Do you struggle with knowing what technology you should be leveraging to solve business problems? Jonathan Kestenbaum, the co-founder of Talent Tech Labs (TTL), shares TTL’s evolution as a talent acquisition technology incubator helping buyers figure out what tools can help solve their business problems. Check it out!
F: Welcome to Subject to Talent brought to you by Allegis Global Solutions. Similar to you, we're always trying to learn more. On this podcast, we speak to talent experts around the world, covering workforce management, market trends, technology, and our forever evolving dynamic industry. Hello, thanks for joining us on this episode of Subject to Talent. My name is Frank Edge and I'm thrilled to bring you this new episode. Today, my colleague AGS' Global Head of Strategy, Bruce Morton spent some time with Co-founder and Managing Director of Talent Tech Labs, Jonathan Kestenbaum. Jonathan is a lawyer by education and an entrepreneur and investor by trade. Jonathan can be found at HR technology conferences all over the world as a sought after speaker and panelist, sharing deep insights into the evolution of the talent acquisition ecosystem. Let's check it out.
B: Hey Jonathan. Great to talk to you today. Welcome to Subject to Talent. I know you and I have been planning to get together face to face to do this for a while, but here we are remote. But great to talk to you and thanks for joining us today.
J: Thanks for having me. I'm really excited to be here.
B: Great. Thank you, Jonathan. So those regular listeners of our podcast will know we always start with the same question when we have guests like yourself, and that is how did you get into this industry?
J: hat's a great question. So I've actually been in talent acquisition for a little over 10 years. I'm a lawyer by education, unfortunately, and I consider myself an entrepreneur by trade. I started a brick and mortar tutoring company when I was in college. And as I scaled that tutoring company, as I left and went to law school, essentially what I built was a piece of technology that was a reverse auction platform. So a student would ask for help and then all my tutors would bid against each other and ultimately the student would get help at the cheapest price.And this was in 2009 and I got super connected to many of the staffing executives on the east coast because they were all trying to figure out how to leverage the reverse auction platform for their contingent workforce and have their contingent labor fight against each other so ultimately they can get help at the cheapest price. And so that's actually how I got connected to Gene Holtzman, who is the founding partner of Talent Tech Labs.And so I sold the company in 2012 and in 2014, after investing in everything but talent acquisition in 2014, after doing some soul searching and realizing that talent acquisition was an area where I saw significant growth and an area that I had built a network in an area that I wanted to more intimately, I reached out to Gene and Gene was actually in the process of starting an incubator focused on talent acquisition technology. And so I joined him in helping him build that.
B: Great. Wow, that's quite a story. So for those listeners that don't know Talent Tech Labs, can you give us a high level overview of what your company does and perhaps how it started and what it's morphed into?
J: Sure. So Talent Tech Labs is on a mission to elevate the state of the art and recruitment technology. And we've always been on that mission. And the way we started out was helping builders of talent acquisition technology go to market by giving them access to both a source of funding and access to services that can help them more effectively enter the market. So introductions to heads of talent, introductions to staffing firms and office space, etcetera. And so that was really our incubator. That was the original vision. And what we learned throughout that process was first of all, there were thousands and thousands of technologies out in the market. And then what we realized during that time, after seeing thousands of companies and getting calls from heads of talent and CEOs of staffing firms, was that they really needed help too.The buyers of talent acquisition technology needed help to figure out what technology they should be leveraging to solve their business problems. And so what we decided to do was in order to really truly elevate the state of the art in recruitment, what we decided to do us to help both sides, the builders and the buyers. And so in about 2017, we launched the research business at Talent Tech Labs, which was focused on helping buyers of talent acquisition technology, both staffing and corporate understand what technology they should leverage when they go through a digital transformation. And so today Talent Tech Labs has really evolved into the industry leading research firm focused on talent acquisition technology.
B: Great. I get it. So that's for talent executives, functional leaders, as you say. So how are you delivering that market intelligence industry insights and I guess some human guidance as well beyond the written word?
J: Yeah, so what we found was the most scalable way for us to be able to deliver that information was to operationalize it into research reports. And those reports fall into three main categories, plan, select and adopt. And so plan's all about if you're planning to go through a digital transformation, understanding the trends and a pulse on who's leveraging what types of technologies and what they plan to adopt. Select is all about selecting the right tools. So we have reports that we call provider resumes, where we outline the different tools that exist and give a write up about them. And then optimize is all about once you own a piece of technology, how do you get the most out of it?And so that first section, the research is all about walking you through that digital transformation journey. So you can plan, select and optimize your technology as you go through that journey. On top of the research, we've layered in what we call decision support, which is analyst time. So you get access to the analysts that wrote the reports and in some cases, advisory services, it's generally an additional fee and then collaboration, because we've been able to get some of the top heads of talent and world's largest staffing firms together. And so we get them all to collaborate with each other, both on an online platform and in person.
B: Great. So tell us a little bit more how you focus on, because as you said, it started coming in, but it was a big number of talent acquisition technologies. So how do you get your arms around that and categorize that to make it easier for people to understand?
J: Yeah, so one of the challenges and one of the things that actually excited Gene Holtzman in the beginning when he wanted to start an incubator was that he was absolutely overwhelmed by the deluge of talent acquisition technology in the market. And when we started the incubator, what we realized was there was really two reasons why he was failing. First, he was failing because he was just not able to implement these technologies once he bought them. But second and most important he was failing because the technology vendors would oversell their capabilities and ultimately under deliver. And so what we realized was vendors are talking features and functionality, buyers are talking business problems and they weren't talking the same language, they weren't communicating. And so what we decided to do was to build what we call the talent acquisition technology ecosystem, and really what that is, is it's a framework through which we're able to sort these technologies into categories.Today, there are 34 bubbles and those bubbles are broken up by features, functionality, revenue models. And ultimately we're looking at how these technologies are being leveraged in the market. So just because someone says they have a feature, doesn't mean that's a core feature that they go to market with. We're talking to the users of these technologies, we're looking at where they're generating their revenue from. So we understand which features are actually being leveraged in the market. And so ultimately that taxonomy has become the common language to which we're able to connect buyers and sellers and allow them to communicate about technology. And it's actually evolved significantly over the years. We're now on our, I think our ninth version launching in September and there's always a few categories that combine or a new category that pops out as a result of the change and innovation in the space.
B: Right. Wow. And as that technology evolves at such a rapid pace, and as you say, that ecosystem's obviously changing shape, it's live and dynamic. How about yourselves as an organization? How have you had to evolve at the same speed or to get ahead of all those changes?
J: It's an interesting question. So at the beginning, 2014, let's just say we were looking at maybe north of 200 companies. Today are tracking North of 2,500 globally. The space has exploded. We have a team of researchers and analysts that are out in the market downloading as many technologies as they can get their hands on. I'd say we're probably seeing between 30 and 40 a month, but because we were able to create this categorization, you start to see the same things over and over again. So I've probably been pitched a referral technology once a week, every month for the last six years. And that founder thinks they just invented referrals. And they don't even understand the complexities that come into making something like that scale in real life within an organization. And so while I agree there's been a deluge of capital in the space and there's a significant amount of innovation, for the most part, we do see a lot of the same and every once in a while, there's a new company that comes along that either makes us rethink a category or really opens our minds to what's possible.
B: Yeah. So in talking of category makers, let's call it, while I've got your pen with a microphone in your hand, I got to ask you the question. So which of those solutions that are you watching that you think may be the game changers of the future?
J: That question's interesting, especially now, right. There's pre COVID and post COVID technologies, right? I think everyone's trying to figure out how to leverage artificial intelligence within talent acquisition and it's a big question we get asked, how can we leverage artificial intelligence within talent acquisition? The short answer to that is lowest hanging fruit for how you can leverage AI is probably going to be within matching. That's going to be the first area that AI is going to make a meaningful impact is going to be within matching. So today in market, I would say you can find some interesting matching technology solutions. And I think matching would have been something I would have said pre COVID and post COVID, especially in a world post COVID now where you're not going to have... Before it used to be I couldn't even find the candidate so I needed to go and find them, especially in certain segments of the market.Now I would argue in more than a few segments, it's going to be too many people applying to every job. And so matching is going to be even more relevant than before. So matching, I think is still hot. In terms of new, interesting trends, we're seeing what we call RPA, recruitment process automation, which used to be robotic process automation make its way into the space. And so you're starting to see out of the box category, basically a new category of technology automating and optimizing the recruitment process and kind of plugging all the different point solutions together emerge. And due also to consolidation, you're seeing what we're calling talent intelligence platforms. So companies like Hiring Solved doing really interesting work at the top of the funnel to help you, not only with the matching, but take it 10 steps further.
B: That's great. Wow. A lot going on. So what advice would you give to those organizations listening in, apart from call me when they're trying to manage and navigate this ever moving landscape, what's the golden nuggets of advice you would give them?
J: I've never heard a sales pitch that I didn't like. All sales pitches always sound good, right? They're designed to impress you, right? So you need to go into this understanding your business problems. That's, I think, the first challenge is understand your business problems intimately, and it's not just you have to understand your people and process challenges. Where are you bloated with people? What processes get hung up? If you can understand your business problems, and then you go to market to try to find technology that can solve them, you're 10 steps ahead of everyone else. That I think is the first step. The second thing is I believe you're going to need to have somebody within your organization focused purely on talent acquisition technology. And I'm not just talking about a CTO that looks at your tech infrastructure.I think this is someone different, someone that's going to be focusing on your talent acquisition technology. Stack, this is for both corporate and staffing. And I would argue also, even more specifically, depending on your scale, you're going to want product owners, people that just focus on that product, understand the complexities of that product, know how to optimize that product, know when a new feature comes out and can train your employees and staff on how to leverage that new feature and know the roadmap on those technologies so that you can make sure that you're integrating that into your big picture, thinking as your technology stack evolves. So when it comes to choosing the right technology, Talent Tech Labs I got to give us a shout out. We're a great partner in helping you not only choose, but also identify those business problems.But choosing, look, you're going to have five different technologies that could be a solution for every business problem. And ultimately the decision comes down to your existing tech stack, what you're using, what's working, what's not, what integrates with what, customer success of that new platform. In some cases, when you have an organization of such scale where language matters, you want to focus on how this can make the biggest impact across the organization. But more generally I would argue that everyone always wants the one solution to solve it all. And today there still isn't one. You're going to need many different point solutions to mesh together to build the perfect talent acquisition technology stack, and more likely you're going to need to do the same thing in individual countries, because there's going to be not only different ways that recruiting happens there, but more importantly, just these different technologies will only support certain languages.
B: Wow, that's very insightful. Thanks. So what you're saying is don't listen to a great sales pitch, buy a shiny new thing, and then try and find a problem quick to solve. That's what you're saying, right? So as you think about that, and I was just thinking, going through that process of getting these people that understand what they're looking for, come with a problem to the table, finding like when to solve that, but how did companies then put their toe in the water, pilot something and get enough adoption to prove it out before they go full bore?
J: First of all, when selecting a tool, you don't want to do that just at the executive level. You want to actually build a team internally of folks that use the tool. So all the way, sometimes down at the recruitment level, maybe you have a few people that you can elevate and put them on this task force, this technology internal task force. But it's not only just about their feedback because the big challenge with technology, I said, it's not just selection, it's about adoption. And so when you're able to get folks that are leaders within each different business unit or each different part of the company to join in and feel like they're part of the selection process, you ultimately get buy in from them and then they can be influential in getting their colleagues to adopt the system. So, first I think it's about building a taskforce internally with the right people. Second, I think it's about starting small and scaling within the organization. So first you want to start maybe within a particular business unit, a particular skill type and then slowly scale out beyond that.
B: And then as we think about that ecosystem, and there's obviously a ton of micro advice, you're giving very, very detailed all those different technologies, but also I read your recent, it was at a macro level, I guess, more of a trend industry trend report that I think you have a series of now that I thought was super, super impressive and incredibly insightful and valuable. Do you want to talk a little bit about how you get in pulling those together now?
J: In order to establish credibility in the market, we do give away some research for free, some research quality resources. The Ecosystem is one. So you could download that on our website, but also we do what we call a trend report every quarter. And the trend report is really about what we believe is six months ahead of us. What's coming next. And so we've done one on matching technology in the past, we've done one on diversity technology in the past. Now diversity technology's hot, but this is something that we were talking about a year and a half ago.More recently, we did one on upskilling and really the process of helping both on the talent acquisition side and on the talent management side, you understand the skills of the folks within your organization and how to elevate them and take them to the next level. And we actually have a new trend report coming out in the next couple months on what I suggested was a trend, which is recruitment process automation. So we're going to dive deep into that subject and talk about how we believe it's going to make an impact on talent acquisition.
B: Great, we look forward to that, I guess that's in September timeframe. So here's the final question for you. Toughest, easiest, the last, depending on how you think about it. But my question is where do you see the industry and what services do you see Talent Tech Labs providing in 2025?
J: There's a few angles to that. First of all we say we're on a mission to elevate the state of the art and recruitment technology. Well, that would mean that we have a vision for what the state of the art in recruitment technology is, which we do, right? That ecosystem that you see with 34 bubbles, we believe there's going to be significant consolidation over the next five years. We believe you're going to see probably eight to six anchor systems. And so we have a vision for what that looks like, and that's division through which we're driving our clients towards. We're driving our clients towards this vision of a tech stack that's going to have six to eight anchor systems. Separately on the... I think that we're... A trend through which we make decisions that we believe is going to happen is what I'm calling rapid transparency.We believe that information is going to be accessible by all. So in that regard candidates are going to know everything about companies and companies are going to be able to find almost everything about candidates. We share a lot of public information. There's a lot of public information available about all of us out there on the web. Glassdoor broke down the barriers of what happens inside of an organization. And so in a world where there's rapid transparency, the trigger that's going to help you both on the corporate side or as a staffing firm, engage and get a candidate interested in a role is going to be your relationship with them. And so we believe that recruiters are going to do what they do best, which is engage. Computers are going to compute. They're going to do the more menial tactical tasks.And as technology makes its way into the function, we believe that talent acquisition more generally, it's going to look a lot more like a talent agency. You're going to have a relationship with that client. You're going to be guiding them through their career more than just helping them get a job. It's going to be about guiding them and maybe helping them find skills that they can develop to get themselves to the next level. Beyond that, it could be anything. Helping them with their finances. But I think that the role of both a staffing agency and a corporate talent function is going to be all about building relationships with folks so that they not only know about your brand, but want to come work for you when the time is right or when they're ready for that transition in their career.
B: Great. Well, Jonathan, thank you so much. We are very fond of our relationship from Allegis that we have with Talent Tech Labs. We love that. And it's been great talking to you today and we appreciate your time. Thank you.
J: Thanks for having me.
F: Thank you for listening in today and thank you to Jonathan for sitting down with us and giving us more insight into Talent Tech Labs. If you would like to learn more about Talent Tech Labs, please check them out talenttechlabs.com. And if you have any questions for Jonathan or Bruce, feel free to tweet @allegisglobal or @talenttechlabs with the #SubjectToTalent. Also you can email us at email@example.com. And if you enjoyed our podcast today, please subscribe, rate us and leave a review. Until next time. Cheers.