In March 2000, Monster topped $86 a share. It was worth nearly $8.5 billion. It was still valued at more than $7.5 billion in 2006. Yesterday, recruitment firm Randstad Holdings purchased Monster for $429 million in cash, or $3.40 a share.
It would be easy to blame the decline in value on the Great Recession, which began in 2008 and took a lot of employment solutions with it. Employers laying off people and not hiring tends to be really bad for vendors who service them.
But blaming the tailspin on one incident, as important as it was, is also lazy. As someone who’s covered and criticized Monster for over a decade, the slide has been much more gradual than any single event.
Here is a list of my favorite missteps over the years:
- Buying Tickle instead of LinkedIn. In the early 2000s, insiders tell me Monster had an opportunity to acquire LinkedIn, which recently sold to Microsoft for over $26 billion. MySpace was hot, and it looked like social networking was a bet worth taking. Word is the cost for LinkedIn was modest, but no agreement was reached and Monster opted to buy a little-known social network called Tickle. They mysteriously shut down the service a few years later.
- Not really giving a shit about job seekers. Remember the days when Monster sold major slices of their online real estate to sites like the University of Phoenix or others who requested a social security number? Jason Goldberg of Jobster called Monster a “crap product” in 2006 and accused them of treating their site like Nascar. Here’s a link to the must-see video. Experience eventually improved, but not until well after the wave of people exiting for Indeed was well under way.
- Allowing Indeed to flourish. The fact that big job boards like CareerBuilder and Monster allowed competitors like Indeed and SimplyHired to distribute their content was always a mystery to me. Like Craigslist, they both should’ve nipped the vertical job search trend in the bud when they had a chance. A simple cease and desist letter would’ve changed the course of history in favor of the incumbents.
- Jumping on the “dating for jobs” matching trend. Monster bought Trovix in 2008 for $72.5 million. Let’s forget the fact that they didn’t just back up the Brinks truck and buy Indeed in 2008, and remember they bought a technology that promised to magically match job seekers and employers similarly to how dating sites match people looking for a hook-up. Others in the industry call the move brilliant. Don’t buy it. There was a slew of matching companies at the time, and they’re all gone.
- BeKnown. When it became clear that social media wasn’t going away (shortly after Monster closed down Tickle), Monster made a bet on building a social network on the Facebook platform. It failed. The experiment that launched in 2011 shared its last Facebook Page update in 2015.
- Whiffing on user-generated content. What’s it really like to work at a company? This is the question today’s job seekers are asking and services like Indeed and Glassdoor are happy to oblige, offering anonymous reviews from past and current employees. Monster partnered with Kununu to provide this content earlier in 2016, but it serves as another trend Monster will miss. LinkedIn allowing users to post content is another example of missing the user-generated trend.
- Dropping $225 million to buy HotJobs in 2011. Two dinosaurs aren’t better than one. And it was another opportunity to acquire Indeed down the tubes.
- Hiring Sal Iannuzzi as CEO. I. Can’t. Even. A 2014 Forbes editorial probably sums it up best, saying “… recently departed CEO Iannuzzi’s leadership narrative was never about helping customers having a better life. He focused exclusively on earnings. During a Monster town hall earlier this year, he didn’t mention job seekers once. Instead, he told his entire organization that the goal of their new strategy was to increase the stock price. Not help customers, not improve the industry, just increase the earnings.”
- Missing on mobile. It’s been almost a decade since the launch of the iPhone and Monster has nearly nothing to show for it. A company with Monster’s resources and talent should be an R&D machine, and simply providing their site on a 4-inch screen is an embarrassment. The last significant update to their flagship app was in 2014. Services like Slack should’ve been developed in a Monster lab. Instead they’re buying a lukewarm app like Jobr.
- Killing Trumpasaurus. This is last on the list, but I don’t think it’s inconsequential. The company’s odd-looking mascot was unique in our space. It was fun. It represented fun in an industry that wasn’t. Much like the Twitter bird or Snapchat ghost, users had a visual marker for the company. Losing the mascot from the site turned it into just another cold and corporate web site in an industry full of cold and corporate websites.
Great companies are bought. Bad companies are sold. Make no mistake, Monster was sold. What maybe started out as a great company failed to stay the course. Poor leadership and market forces, along with a big dose of hubris, doomed the company to its current state.
I see nothing in Randstad that will alter the course. My guess is Monster will primarily become a big distribution center for Randstad job postings. Innovation that’s already on life support will die. The talent that’s left will rush to the exits.
In 1999, Monster unveiled the now-iconic “When I Grow Up” commercial. It featured a bunch of kids sarcastically saying they wanted to be things like “a ‘yes’ man” and have “a brown nose” when they grew up. It symbolized the desire to become something better. At the end of the commercial, viewers are asked, “What did you want to be?” Ironically, Monster failed at being what it wanted to be too.
About the Author
Joel Cheesman has over 20 years experience in the online recruitment space. He worked for both international and local job boards in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. In 2005, Cheesman founded HRSEO, a search engine marketing company for HR, as well as launching an award-winning industry blog called Cheezhead.
He has been featured in Fast Company and US News and World Report. He sold his company in 2009 to Jobing.com. He was employed by EmployeeScreenIQ, a background check company. He is the founder of Ratedly, an iOS app that monitors anonymous employee reviews. He is the father of two children and lives in Indianapolis. Yes, he’s on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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