TCV recently hosted an offsite on companies extending into consumer, supplier, and employee networks.
ZipRecruiter is one of the few companies that have been able to extend into consumer demand. We were fortunate to have Co-Founder and CEO Ian Siegel join us and share his thoughts on ZipRecruiter’s journey.
Dave: So maybe to kick us off, tell us a little bit about yourself and ZipRecruiter.
Ian: Sure. ZipRecruiter is an online employment marketplace that I co-founded in 2010. Based in LA, we use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to actively connect people to their next great opportunity. We’ve helped over 1.8 million businesses of all sizes (from SMBs to Fortune 500 companies) with their hiring needs. Tens of thousands of businesses use us every month to find their next great hires and millions of job seekers search for jobs on ZipRecruiter on a monthly basis.
Dave: We’ve been talking to each other for a while, and your first demand side offering was allowing employers to use your distribution software application. And if they weren’t getting applicants fast enough, they could push a “boost” button and get more applicant flow. That was a recruiting facing experience. Explain what’s going on in the background.
Ian: We distribute job postings to more than 1,200 sources. That includes job boards, aggregators, talent communities, social networks, etc. We send jobs to online destinations where talent may be congregating and then we pay those sources on a per-click basis for the traffic they can deliver to us. And then there’s TrafficBoost, our own job promotion product. Employers can buy a “Boost” and get more quality candidates faster.
Dave: Great. So, you have this distribution software, and then the “boost button” which is like performance media buying for lack of a better description. And then you started your own candidate profiles. How does that work?
Ian: Good question. The tricky thing about our category is that it represents a point-in-time need. One of the things you need to contemplate when you have consumers, for example, in restaurant reservations or looking for a job, is that they need you for a moment, and then they’re theoretically going to go away. You have to start thinking about what you can do to get a data lock. What are the things you could add to your service? That means they don’t just use you this time but there’s an advantage to using you in subsequent visits or a subsequent need for that service.
We started moving from résumés to profiles. Imagine you are a nurse: You come to our site and upload a résumé. We’ve become very good at enriching résumés and identifying the single skills that employers are really looking for—for example, a nursing license number turns out to be the only thing you need in your profile to be inundated with interest from hospitals and healthcare providers. As a result, you are persistently being found by new employers who can give you subsequent offers.
Our theory is that job seekers never want to miss a great opportunity that’s coming through. There’s this misnomer about the job search category which is that there’s an active and a passive job seeker profile. The reality is that a person who is eagerly full-time searching for work represents only about 12% of the total job-seeking population. The other 88% are people who are somewhere between dissatisfied and happy at their current job but are willing to learn more about new opportunities.
Dave: So, basically, you’ve gotten the consumer applicant to engage with you, which is quite different, right? You’re running essentially a SaaS business, and then you have to build a consumer business on top of it?
Ian: After two years in, we realized that, no matter how many cool features we put into our product, employers were (and are still) using us for one thing: access to job seekers. The more people we have on ZipRecruiter, the more employers we attract, the more new jobs we have, and the more people we get.
It’s a virtuous circle.
And so suddenly, we’re not just in the employer business: We’re also in the job seeker business.
Dave: So how did you go and do this?
Ian: When our aided brand awareness peaked in the U.S., it became much more important to make sure that job seekers also knew about us. Which is why most of our engineers are now working on some form of search algorithm or search interface. We are deeply thoughtful about focusing on job seekers because, fundamentally, we sell to them.
Dave: Okay. You made the switch, which was tricky since you recognized that you potentially competed with some of your suppliers, and you had to go all in on brand. Or not just brand, but a switch from a business to a consumer business brand.
Ian: It’s always harder to get the buyer than the seller. If you have the buyers, the sellers will come to you. To get to that next level in our category, it’s important to be first and top of mind. When someone decides they’re ready to look for a job, you want to be synonymous with job seeking so they go straight to ZipRecruiter to look for work.
Dave: How do you balance ongoing management of your product teams and the focus of the organization between both customer groups? Because in reality, you still need to maintain some amount of excitement and engagement around the recruiters while you’re sort of shifting to job seekers. How are you thinking about that?
Ian: It’s such a good question. Let me take you through an exercise that was a real-world problem we had in our business. All of you are hiring managers, right? Would you like it if someone submitted a résumé to you, and ZipRecruiter corrected the grammar? The underlying question is “Do you consider spelling errors and grammatical errors a signal that tells you something’s up?”
Dave: Massive signal.
Ian: Right, signal. If I ask that question to the job seekers, they really don’t like typos. That’s a real-world problem I’m faced with. Who is our customer? The answer is nuanced and depends on the situation. How did we decide who that customer was? In that particular example, we did not correct their spelling and grammar.
Another example: We are the number one-rated job search app on both iOS and Android. How did we become number one? With one simple feature: We tell job seekers when an employer looks at their application. That’s it. The number one thing job seekers hate more than anything is what they call the “résumé black hole”, i.e. when they apply to a job and never hear anything back. In this case, we made the choice for the benefit of the job seeker.
Dave: What about the team? Was it a separate build? Was there significant change since this is a very different business?
Ian: Our product team members were all revenue-focused, which is to say employer-focused. So, we decided to split the team and have one subteam focusing on job seekers and the other subteam focusing on employers. We made a significant investment to support the job seeker subteam and, in some areas, we have multi-year timelines because you can either play to make money or you can play to win. And to win in our category, you need liquidity. You can’t have a marketplace without some form of elite brand recognition and differentiation.
Dave: Absolutely, great point to end with. Thanks so much Ian!