HRExaminer Radio

HRExaminer Radio is a weekly show devoted to Recruiting and Recruiting Technology airing live on Friday’s at 11AM Pacific

HRExaminer Radio

Guest: Kelly Robinson, Founder and CEO of Broadbean
Episode: 120
Air Date: October 2, 2015


Kelly Robinson first showcased his entrepreneurial spirit as a co-founder of a technical staffing firm in the United Kingdom. He then went on to launch Broadbean (2001) the vision being to post the worlds online job adverts and cultivated this idea, with a fantastic team into a global business.Kelly grew Broadbean by fostering a working environment characteristic of many young technology companies: one that allowed his people to thrive. In 2009, he brought Broadbean to the United States and recreated the type of environment which had proven to be successful for him in the UK. He hand-selected the first of his crew in the US office upon their ability to work collaboratively while taking ownership in wearing many hats. He believed that the culture he fostered would need to parallel the spirit of the existing Broadbean brand in order to produce great results. A few years later, Broadbean Technology has created a strong global presence with offices in the US, Europe and Australia with no intention of slowing down. Although its organizational culture has evolved with its growth, the company remains true to the core fundamentals of its inception: “Keep it light and fun while getting the job done!”Kelly loves Tottenham, F1, Wing Chun, Soccer Coaching and Snowboarding so if you cold call him, which you probably will if you are reading this, you could do worse than engage him on one of these subjects.He dislikes Arsenal and people who start a cold call with “how are you” especially when you have never spoken to him!

Kelly is also the winner of the London & South East lifetime achievement award for commitment to the recruitment industry.

Website LinkedIn Twitter


Audio MP3




Begin transcript

John Sumser:                        Good morning, welcome to HR Examiner Radio. I’m your host John Sumser. We are coming to you today live from beautiful downtown Occidental, California. Occidental is a little village, little Swiss like village in the mountains of California, just before you get to the Pacific ocean and it’s the home of innovation in the great state of California.

Today we’re talking with Kelly Robinson who is the founder and CEO of Broadbean. Broadbean is now a subsidiary of Career Builder, but it’s Kelly’s baby, he started it in England, brought it to the United States and is having extraordinary success with Broadbean. Broadbean, at its core, is recruitment advertising, redistribution, but is growing to be an analytics platform of significant interest. Good morning, how are you, Kelly?

Kelly Robinson:                   I’m very well, thank you, John. After your description of that beautiful town I’m going to come and visit you myself this morning.

John Sumser:                        It’s out in the middle of nowhere, but it is idyllic, it’s a sweet little place. It’s 20 minutes of winding mountain roads to get here from civilization in any direction. Getting here is great, getting out is a little bit different.

Kelly Robinson:                   Fantastic.

John Sumser:                        Why don’t you introduce yourself to the audience, Kelly? Tell them about being Kelly.

Kelly Robinson:                   Okay, sure, absolutely. Good morning everyone. My name is Kelly Robinson. Probably surprising to most people, I didn’t start out to be in recruitment or recruitment technology, I originally started out to be a cable programmer and somehow fell into this industry. As John kindly mentioned, I’m the founder and CEO of a company called Broadbean Technology, I’m sure we’ll talk a little bit more about our products. At our core, or the DNA of this organization, it’s really always been about taking friction out of recruitment processes.

As you can probably hear, I’m originally from London. I’m generation X, which I guess, makes me over 21, under 60, just but over 35. I’ve got a big love of soccer and more recently, well I wouldn’t say more recently, over the last five, six years, become an adopted Denver Broncos fan. There you go, there’s a little bit about me, John.

John Sumser:                        Hold it, you live in Orange County and you’re a Denver Broncos fan? How did that happen?

Kelly Robinson:                   Well see, John, when you’re English and you move to America, there’s a couple of questions that are really important. The first question that you tend to ask people is, “Guys, give me the [inaudible 03:03] or the Chelsea equivalent in the NFL.” When most Americans come to the UK, they pick Chelsea or [inaudible 03:10] cause they’re visible and they win everything. It pains me to say that, but they do.

The first guy that I got introduced to, the first sales guy at Broadbean, he’s like, “You know what, Kelly?” This is before I even knew what the draft system was, I didn’t understand that. I’m thinking okay, this guy is going to give me the team that wins everything. Finally, I’ll get a successful team in my life. John turns around and says, “You know, Kelly, there’s only one team, it’s the Denver Broncos.” I waited for several years to go to the Superbowl and yeah, let’s not talk anymore about that.

John Sumser:                        The Broadbean story is an amazing story. Why don’t you talk about it. You started Broadbean after many years running a staffing firm. What’s Broadbean? How’s it going, what’s it doing?

Kelly Robinson:                   I guess it’s probably worth giving a little history of how Broadbean came about. I made my first … I worked in a recruitment company and I made my first placement back in June, ’89. At that period of time, I managed to successfully negotiate the fee from 25 down to about 15 percent and realized I need some training. Met an American trainer actually, a guy called Tony Burns, who had build this blueprint for recruitment. I followed that blueprint and ended up building and running recruitment companies right up to early 2000s.

That was really the point where the industry started to change, Monster came about, Career Builder followed shortly. In the UK there were things like Job Sign, Job Serve. What we noticed was that the recruitment people that we had, and this was new at the time, the recruitment people we had were spending less time actually interviewing, less time actually meeting candidates, but all the time on the web. Really what happened, and again, it comes back to being more efficient, is could take that process of posting to six job boards and consolidate into one? If we could, we would make the company more efficient, and actually the recruiters could get back and continue to meet and interview candidates, which at the time, was one of our KPIs.

We started off with this thing called the Five Lead Project, I’ll explain how we got from there to Broadbean in a second. We started with this thing for the Five Lead Project, which was literally, build something that took one job posting and sent it to the six job boards that we used at the time. When we built the product, I showed it to a couple of people, I’m not sure if they just wanted to get me out of the industry or not, but I showed it to a couple of people and they said, “This is a good thing. You should maybe go and follow this.”

That’s literally, how Broadbean started. It transitioned form a project in a staffing company to a business. It started with no website, no money, just an idea. We started selling it to recruitment and staffing companies. What we quickly realized is recruitment and staffing companies don’t buy products from people that own a recruitment and staffing company. They had to be jettisoned and they were gone, and we focused on Broadbean, and that was 2001.

John Sumser:                        Okay, that’s sometime back. What is the Broadbean business today?

Kelly Robinson:                   Today we are a global sourcing company. If you step through our process, we launched the company in 2001. In 2009, I packed up my bags and moved west. In fact, Friday, the 13th of March, 2009 was the day we landed at LAX, I guess really with a checkbook and a rental car and decided to launch Broadbean. We’re coming from England, which is a small fishing island over there. We landed here and we thought, well, it can’t be that different can it? We speak the same language, it’s going to be the same products, it’s going to be the same offering. Then we spent the next year realizing that it’s actually quite a different market and the language needs to be changed. That first year was really about evolving our product and our mind set for this market.

In 2011, we opened in Australia. Now as a business, we are a global job distribution company. We post jobs to seven thousand different sites, in 183 countries, on behalf of several thousand customers. At our core again, we’ve always been looking at how do we people more efficient,? As an organization, I guess we do three things. We focus on recruitment analytics, sourcing technology and job distribution.

John Sumser:                        Recruitment analytics, that’s been an interesting development, in my book, it’s been kind of a surprising development as that project has started to become the face of Broadbean. What are you doing in recruitment analytics? What’s the product called and how does it work and how’s it going?

Kelly Robinson:                   The product is called B Dash, we would love to find another acronym as you can imagine, enlighten that a little bit. The underlying concept is, what we do or what we try to do differently, is we work with, typically enterprise companies to take data from multiple sources and bring it back into a story or a conversation that they can help use to support business decisions. This screen that I’m looking at, what levers is it likely to get me to pull in my organization to make a change for the better? Or to understand why I’m making the change, or to justify why we should be moving in a slightly different direction?

It really comes back to, we built … if you think about connecting to seven thousand job boards, what we’ve got really good at is mapping data from A to B. This is just a reverse. Rather than sending data out to a place, we’re actually bring data in from clients. Typically a customer of ours will have between four to six data sources from a career site to a Broadbean, to an ATS, maybe to an HRIS system. We take that information and we give that to them.

What we’ve recently done is we decided to put trends alongside that. We can show a company, for example, here is exactly your diversity of your applications and diversity of your interviews, your diversity of your hires. This is how you map to the industry standards. That’s the types of conversations we support customers with.

John Sumser:                        That’s pretty new, is there anybody else that you see who’s doing this sort of thing? This is surprising and interesting, I think.

Kelly Robinson:                   I think there are lots of companies doing analytics. I think, what I see is lots of people that are trying to unlock the value of company’s data. What we’re trying to do is play that back as a conversation. We want to make it really easy, visual, usable. For example, every company we’ve ever worked with have their own language for things that they describe in the company. To me, if your analytics, if your reports, if your conversations are not using the company’s language, it never gets adopted, ’cause people don’t understand it, they don’t make the correlation between the two.

It’s one of the things we’re  really careful about, is actually saying, “What is the internal speak? What do you call these things? Do you call it an interview? Do you call it a management review? Do you call it a meeting?” Use that language, so that when people are looking at the conversation it makes sense to them. I’m not sure anyone else is doing that.

John Sumser:                        No, no. I’ve not heard of anybody doing that at all. That’s very interesting. It’s the kind of nuance that you catch being a British expat in the LA basin, because you get sensitive to cultural nuance when you make a transition like that. It’s harder for somebody who’s a cultural incumbent to understand that the real importance of analytics is in the context of the people who are using it, not in some larger, sterile standardized context.

Most of the efforts that I see are all about bringing standards that cut across company culture, rather than bringing ways of telling stories that embrace company cultures. I think that’s a really interesting difference. If you don’t mind, as you start to build, you’re growing at an extraordinary rate. How do you get people to get good at that when you’re growing at the rates that you’re growing?

Kelly Robinson:                   Truth be told, it’s tough. Each heat, you’re taking pretty much every company on a graduation from rows and columns to insight and visual data and conversations. For the start point, that’s not an easy thing. The second thing is there’s always holes in the data and you know what, at the moment in most companies, what we see is there’s somebody already cleansing that. The report that people get, somebody’s already tidied up that data.

When you actually start to take the raw information in, one of the most common things we see is negative data to fill a job. Or jobs filled without any interviews. The reality is, you can’t have negative data to fill a job, but it’s because the behavior you may discover is, you know what, people are not really using the system. They find somebody and then at the last minute they’ll go in and they’ll key in the data of the hire. It starts to expose things that people initially point out and go, “The data is wrong.” Actually, the data is never wrong, it tends to point to an inefficiency in the process.

Two things happen as a result of this product, or as a result of people that get involved in making data based decisions. First of all it’s that graduation from rows and columns to insight visual. The second element is it starts to tighten up and improve processes. A classic one that we see nearly all the time is that some companies have, particularly a global company, they’ll have multiple meanings for a hire. You look at your data and you go, “Well we’ve got all of these hires. This department’s got this group, this department’s got that.” It’s simply because everyone has a different definition.

When you start to push that through the organization, you start to clean up and standardize some of the processes, it actually makes for an improved working environment and more structured working environment. I think there’s some additional benefits apart from just understanding the value of what’s going on in the organization.

John Sumser:                        That’s really, really interesting. You must be capturing an enormous amount of insight in your customer service department. Have you spent any time consolidating the wisdom? I know you’re growing very fast, so I think the answer’s probably no. It’d be an interesting project to try to consolidate what you’re learning and make it available to your prospects.

Kelly Robinson:                   I think you’re right, I think over a period of time we’ll start to see maybe there’s some sort o f continuing trends that we see. We’re still learning with this at the moment. The interesting thing is that we never set out to be an analytics business. I think I’ve probably told you this story before, John. Most of what Broadbean has done over the years has been as a result of a conversation with a customer who’s feeling the pain of a particular problem on a daily basis. We like to get under the skin of those problems and solve them. It’s about the DNA of this company which is bringing efficiency.

This whole product came from, for 10 years I was out there going to people, “We do all of your postings, we help people who are resourcing. Here is all the information. We know every job you send out, we know everybody’s that viewed it, we know everybody’s that applied for it. We know every search you’ve run, we know how many people have been downloaded. We know how many people you’ve looked at.” If you take all of this information and import that into your internal work flow, it’s going to give you a much better insight of what’s going on from a recruitment perspective in your organization. For 10 years, probably only two people ever consumed that fee.

Then eventually somebody turned the tables on me and said, “You know what, let’s do this the other way? How about I give you my data and you build the product?” That’s how this started. It literally started from somebody, very large company actually, but from somebody saying, “You help me solve the problem.” That’s one of those things that we can’t resist.

John Sumser:                        That’s great, that’s great. Now you are moving for the second time in under a year, into new larger offices. You’ve grown from, I think somewhere around 40 people to 80 now, and you’re looking at being at 120 or 30 by the end of the year. That’s breathtaking, that’s breathtaking. That means that a lot of people who were part of a small organization are now leaders in a large organization. How’s that feel?

Kelly Robinson:                   It is very challenging, it’s been interesting. The way I describe it to most people, and I don’t know if this a good analogy, but this is the best analogy I can come up with. When this business h as scaled so quickly in the last year, it’s a bit like my imagination of driving a dragster. I can see the end of the quarter mile strip, I’ve hit the gas, the thing’s squirrely a little bit, I’m trying to control it with the steering wheel, and I’m aiming for the end line and I’m hanging on for dear life. That’s the best description I can give you of what this [inaudible 16:57] of growth of this business has been over the last year.

John Sumser:                        It’s a great experience, I am profoundly jealous. You go from trenches in recruitment to running a high growth arm of a very large company in a pretty short time. That’s an amazing ride, congratulations.

Kelly Robinson:                   Thank you very much. Part of the office move is, we’re in an office at the moment and there’s not an Irish bar near here, so when we found a new office, we specifically found the Irish bar and then found an office, and that’s really important to us as a company.

John Sumser:                        That’s great. You are the leader of this exploding tech company. What’s a typical day like? Is there such a thing?

Kelly Robinson:                   Is there such a thing? You know what, John? My day could be just send and receiving emails if I’m not careful. I’m sure there’s lots of people in the same position. It happens to m e from time to time. I’ll go home and I’ll think, you know what, I’ve stood up, I work at standing desks, I’m one of these guys that paces around all the time. I’ve stood up for eight or nine hours and it feels like I’ve just batted these conversations backwards and forwards with email. I have to be really careful to not get sucked into that and to be really, I guess, focused on saying, “Do I really need to do anything with this email? Can I deal with it later?” I’m getting better at that, and I’m sure there are many people who suffer the same thing.

John Sumser:                        Yeah, please teach me your tricks.

Kelly Robinson:                   Ignoring people. Excuse me for coughing, I was sick last week. Aside from that I try and focus on a couple of goals. I want a happy team. I want happy customers, and fundamentally my role is, to achieve that, I’ve got to clear road blocks. I’m constantly looking at what are our top five issues and what can I contribute towards or how can I fix one of those top five issues? I don’t want anybody in this company to come to me and say, “Kell, I’ve got a problem. This is stopping me achieving this or our customers aren’t happy for this reason.”

I’d love to think that every customer of ours loves us and no one’s unhappy, but the practical reality, especially where we scaled so quickly, the relationship you have with your customers when you’re smaller is much more intimate than as you get bigger and I want to get back there. That’s a challenge. We’re not perfect.

My typical day would look, to go back to your original point, would be what road blocks can I help people clear? Is there anything I could do to help some growth in this organization? What can I do to work towards a happy customer or happy team? What are our top five issues and how can I contribute towards solving that? I’ve always got a lot of plates spinning.

John Sumser:                        Yeah, I imagine you are quite busy and that just figuring out what the next right thing to do is, is a challenge in that setting. I’ve only seen the kind of growth you’re experiencing maybe five or six times. It’s explosive, it’s like living in a constant earthquake and you get to see the weaknesses and strengths of the people you started with pretty clearly, pretty quickly.

Kelly Robinson:                   The team here are fabulous.

John Sumser:                        Your team is pretty amazing, pretty amazing. What’s coming? You’ve got a process now where you take customer data, integrate it, feed it back and help people with narrative distribution of the information and storytelling and decision making, once the have integrated the information back. What’s the next step? Where does Broadbean go technically from here?

Kelly Robinson:                   Convergence is something that I’ll talk about, I won’t do a lot. We have this goal or vision, and we call it Zero Time To Find. Our entire focus as an organization is delivering on this concept of Zero Time To Find. I’ll try not to command the next hour of your time just talking about this, but I literally could do.

The idea that we believe in, is that sourcing is incredibly inefficient …Before we get started on this by the way, we’re not out to, this is not a we want to disrupt the industry, we want to get rid of people and replace then with technology. This is actually we want people to do the work that we think they’re designed for and more valuable to the organization.

I think there’s a huge inefficiency in sourcing. When we first talking about Zero Time To Find, people were like, that’s ridiculous. How can you find a candidate with no effort? How can it be Zero Time To Find? What made me think about it is if you go back to my agency days, it was often zero time to find. What would happen is, you’d speak to a customer or a line manager, they’d give you a job spec. You’d open up your card box, there’d be a few people in there, you’d already know those people. You could present two or three potential candidates straight away. Effectively, that time to find was zero.

We said why can’t we do that with technology? What’s changed? The reality of what’s changed is that if people have access to so much information now days, you’ve got access to potentially millions of candidates. How are you ever going to build a relationship rapport or intimacy with a small group, if all of your time is spent looking at resumes? For me, that’s where the inefficiency is. I see it all the time, corporate recruitment departments staffing and recruitment departments, where they spend 10s of thousands of dollars on people that essentially look through job boards. Look at a person, get a sense of where that persons interest is, and then reach out to that individual.

We think, not all of it, but a big chunk of that, we could reduce down to a set of algorithms and free people up from the necessary need to be going and doing that initial part. Have the people focused on engaging prospective candidates to come work for your organization. For me, I want my recruiters not spending, I would like that they’re sourcing people, not spending hours looking for individuals, but spending hours answering the question, dear candidate, this is why you should quit your job and come for our organization. That’s really our goal. That’s this thing that we call Time To Find Zero.

John Sumser:                        That’s great. Have you started to put product together for that?

Kelly Robinson:                   Yeah, we’re starting on a small path. It starts with answering a few questions. The first question that we answered, and it’s one that we universally get is, I wish my recruiters would go and talk to the people that have already said they want to work for our organization. Before they go and post a job, or before they go and search externally. Because we have a captive audience, people have said they’re interested, but we can’t find them, or they just won’t do it.

Part of the reason they won’t do it is because most corporate [inaudible 24:25] I’ve seen are just overloaded, they have too many requisitions and little time to work on them. If you’ve got an hour or so to devote to a job, it’s really difficult to say, “I’m going to spend all that entire hour talking to people that said they want to work for us.” It’s much quicker and more efficient to post the job.

What we’re doing is we’re pointing those people out. We’re helping find the five or sex or seven people that look like really a good match for that job. Then we’re making it easy to reach out to those people. It becomes a single click or a matter of a couple of minutes. That is the first step for us. Using that semantic technology to look at the job, look at the people that we’ve indexed, point out the ones that we think are relevant and try and insert that process before they post a job.

The other thing that we’re doing is we’re racking up a lot of recruitment systems. If you think about a recruiter now, let’s use corporate as a good example. There’s probably still only four or five ways you can fill a job, right? You can post an advert, or some sort of job posting. You can run some form of search, you can ask a referral, or you can use an agency. Granted, there’s nuances within that, but the broad headlines are those four things. Those areas tend to be completely different systems, totally different log ins. They don’t talk, there’s no consolidated tracking, there’s no consolidated reporting. We’re trying to pull that into one platform, we’re trying to bring that all together under a single log in.

At the very beginning, I mentioned convergence. If you now think about B Dash and understanding, truly understanding what works for a company. If we know historically every time you recruit a job, a developer, you do that from a job posting or an X job board. In that case, there isn’t a lot of point in going back and reaching into those previous candidates because historically, this is what’s worked for us.

This whole thing about convergence is it gets to a point when we can make those sourcing decisions off the back of data and this leads into Zero Time To Find. We don’t necessarily need to worry a person about finding the individuals. What I want a person to do, is to take those small groups of people that actually want to work for the company, and go out there and answer the question, why should I come work for this organization?

Hey, John, sorry. You know I’m pretty passionate about this, I don’t want to dominate your whole show on one point, but I’m sorry.

John Sumser:                        Oh no, no, no. I think what you’re talking about is a picture of the future of recruiting that people have been trying to get to for 20 years. It sounds to me like you’re right on the edges of getting it right. When you say convergence, you’re really saying that it’s possible to control and choose recruiting methods and do that in a way that allows you to know who you’re going to talk to the moment that the requirement to hire somebody actually emerges. Is that right?

Kelly Robinson:                   Exactly. This is a journey, this is a vision and that vision is going to get braver and more exciting the more light we shine on it. This is our goal as an organization, we start off with job distribution ’cause that’s inefficient. We brought in search ’cause that was inefficient. We got involved in analytics and now what we want to do is see if we can get companies back to what they used to be, which is, I call my recruiter, recruiter gives me three or four candidates straight away. The only way we’re going to do that is go back to not expecting a person to try and be connecting to millions of people at a time, because you just can’t build up rapport that way. We need to free them up to give them time to engage with a smaller number of candidates that are interested.

It happens in every other industry. I’ve been looking for a bike recently, and every time I go to Google or Facebook or anywhere else, all I get is bike ads, it read my mind. I think we need to be seeing more of that kind of technology flow into what we do in the recruiting industry.

John Sumser:                        That’s interesting. What you’re saying is you can build the system where employers have enough of a sense of what they’re ding in the future, that they can start to advertise for relationships, and when somebody who’s in the right demographic window comes upon that stuff, they get introduced as a potential rather than as a candidate who’s already locked into a hiring process. Is that right?

Kelly Robinson:                   Exactly. This is by no means perfect yet. This is our vision. This is not going to be solved in every industry right now, over night. We do genuinely think it’s coming. Actually, well save that for later. I was going to go into my next realm with what’s going to happen over the next three to five years, but let me step down off my soap box for a moment and hand it back to you.

John Sumser:                        Good, ’cause we are at the end of our allotted time here. Is there anything I should have asked you that I forgot to ask you?

Kelly Robinson:                   Is there anything you should have asked me? I guess you should have asked me why I believe this whole convergence things, but I’m not sure if we’ve got enough time.

John Sumser:                        Go ahead. I like you on your soap box.

Kelly Robinson:                   In 60 seconds and I’ll literally talk as quick as I can. People say to me, “You’re never going to get technology to source as well as a person.” Whilst I agree with that, I think we will get technology to a point where it can source actually, equally sufficiently, but constantly and more regularly. The reason I can is if you look at the power of computing, right now, if you think about it, there are certain computers now that tend to do more calculations per second than the human brain. There’s a project by this guy called Doctor Marcum, it’s called the Blue Brain Project, where they’ve already done a full simulation of a rodent brain, they’re now actually thinking by 2018 they can start a full simulation of a human brain.

The computing power is coming. The holy grail for that by the way is something they call an Access Flop, which is a billion, billion operations per second. I live reading about computing and if you read into it, most experts in that field predict 2018 is when we’ll the first Access Flop, processing power or super computers.

If we get into the point where we can do full simulation of a human brain, we don’t need to simulate the entire human brain to help people with sourcing. I genuinely think this is coming. It’s not coming today or tomorrow and we’re taking small steps towards, but I do think we will see a point where systems will be able to interact to give consumers a better experience, but hand off to people to really do that kind of courting and engagement piece.

Again, we’re trying to disrupt and get rid of people, we’re just trying to use their skills in a more valuable way.

John Sumser:                        That’s great, that’s a compelling vision. Thanks for spending the time this morning, it’s been rally good to catch up with you. Would you mind reintroducing yourself and give people a sense of how they might get a hold of you?

Kelly Robinson:                   John, it’s been great to talk to you as well. It’s been a while since we’ve caught up. Everybody, my name is Kelly Robinson, I’m the CEO and founder of a company called Broadbean Technology. You can reach me at or Twitter, Kellyjrobinson. Actually, particularly Twitter, ’cause I’ve got my thousand followers this week, so it’d be good to get 1001.

John Sumser:      Thanks so much. It’s been a real treat to have you on, Kelly. Thanks, thanks so much. You’ve been listening to HR Examiner Radio. I’m your host John Sumser. I hope you have a great, beautiful weekend ahead of you. Thanks very much for tuning in today. Bye bye.

End transcript

Tagged with:  
Read previous post:
HRExaminer Radio: Episode #119: Rayanne Thorn

Today's conversation is with Rayanne Thorn, VP of Marketing at Dovetail Software and host of the HR Latte Radio Show.