Enterprise HR Tech, COVID, & Alumni Engagementby Alumni Content in Alumni Leaders Podcast | Last Edited: 03rd December 2020
Podcast Name: People Talk
Episode: Ep. 97 – Enterprise HR Tech, COVID, & Alumni Engagement
Air Date: 31st July 2020
Host: Ryan O’Donnell, CEO at EmployUs
Guest: James Sinclair, Chief Executive of EnterpriseAlumni
In this episode of People Talk, Ryan and James discuss the big white spaces that appear when people leave the organizations they work for.
Filling up those spaces with the type of relationships that make companies move faster is an Alumni Engagement platform – Enterprise HR Tech that solves some of the auxiliary problems of working in a digital world. Nowadays, it’s no longer enough to wish people good luck and slap a high five before they walk out of the business door, signaling the end of the connection.
- Why innovation starts with a gamble, and not a business case or creating a budget.
- You are probably not going to get it right the first time; sell customers on where you’re going versus where you are today.
- How alumni groups are helping companies stay in contact with staff who they have had to make redundant due to COVID but want back when they can afford it.
- Employees are your advocates. They speak loudest when they exit your company – have you made sure that it was a great place to work?
- Why now is the time for businesses to adopt HR Tech – trials are commitment-free, and the current downtime leaves room to experiment.
Ryan O'Donnell (00:04):
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All right, everyone. Welcome back to our latest episode of PeopleTalk. Today I'm excited to have James Sinclair on the show. He's the CEO over at EnterpriseAlumni. James, welcome to the show.
James Sinclair (00:14):
Hey, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
Ryan O'Donnell (00:17):
So, to get us started, where's home originally for you and where do you live now?
James Sinclair (00:21):
Home originally is London, United Kingdom. I came out here when I was 18, like pre Y2K, to do some consulting contracting work and was like, "Wow, this is Los Angeles. Look at the weather. It's amazing. I should live here forever." And actually that came true. So I'm now in Los Angeles.
Ryan O'Donnell (00:40):
That's awesome. Did you go to school across the pond? Or over here?
James Sinclair (00:44):
Went to school in the UK, was going to go to university, was going to do all of that and then came out here during my gap year and just enjoyed working, I enjoyed being part of the... I wasn't ready to go back into educating.
I felt like I was ready to start earning. Once you receive a paycheck, it's really hard to go back.
Ryan O'Donnell (01:01):
It's very difficult to go back. What was your very first job then, once you landed in LA?
James Sinclair (01:07):
So by the time I got to LA, I already had a little bit of work experience. I was doing the Y2K freakout mode testing. So basically like, "Oh my God, the whole world's going to die. Let's simulate that." And that was the team that I was on was, "Oh my God, the world is over. Everything the Aztecs said is true. Is it true? And that was essentially my first job. I was brought over here by IBM and I worked for a studio.
Ryan O'Donnell (01:33):
I will say, I was on your LinkedIn profile. And I saw one of the coolest things. You made a PlayStation emulator that got sued by Sony. What was that?
That was a very interesting little bullet there.
James Sinclair (01:46):
Yeah, it's one of my favorite little bullets. And for people who know they know, it was a company called Bleem!. And essentially what it let you do is play your PlayStation games on your laptop, on your PC. And we came out with another product that lets you play your Dreamcast games on your PC. And we were in Fry's, we were in Gamestop, we were crushing it, no reverse engineering. It was amazing. The engineers that ran it were amazing. One of them's now with Sony and obviously you would be shocked to find out that they didn't love what we were doing. And even though we won everything, I remember we were winning every single lawsuit, but the whole we ran out of money thing became very real, very quickly. And so ultimately, we actually exited to one of the people that didn't like what we were doing, but yeah, it was an amazing experience.
And I'm not a gamer or it wasn't a gamer until I jumped into that and came there for a colleague, but yeah. Allowed you to play, I remember like Grand Theft Auto on your PC and it was just amazing for all those people who were on airplanes playing their PlayStation. It was so cool. I remember that. I haven't thought about that in a second.
Ryan O'Donnell (02:48):
I've got to say, it was one of the things, I've heard a lot of crazy dot com stories, but that was definitely one that jumped the page. I was like, I got to ask them about that.
James Sinclair (02:57):
Yeah. I mean, it was amazing. I loved it.
Ryan O'Donnell (03:00):
Y2K simulators, PlayStation emulators to leading EnterpriseAlumni.
James Sinclair (03:08):
I think how everyone, their career generally takes turns is they're walking and they fall in a pot hole and they just keep on walking and they take weird left turns. I was connected with a friend of mine who was starting this emulation company and I just found it interesting and exciting. I'm just, I'm quite an impatient person. I like to consume knowledge. I like to do new things. So I've always been in the same space, which is rapid innovation, rapid proof of concepts. Get there quicker, try and cut down the politics or BS that exist in companies. From there, I moved into the large enterprises. The EDS's, the SAP's and so forth. But again, still staying in that concept of how can companies move faster. And then about three and a half years ago, we saw this gap in the market where all of these big companies are going to be moving to the cloud and they're going to need niche vendors to solve these auxiliary problems. So, you have the iPhone, but you need the app store for these little things that the iPhone hasn't developed yet. And we saw that happening with SAP, Workday, Salesforce, Oracle, and one of the big white spaces we saw was that when people leave organizations, most people just send them a high five and a good luck and that's the end of the relationship.
Ryan O'Donnell (04:19):
Where, so it sounds like that was a major spot for you. They've got all these cloud vendors. There's a huge opening here. So you said three and a half years ago, you started EnterpriseAlumni. What's the past three and a half years been like?
James Sinclair (04:34):
I mean, you're supposed to lie and be like, "Oh my God, it's amazing. Every day is exciting. I wake up exciting, refreshed. We're a rocket ship. Life's a beach. Every day has this new set of the most amazing problems. And I think being a co-founder resilience is the one thing that you really have to have because the problems that we have today are nothing like the problems we had when we started, which was, "Oh my God, we need a customer." Now our problems are, how do we make sure they're more successful? How can we deliver better? How can we scale better? I personally love it because I love the changing face of problems. I love the fact that I'm not doing the same thing every day. I get to address new things. We have an amazing scope of customers that form part of our community that provide the feedback. So for me, I'm living... I'm not sure how employable I am anymore. So I think I'm living the only job I could have.
Ryan O'Donnell (05:22):
Well, that's when you know you've found the right one, when there's literally no other options. You must be in the right spot.
James Sinclair (05:28):
Ryan O'Donnell (05:29):
How have you seen this take shape? I know one of my investors said, "Ryan, you reach growth by a thousand paper cuts." You know people say, "That's death by a thousand paper cuts?" That's also the same story for growth. So, as you've been growing out the platform, what was the original idea for it? How did you get your first customer? What was that early days like?
James Sinclair (05:55):
So I think first customers for a young company are going to be companies that are already bought into the subject you're selling. You're not selling them on the business case. You're not selling them on trying to create budgets because you're too young. You don't have any of the data to say, "Here's how you can get an ROI of 82.3%." No. You're basically saying, "Look at this thing, I think it can do this thing. Do you want to take a gamble?"
I would tell you that one of our very early customers, actually Lufthansa, they told me, the guy... It's a fun story that I haven't repeated, but I do enjoy it. I was in Frankfurt and he sent me an email and said, "I think this makes sense for us. Can we come in and talk about over coffee tomorrow?" And I replied with, "Yeah, that sounds great. How's 3:00 PM?"
And got on the plane, changed in the parking lot, went in, did the deal with them and don't get me wrong. We'd gone through a whole process. It wasn't like they were being... They'd already gone through risk management and stuff. And then I think about a year and a half later, he said, "By the way, two things you should know. Number one is I saw you change in the parking lot. And number two is you should know I chose you because I knew you would bleed for us. If that's how hard you're going to work for me to get my business, I couldn't even fathom how hard you were going to work to make sure this works for us. And so I was willing to join the journey."
And he talked about it, he said, "I knew your version one wasn't going to be amazing. I knew we were going to run into problems. I accepted that because I knew you would fight every day to fix it." And I think that's a really important thing. Your first few customers, they're buying into where you're going versus where you are today. And they're buying into the fact that you've got them and they have a partner in you. And they know that. And I think if you went to any of our early customers, they would say that was the big reason is they wanted the passion, the excitement. And those are the early adopters. Those types of customers are not the customers who are looking for risk mitigation. Risk mitigation would be don't choose us, do nothing. You know what I mean? We have two customers. This is a customer who says, "Actually, if this works, it's going to pay exponential dividends for this business."
Ryan O'Donnell (07:52):
What are some of your favorite success stories of how folks have been using it?
James Sinclair (07:57):
So I have a couple of amazing ones that I love when I think about what the platform does. It makes sure that when you leave a company, you basically join this community to stay in contact. And whether that contact is because you might go there, you might go back, you might refer a colleague, you might sell, you might buy, we have customers that offer discounts in the platform. So we have one major retail customer that gives all of their alumni a twenty-five percent discount on retail stores. So even if you didn't love the company when you left, that's a big enough discount to be like, "You know what? I'll join your platform."
But then we have others that are using this awful kind of pandemic to basically be really honest.
So we have one customer that's had to make redundant thousands of people. And the CEO comes on and does a webinar, they call it a town hall, every week or every other week with all of the people they've made redundant. And he basically talks about what recovery looks like. And one of the things he said that really resonated with me was "Look, we didn't create this. You're not redundant because of the job you did. You were amazing. We spent so much money looking to find you, looking to keep you, so to make you redundant pains me, but I need to keep a relationship with you because I want you back." But at the same time, here's 10 new skills we're going to be hiring for now, now we've all gone remote. We now need tech support for Zoom and Microsoft Teams. We now need digital people who can help us with our recordings and our video media.
And so you found people who perhaps by day did one job, but by night were doing digital media or podcasts or these types of things. You're like, "One second, I'm going to apply for this job because I have all the competencies." And this CEO basically said, "Use this time to up-skill. Use this time to get better." And he gave all access to all of his learning, all of the learning management systems, the discount with the universities, and basically made this major investment into this group of people that they had fired. And to then see this group of people rally around the CEO. It was like, "Oh my God. That's the leader that I want to work for."
Where was he when I was starting my career?
Ryan O'Donnell (09:53):
Yeah, you're like, "Man, I didn't even like the guy when I was working there, but now that I'm not working there, I really like this guy."
James Sinclair (09:59):
By the way. That's exactly what it is. I came out enthused. But what we're seeing is leaders realize that they don't need to teach you competencies so much anymore. They're helping teach you core skills. Financial management when you start your career. Imagine when your first job, when you're earning minimum wage, on the bread line, week to week paycheck, which we've all been through. No one stops to say, "Hey, let me show you about financial management." If you put $10 away a week into an X, a 401k, your company will match that. And in 15 years, this is what that could look like.
So we're also seeing companies be really more human, of how to have life skills that I think is missing. Companies are so focused on. We need to teach you how to do X. Here's how you dig the ditch and put the mud and change it. What about, "Hey, here's how you learn how to do better. Here's how you think about financial management. Here's how you think about career growth."
And I think this moment in life has given a lot of people a chance to pause and decide what they want to do with their career, because they're so busy day to day doing their job, they never actually think about their career.
Ryan O'Donnell (10:59):
And now so many folks are stuck at home and they might be juggling a lot, but they don't have that commute to worry about. They certainly are having a lot more time to reflect on what's next. And it sounds like the role of these alumni networks is really staying on top of mind for so many of these people after they had left, that they don't forget about you. And hopefully they say nice things about you and come back and buy stuff.
James Sinclair (11:23):
When you go to your new job, that's the first thing people say, "Hey, how was it working at company X?"
And you have two responses. "I loved it. They were amazing. And I'm delighted to be here." Or, "I hated it, it was shit. Thank God I'm out."
What do you want them to say? And so I think that's why this conversation of employee experience and the fact that leaving should be as good as joining has become not optional because these, you're right, exactly as you said, these are your advocates. These are your recruits, your referrals. Yeah, one customer who says, "When you leave, you're promoted from employee to customer. And I quite like that concept."
Ryan O'Donnell (11:59):
That's very nice, I like that sentiment.
James Sinclair (12:01):
Ryan O'Donnell (12:01):
Because I mean, we want to keep serving you even after you're gone. And there's a lot of really interesting things there. Have there been any interesting ways where you've seen people, particularly now, deal with outplacement or how they're offboarding their employees, obviously in finding the platform, but ways that they're trying to help people like those... We're offering you free learning for our LMS or... What are some standout ways or best ways folks are handling and treating their alumni.
James Sinclair (12:28):
Let's take an amazing, awfully great example. Awful because of the situation, great because of how they've handled it, which is Hilton. They've had major, major redundancies. It's no secret. It's going to take years for the hotel industry to recover back to the occupancy rates. But that's their priority now is to replace you. These are great people. One lady was like, "I spent months hiring these senior people. I spent months hiring these people. They're amazing. It is now my obligation to make sure I put them into employment." And so you've seen companies, exactly as you say, going to their competitors, going to their ecosystems. So we have a lot of customers who bring in the job feeds for their customers, their vendors, their contractors, their supply chain then says, "Look, maybe we don't have the job for you right now, but let's help you find the job."
And the reality is there are some customers who say you're more valuable at a customer than you are with us. At a customer, you're going to advocate for us, you're going to do for us. And so there's a lot of that thinking. And we've seen a lot of exactly what you say, which is our placement is what can we do to help you?
Information, knowledge, learning, job, money, side gig, project work, whatever it might be. Mentoring. The key is, what is it that we can do right now to serve you better? And that goes up and down the entire supply chain of career hierarchy. People think we're talking about the field workers. We're not. We're talking across the supply chain. There have been redundancies from top to bottom. And most alumni networks have five generations of alumni, everyone from an intern to a retiree. We have one company going out to their retirees saying, "Would you come back and work for us on a project basis? Because we don't have enough people in the company with experience, not only of a pandemic, but also recovery. Or let's use the word crisis. We don't have enough experience in the company of people who've been through a crisis and recovered, but our retirees have. So let's bring them in, let's get their knowledge." You're seeing all of these really clever ways that innovative companies are thinking about this knowledge or community of people.
Ryan O'Donnell (14:25):
Well, I'd love to ask your opinion on another side of the topic, which is we both have products that are for HR professionals. We'll say, speaking broadly, that's who uses it. How have you seen that in terms of working and selling an HR tech product or being in that category?
James Sinclair (14:45):
So the one thing I think the market has given you and I is this opportunity for customers because they're in the cloud to say yes quickly. Now, quickly is relative. We all know going through a bank and going through security and procurement quickly can mean anywhere from six months to 14 years. We understand that, but it's quicker than it was. But the key being is I think more HR leaders are empowered to say yes now. They're more empowered to do a trial, a pilot, see if it works. And if it doesn't work, they can just deprecate it. And if it does work, amazing, they renew.
So I think the market for us is just exponentially expanded because of the expanded scope of those HR leaders to say, "You know what? I'm going to try your product for six months. I'm going to limit my risk. And if it works, I've got nothing to lose because you're not charging the same as the tier one SAP Oracles and those type of companies."
I think the second thing that's really in our favor right now is this is one of hopefully the only time in life where companies can rip the bandaid off and just try something new. And say, "You know what, we need to rearchitect, and this is a good time to do it. It's a downtime."
Also people are going to be more accepting of change. Can you imagine if Ritz Carlton sent you an email saying, "Hey, we're going to try something new and it might not work." A year ago, you would've been like, "Are you kidding me? You're a thousand dollars a night for a room. And you're going to try something with me."
Today if they sent it, you'd be like, "Well, that's innovative. So I think what you've certainly seen is forced agility in organizations, whether they believe it or not. And the phrase I would tell you is what one of our customers said, which is, their 2030 transformation is now happening on Tuesday. That would be my summary for opportunity.
Ryan O'Donnell (16:22):
We've expedited just about everything you can imagine. The last podcast I listened to, someone was interviewing someone who worked on Andrew Yang's campaign and said, "Look, we predicted all of this stuff would happen in 2030?" And it would be driven by AI. And now it's all happening because of coronavirus. We'll take it, because it's accelerating these changes. And hopefully it means that people try out new things and pushes their agenda forward. But I like that. Our 2030 plan is Tuesday.
James Sinclair (16:53):
Yes. Tuesday. And we want to be part of that. And I think the other final thing about what you and I both do is our ability to say to a customer, we do exactly what we say on the tin. These are the results you can expect. And the risk is so low because we're both cloud vendors. You don't have to hire a professional services company with two comma SOW to implement. We're going to be live Thursday is the sentence. And I think that speed is giving HR professionals real confidence to try and go with smaller, perhaps niche, vendors.
Ryan O'Donnell (17:24):
Yeah. That great to hear. Well, [inaudible 00:17:26] to wrap us up here. What's life like outside of work? We're all stuck at home. What about you? What are you doing?
James Sinclair (17:33):
It's outside of work. I tend to stay away from this concept of work-life balance because, similar to you, I find some of my good ideas, best ideas, best noodling happen when I'm hiking or doing that. But I'm doing a lot of taking my kids and my dogs and just doing hiking and going out there where there's nobody. So I don't have to worry about my social distancing. And there's, Los Angeles has some amazing, I mean, we have the Angeles national forest, literally 20 minutes away. So a lot of walking to make up for the amount of chocolate that I'm consuming during COVID.
Ryan O'Donnell (18:03):
That's great. And James, I've heard rumors, the air quality in LA is it better now? Did I hear that? Fewer cars on the road or does it not, you can't really tell?
James Sinclair (18:14):
I saw all these reports and people are sending me these articles and I'm like, "Maybe, but it's not like I can see the molecular structure of what's happening outside my door." Just to be clear, it wasn't like a gray smog on Tuesday, and now it's all clear and rainbows. So I think for us, also because I'm slightly out of Los Angeles, we're in good shape. But I mean, the weather's beautiful. There was a cloud in the sky this morning, which had the whole of Los Angeles freaking out, but it seems to have now paused. So pandemic two is now over.
Ryan O'Donnell (18:42):
That's good to hear. I'm glad, we avoided a second one. What's one piece of advice you'd give your 20 year old self James?
James Sinclair (18:49):
Run, faster, quicker. Go with it, do it. I think that's something that I'd be more okay with over time is more okay with running and being wrong. And trying something because I think I'm right. Learning new data. Even 20 minutes later and be like, "Actually having thought about that. I'd like to revisit my opinion and I'd like to restate it." I think that that willingness to change your opinion. But I think you've got to start faster. Sometimes we look at these massive obstacles and we're like, "How are we going to get there?"
And there's a phrase in sales that we use, which is, "How are you going to eat an elephant?"
Some people are going to be like, "Oh my God, look at the size. We're never going to get there. It's going to be impossible." The answer is one bite at a time. And that's what I think is really important to remember. Don't look at the mountain, look at the first step.
Ryan O'Donnell (19:33):
That's some great advice. Don't look at the mountain, just look at that first step. Eat an elephant one step at a time and eat it fast, it sounds like.
James Sinclair (19:40):
Ryan O'Donnell (19:42):
[crosstalk 00:19:42] from James Sinclair, who's the CEO over at EnterpriseAlumni. James, thanks for being on the show.
James Sinclair (19:48):
Thanks so much, really enjoyed it.
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