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HRx Radio – Executive Conversations: On Friday mornings, John Sumser interviews key executives from around the industry. The conversation covers what makes the executive tick and what makes their company great.

HRx Radio – Executive Conversations

Guest: John Bell, Founder and CEO of reThinkData, LLC
Episode: 333
Air Date: July 26, 2019


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Important: Our transcripts at HRExaminer are AI-powered (and fairly accurate) but there are still instances where the robots get confused (or extremely confused) and make errors. Please expect some inaccuracies as you read through the text of this conversation and let us know if you find something wrong and we’ll get it fixed right away. Thank you for your understanding.

Full Transcript with timecode

00:00:13:13 – 00:00:35:13
Oh you’ve got to love technology. Hi you’ve tuned in to HRExaminer’s Executive Conversations, I’m your host John Sumser and today we’re going to be talking with an old friend John Bell who is currently running a data integration company called Think Data, LLC and we’ll let John tell us all about that. Hi John. How are you?

00:00:36:20 – 00:00:39:18
Hi John how are you? It’s actually rethinkdata (chuckles)

00:00:40:24 – 00:00:54:00
reThinkData, yeah, oh there it is. There’s a little tiny re in front of the Think Data. reThinkData, LLC. So take a moment and introduce yourself.

00:00:54:00 – 00:01:30:03
Thanks John. As you know we’ve known each other for a long time and I really appreciate the opportunity to be on your program to talk about industry issues and my current mission with Rethink data for background. I started in the talent acquisition industry some 20 plus years ago when I founded Boxwood Technology. Boxwood is a job board technology platform provider running of managing over a thousand active job boards. Not only does Boxwood provide the technology to run the job board but it also manages the day to day operations and advertising sales for these sites.

00:01:30:03 – 00:02:01:07
So how did I get here at reThinkData? As far as that transition I sold Boxwood in 2015 but we didn’t sell everything. I kept the project out of the deal that we had started to work on to solve for what I think is the biggest issue in recruitment today and that is the disconnected candidate application process between a job board and an ATS when the candidate is redirected starts their search and applies at the job board and then is redirected to the ATS.

00:02:01:15 – 00:02:14:18
We’ll talk about that in some detail later. I kept that project because new owners didn’t understand it anyway and all sorts of able to keep the team at Boxwood that worked on that project. So they moved over to rethink with me.

00:02:14:20 – 00:02:24:11
How did you end up getting started doing this in the first place. You’ve laid out the job board business that’s great, but nobody grows up wanting to be in the job board business

00:02:25:24 – 00:02:27:01
Well earlier than that.

00:02:27:02 – 00:02:55:22
I was in the recruitment business I had a recruitment technical firm and we did exclusive searches. Remember back in the day of IBM mainframes a niche nationwide player and we played systems programmers and networkers database folks from the. Recruitment Industry. And then that morphed into Boxwood because I was trying to build it back in the 90s. Trying to build an online

00:02:57:11 – 00:03:30:15
location where candidates could see all the job ads we represented that quickly then morphed into Boxwood and we actually started Boxwood with newspapers and radio stations and. Several commercial job boards back in the early days and back into the association nonprofit professional society space. So. I went from being a recruiter having a recruitment firm. Into being a commercial job board operator. And moving into a platform model that enabled other organizations to provide the service

00:03:31:03 – 00:04:01:14
And. Get. Back in the boom of the Internet. Back in 2006 7 and 8. We were like everyone else and trying to fund our projects and we could not explain John what Boxwood was. To the investment community because we didn’t have the word. Pass. At the time. And we didn’t have the word white label at the time. So it was very clear very early on when we started Boxwood and that ended up to be a very nice organization that was purchased by the Naylor corporation that’s very involved in the association space.

00:04:01:26 – 00:04:04:18
So what’s this recent day to do.

00:04:04:19 – 00:04:42:06
We’re a technology company. We’re a an integrator and we solve for the unacceptable right now our main project is solving for the unacceptable disconnected candidate API application process. I mentioned earlier that exists between job boards and NHTSA and it’s actually flipped the customers return on investment just completely upside down. Data clearly shows that when a candidate against their search and apply on a third party job site over 80 percent are dropping out of the application process because of the friction with the disconnected nature of the workflow and the user friction from redundant data entry.

00:04:42:08 – 00:04:51:02
So this disconnected marketplace with recruitment and advertising customers. Are not receiving what they used to they’re receiving fewer than 20 percent

00:04:51:15 – 00:04:54:22
Of the candidates that start the application.

00:04:54:23 – 00:05:00:01
So what changed. What why is that. Why is that a problem. How does that flip happen.

00:05:01:11 – 00:05:32:12
Well you’ll remember back before 80s providers came online and develop their own hosted application process job boards. Enjoy the luxury of delivering the application to a very simple process and that process was a proprietary apply which used the data out of their profile candidates profile and uploaded resume aid. And it was a very simple email address name and address contact information. Sometimes a cover letter and an attached resume.

00:05:32:13 – 00:06:12:02
And it was delivered to the customer via email. Well for all the right reasons the advertising customers adopted ATX platforms. To 1 solve for compliance and also to handle the massive number of candidates that they were receiving from different job board sources. So what happened when every time a customer would adopt an 18 guess what would happen is the candidate instead of staying on the job board and filling out a very simple application was redirected off the job board to the ATX application posted application and had to start their application from scratch.

00:06:12:05 – 00:06:36:15
Imagine. Here’s the problem imagine Amazon the Amazon experience you stay on Amazon to purchase products from all over the world from multiple vendors. Imagine a candidate having to go to Amazon or a user go to Amazon to buy something. And soon as they click the purchase they’re redirected to the manufacturer’s website where they had set up a new profile account. They had to upload their credit card content

00:06:37:11 – 00:07:09:08
Where they ended up going through a different checkout process every time and when they finished their sitting on that manufacturers website. We are bringing back to this industry what we call a native apply process native to the job board which enables the job where to offer their users. An Amazon experience instead of the candidate going to the yes we bring the full application screening questions compliance questions all the complexities TVA to the job board and present that as a white label solution inside the job board.

00:07:09:08 – 00:07:33:19
So the user experience stays there and then we pre populate that form with profile information and the resume data information just like we did in the old days we pre populate the form because it’s much more complex today than it was back in the day. So that’s the problem. I think if you if people think about this as an Amazon. Experience that they want to give it their job seekers their candidates when they’re coming to see the applied process.

00:07:34:04 – 00:07:50:02
This is what we offer. This is fascinating with all of the attention over a decade or more characters experience the idea of that it hasn’t been solved to this most rudimentary level is this kind of mind boggling.

00:07:51:13 – 00:08:07:03
It is and I thought it would be pretty simple a couple of years ago to introduce a solution because it’s pretty obvious when you sit down and actually think about it. One of the big reasons for this not actually taking all five or six years ago is because the industry has been talking about it forever.

00:08:07:05 – 00:08:14:00
It is the complexity of the process and the fragmented marketplace on both sides. You know the three hundred and fifty eight S’s.

00:08:14:11 – 00:08:30:07
And there’s thousands of job boards. So to think of developing a network. You know many many network or each each. Stakeholder had to. Create an integration with all the other. Folks on the other side the market is pretty it’s pretty daunting and I think it just sat there with

00:08:30:21 – 00:09:10:16
With no solution. That’s interesting. So what you’ve done which I find fascinating is create a tool or a tool set that supports and sort of celebrates the fact that the market is fragmented and builds a sort of uniform user experience inside of that fragmented market. That’s pretty that’s pretty interesting and not you know everybody else in the whole world who wants to barge in and fix everything that’s broken thinks that the way that you do that is by giving everybody to do it your way and what you’re doing is allowing people to do it their way.

00:09:10:18 – 00:09:13:15
It’s still maintaining the experience. Is that fair.

00:09:14:00 – 00:09:27:00
Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah we’re finding it early on someone told me that once you’ve integrated with one ETF you’ve integrated with one to yes everybody does it differently. And

00:09:27:00 – 00:09:46:10
And on the other side job boards have their own candidate workflow and user experience and how and when in the process they start a relationship with the candidate. So when we when we make our connection our touch points on the job or side it is very unique to each dashboard. You’re right that we’re in the middle.

00:09:46:16 – 00:10:13:14
That’s so interesting. So you’re performing a sort of a switcher wouldn’t function but that makes you super dependent on the interfaces between you and the 80 years and the job boards. Staying relatively stable. Is that right. That’s the bugaboo with this sort of thing. So so. So how do you handle the fact that you can’t control those things.

00:10:14:09 – 00:10:44:25
Well you know just like in other industry to the airline industry the travel industry credit card industry. When you’re processing your credit card at that point of purchase it’s going through multiple vendors along its way to get to the bank and come back and be approved and so forth. They course have change management control and they’re very sophisticated. You point out an either industry we’re not really integrated into street particularly APF providers platforms and job boards.

00:10:44:26 – 00:11:15:26
The lucky thing for us is is that 80 US providers that we’re working with are really engaging with this process and they have built. We use API is a course which is an industry standard and they’re not changing those API often at all when they do most of our ETF partners will contact us because if they change their API for us they’re probably change in the same set of API as for their other vendors or background screening and various functions like that. No criminal checks and so forth and so on.

00:11:15:28 – 00:11:37:18
We all putting data in and out of that applicant profile on the ATF. So there’s not just it’s we’re sort of joined into an order already built ecosystem from the tragedy the ATF looking for us on the other side. The job board actually does the integration to us. So we’re the standard and we can manage that pretty effectively.

00:11:37:22 – 00:11:45:16
To suggest that you have contractual relationship issues over the ATF is a great tool.

00:11:45:16 – 00:12:14:16
They know they know they should notify you as a beta as yes most most of the ATF providers have a marketplace. And we we are in the marketplace with most of the ATF if they have a marketplace where in that marketplace and included in that group. So we’ll get notifications. They’ve been great as far as giving us our direct connection to their tech teams and we’ve got product managers and stuff. So yeah we’re we’re pretty tightly connected with those guys.

00:12:14:17 – 00:12:31:01
So you are in Maryland somewhere. Maryland is not known as a center of. There actually you’re in the woods in northern Maryland or the neighborhood is not known as a tech hub.

00:12:31:06 – 00:12:49:12
How do you get people to come to work for you. Well you know back in the day of boxwood we built an amazing tech team and most the core of that group stayed with me for 18 years which I thought was pretty fantastic and we’re using the same philosophy at Rethink we home grow our guys

00:12:49:21 – 00:13:22:16
Now. But some guys over from Boston was very helpful but we like this fine young self starter aggressive smart technology guys and what we offer them for the Baltimore community and being not so much in the center of the hub like you would be at Silicon Valley or you would be in Austin or some of these other places. There’s not that much demand in our location. A lot of the big employers of left wing of the big insurance companies and banks and such. So there is not that huge demand which is causes people to be rated all the time so we can bring in Alex Vella

00:13:22:27 – 00:13:55:02
Pay them well. We get great benefits. And offer them a pretty exciting environment to learn. You know when you’re a data processing person working for a company for inside products it’s pretty boring. You might work on an accounts receivable program. For a while. Put it up on the shelf and you’re done as you know a fast model is never finished. And we’re constantly innovating. So. We’re pushing our people into technologies that they would not ordinarily be exposed to. And we demand a lot. So we work hard. And they get a fulfillment for that.

00:13:55:02 – 00:14:05:04
So it’s. Not that you know we’re the best employer you know in the state or anything like that. But we have a pretty nice niche and a good network of people.

00:14:05:09 – 00:14:07:24
So what’s the role of this process.

00:14:08:17 – 00:14:38:17
Well as of the here and now we’re not really using A.I.. We’re following in of course and learning but we’re not sort of in the database work because we’re truly a a an integrator and transferring data that belongs to the job board then it belongs to the customer. We do not store data. We don’t keep a resume a database of any kind. We don’t monetize the data when we’re finished with the data that they just deleted. In terms of GDP PR we’re known as a as a process or not a controller.

00:14:38:18 – 00:15:15:07
So we delete the data right away so matching the matching business and the data mining business analytics is just not where we are today but I can say that it makes perfect sense to me in the not too distant future particularly for candidates on a mobile device to introduce a pie chart whatever we term permanent time Black to interview to to to introduce that type of technology into the application process and in turn that audio work into data and then drop it into the ATF database. So

00:15:15:07 – 00:15:24:03
So we’re looking at that and I think when the time is right we’ll be in that that that being in any way I market with those solutions. It’s

00:15:24:03 – 00:15:59:05
It’s funny that it’s really quite interesting that the job board industry issue which was technology leading as it has emerged it was brand new stuff that nobody had ever done before is now sort of the conservative technology component the slow to move technology to solving this problem the fact that you’ve got a niche here suggest that the job boards have become quite conservative about how they deploy technology.

00:15:59:09 – 00:16:18:01
I find that kind of interesting because it was. In the beginning the the idea of a job board was so extraordinary that it took evangelism to get to the top right. It was a very different kind of approach to technology when the job or the industry started of

00:16:19:18 – 00:16:19:27

00:16:20:16 – 00:16:52:20
Well you hit on an interesting point. You know in any industry innovators leaders and followers. And I think at this point the innovators have embraced. Connecting their job board platforms. To the systems that their customers are using. And they’re doing this for a number of applications. Job distribution. They are doing this. Everybody seems to be in a big flurry to get their resume database sourcing systems all integrated with the. Yes and they’re working on that as well. When it comes to this application process

00:16:53:24 – 00:17:29:17
Customers have not been asking for this integration. And then that makes me think well why wouldn’t a customer want to get more candidates for their advertising spend. What data hasn’t been available and just the left until just the last couple of years app casts and those guys have been doing great tracking. Starting to show the. Candid and abandonment rate. And the loss of values that the customer is experiencing. So I think until the customers which it is beginning to happen today. The customers start asking the general job where population to get connected for the apply process.

00:17:29:20 – 00:17:41:03
They’re going to be slow to innovate because it costs money. And takes time. And resources. Now indeed has been working on this for years. They’ve got a huge department that does this work. By

00:17:42:21 – 00:18:13:00
zip recruiters been doing some work. CareerBuilder. Those three guys have been out there in the marketplace glass door. Now part of indeed that they’ve been doing work as well. So you take the top four or five innovators and they’re already there they’re they’re building this to the best that they can. And there are some limitations which are interesting but the vast majority of the job and marketplace has been complacent. And with that background one other factor I think that that really dominates this is job boards are making more money today

00:18:13:09 – 00:18:37:14
Than they probably have ever in recent history and they’ve had a long run up of strong demand for their product customers willing to pay even if our ally is not their customers you know how they get when demand is high they’ll go anywhere to find a good candidate. And so I think job boards are saying hey we’re doing great. Maybe we don’t have to do anything this year. Let’s wait till next Just wait till somebody else does it. And so they’ve been a little bit slow to pick up on this. If that answers your question I hope it does.

00:18:37:25 – 00:18:43:17
Yeah. Well you know that tells me that tells me that it’s a mature marketplace and

00:18:45:15 – 00:18:47:13
that it’s ripe for disruption.

00:18:48:00 – 00:19:15:11
So so maybe the next question this angle is is how do you see the job market evolving. Is it going to be do you imagine that there’s going to be more of this forever or is this some of the new tech go do you think you’re just going to completely sabotage the job board business. This is this is the long form of the is the job or the restaurant right.

00:19:15:11 – 00:19:58:08
Well I think there are challenges to the industry. If you look at the amount of money that’s been invested in the end of the larger job boards into the ETF marketplace even in the recruitment marketing section of the business the market recruiting marketers are getting invested money and I think ice jams just bought a job. So there’s some consolidation going on as well. I think a job board that is a stand alone job board in three years will have a very difficult time competing with the job board that is fully integrated with their customers data systems I think job boards have been dying because in large part because of the disconnected application they can’t get the product to market.

00:19:58:15 – 00:20:28:16
But right now there’s not that pressure but when the pressure starts to come on and we have a recession and things turn down a little bit for customers in their renewal process get wise and say look if you’re not connected for the applied process I can’t justify spending money all of a sudden that’s going to change the whole complexion of the marketplace. And there’s some great niche job boards out there as you know that provide a really good service and have a supply of candidates in those particular professions and such as that are very high value talent pools and I think they’ll do well.

00:20:28:16 – 00:20:43:19
I think there’s going to be that they may not be as many but I think the concept of the job board is here to stay. Everybody’s become a job board right. Google linked in Facebook. So I think the concept of the job board business is here to stay.

00:20:44:11 – 00:20:47:21
If you’re a job working what do you need to do to survive.

00:20:49:04 – 00:21:22:00
I think you seriously stop and look at your technology roadmap and look at the priorities on that roadmap and see if those priorities are getting you connected directly into your customers systems. And I think that’s what I’m what I kind of generally term a connected connected job with if you’re connected to the ecosystem that enables you to compete on a level playing field. Then it’s up to you to build your niche your supply your candidate structure you know all of that stuff that job boards have to do.

00:21:22:02 – 00:21:37:28
And of course they have to win customers and keep customers. But from a technology perspective I think now is is a real pivot. Her job was to look at what they’re spending their time on and start spending their time on products and capabilities to get them connected to their customers.

00:21:39:03 – 00:22:03:27
It’s always been a little elusive part of the problem in the job board business is it takes some work to understand the value that you’re giving from your sperm. But now it sounds like you will get completely invisible. So what do you have to do to impress your customer of the value that you’ve delivered when your customer might actually be a bot that’s making big decisions.

00:22:03:27 – 00:22:36:01
Well one of the things I remember Michael Dani with dice cause 30 and three or four years ago he gave a presentation at a conference that I was there and this started my relationship with Michael actually. He had this great comment this great presentation said the number one problem in the job board recruitment space is the lack of attribution job boards are not even getting credit for the candidates they’re delivering one of the things we do in our integration is that we firmly put on every application the source code I.D.

00:22:36:22 – 00:23:02:10
going back to you know you integrate with one ATF integrate all they’re all different. So it’s complicated but we make sure that our job board partners get attribution for their candidate traffic whether it’s going into a system are going to go into whatever the delivery mechanism is on the ATF side they’ve got to get credit for their application and it’s not happening. And that’s part of the benefit of getting connected to your customers

00:23:02:21 – 00:23:24:11
Systems. So to me that is something that absolutely has to happen for the industry to survive because if you look at the data across the industry now some of the data is very interesting and exciting but it’s built on really faulty data points because attribution is not clear. It’s not concise and the customer really may not know where they’re getting the candidates from. So I think that’s a big part of it.

00:23:25:24 – 00:23:28:18
So what are the ethical issues you run across in your work.

00:23:29:03 – 00:24:02:29
Well we’re compliant with EPR which you know they have of course the candidate privacy and data privacy issues. And I think those. Candidates privacy an individual’s privacy and and the the data. Privacy are the big ones that we have. That we’re working just try to stay within accepted boundaries there. And the other is. That. I think the industry as a whole doesn’t treat the candidate as a customer. Enabling people to treat people like people the customer

00:24:03:12 – 00:24:26:06
The candidate is who is really losing out in this whole experience. Of. Starting to try to find a job in going through the process of applying for the job. So I think those three things user privacy data ownership. And enabling people to treat the users as as real customers actually if they thought of them as customers it would be great. There’s a lot of talk about that industry.

00:24:26:15 – 00:24:38:06
Those are the. I think we’re looking at there’s been a great and interesting conversation and we want to thank you for taking the time to do it. Would you reintroduce yourself until people have been more like you to hold of you?

00:24:39:20 – 00:24:40:17

00:24:40:18 – 00:25:13:17
My name is John J O H N B E L L. My email address is John dot Bell at Rethink data dot net. We’re located in Maryland. Love to have you drop by our offices anytime. Our 800 phone number is 1 800 3 9 5 9 5 6 0 and we are integrators that do work to connect job boards and applicant tracking systems.

00:25:13:17 – 00:25:32:08
Thanks John I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. You’ve been listening to HRExaminer’s Executive Conversations and we’ve been talking with John Bell who is the CEO and founder of RethinkData in Maryland. Thanks for tuning in. We will see you back here next week. Bye bye now.

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