to use any sort of HR system is a crazy thing, it seems to me that the people who you really want to capture are too busy and the people who you don’t want to capture are ready to come. I saw some stats yesterday about optimal effectiveness for exit interviews. This particular piece of research said if you get a 65% participation rate in exit interviews which is one of two or three real communication moments that you have, to get 65% participation you’re getting a home run. So part of what I’m interested in is how do you bring up the numbers, how do you help a company bring up the numbers to participate in HR because it’s not the first thing that everyone thinks about when they go to work in the morning. How do you help get that to happen?

Cary Schuler:                        That’s very true, one thing we talk a lot about is adoption, you can’t have the ROI from the automation if you don’t the have adoption, right. You could have the best system, the most efficient system possible but if people aren’t using it you’re obviously not getting your ROI. We try to be pretty sneaky about that, we’ll hit them before their first day, we’ll hit them in their ATF moments which we can deliver or interface with another one. It’ll be the first communication that they’ll have is from our system saying “welcome aboard, here’s your pre-boarding experience.” From there you’ve got to follow that up with continually answering the “what’s in it for me” question. It’s got to be better than the alternative for how they do processes today, how they get their most recent product announcements or their menus in CPK’s example.

You have to have stuff that’s relevant, that impacts employees, but also at the same time, once you get them there then you can reinforce all the other initiatives you are trying to accomplish. Like the communications, what’s going on with the company, connecting with their peers. All that stuff is predicated on A. Them getting in there and using it and we hit them up before their even first day on the job. Then continually reinforcing it with valuable tools and things that they need that make their day to day job easier. Make it easier to find people that maybe can help them. All those kinds of things kind of build upon each other, if you go there and see pay statement something as basic as that. It’s the place you get your pay statement, your schedule, your communications your new promotions for the wee. All that kind of stuff, to really be successful, you’ve got to load it up  as being the place to go.

John Sumser:                       When I look at what’s happening to HR in general, my sense is that HR is becoming, increase is slow right now but it’s going to be fast, it’s becoming increasingly externally focused. Employment branding being an easy example, but as companies become focused on their core capacities the need to have a face in the ecosystem and some consistency for HR approaches inside of the ecosystem. Do you imagine that Vibe HCM is going to have external faces in the coming years?

Cary Schuler:                        We’ve talked a lot about that and there’s no reason it for sure couldn’t accomplish that. We see a lot of what our different use cases, our customers are leveraging the technology for is customer service initiatives. At a minimum making sure everybody is kind of aware of what’s going on form a customer experience perspective. How that impacts their particular job, arming frontline people with those types of standard, consistent messages. Easy to consume training that’s delivered, role based out to different places, so starting, that’s what we’re kind of seeing right now, its really arming the employees with what they need to be successful in their interactions. We do some of that already with ambassador communities and things that reach out a bit further than behind the wall of the organization. I think you are exactly right John, there’s going to be more and more of that as pushing or enabling I should say, the people that are those frontline delivery experts to interact more through technology in an external facing way. Good question

John Sumser:                       Yeah, thanks. What else on your road map for the next couple of years?

Cary Schuler:                        We’ve got lots of bug plans, we are going to continue to reinforce the kinds of things that make us stand out from a product strategy perspective. Things like instant employee pulse feedback, and more things around employee recognition and being able to connect to your employees through different ways in the system automatically. Continually push the things that give a value to an individual employee as well as at the same time strengthening the core HR modules and components that we already have in the system. Really a focus the kind of experience an employee would want in a kind of system like this, so that they can better connect with folks, get better recognition, better access to experts that can help the company in different initiatives. That’s really what our focus is and architecting the technology to support that in the easiest way possible.

John Sumser:                       Got it, We’re coming to the end of our time together. What do you want to be sure somebody listening to this show takes away? What’s important for somebody to remember about our conversation?

Cary Schuler:                        I think what we really to understand and hopefully appreciate when they think of HR technology is that it can go much beyond what the core traditional definition of HR technology was. Moving data around, reporting making … processing payroll. Things practitioners would use it for and really … you have access to every employee in that organization through the way HR technology is rolled out so why not leverage that as strategically as possible.

Everyone else talks about HR being more strategic to an organization well I think technology provides the prime opportunity for organizations to do exactly that. HR departments impact core operational type things. Be  the go to platform for executives to leverage because we are in that unique position that we are connected to everyone in that organization. You don’t have to settle for traditional system of record type of approach to HR technology, there’s a lot of different ways to look at it now. With the advent of many great Sass providers out there you can start impacting key initiatives with out doing a whole big rip and replace type of project. Hopefully today people come away with an understanding that there’s different ways to kind of the role of HR technology.

John Sumser:                       Got it, thank you so much. As we head our way out the door I wasn’t to say thank you for taking the time to come tell us about cfactor. It’s been great talking to you. Would you reintroduce yourself and let people know howto get a hold of you?

Cary Schuler:                        Yeah, happy to do that, and thanks again to you John for having me on. I’m Cary Schuler, co-founder and CEO of cfactor works. Our website is and you can get me on twitter on @caryschuler. I’m also on Linkedin so feel free to reach out and connect and happy to talk about HR tech or if you want to talk about Rough rider football I’ll do that as well.

John Sumser:                       Thanks very much, this is John Sumser, you’ve been listening to HE Examiner Radio we’ve been talking with Cary Schuler who is the co-founder and CEO of cfactor. Whose primary product in the Human capitol marketplace is Vibe HCM. Thanks so much for listening thanks again Cary for being part of this show and have a great day. We will be back same time next week. Bye-bye.

End transcript

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