HRExaminer Radio: Episode #92: Rob Garcia

On April 20, 2015, in HRExaminer Radio, by John Sumser

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: Rob Garcia
Episode: 92
Air Date: April 17, 2015

 

Audio MP3

Rob is a Silicon Valley product executive, co-founder and Chief Product Officer at ConnectUp: a social email messaging app that allows users to bring all their contacts in one place, write one message, and send it to as many people as they choose individually via email, Facebook, LinkedIn or even text, in seconds. ConnectUp is you, to the power of all your contacts.

Rob is active in the startup scene and enjoys speaking/writing about building genuine relationships beyond social media, professional networking, and disruptive innovation.

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Transcript

Begin transcript

John Sumser:

Good morning and welcome to the HR Examiner radio show. I’m your host John Sumser and we’re coming to you today live from beautiful downtown Occidental, California where the roses are in bloom, the camellias are in bloom, the jasmine is in bloom and the sun is peeking out over the hill. You probably remember that Occidental is the home of innovation in the great state of California. It’s where Leland Stanford did his railroad engineering. Today, we have Rob Garcia with us. Rob is a longtime friend who’s been in and out of the HR tech industry, and he is currently the Chief Product Officer at ConnectUp which is a new social messaging app, and a trip slightly outside the realm that he’s been working the last couple years. Good morning, how are you, Rob?

Rob Garcia:

Good morning, John, it’s good to be here, thanks for having me.

John Sumser:

Yeah, so why don’t you introduce yourself? Talk about your history a little bit, and tell us how you got where you are?

Rob Garcia:

Sure, I am currently the co-founder and Chief Product Officer at ConnectUp, as you mentioned. A computer engineer by training, I did computer science in college, and I did that for a couple of years until I realized that my passion was really building cool, innovative different products. I did that because I was in for 8 years of consulting with a company called Razorfish, one of the first digital consultancies back in the day. I always found myself kind of embracing the latest technologies, the latest cool trends, and trying to convince my clients this is what you need to do. The first one being the web. I was there basically telling companies that had customer service phone lines, one eight hundred numbers and [inaudible 00:02:14] that they needed to move into PC, Unix, and they needed to have a website. They’re looking at me like why do we need a website, I already have a one eight hundred number, how else do we want our customers to interact with us? I’m like, dudes, you need to do this. That’s kind of my way into innovation and entrepreneurship is I left my eight years of consulting to build all kinds of different companies. I did innovations at the lending space and the financial innovations space with a company called Lending Club, then I went into HR technology and now I’m more in general industry of social media communications.

John Sumser:

Wow, that’s a role, isn’t it? You took some stops at HR tech along the way. Let’s talk about how those things went and what you learned.

Rob Garcia:

HR tech is, to me, fascinating because it’s in essence the confluence of all the things that will create, in theory, an optimal place for innovation. First of all, you have an organization that is typically very safe and typically behind the curve in technology just for obvious reasons like legal reasons and the fact that you’re working with real people and their interest is the top priority. You also have a fantastic need, if you have the need of keeping the latest information and predicting organizations and how humans work and enable those people to work together. To me, HR tech was a prime place for innovation and that’s why I jumped head first into it.

My path through HR tech was basically two companies. One was [inaudible 00:04:14] and that’s where I learned and I still have some scars around me. I met you during that time, there was a company called [inaudible 00:04:23] and we wanted to innovate by providing. I was watching [inaudible 00:04:27] and success factors and smaller companies like small recruiters and I noticed that there was one big piece missing which was how to enable employees to really drive their own careers and drive their livelihood inside a company so the company could maximize their skills and talents.

I worked in a company on a concept called social talent engine which was simply just trying to leverage all the social technologies inside an organization so that people didn’t have to do performance reviews, didn’t have to really work that hard to be found as a star inside a company. We unfortunately didn’t have enough money to really take it to fruition, but the concept was really interesting, really good, people really embraced it early stage and it’s now a part of the HR technology suite at Intuit. It was bought by Intuit and they took the code and took it from there. Then I worked at a company called Lifesmart, which was slightly different, with the [inaudible 00:05:39] technology and the engagement department there. The concept was very simple at Lifesmart, it was helping people find jobs faster than the national average when companies are in the unfortunate position of having to let go some of their employees [inaudible 00:05:56]. It was very fulfilling because I was building products that were really meaningful to people and would help people in situations that was very uncomfortable and very vulnerable.

John Sumser:

Cool. What are you doing now?

Rob Garcia:

My new gig is in social technology, but it’s more consumer centered social technology which is the reason why I’m talking to you is because we’ve found with as much as I’ve moved away from HR tech, I’ve found that the product is really getting attention from recruiters and social recruiters, but I’ll tell you about it.

The concept is very simple. I realized that we are hyper connected. We have so many connections nowadays. We have LinkedIn, your Facebook, you have your phone contacts, we have all these different places where you maintain contacts and contact information and relationships that you have made. They all siloed, and it’s really hard to do simple things like who do I know in HR technology in Boston because I’m going on a trip there next week. Even simpler than that, something like who’s an executive, or who’s a VC in my network. You have to go to LinkedIn, you have to go on your phone and you have to remember and it’s a complete mess, and this day and age where data drives intelligence and there’s so much of it, I just felt like it made no sense for people who have all this fragmented contact list especially for communication purposes, so the concept is very simple.

We came up with Connect ups, it helps people not only make sense of the full contact list no matter what they are, but also to be able to communicate with them in a meaningful manner that would lead to better and stronger relationships. It does something as simple as being able to say, what I said earlier, who do I know in Boston because I’m going to Boston, or northern California next week, and being able to send a notice that says, “Hi, first name, hope you’re doing great. Just wanted to let you know I’m going to be in the area and would love to catch up over coffee with you.” Or, “I have a new product that’s coming out, would love to show it to you.” Being able to send that message to five, ten, twenty something people no matter how you’re connected with them. It kind of transcends the location of the place where you’re connected with that particular person.

John Sumser:

That’s cool, so how’s it going?

Rob Garcia:

We’re in the early stage, it’s doing really well, we build the product and it’s getting awesome first reviews and commentary from people. I’m happy to make it available to your audience as well, but I’m as happy as I can be. What I love to see is people engaging in the product and giving you feedback. The moment when they go and they look at a product and start working with it and start playing with it, and their eyes go big and say wow, this is really cool, this is really interesting, that is what we all work for being an entrepreneur.

John Sumser:

How can people [inaudible 00:09:15]?

Rob Garcia:

We have fifteen people altogether, it’s an early stage start up. As an early stage technology start up, most of that is developers, so two thirds of that are developers and obviously the other five are what I call the hustlers, people who are just making sure the product is getting out in the market, that it’s tested appropriately, that we’re testing the market, the different market segments that we are keeping an eye on how people are engaging the product, what are the things to improve, what other kinds of people who would really take advantage of it, how to we get in and enhance as many people as possible, that kind of stuff.

John Sumser:

Where’s the office? Where are the offices? [inaudible 00:09:58]

Rob Garcia:

Exactly, you have to have that. We’re in San Mateo, we have pretty nice office. Pretty small, but very comfortable, in the same building that Jobvite is in, which was another sign that I would be coming back to the HR tech in some way even though I was building something more generic. I heard you talking about Occidental, and I feel the same way about San Mateo, it has this beautiful view of the mountains, and when we’re so deep down in technology and fixing bugs and testing markets and all this crazy Silicon Valley stuff, I just look up and I go, “Oh yeah, the world is a beautiful place.”.

John Sumser:

Yeah isn’t that funny, it’s one of the great things about California, that’s one of the amazing things about California is you get beauty as a part of everyday life. It feels good.

Rob Garcia:

That’s true.

John Sumser:

What are the hurdles you see coming up? What’s going to take your time and attention?

Rob Garcia:

That’s a great question and it’s one that I lose sleep over as every entrepreneur can attest to. There’s two major hurdles. One is that every startup has which is finding the right time to ask for more money for growth. You always work to try to improve the next stage, weather it is the market for the product or there’s obviously a market for it, or there’s a clear way of growing the market that you can put an engine together to generate more users and more engagements. That’s challenge number one.

Challenge number two is one that I didn’t think I would have, which is finding the right people. It is so hard, and you’re right about this as well, but especially in the entrepreneurial world, in Silicon Valley, you have all these masses, what I call the dinosaur technology companies. It’s kind of funny because they used to be startups a few years ago, but now you have the Facebooks of the world, the Cisco’s of the world, the Twitters of the world, all these big companies have made a name for themselves right here in the valley. They’re sucking up as many people as they can, Google down the road here. Then you have this thriving and interesting culture of startups, any start up or mid stage startups that are hungry and competing for those kinds of resources. We’re all going after the same pool, the same geographical pool at that same time. That’s a challenge, is finding the right people and picking the right time to grow the company in a meaningful way in terms of financial investment.

John Sumser:

What’s your secret, how do you find the right people?

Rob Garcia:

How do I plan to what?

John Sumser:

How do you find the right people, how do you do it?

Rob Garcia:

This is going to sound self-serving, but it’s true. I’m currently using my own tool to reach out to people. By using ConnectUp, I actually find people in my network and I can’t tell you how effective it is compared to other media any other way. You can post a job post which is, at the end of the day, just an ad, you can talk on your website about why you’re so different and try to portray yourself with the best possible employer brand that you can. The reality is everybody is, all the startups look, in some way, the same to a potential person who wants to go into start up and the difference is the storytelling, the difference is who are the founders, what is the idea and why does this idea have a better chance of making it than any other idea, because no one wants to work even though we all know that the reality is somewhere between twenty to thirty startups, only one will actually make it to a reasonable, meaningful start up [inaudible 00:14:41]. It’s as simple as being able to connect with people directly.

I was looking for a designer back in December for the position that was giving me the heart attack, because I know how important [inaudible 00:14:59] experience and the sign and how a really interesting, engaging product is. In this day and age you just can’t say, “Here’s my mobile app, it looks like garbage but it works really well.”. The user is not going to go for it, right? It has to be engaging, it has to be well designed, it has to be good looking, so the designer was my biggest challenge back in December. All I did, John, was I used my own product to send an email to about four hundred people and I did a simple search on my product. Who do I know that is in the creative world that is in L.A., New York, or Silicon Valley? I just picked the big cities. And I had about four hundred people that fit that criteria across LinkedIn, Facebook, and my phone contacts and everyone that I was able to plug into the system. And I sent a note, it was very simple saying “Hey just wanted to catch up with you, first name, I wanted to catch up with you and give you a quick update, I’m up to this, I’m working on this company and I’m founder of this company. One of my biggest challenges is actually to find the right people, and the position that I’m trying to fill right now is this one. I’d love to hear if you have anybody in your network.”

John, little did I know, I got in three days of the four hundred emails that I sent, I got two hundred seventy six emails back.

John Sumser:

Really?

Rob Garcia:

Yes, so I’m sitting down in front of my computer, with my founder going “Why are you spending so much time replying all those emails?”. I have two hundred seventy six emails of people who are engaged with me I haven’t talked to them in a while. I cannot not respond back. Once you’re engaged, you have to continue the conversation, you cannot just say, “Hey can I ask you a favor,” and then the person never responds. All kinds of responses from I know someone who is looking, or thank you for reaching out to me, to the polite oh Rob thanks for the update but I don’t know anybody. Which is fine, you’re on somebody’s radar that you were not before. To answer your question again, the best way to find the right people is to leverage the network to do so, because referrals are the best way to find the right people for any situation.

John Sumser:

That’s really interesting, so you probably have some pretty awesome tips for writing emails to people [inaudible 00:17:32], because I can pretty much promise you that most people send an email out to four hundred people, they’re not getting two hundred responses back.

Rob Garcia:

Yeah.

John Sumser:

What does it take to do that well?

Rob Garcia:

You have to be very careful because it can come across, there will be a percentage of those people that it will come across as a form letter, as something generic, and it would be like oh this was just sent to a bunch of people. If you craft it in a very careful way, you can reach so many people and you can engage so many people very easily.

First of all, never ask for anything big. The action has to be clear and it has to be small. You’d love to go for coffee, if it’s somebody that you know [inaudible 00:18:22] who’d love to hear if you have a tick for this, or if you know anybody that is a technologist or designer in that case that I mentioned earlier. If you’re going to ask for something in that first email and you haven’t talked to anybody, it has to be small or don’t ask for anything. Offer help first to re-establish the conversation.

The second thing is that it has to be short. In two or three sentences, you have to be able to say something interesting to that person to get their attention. So hey, I noticed that you change jobs quick. One of the things that I do with my own product is that I notice on LinkedIn who changed jobs in the last month, or who will endorse me, and I just send out simple thank you notes. Hey John or Mary, whatever the name, hope you’re doing great, just noticed that you endorsed me on LinkedIn. Thank you so much for stopping by my profile. Would love to hear an update from you. As simple as that. That gets a response every single time. Wow, Rob thought of me, how did he think of me, that’s interesting. You keep it simple, you thank them, you tell them something that engages them and then they have no other option but to reply and say Rob thanks for the note, I’d love to hear more about what you’re up to. I have like twenty other tips but let’s not spend the whole time on that.

John Sumser:

That’s the idea that you can consolidate the data for your connections without having good manners is kind of weird. It seems to me that one of the things, your company is called ConnectUp, right?

Rob Garcia:               Yes.

John Sumser:

One of the things you must be planning to do is have features and functions that help people keep the connection working, right?

Rob Garcia:

I hate to call it CRM, because it’s not such thing. CRM is a very cold and very step-by-step, methodical, I need to get something out of you so I’m going to milk you into a pipeline. That’s not what ConnectUp is about, it’s about building genuine relationships and helping people really accelerate the process. I’ll tell you a little bit about why we came up with the concept is there’s something called Dunbar’s number, you’re probably familiar with it. Basically it’s a theory that says there’s a cognitive limit to the number of people that you can have social relationships with. This came out of the 1990s by a British anthropologist named Dunbar and she talked about this.

Now go forward five, ten, fifteen years and we find ourselves in the world with social media and social connections and you realize every person in average has anywhere between eight hundred and four thousand connections. All of us are carrying all these connections on LinkedIn, Facebook, my email. I have five different emails, my work email, personal email and each one of them, I exchange anywhere between five hundred to a thousand people. How do we make sense of that world? If that’s my social graph, and my business graph, now kind of coin siding the same space and time. That’s why Connect Up is such a useful tool because we wanted to help people not only find those people that are in their social and business graph but also being able to reach out to them and engage in more meaningful ways so they can build stronger relationships.

John Sumser:

You give [inaudible 00:22:31], does the system say, “Oh John, you sent a letter out to Rob and he responded to you, why don’t you go back and say something nice to Rob. Tell him you like his hair.”

Rob Garcia:

Exactly. We’re not necessarily telling them what messages should say but we’re basically saying John responded and you need to respond back, or you requested a meeting with seven people in Boston because you’re going to Boston. Well guess what, six people responded and engaged so now you need to schedule that meeting. It’s all about helping people go along with the next step in building relationships.

John Sumser:

That’s great I would never get that from what I’ve heard so far, so I’m excited to [inaudible 00:23:25], because everybody could use some coaching in the management and development of their network, and that sounds like a part of what you’re doing.

Rob Garcia:

It is, and what is interesting is counterintuitive, John but most people reach out to the network when they need something out of them, and that is the worst way of building a relationship. Imagine you just walk in off the street and somebody just reaches out and says “Hey, can I have your backpack?”. Who are you and you’re my friend, or my neighbor, but why do you want my backpack? It’s completely counter-intuitive and you might have a relationship that you want to build, and it makes sense to reach out because you might have a need, but that is the worst time to reach out. One of the things that our product does, is we have a feature called campaign.

Basically says you need to be campaigning all the time, and campaigning is a bad word for it, but you need to be reaching out to your friends all the time, so every three to six months, everybody in your network needs to hear from you. Weather it is because they’d love to hear from you, they’re already connected with you, just a simple message that says, “Hey John, I just wanted to let you know that I just got together with my friend [inaudible 00:24:43], and we’re studying interval, and we’d love for you to take a look, and whenever you have time, we’d love to catch up.” People would love to hear from you, hear what you’re up to, hear what you have accomplished, hear what you’re up to next. At the end of the day, we’re all human relation beings, humans are relation beings and we thrive in relation building and connecting with each other.

John Sumser:

Cool, so what does the future look like? Where are you headed next with this thing?

Rob Garcia:

The future looks a little bit like this, as start up in early stage. Right now we’re growing through invitation only requests, so you can come to our website, you can request an invitation, and we’ll give you a pass to it. The people who are inside can invite their friends as well. The immediate future looks like, I would love to grow in a way who really understand the concept and really like it and have the need come in actually and play with it for the next three to six months, and after that is the obvious now there’s a product market fit, and there’s an industry product, people are loving it, people are coming back and using it, and not making a case for  there’s a business opportunity here that’s not just people are [inaudible 00:26:13], and they like it. They like the features. It has to be like how do I use that and how to I apply this for real life? Whether it’s sales, marketing, building relationships or strengthening your relationships for whatever that reason is, how does that work?

John Sumser:

Okay so we’ve whipped through our half an hour learning about Rob Garcia and ConnectUp. Rob, are there any things you want the folks in the audience to take away?

Rob Garcia:

A couple of things. One is that relationships are a continuous process and people need to learn the technologies that we have. Don’t be afraid, just go out, talk to people. People want to engage, that’s conclusion number one.

Conclusion number two, entrepreneurship and startups are fascinating, fun and exciting. There’s nothing like it. If you’re into the thrill of exciting and building cool stuff, startups is the place to be.

John Sumser:

Great, so please reintroduce yourself and tell people how to get a hold of you.

Rob Garcia:

Absolutely, I’m Rob Garcia. I’m the co-founder and chief product officer of Connectup.com. You can find me on Twitter, that’s Rob Garcia, J as in San Jose, Rob Garciasj. You can also send me an email Rob@connectup.com.

John Sumser:

Great, thanks so much for spending half an hour with us, Rob, it’s been great. I really appreciate the time you came.

Rob Garcia:

John, it’s always fun and a pleasure to talk to you. You understand me.

John Sumser:

That’s great, so thanks for listening in this morning. This is John Sumser and you have been listening to the HR Examiner radio show. We’ll see you next week, have a great weekend.

End transcript



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