A serial entrepreneur with four successful products, three companies and two exits under his belt. Aaron is a designer turned coder, turned CTO, turned CEO, and is passionate about creating products people love and making the world better.Follow Follow
Storytelling About Crelate With Aaron Elder
Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 174. This week we have storytelling about Crelate with Aaron Elder. During this episode, Aaron and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing Crelate.
Aaron is an expert in all things talent, CRM and ATS. His passion for building solutions that help align the right talent to the right opportunity at the right time really comes through during the podcast.
Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.
Show length: 27 minutes
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Welcome to RecruitingDaily’s 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 gentleman, this is William Tincup and you are listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today we have Aaron on from Crelate, and he’s going to explain the genesis, the origin story, around the company’s name. And we’re going to be talking about the use case, obviously, the business case or cost benefit analysis for why his prospects and customers, why they purchased the company or why they purchased the product. So we’re just going to jump right into it. Aaron, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself, and Crelate?
Sure. Hi, William. I’m Aaron Elder, a CEO and co-founder of Crelate. And Crelate, we provide applicant tracking and recruiting CRM software to the staffing and recruiting industry.
I’ve been doing that for about 10 years.
And, okay, so I did promise the audience that we would talk about the origin story of the name of the company.
Yeah, well my co-founder actually came up with the name while on a metro subway in D.C. But it comes from really the heart of recruiting and staffing, which is creating relationships, so create relationships, Crelate.
Love that. Why did y’all focus on the staffing industry?
Well, it was actually very intentional. So a little background on me, my whole life, I’m a dev founder, so I’m a software developer. I actually went to school as a Visual Arts major-
… then pivoted over to coding.
Yeah, but you’re dangerous because you actually have some UI experience. You have an eye for the visual. You’re a dangerous man already.
Or a productive man, maybe.
Actually, yeah, that’s probably a better way of phrasing it.
Well it certainly helped during the rise of the web, right?
Because the web-
… of course-
… was coding in a visual way for immediate visual experiences. So it was quite beneficial during my early years. But my whole life I’ve been either doing products or consulting companies, including owning my own or leading consulting companies. And my last consulting company, they went through a merger and then a spinoff and then a reacquisition and ultimately ended up at a joint venture between Microsoft and Accenture, called Avanade.
And so it was during this journey that I really saw the inner workings of the consulting and staffing industry. I experienced it firsthand dealing with the heartaches and how hard it is to go find opportunities and then go find people to do them, whether those people on your bench or people from the field, or people from wherever else you’re going to get them. And you got to get those two things to align and you got to do that over and over and over again forever, because that is the business. And along the way there was no really good software for doing it. And my background is in CRM systems. So I was the lead application architect for Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
Then my consulting company, which I co-founded, we were implementers of the CRM system. And so I know CRM systems and I know business process, and so we ended up building our own system that was a hybrid CRM, slash ATS. And then when I got to Avanade I said, “Hey, I want to go solve this problem because it doesn’t seem to be a lot of good options out there.” I looked at the landscape and frankly, it seemed that the staffing and recruiting industry was a little underserved.
Oh, it’s completely underserved. Oh, my God, there’s 1,200 ATSs in the market and at least 1,150 of them are pointed at the corporate market.
Well, absolutely. And so, that’s because your TAM, your total adjustable market is every employer in the world.
Why would you limit yourself?
But the funny thing is that the staffing niche has very particular needs that a corporate ATS just won’t happen. And so that was the idea-
… where does it pay?
It breaks. And vice versa. Recruiting is recruiting, but in an environment where it’s one dominion like an RPO or staffing, or an MSP versus corporate, process wise and other, communications, all the things that make recruiting recruiting are different. Those people can talk to each other and share experiences, but the technology and the workflows and the underpinnings, it is Venus and Mars.
And I’m glad you focused on the staffing market, actually, because it is completely underserved. You got a bullhorn and another couple of other players that people might know, but that’s about it. Literally, if you’re a staffing firm, you don’t have the options that you do as a corporate TA leader that’s picking an ATS or a CRM, or a combination of both. You’re probably overwhelmed with choice. So I’m super happy that you focused on them. Then tell us a little bit about the buyer. We know it’s staffing, probably an owner or a general manager, or someone on the technology side. What are they looking for in a product?
Well so, the buyer, and our buyer, it’s a range of people. And it’s funny, when I was out raising money trying to explain this, it’s a range and it kind of depends. But you got to understand the industry because I almost view it like a matrix, if you will. Because the buyer in a small firm or a one-person firm is very different than a buyer in a large firm. But then there’s also a difference on another axis based on industry. So that’s the answer. When we started in our early days we actually cut our teeth in executive search. So we were focused very exclusively on that early on. We were selling-
There weren’t that many options there either.
Well, correct. So we were a new kid on the block. We were focused selling mostly to owner-operators. They needed a lot of functionality at an affordable price. And of course every single one runs themselves a little bit differently. There’s a lot of similarities obviously but a little bit differently. And I think our concept that we’re going to build enterprise-class software with full enterprise flexibility … Flexibility is key here, works well but scale it and make it available to the masses. That was the original dream.
And so here I am coming off of selling multi-million dollar Dynamic CRM deals with a full CRM platform. And I’m trying to sell a CRM platform to a one-seat deal. But they want a fully customizable workflow. They want fully customizable and they need some experience, and custom reports and custom fields, and custom tags, custom everything.
And they need-
… to manage the front of the office and back of the office. So they need to manage different parts of the business using one application.
Correct. And then the front office, too, has got sales and recruiting. That depends on how complex you are. And so we started there and basically just listened. We have it on our website. My approach to this is that we are walking into a large and established, and growing market. And this was actually very interesting when I was raising money as well. I’m not swinging for the fences hoping with a chance of flaming out. So I’m not really VC material. I’m more growth equity, kind of PE material. Because we’re walking into a established, large and growing market, I need to listen, iterate and continuously improve.
And so we started with one-seat deals, smaller firms, started getting bigger firms, started doing firms that had some temp in their mix, started doing some firms, et cetera. Fast forward to today, we’ve launched Omni, which brings our full middle and back office capabilities. And so now we’re stepping full force into staffing.
Oh, I love-
So the industries you mentioned a second ago, that’s the industries that I’m assuming that your clients would serve. They’re in high-volume or they’re in tempt-to-perm, or they’re blue collar or corporate.
Or they just do technology. What’s the array of folks that you serve?
Well currently, it’s actually a surprisingly broad spectrum from very specific vulcanized rubber expertise to oil and gas, to trucking, to restaurants to hospitality, to healthcare. It’s literally the full gamut.
Oh, that’s cool.
Now having said that, certain industries do have very particular needs that we don’t always address, but we will one day. Or we can with customization and professional services. But that’s an evolution for us as well. I think I saw, there’s an ATS just for anesthesiologists, or something. I saw that once. There’s some pretty niche stuff out there.
Yeah. And again, the industries that need something that’s specific, like the healthcare industry which is really a fascinating industry to serve, they need certifications. They need to make sure that their certs are up to date because they might not get paid. Or payment might be delayed if the certifications, they can’t validate those. So it’s like-
… really, really interesting nuanced stuff. And the same thing with truckers, you got to make sure that their license, that they’re in good standing. So there’s criminal background checks and all kinds of stuff that they put in their workflow that from a safety perspective they have to have in there.
Totally. It’s one of the reasons, too, why I think our flexible-by-default approach is pretty unique, is that when we designed our document management system we designed it with compliance management in mind.
Oh, that’s smart.
Because today’s customers may not be able to meet those requirements. But absolutely as we move into different industries you’re going to need that. You’re going to need documents that expire. You’re going to need a proof of processes and review processes. You’re going to need a single dashboard to say whose credentials are expiring this month, “I got to go send reminder emails to,” et cetera. So we built it that way.
And if people want to, let’s say, API in a personality or behavioral assessment or skills assessment or something like that, take us into some folks, they build a marketplace and they do it that route, and some of them just make the API open and you can build whatever you want. You can go that route. What’s y’all’s strategy or what’s your take? You’re not going to build everything. You’re going to build a lot of stuff for your clients, but ultimately they’re going to have some other things that they want to tie in workflow wise and tech wise that they want to tie into what they’re using you for. How does that work?
Totally, so you positioned it as an API or a marketplace. And for those that know me my joke would be yes, because it’s both. I consider us as a platform company, so I want to be the platform that a business can run on and trust that they can run on us for years to come, and trust that if you start with us as a one-seat and you grow your business to 20 or a 50 or 100, that you can keep using the same platform. So with that in mind, yes, is the answer.
So our approach is to one, have an open API. So anyone can code against it. You don’t need any special permission or anything like that, just an account with access. And we are developing a marketplace instead of marketplace partners that we’ll do there. And then so that there will be first-party marketplace apps we’ll probably launch a native hub spot integration sometime this year, or sorry, next year, and a native sales force. But then there will be ones where maybe a [inaudible 00:12:59] you’ve never heard of have built integrations to us. Because it’s really about enabling a customer in their scenario.
Yeah, and again getting back to every customer and every industry, they might need something a bit nuanced or different. I love that you position it in your mind and for your customers and prospects as a platform. Because it is a hiring platform. It’s a one-to-many hiring platform. So a staffing firm might sit on 100 different clients.
How they manage all of those different clients is going to be different.
… and that’s something that … Oh, sorry. Go ahead.
No, no, no. You got it.
Well and that’s something, it’s not just the one-to-many but it’s also the revenue aspect.
Right, oh yeah, good point.
Corporate systems have no concept of revenue.
But if you don’t make a placement you’re not getting that fee.
Yeah. It’s interesting, too, to me. And I know our little matrix of ideal customers vary. it’s also different based on the margins of the business and how often you got to pay people, and what you pay people, and how often people show up even after you’ve onboarded them. It’s fascinating the exceptionally wide range of scenarios that talent organizations have to deal with.
That’s right. My friends that own staffing firms would not be offended by me saying this, staffing owners in general, you said affordable or whatever. I would use another word, cheap. And they would not be offended by that because they know their margins. It’s so different than the corporate market where they don’t really know. When you do a cost-of-hire, they don’t really know the math. When you talk to a staffing owner, oh they know the math. And that’s why things have to fit into a certain box. And again, your position is more appropriate of course, by affordable. But-
I’ve worked in the staffing industry long enough where I can actually say cheap.
It’s funny because again, people who know me, frugality is actually one of my personal principles for life. I get it. It’s a delicate balance though, because you also don’t want to be on a system that isn’t hiring devs and growing and adding new features.
Because you’re paying bottom dollar. So we got to find that sweet spot.
That’s right. And some of the systems that might be cheaper are systems that are older, or systems that can’t grow with you. They’re not a true platform.
And I think that’s one of the things that’s like, “Hey, listen, if you want a platform that will grow with you, in fact it will be in front of you for all of your needs, fantastic. If you’re trying to find something else then there’s other choices that you can make.” Do you find yourself displacing proprietary systems or Excel or other players in this space. What are you displacing right now?
Yeah, so it’s all of the above.
You just yessed me, again. That’s nice.
Yeah, I just yessed you again.
I love it.
One of the things I love though, and this was actually particularly apparent when COVID originally hit, was that we had a lot of new businesses being formed. So you get laid off from your firm, you’re like, “Hey, I’m going to go hang out a shingle. And I need a good, quality ATS that is from a company that’s approachable and affordable.” And so we had a ton of new businesses sign up last summer as a result of that. But then all the time, I think we do a data migration for probably 60-ish percent of our business. And we’ve got a pool of pre-built migrators for 40 or 50 different systems right in the house. It’s a wide range of things including custom one-offs.
Oh, that’s awesome. So you can just take all their history and just suck it in and clean it up, possibly, and bring it into the new system. That’s awesome.
And ideally transform it along the way.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
… you’d be amazed, because you know-
what that’s like-
… I would not be amazed.
Yeah. But you got that one custom field that you were going to fill in. And you stopped filling in back in ’94. Do you know what I’m saying?
Oh, yeah. Or when your dot matrix printer went out at one point, you stopped filling out that thing. Let me ask you a question about buying questions. And you get to see this from a lot of different levels and have. The questions that you love a prospect that ask you, what are some of those? You just get tickled like, “Okay, they get it.” What are some of those tales or those questions that you love hearing from prospects?
Probably the “Can I?” kind-
… of thing-
And what I’m thinking with that is in terms of the flexibility.
Yeah. Yeah, that’s a yes.
It’s a yes, “Can I?” Well so a little bit of background on me on that, too, growing up in the consulting world, myself and all of my devs have always taught, “It’s yes with an if, no with a but.” Well because we want to listen to what they’re trying to achieve.
And then, “Can I do that?” And I said, “Well yeah, you can do it. And here’s several ways in which you can do it.” Now the downside would be maybe a little overwhelming because it’s presented as options.
Aaron, I grew up in the agency world, the ad agency, marketing agency world. And when people would say, “Can I?” I would actually rephrase it. I would say, “It’s never a question of can you. It’s-
It’s, “Should you?”
Exactly, “Should you? How much, how often or how soon? It’s all these other derivatives. It’s all these other questions. It’s not even a question of can you. Yeah, of course you can. Should you? Let’s now then bifurcate that,” and then go, “Okay, now how much money, how much time, resources and all this other stuff?” And I love the “Can I?” That is-
And … oh, go ahead.
Well, no, from a prospect’s perspective I love that because they’re not thinking about basic stuff. They’re not thinking about, okay, some feature or some functionality, or can it invoice? or this, that and the other. They’re thinking about, “Okay, cool. Can I do this?” They’re already thinking about using the system.
Correct. Correct, exactly. And can the system work? As a platform company and in my prior life as a consulting company working for all of these different clients, every business is different and unique and special, but there’s a lot of commonality across all of them. And so how do you build tools that are able to accommodate all those different scenarios? And I’m not done yet. I’m not saying I’m done, there’s plenty more to go do.
And then our Professional Services team, we have some consultants who will truly do a process transformation with you. So, “Can you do that? Sure. Should you? Maybe. What goals are you trying to achieve? How do you want to measure your team? How do you want to measure output? How much do you want to grow? Let’s work backwards from that. Set up your process to optimize for that and then off you go.” [crosstalk 00:20:41]-
Your Professional Services team, is it separate or is it they’re implementation?
As a customer how do you interact with the Professional Services team?
Internally it is separate. It’s a separate organization, separate leadership, separate devs, et cetera. We’re not large enough yet where we’re going to have systems integraters pounding on doors. But we’re building the internal team with that kind of mindset. So where we’re building a open API for them to work against, they’re building their own tools and stuff to accelerate and best practices. They’re building onboarding guides and training, et cetera. So it’s a separate org within the team. They talk to Product all the time. They talk to Sales all the time. And there’s a clean handoff between the Sales person, the Onboarding team and then off to Customer Success once they’re onboarded.
Oh, I love that, I love that. Okay, so, a couple things, when peoples first see the platform, what do they fall in love with?
Good question. I think it depends on who it is. It’s-
Well I say that because …
Because of the variability and the different buyers. It could be-
… an individual contributor or it could be a business owner.
And the experience of the person.
And I’m talking to you X Theory, here, right?
So the answer to your question is I think they like the user experience and they like how much information they can get on one screen, is the short answer. Now the funny thing is that more experienced recruiters tend to value that. But if you look at a lot of corporate systems and the design directions that they have gone, it’s less, less, less. It’s super simple, super minimalist, et cetera.
And that’s visually appealing, but how do you make it visual appealing by also minimalizing clicks and letting you see the resume and the activity history, and the last time you talked to them and the last time you reached out to them, and who’s next all on one screen without it being overload?
Well I think staffing firms have to work differently.
It’s not just because of the price and because there’s revenue attached to it, but because of speed.
And so they don’t have time to click five times to get to the report. Most of those folks, they’ve got to be able to see it right there when they’re on a call. They’ve got to be able to see it. And so I think it’s more appropriate for that audience, for the RPO and staffing, and MSP market.
Correct. And once you’ve set it up the way you want and you’re in a groove and you click to the next record, everything should just roll over to the next record as well. Old systems use that like a Next button. I don’t know if you ever remember that.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course.
But we got a grid. And so when it shrinks down to minimize, and you click on the next row, everything you had open on the last record pops right up right in place, so you can very quickly go through that. I think the next final thing as well is that all aspects of our app have been built by the same team in the same way. And so once you understand some of the basic principles of how things flow and what’s going to happen, once you learn how our process engine works, it’s the same way as the way the workflow engine works, which is the same way that the document and artifact engine works it becomes very familiar. And so you’re able to jump around and do things pretty quickly.
And again, that speed of adoption, because that familiarity, just going from one thing to another, understanding “Okay, I get this. I understand how to do this now,” even if it’s something completely different. Which is-
… fantastic. This is great design and also great for this particular buyer. Again, time being a factor, not just now and at this point in history, it’s just staffing firms historically have had to work faster because they’re under a different clock-
… than corporate folks. Last question before we roll out, favorite customer story. Without names, of course, just something you’ve seen where a customer, they’ve used the platform and you’re like, “Wow, that’s really cool.”
My absolute favorite, and she’s listening so she’ll know who she is, we actually invited her to speak at our All Hands. But she’s in the business of helping others set up recruiting firms.
And she focuses on people who might not otherwise have that chance at opportunity the way that a recruiting firm that you own can really achieve for yourself. It’s funny, I heard a really awesome quote. It was that “Starting a recruiting firm, there’s no easier way to make 300K a year. But there’s also no harder way to make 60.”
Oh, that’s good.
Yeah. And it’s super true because you can work your butt off and not make anything for that whole time. But anyway, so she takes all of her experience and she takes people formerly incarcerated, people down on their luck or switching jobs or whatever, sets them up with Crelate, sets them up with training, sets them up with onboarding and spits out opportunity and these little businesses left, right and center and it’s amazing and it’s awesome. And she’s got story after story of success stories from that.
Oh, that’s fantastic on so many levels.
It’s super, isn’t it?
It really aligns to my own personal desires. I actually internally call Crelate a prosperity engine because we’re in the business of helping people be prosperous. Our customers are entrepreneurs. And they’re helping candidates find better jobs or their next job, or their first job. So we’re helping the candidates. And if we’re doing a good job they’re going to buy our software. And so I can grow my team and give people shots. And we promote from within and that’s a major goal. The whole thing is this big engine of prosperity and that’s what gets me really excited.
Platform of prosperity.
There you go, platform of prosperity.
I love it, I love it. Aaron, thank you so much for your time. I know you’re super busy but just thank you for carving out time to break things down and educate us. And I love what you’re doing.
Absolutely, thank you so much for having me.
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.