Sean is regarded as a business assessment and value creation thought leader. In addition to regularly advising the senior leadership teams of hundreds of top private equity firms, he is regularly tapped for insights by leading business publications like Forbes, CEO World, Inc. Magazine, Ad Week, CFO.com, and Mergers & Acquisitions.Follow Follow
Storytelling About BluWave with Sean Mooney
Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 135. This week we have storytelling about BluWave with Sean Mooney. During this episode, Sean and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing BluWave.
Sean is a business assessment and value creation thought leader with over 20 years in the private equity industry. In what he calls a “fit of entrepreneurial inspiration,” Sean founded BluWave, which serves more than 500 of the world’s top private equity firms.
BluWave is a “business intelligence network” that utilizes technology, data and human inventiveness. The company provides information, insights and resources to connect private equity funds to practitioners who can uniquely help exceed company goals.
His passion to help these firms solve their challenges and be as successful as possible really comes through during the podcast.
A few questions we answer during the podcast: How do we have the conversation about total compensation expectations and make sure talent is on the same page? When do you introduce the concept of hiring in new areas that are more suitable to company success? How should a firm budget for a service like BluWave?
There’s more to learn, but you have tune-in to get it all. Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.
Show length: 31 minutes
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Welcome to Recruiting Dailies Use Case Podcast. A show dedicated to the storytelling that happens, or should happen, when practitioners purchase technology. Each episode is designed to inspire new ways and ideas to make your business better. As we speak with the brightest minds in recruitment and HR tech, that’s what we do. Here’s your host William Tincup.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you’re listening to The Use Case Podcast. Today, we’re talking with Sean and his company, BluWave. We’re going to be talking about the business case that his clients, his prospects, make the business case that they make for working with BluWave. And we’re going to learn all about BluWave. So it’s going to be a lot of fun and I can’t wait to get into it with Sean. So Sean, would you do us a favor, the audience favor, and introduce yourself and introduce BluWave.
Sure. Thanks William. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. My name is Sean Mooney. I’m the founder and CEO of BluWave. BluWave is a bit of a different bird. Our job is to make the world a little smaller for people. What we do is connect private equity funds, the portfolio company, leadership teams, proactive business leaders with the very best third parties, be it a group or a person across their lawn. Their long tail of episodic needs with the very best that can address their need in an extremely precise and actionable way, the exact time they need. And so think of us almost like a Gartner Magic Quadrant meets Yelp or eHarmony for business.
You have a finance background, right? You came out of that world.
I do. I was in the private equity industry for nearly 20 years and BluWave was kind of an answer to a problem that I experienced every day.
How are we going to solve this? Are we going to throw people at it? If we’re going to throw people at it, how do we find those people, etcetera. So some of the examples that you gave, sometimes it’s a person that the company needs. One of the portfolio companies needs a new CML. Great, there’s that. But there might be that their entire marketing function is just wrong, or just dysfunctional, or just needs to be revamped, etcetera. So BluWave can kind of enter in and help them in a number of different ways. So let’s go through a couple of different scenarios and kind of, kind of really point those out to folks.
Yeah, and that’s a great point. When I was in business and private equity, I would look at hundreds of investment opportunities a year, and then we would have 10 companies that we’re invested in that we were supporting and helping them grow and develop. And each company was different and had different needs each time. And as a result, everyone I knew who could help me had to be slightly different. And so we would have very inexpensive and capable people Googling and asking questions of friends about who could do something. And so one of the things that I certainly had a lot of needs for, and we see a lot of from our clients, are examples for recruiters.
They need a recruiter who knows the food manufacturing amazingly well, has as deep connections in Iowa and can operate with a company that has $50 million in revenue. And they need a candidate to be hired within the next four weeks. So it’s a unicorn in the parking lot…
But with the carrying a purple squirrel in a shopping cart. But what’s interesting about it is, again, it’s the client having a very specific need, and then they’re not necessarily great at finding that very specific need. So, and sometimes I’m sure you run into situations where they don’t even know what the need is.
That’s exactly right. And so one is a unique need-
And it’s the purple squirrel in the parking lot analogy that you shared. But it has to be perfect because-
Each need is specific. And when I look back on my career previously, I would often settle for good enough because my need was immediate and I couldn’t predict it. So I couldn’t understand what I needed beforehand. And often I had to make compromises.
And then usually didn’t end well. And so what I found was, or at least the concept was before BluWave, what if there were this kind of magic kind of toolbox or this magic kind of ecosystem where all the really best things were there that I can get access to exactly the time I needed it and hit all my key criteria. And I was investing in companies [inaudible 00:05:06] and I realized there’s an Angie’s List, or a home advisor, or even an Amazon for all the consumer things I need, but there’s nothing out there for these multi-variable highly complex needs I had as business operator or a business leader of a company.
Yeah. It’s funny that years ago, there was a guy in Australia that was creating kind of a rating site for recruiters and staffing firms. And it was fascinating on a certain level because it was kind of like Glassdoor, right. So…
Clients and other people would rate them and you’d really get to see the expertise. So there’s a staffing firm and they say they do everything of course, but they’re really, really good at technical talent. Like they’re just lights out and good at sourcing and placing technical talent. Well, when you know that, and again, people in these portfolio companies, it’s important for the audience to understand their heads down, they’re running a business they’re growing, scaling [inaudible 00:06:09] they’re not even building a business, they’re they’re scaling. And so, like Michael Dell said 100 years ago, “they’re changing the tire while the car’s going.” And so for them to then be able to kind of think about both the specificity of what they need and then, oh, by the way, I have the talent to then figure it out. Like just that idea of whose good at technical hiring, you got to have somebody that understands the landscape and is also up to date with what’s working and what’s not.
I think that’s exactly right. And in particular, as it relates to recruiters, it’s a fragmented world. There’s lots of recruiters out there-
And many are exceptional. And in that case, they’re usually exceptional at a smaller range of things. I found over time that it’s hard to be good at everything.
And to your point, there are groups that can do everything, but usually they’re really good at a few things. And when I was in private equity, I would get contacted every day by everyone who could do everything. And they would all say they were experts at pretty much everything. And invariably, they would fake it till they make it or learn on my dollar. Not that they were bad people, but there was kind of great sums of money at stake. And it was enticing, and in the same vein, I didn’t necessarily know how to bet them.
And so what I thought was, would be great is if you had this group that could say, “Hey, we’re going to put great together with great at the exact time. They need to know each other.” Kind of remove the temptation of doing things that aren’t in your power alley and in coordinating and connect people that otherwise were boats passing in the night-
Because I wanted to know those people. I just didn’t know when I needed to know them. And I didn’t have time to meet everyone because I couldn’t predict what I was going to do the next day, let alone a month from now or a year from now.
Yeah, and that’s one of the benefits of a private equity firm is they’ve usually got a playbook.
And so they kind of understand where you’re at. You know, if they’re doing with software companies, they know where you’re at ARR wise, they also know kind of where you need to be that around the corner. As a leader, you might not know those things, but they have a pretty good idea. And gaining insight, I think there’s real wisdom in that there is some playbooks in that and they work. It turns out I love the just-in-time nature of thinking about this. Like, not, maybe it’s a little bit for it before they need it, but there’s not a lapse.
Again, there’re laps in certain areas like, the person that runs product, the person that runs code or sales. Like a lapse in sales is lost revenue. So it’s kind of important. I mean, not to say that the rest of the organization isn’t, but like you can really impact the bottom line by making sure that you, in just-in-time, they need to replace a CRO. Fantastic. You’ve already got a bevy of already pre-qualified, vetted, ready. And now it’s just a matter of making sure you get the right fit, match, work out some of the details and there’s not lost revenue.
I think that’s spot on. We help business leaders, be it in a private equity fund, a portfolio company, or an independent company that’s trying to grow at a kind of a unique pace. Really across all of their functional areas-
Finance or operations or technology, but HR, human talent and human capital is 40% of what we do.
At the end of the day, I think anyone who runs a business realizes it’s the people that matter, the people that make a difference. And so we’re in the business, and business moves at the speed of light. And in many ways the variability of humanity is the hardest aspect to calibrate in business.
Speaking for myself, it’s really hard to understand people because we’re all different. And aligning them in a situation where two people need to know each other at the exact right time is so important because otherwise they just don’t meet each other, or it goes through this long march.
And so what we’re doing and the beauty of what the kind of this ecosystem we built is that we get thousands of needs. And through our, through this kind of world we’ve created, and we get this great chance of knowing tremendous amounts of really, really capable people. And we can connect them together almost seamlessly. It’s very, it’s pretty amazing to see how it works. But to your point, if you’re able to do that and eliminate kind of the spinning of the wheels and the kind of the brute forcing that I used to do whenever I would interview CFOs or CEOs, and just be seamlessly connected just in time. It allows you to spend so much more time on execution and strategy, and less on the tactics of kind of finding and searching.
So quick question, cause you know, making sure that folks are vetted and qualified. One of the things I’m just curious on how y’all kind of maintain that overtime to make sure that it’s fresh, right? So you want to make sure you make that match at the right time. And again, they might not know those other people. You’re going to put them together. All that makes sense. But in terms of skills and competencies, you know, again, six years ago I was great at… pick something… And I haven’t done it in six years. I could probably still be great at it. It might take a little run up to it to get great at it again, but how do y’all make sure, or ensure, that your talent when you’re putting that talent together, that it exactly meets the standard of your quality. And also, meet or exceed the standards of the folks that you deal with as clients.
It’s a great question. And the way we work, we do it really functions in a number of different ways. The first way is the people that we work with have found a way to be kind of invited into our world. And I dislike that notion of invitation only.
But at the end of the day, the businesses that we’re serving are dealing with real critical challenges and it can’t be just anyone can sign up for everything.
So we’re looking for people who are good at something, or really good at something. And then our job is almost as karma school of business to put them in a situation where we’re going to match really good with really good, and then the world’s spins in the right direction. And so first we’re working with people who find a way to kind of need us and get introduced to us.
And it happens a variety of ways. Usually it’s our clients who will introduce great people to us, or they know people who we know, or they’ll knock on our door and say, “please, think about us for your clientele.” And there’s kind of an investigatory conversation. And we have these really open and forthcoming conversations saying our job is to put you in a position to be successful. For that, part of the quid pro quo is you have to tell us where that is, where your truly exceptional at something. Because if we’re putting you in a bad position; you’re the person with the skills. We’re not doing our job.
And we’re doing a disservice for our client on the other side that is looking for those skills.
You may have been really good at something years ago, but we all evolve and grow and develop. We want to know, where are you great now? And so that we’re going to find that intersection where you’re great now and where you want to be great at going forward. That’s not that big of a leap. And then find the perfect opportunity and intersection of those two.
I love it because you’ve basically said you’ve got a superpower. Janet, you have a superpower.
What is it? You know-
Let’s, let’s identify what a superpower is. Let’s confirm that that is indeed the superpower. And then are you still interested in using your superpower? So then, you kind of, now there’s kind of a social contract that you want to use the superpower. How do you, how do you have the conversation with your clients around kind of comp and benefits? Total compensation or total rewards; whatever you want to call it, but basically, what is their expectation? And again, we could use the CHRO, or People Ops, Head of People Ops, whatever the role is. How do you kind of get them right with ball around what their expectation is as it relates to comp, and then making sure that the talent is also on a same or similar page?
I think that’s a great question. And it’s one of the biggest things we align around is kind of economical.
And what we found over time, across thousands of thousands of projects, and within our ecosystem. But then also, 20 something years of myself learning things the hard way multiple times, is that you really have to align kind of economic desire with economic budget. And so one of the first things we ask our clients, anytime they have a need, we go through a detailed scoping process where we’re understanding multiple variables on the nuances of their needs. One of which is budget. And we say, where do you, where do you want this to be? Where can you pay things? So we’re going to look for people who are aligned with what you can afford, and that’s going to be different for different companies and businesses and size and scale.
And so the first thing we’re starting off with is what is your budget allow? You, our client, the hirer of talent. And then that enables us to go into our ecosystem and find people who love playing at that kind of price point, if you will. And so you’re getting a lock and key around that budget because, so often what we’ve, what I’ve found over time is that people will try or try to maybe hire someone who really wants to be paid more.
And try to compel them to come down to their budget.
And then inevitably that will last for about a month until human behavior says, “no, no, no, I really thought I really want to be here.” And you just can’t change that. But if you can align that from the onset, I think it makes everything so much easier.
So how do you have the not difficult, but fierce, conversations around how the safe play and maybe a riskier play in terms of everything revolving these days around DDI? I’ve been in this particular hiring situation where you had multiple candidates, they’re all over the map. And there’s always a safe play in hiring, or usually there’s a safe play in hiring. And there’s always one that’s, you know, again, if we’re just looking at skills and superpowers, we strip some of that out, but we’re still humans. So, bias is still there, even though we’d like to reduce it or get rid of it all together, it’s still there. How do you intellectually or emotionally, how do you get people over a hump of not hiring kind of the same things that they’re accustomed to hiring?
I think that’s a tremendously important question and certainly one that’s on our minds every day and on the minds of our clients with ESG and DEI. And where we come out on that is, there’s not one variable in kind of the complexity of humanity that we or our clients are measuring against. It’s a mosaic of skills-
And capabilities. And we don’t want anyone to kind of hyper-focus on any one of them. There’s a number of variables that are great. What we’ve found in what we do, and I think what our clients do, is this idea that we see value in diversity. It’s a strategic advantage. And that’s something that takes it out of the conversation of the easy, like this person looks just like me too. This is a strategic advantage. And flip the equation into something where this is something that’s in our selfish benefits, selfishly altruistic-
To do something like this because it’s fundamentally good for us. And what that requires is people have to change how they do things and try harder. And the harder road is often the better one to go down versus the easier path that often leads to a kind of a dead end, I guess.
Right. So let’s talk a little bit about BluWave in a sense of how folks work with you. How you like to work with your prospects and then ultimately your clients. And, the old consulting model of timelines, the rules, and budget. Probably is a framework but, some of this is project based. Some of this is probably retained and it just kind of goes on.
But how, how do you like to… What’s the optimal way for someone to work with BluWave?
Yeah. Our job, in kind of the business world, is to be the experts of those with expertise. And so what we encourage our clients to do is any time they’re going to Google or call a friend saying, “do you know someone who does this?” To give us a call because odds are we’ve handled that need tens, if not hundreds of times before. And in a way I think of the world is, you’ll see, I communicate through metaphors and analogies and that’s probably a construct of growing up in Texas. But the way I think about it is when I looked at my business needs over time, it was kind of a random scatter plot of dots across an axes. But in our world, all these dots [inaudible 00:20:45] ending up in kind of even columns because we get these needs over and over and over again, it starts looking almost like your analogy of an impressionist painting of the closest bunch of dots, but far away, it makes sense.
And so anytime, if you’re business leader and you have a need and you’re going to Google or call friends, odds are, we already know who the best in the world is for. And we do this for 500 of the world’s top private equity funds every day. And so, what we say is if you have a need and you’re going to do a project, give us a call. Cause we’re here to help and I don’t mean to sound boy scout-ish or soapboxy, but you have to have all of the karma school of business kind of sense, where you’re just here to help two other people be successful. And so if you have a pressing need, odds are we can help if we can’t, we’ll be very forthcoming, but we’ll do our best to put you in a position to be successful. If you’re a candidate and you have some unique skills, we want to know you. If you’re a business leader and you have unique need, we can probably help.
So, so the types of projects that you get thrown into, or you throw yourself into purposely, Sean, does it come out in the form of interim project work, full-time?
What does that look like?
Yep. In the human capital space, we’ll do everything from executive assessments and team assessments. And really what the eye towards, not this binary yes, no, but understanding that most people are in the shades of gray. And it’s the idea that not only can you figure out where strengths and weaknesses are, but then you can identify areas where you can coach people up. And so that’s one of the big areas we spend time on very specialized recruiters. People call us for lots of interim leaders, particularly-
The new now. The pendulum swung from peacetime ministers last year to wartime generals. And then it was coming back to peacetime ministers and now-
Who knows where it is, but it’s kind of bouncing back and forth. But lots of those… lots of senior advisors and board members for companies, we also do things like even HR system assessments, people ask us for groups that can do those things that we try to send to the best people in the world for. So across virtually all of the areas of human capital, we’re being tapped by some of the most kind of proactive business builders in the world, but increasingly companies that just find us and ask to use the same kind of tool.
Well, I loved your ‘we’re experts at finding experts’. And really not just finding them, but utilizing them for their, and maximizing their legitimate super power and excellence. So I love that. How do… this audience will of course wonder, and I have the same wonders…How do they budget? Or how do they figure out how much stuff costs? Because you know, I’ve consulted, you’ve probably been in on both sides of this thing. It’s selling the invisible in some ways, but how do they figure out how much they should set aside for projects and things that they need to work with in terms of working with you? How do they figure out the calculator?
Yeah. Well, first it starts with, they generally have an idea of beating the clients, an idea of what their budget is-
Whether they want to share it or not. So they start with that kind of preconceived notion or expectation, and then what we’re able to do, because one of the key things we calibrate on for our clients is kind of budget strata. So what we’re able to say is for this budget, here are your range of options. For another budget, here’s your range of options. And for another budget, here are your range of options. And so we’re able to kind of give them to a certain degree, kind of good, better, best, but each of those within each strata are calibrated within eight to 10 other variables of what they need. And so ultimately we’re able to give people choice, in a way that’s highly calibrated around amongst their needs, and let our clients ultimately make the decision on what they want. And then also it’s a two-sided equation. The service provider also say, “yeah, this is something that we can opt into and do a great job for you as well.”
So I love that you, to again, give them those porridge approach, right? It’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s just right.
So, the budget then, is equated to a range of options. Do you all go further into the analysis of that, of, okay, if you pick this, this range of options, here’s the impact?
So what we are able to do is everyone that we work with are pre-vetted.
And we, as part of that vetting process, we will talk with people who they’ve worked with, who we also know. Which is a pretty large part of the business world at this point. And so we understand outcomes, and then we also track outcomes when they work with us.
And so, and when a project is complete within our world, we talk to the underlying client and see how they did across a whole host of variables. And so what we’re able to speak to is the level of excellence in very kind of calibrated circumstances for the people who do things-
And in what you should expect.
But what we’re very careful about is there’s a lot of complexity in humanity.
Ultimately, it not only requires the service provider to be excellent, but it also requires the hiring party that’s-
Undergoing the initiative to also be, and it’s not always one or the other. And it’s usually a combination of both that dictate the outcome, particularly in an outsourcing situation.
Yeah. Because again, they could come into a totally different team and not be able to have some confines on them that can constrict them from being able to be as successful as they would normally have been, or would be. I love that y’all focus on speed. And just in time, you’re also focused on quality. Give me, as we roll out to just the last thing… Give me your favorite, without naming names, well, your favorite customer story.
That’s a great question. Wait, we have a lot of them.
What? Go with your favorite. Go with your most recent, that’s always easy.
One of the ones that I’m particularly proud of, that kind of showed how the whole thing works is…and this is I think is a better example of last year because of all of the tension-
Kind of calamity, that it was occurring and kind of peak COVID, where the world was just kind of a scary place and an uncertain place. And we received a call from a private equity fund customer of ours, and they said, “we have a very pressing need. We have a company that’s performing well.” They’re providing kind of a critical service in the end market, but our CFO who was traveling to and fro to this location… and I have to be discrete on these things…
Right, right, right.
Kind of had enough. And we saw a lot of that, where just-
People, just, they just had enough and they needed a pause for a variety of reasons. And so they, in any company, but particularly private equity company, the CFO is critical.
And they said, “we were just given two weeks notice.” And we’re about to be down one of our most critical positions in this time where visibility, particularly financially, and from a business intelligence standpoint, is that probably the highest premiums ever been. And they said, “how can you help us?” Because it’s going to take forever to recruit a new CFO.
And this location is kind of a remote area. And kind of the beauty of our system is we already know kind of how the world works and who’s really good. And so we looked at the type of company it was. We saw where the location was. We needed the skillset, the size of the business. And one of the people who we thought really, really highly of was located 45 minutes from this plant and another way, and they just came off a successful sale. And they had worked for three of our other private equity clients and their portfolio companies, who had exceptional things to say about them. And so we went from having zero CFO to actually, they moved straight into hiring the person. Within two weeks, they went from hole-filled to having a full-time hire the exact time they needed it. And I don’t know if that happens all the time, but it’s one that we’re particularly proud of and-
Oh, yeah. Well and nothing, well say nothing, was lost. You minimized the risk of, of that transition cause that transition, that particular transition that’s game changing. And so you minimize their risk. And I love that story. That’s fantastic. Brother, has been a pleasure getting to know you, learning both about you and BluWave, love what you do. And thank you so much for coming on The Use Case Podcast.
Thank you. Well, I very much appreciate it. Please, let me know if I can do anything to help you or any of your constituents here.
Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to The Use Case Podcast. Until next time…
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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.