Clint Van Marrewijk
Founder & CEO SaferMe

Clint Van Marrewijk is a businessman based in Wellington, New Zealand, and also in Austin, Texas.

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Today, the U.S. surpassed 1 million COVID-19 deaths, an unthinkable scale of loss. Join us for this episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast where William Tincup speaks to Clint from SaferMe about COVID’s Two-Year Anniversary In The Workplace.

Some Conversation Highlights:

Have you leaned on, I want to say, tools or training? As you’ve grown through the last two years, have you found yourself, maybe using different things, different tools to manage, not just the team? In particular, I’m thinking about the way that the US, at the beginning of COVID, we all went to Zoom, we all went to Slack, we all went to monday, we all went to all, not all, but most people, their business converted from a box, a place that you’d go to, to then tools, and some of those tools are fantastic. We’ll use them after COVID it’s long gone, and some of them, we just needed to have something that was there.

So, as you’ve navigated the last two years, what have you tried with tools or with training, etc, navigating these murky waters? Because the way you’re explaining, not only did your business change, but it changed for the better. It changed in a positive way. Kind of like Amazon, in some regards, Amazon’s business changed, but in a good way. And they went through, and still going through a tremendous amount of growth. But that brings its own challenges. All that growth brings its own challenges. So as you look through the two years, what have you looked at in terms of, “Okay, how do my communications need to change? What tools do we need to deploy? Do we need to use more learning and development or training?” What’s changed for you?

 

Tune in for the full conversation.

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Listening time: 24 minutes

 

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Music: This is Recruiting Daily’s Recruiting Live Podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup

William Tincup: Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today, we have Clint Van from SaferMe, and our topic today is, COVID’s Two-Year Anniversary In The Workplace: What Have We Learned So Far? Which, we might need four or five hours to get this podcast in, but we’ll try and sum it up in 30 minutes or so. So Clint, welcome to the show. Would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and SaferMe?

Clint: Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m Clint Van Marrewijk, CEO of SaferMe. SaferMe is a proximity safety specialist, but we’re most well known for being the premier provider of contact tracing systems, and I guess as you can hear from my accent, not everyone in the business is located in the USA originally, we’ve got a big presence in New Zealand and Australia as well, which is where actually the contact tracing part of our business started, serving the New Zealand Government for contact tracing there.

William Tincup: So we can spend another hour talking about rugby and cricket, but we won’t, we won’t do that. I’ve actually seen a match at the All Blacks stadium. So it’s fascinating.

Clint: Quite interesting.

William Tincup: Although we will not divert from our topic, because it’s so fantastic. So let’s start with some of the things that you’ve just observed in the two years, in your own company, and even with customers. What are some of the things that you’ve seen that we’ve learned about, maybe in this new world of work?

Clint: I mean, that’s just such a big question. Obviously we’ve been at the coalface of the pandemic from the beginning, so we’ve seen all the stages of it, and then also the different countries and the different responses in each country. I guess, maybe to frame it up for you, in our area of expertise as well, specifically in contact tracing, the big three things that are used to fight the virus are testing, vaccines and contact tracing, obviously there’s a whole bunch of other controls that businesses and governments use, but those are the big three now. The primary area is contact tracing, and specifically for businesses.

So very early in the pandemic, we saw demand out of the New Zealand market, and we served the New Zealand market very heavily, but then because of the size of the US business market, we got pulled by companies that really needed to service into the US market, so that really grew our whole operation into the United States, and now even I’m over here in Austin, Texas, which I love. So there’s been a lot of learnings, so I don’t know where specifically you want to delve into, and what areas are of most interest to you.

William Tincup: Well, let’s distribute the workforce. You kind of already have started the conversation. The fact that pre-pandemic, people working remotely did happen, and of course we had global employees, that wasn’t brand new. However, everyone being remote, well, that definitely was new for a majority of the firms. So what have you seen, in terms of just the way that you look at talent, and where they’re located and how can you kind of onboard them, get them onto productivity, etc, communications? What’s your approach now versus what you would’ve done two years ago?

Clint: Yeah. When we hire, we primarily look at talent first, and actually it’s the talent that demands what they want to do, and specifically about our business, it’s very market-dependent. So the New Zealand market has been protected from COVID up until very recently, so life continued as normal through the three major waves that we’ve had, and obviously the US market’s very different. So everyone’s working from home, and always has, in the US market. So that’s very different.

William Tincup: And with onboarding talent, and again, I love the way that you’ve phrased, that talent kind of dictates. You look at talent first. If they’re in Paris, great, if they’re in Auckland, fantastic. What do they need to be successful? So once you’ve found that talent, how do you then operationalize what it takes for them to be successful, wherever they live?

Clint: Yeah, an interesting question again. Again, it’s very different by location. Because of the size of our business, most people come on as contractors initially, and we do supply a lot of equipment as well, and then because of the nature of our business, contact tracing being on high demand in certain regions at certain times, that usually impacts people’s roles quite significantly when they come on board. For example, the New Zealand and Australian markets are very busy right now with contact tracing and virus protection generally, the US market’s relatively quiet, but it’s starting to pick up, just because of this new wave that’s coming through, and obviously Europe is a bit busier, so we’ve got an operation in Europe as well. So that’s really how we treat them.

William Tincup: Yeah. Two things. One is on the contact tracing side, the business side of things, and I would say most Americans became familiar with this business or business model because of COVID, but contact tracing has been around long before COVID, it’ll be around long after COVID. So just for a moment, take us into the world of contact tracing, as you understand it.

Clint: Yeah. I mean, the biggest distinction is, what’s public-facing and what’s business-focused? So most people’s exposure to contact tracing is a public-facing or government-focused idea, but actually the most effective contact tracing typically happens at the business level. Mainly that’s because the quality of your data is much higher at a business level, whereas at the government level, your quality of data is much lower. So the key with contact tracing is speed. Most large companies would’ve had a contact tracing program, and many still do, and the methods that they used initially were things like CCTV footage. So you’re looking at camera footage to figure out if someone’s being near someone else or card swipe data, so entry and exit information. But the key with contact tracing is not just who’s been in contact with who, but who hasn’t been in contact with someone.

And when you have really accurate, fast data, you can make some different decisions, and actually changes how you can operationally function. So usually a business will split into say, red and blue teams during an outbreak or wave. If you’ve got really effective contact tracing, you don’t actually need to do that, and that has a massive logistical impact on a company. Trying to split teams and split functions is really quite difficult over extended periods of time. So there’s really a broad range of what people do, with regard to what contact tracing is, but there’s modern ways to do it, I guess, ways that have been invented since the pandemic began, and then there’s older style way of doing things.

William Tincup: So what have you learned as a leader, as a CEO?

Clint: How to grow a company really fast.

William Tincup: Pre-pandemic versus today, what’s your growth?

Clint: Yeah, interesting. Before the pandemic, we were a proximity safety specialist, which is a very niche area of safety. So safety is related to HR, obviously, but somewhat off to the side, in many respects and proximity, safety is a niche area of safety, but it’s really valuable for warning people, as they approach dangerous objects, that was our primary function, understanding which people are near, which other people, and how that impacts their safety. So that was our real area of expertise. When contact tracing came along, obviously it was right in our area of expertise, and then at the very beginning of the pandemic, the New Zealand Government gave us a contract to serve New Zealand businesses, and that was obviously extremely beneficial for growth, but most of all, to use our product to serve customers, which just meant that we sold a lot of new customers very quickly. We had a lot of scaling challenges to overcome as a business, which there’s a whole area-

William Tincup: [crosstalk 00:10:16] podcast.

Clint: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s right.

William Tincup: So we’ll do that with the rugby podcast. If you don’t mind me asking, what was the hardest part of scaling?

Clint: Interesting. You’re constantly trying to improve yourself, really, and package up the jobs that you are doing, or your executive team is doing, and teach someone new to do that job, but then the company changes under your feet. So it’s really just a constant learning exercise, and trying to hold onto the jobs that you need to, for the right amount of time, because if you hold onto a job that you shouldn’t be doing, then obviously you are limiting the business significantly. So it’s just trying to make those choices about which things to hand off and how to hand them off. And then each person you bring on board might not be able to handle the job they’ve been given, so it’s just trying to match talent to job.

William Tincup: And they’ve the job’s changing and-

Clint: Quickly, yeah.

William Tincup: Yeah. So naturally some people are going to thrive in that environment, and some people might not thrive in absolute change, right?

Clint: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

William Tincup: So have you coached people up or dealt with… Because, first of all, I think everyone’s going through something similar, in so far as the business is changing, and the people need something different from the business. And that might be a different position. That might be training, that might be, whatever. It could be a lot of different things, but I know as you’ve scaled, you’ve run into this. Inevitably, you’ve run into a situation where Sally or Michael or whatever, is fantastic at what they were doing, now the business needs something different from them, and they’re not fantastic. So I know you’ve dealt with that, we don’t want to call them by name or anything, but as a leader, how have you dealt with the people change part of it?

Clint: Yeah, that’s really tricky. I mean, that’s getting into personal dynamics, and I wouldn’t have all the answers there, for sure. I think the nature of the person that you hire into a startup business, like what we were, they are by nature ready for challenge and change. A lot of the time, someone who comes into a business like ours has to sacrifice in some way, usually salary, let’s face it, in the beginning, and it’s only as the business really grows and succeeds that they get the results. So that type of person is usually a special type of person, anyway. So you-

William Tincup: Have you leaned on, I want to say, tools or training? As you’ve grown through the last two years, have you found yourself, maybe using different things, different tools to manage, not just the team? In particular, I’m thinking about the way that the US, at the beginning of COVID, we all went to Zoom, we all went to Slack, we all went to monday, we all went to all, not all, but most people, their business converted from a box, a place that you’d go to, to then tools, and some of those tools are fantastic. We’ll use them after COVID it’s long gone, and some of them, we just needed to have something that was there.

So, as you’ve navigated the last two years, what have you tried with tools or with training, etc, navigating these murky waters? Because the way you’re explaining, not only did your business change, but it changed for the better. It changed in a positive way. Kind of like Amazon, in some regards, Amazon’s business changed, but in a good way. And they went through, and still going through a tremendous amount of growth. But that brings its own challenges. All that growth brings its own challenges. So as you look through the two years, what have you looked at in terms of, “Okay, how do my communications need to change? What tools do we need to deploy? Do we need to use more learning and development or training?” What’s changed for you?

Clint: Yeah. I mean, when you were talking, the two things that jumped out to me, one is logistics. So just the sheer scale of… So we deliver a hardware product, a little wearable, basically, but the logistics and scale of delivery was a key thing. I’m thinking of specific tools that we use there that work really well, because we have distribution centers in the US, Australia and Europe, so that one whole area. But then on the sales side, there’s some really great tools that came off the back of the Zoom explosion, and some of them, I just couldn’t recommend highly enough. I know it just completely changed our business when we started using some of the meeting tracking tools and the automated analysis tools that had come with Zoom. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of them?

William Tincup: Oh yeah, oh yeah.

Clint: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, they’re just wonderful, and they just help us operate so much better as teams, particularly connecting the sales team through to the customer success team, and the customer success team right through into the product team, and it helps link everyone together and make people feel more cohesive, in a way closer to the customer. Because everything’s mostly remote now, it’s not just the salesperson that’s far away from the customer. Actually the product teams, even further away than they used to be, because they used to be far away and feel quite distant sometimes from what you deliver, but now they’re so far away, it’s ridiculous. They may never meet a customer.

So, those services have actually changed the game, because it’s able to pull your product team to actually hear what the customer’s saying, and literally our product team can type in a combination of words, and then hear what the customer has said, relative to that combination of words in 50 different scenarios, and that has never happened before. So there’s some really powerful stuff happening there, connecting product, customer success and sales together. So I’m quite optimistic about how efficient businesses can get by using these tools.

William Tincup: I love that. What have you seen in regards to like empathy, corporate empathy and mental health, balancing out? I mean you’re scaling so work’s probably never stopping and probably, it’s 24/7. But it’s also, you’re probably balancing out your people and their mental health and their burnout rates and things like that. So what have you seen in the two years that we’ve been through this, just from a personal perspective, as it relates to empathy and mental health?

Clint: Yeah. There are some tactics we use internally, and obviously our customers care a lot about this as well. We do the simple things that you’ve probably heard every business doing, connecting team members together to make sure that cross-functionally, they meet each other and talk from time to time. And then there’s a bunch of physical work we try and do as well. So do, obviously take steps to bring team members together when it’s safe to do so, and make sure we deliver little packages and things like that to team members. So you’re probably following a few of the steps that many of your listeners already do.

I guess one thing when you’re scaling, like we are, making sure that we don’t forget these things is also important, because it always seems like there’s some, like a new fire to fight or some new big opportunity that we’re tackling, and it’s just trying to make sure we have these processes in there as well.

William Tincup: So two questions left, and one is, what advice would you give yourself, if you could go back in time, two years ago roughly, or a little bit longer than two years ago, what advice would you give yourself?

Clint: Two years ago, I would do a lot of the things we did faster. So I don’t know how much of that’s useful, but just the scale of where we’re at today compared to then, two years ago, I think in the United States, we could easily be 100 times bigger. It’s such a big market, and it’s still growing, so I always go back with our team, and we talk about, “Okay, what were the three big mistakes we made? How would we do it differently? Are we still making those mistakes?” Because sometimes we identify a mistake we did in the past, and then we would turn around and realize, “Oh actually, that’s still happening. How do we fix that right now?”

William Tincup: Okay. So last question. If you, and I have this call and hopefully we do a year from now, what’s different?

Clint: That’s so divergent relative to the pandemic. I think what we are seeing in the market is, companies are starting to think about, “Okay, what do we do for the next 10 years? What does pandemic readiness look like as a function? Does that mean insurance, does that mean readiness? What equipment changes do we need?” So that’s something that’s a big trend that we’re serving customers with now, and particularly the very largest ones, when we’re serving any customer over around 5,000 users, they cannot act inside the window of the pandemic. They can’t procure inside a three to six month window, which means they have to be ready for a pandemic. They can’t actually respond effectively.

So that’s going to be, I think, a change. It’s happening right now in the US market. I expect there to be at least one more wave in the US markets. There’s one about three to six weeks away, and then what comes during the winter is unknown. That would be a minimum scenario, and what impact that has on, I guess, capitulation around psychology of people, around getting back to normal, that’s going to be an interesting topic, and all of those things are relative to what actually happens, and that’s an unknown.

William Tincup: I know you did air quotes around normal, getting back to normal or putting an asterisk next to it, because, what the hell is normal? Clint, this was absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much for carving out time. I know you’re crazy busy, especially with what you’re doing with the business, but this is a great check-in, and I definitely want to do this in a year, and see what we’ve learned. So thank you again for your time and your wisdom.

Clint: No problem, William.

William Tincup: Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast, until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

Authors
William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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