Storytelling about Sense with Anil Dharni

Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 119. This week we have storytelling about Sense with Anil Dharni. During this episode, Anil and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing Sense.

Anil is an expert in all things hiring and employee engagement. His passion for transforming the recruiting experience in the high-volume hiring space really comes through during the podcast.

Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.

Thanks, William

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William:  00:23
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you’re listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today we have Anil on from Sense, and we’re going to learn all about his firm. And I don’t want to waste any other time on it. I just want to jump right into it. So Anil, do us a favor and introduce yourself and introduce Sense.

Anil:  00:46
Yeah, absolutely. Hi. Thank you for having me William, really appreciate it. A long-time listener, so I’m a big fan of what do you do here. I’m the co-founder and CEO of a company called Sense. And just by way of background, I’m a serial entrepreneur based here in Silicon Valley. I started my career at a company called Ariba, which was doing procurement software back in the day before the acquisition by SAP. And then from there, I did a couple of stints in consumer startups. And the last one was a mobile gaming company that I started, and we ended up getting acquired by a Japanese game maker in 2012. So through the course of my career, I’ve had experience building startups, being part of startups, so high growth companies.

Anil:  01:35
And one of the things that I realized was the biggest asset that a company has is the people. And as executives and founders, we end up spending an inordinate amount of time attracting, sourcing and hiring people. And it’s literally, the quality of the people that you end up hiring that makes or breaks the company. So with that sort of foundational knowledge, I decided that… when I looked at, what will I do next with my founding team? We decided to focus on recruiting and HR tech industry. Yeah.

William:  02:12
No, no, no. No. And recently, y’all announced a little bit of a fundraising.

Anil:  02:19
That’s right. That’s right. So the business has been scaling really nicely, so it’s been about five and a half years. And at Sense, we are focused primarily on transforming the recruiting experience in the high-volume hiring space.

William:  02:31
Oh, nice.

Anil:  02:32
Yeah. So, whether it’s the… The way we define high volume is broader. It’s blue-collar workers, gray collar workers, pink-collar workers, as well as temporary hiring, right? So, a lot of staffing and recruiting industry is focused on temporary hires. So our software is basically run by these companies, focusing on attracting, engaging and are hiring the right talent, but hiring it at scale.

William:  02:57
So obviously, some of those industries, through the pandemic and then after, they’re struggling to hire. So obviously, you’ve see the same stuff I do. What are your clients telling you right now about the attraction of hourly talent?

Anil:  03:17
Yeah. I mean, the stories are all over the news, right? So what we see are actually sort of two different scenarios, and it all depends on the industry and the vertical you’re talking about. So, that is the case for… which is the predominant case that we hear about, which is the famine case. And I talk to a lot of my prospects, a lot of our customers; every day they are looking for new candidates. So, “We just don’t have enough candidates applying. The job boards are no longer working, or it’s become cost prohibitive to try and source and attract people just through job boards. So Anil, what can we do or what can Sense do for us to get us new candidates?” And I can talk more about what we do there, but the second use case is also actually pretty prevalent, which, as you can imagine, so the larger global 5,000, 10,000 companies were big brands, are seeing millions and millions of applicants coming in. And so, that’s a feast use case.

Anil:  04:17
So one side it is famine and the other side we come across feast. And these companies are coming to us and saying, “Hey Sense, how can you help us? We are getting inundated with applicants.” So before the pandemic, where for every job position we used to see 100 applicants, now we are seeing 500, we are seeing 1,000. And how do we engage with each one of them so it’s not a black box experience for these candidates? So again, we see both sides, and trying to help our customers and prospects really navigate these challenging times. And I can walk through [crosstalk 00:04:51].

William:  04:52
Yes. And I love the way that you framed feast and famine because it’s exactly… I mean, supply and demand also kind of comes into that. But let’s deal with feast first. And okay, so feast is obviously an abundance, right?

Anil:  05:10
Yes. Yeah.

William:  05:13
So, and we used to take great pride in 8, 10,000 people applied to the job. But it’s only one job.

Anil:  05:21
Exactly, yeah. So really… well, I’ll give you an anecdote without naming the firm, obviously, but recently talked to a great company out there. And they said they get about a million and a half applicants on a yearly basis, globally. And so my next question to the head of TA was, “That’s wonderful. How many of those million and a half are you able to actually review their application?” The response was, “Maybe we get to 250,000.” And the next question was, “So, what do you do with the rest?” “Oh, they just don’t hear back from us.” So the challenge is one of, sort of older recruiting practices. It’s around clunky systems, old school systems, where it’s hard for applicants to apply. It’s onerous, it takes a long time. Once they apply, then they just get into this black box and they’re not hearing back. There are only limited number of recruiters you have, sourcers and coordinators. You may be laid off or followed your team, so you really just don’t have the bandwidth.

Anil:  06:25
And when we talk to these TA practitioners and we ask them, “So, how can you sift through all one and a half million? What would it take?” And the response pretty much is, “I just have to build capacity. And the capacity is hiring more people.”

William:  06:41
Yeah. Throw more hiring managers, more sourcers, more recruiters, et cetera.

Anil:  06:44
Exactly. Or, “I’m calling up RPOs or I’m trying to outsource this. I’m sending these applicants, so they can have conversations with folks in the Philippines and India,” whatever the use case might be, right? So they’re meant, for example, when you look at the Sense product portfolio; so we have successfully built these conversational recruiting chatbots, so they can come in and they can start 24×7. They can run, they can run on your database, they can run on the applicants that are incoming. And they can start screening and scheduling candidates. So the biggest thing that these companies want is the ability to screen, the ability to talk to every single candidate while maintaining their brand, while maintaining a wonderful candidate experience. And so, that’s been wonderful. Yeah.

William:  07:32
So screening, testing, simulations; you’re essentially, you want to touch all million but you want to touch them not with humans, you want to touch them with a little bit of machine learning, a little bit of NLP, a little bit of AI. And you want to be able to then make sure that you’re scheduling the right people, but you’ve touched everybody.

Anil:  07:54
Absolutely. And also, there’s another component to this. One is, William, that they’re really focused on, “Hey, okay, I do have these knockout questions. So, I have these knockout screening questions. Are you authorized to work in the US? Can you do backbreaking work? Are you open to standing on your feet for more than eight hours a day?” These kind of questions. So one is like, “Okay, I do want to knockout people that might not be a good fit, but guess what? I want to do one more thing for them. Even if I knock you out, can I now show you, ‘Hey, maybe that barista job wasn’t really a good fit for you, but you know what? I have these other jobs, and maybe those are a better fit for you right now. Would you be interested in them?'” So it’s not just about saying, “Bye. Goodbye,” but also, “Hey, listen. I do have more opportunities for you. Would you be interested in those instead?”

William:  08:46
I love that. Okay, so let’s go to famine. We’ll probably bounce back and forth. So now, this is scarcity. Now it’s 10 people applied to the job. And so that million… And maybe it’s the right 10. Fantastic. But what does Sense help… how does it help us with famine?

Anil:  09:04
Yeah. So when it comes to famine, talent discovery is one of our core tenets at Sense that we help with. So one of the things we say, and obviously the tier leaders are coming to us and it’s like, “The job boards are just not working out,” or, “The spend has just tripled, quadrupled. How can you help us?” So one of the first questions we ask them, really, is, “Hey, what kind of a database do you actually have of existing candidates? Your silver medalists, your alumni, people that you laid off, people that you followed, people that applied to you in the last 5 years, 10 years, whatever the case might be.” And the good news is when we work with large enterprises, large staffing companies, it’s pretty… we are talking in the millions, right? And these are severely underutilized databases.

Anil:  09:56
These companies have spent tens of millions of dollars building these databases over the last decade or two, and they practically use old school techniques in order to either refresh the data, keep the profiles up to date, or to even try and reactivate that pipeline and bring them into active candidates. And that’s been one of the aha moments for Sense. And when I say old school, it’s pretty much email-driven. Even if you look at a lot of CRM tools that exist today, it is email-driven. And can you imagine what happens today? Over 50% of our workforce are Millennials and Gen Z-ers, right? The open rate on emails is 10 to 15% at best. The response rates are 1 to 2%. So, it’s not really going to be effective.

Anil:  10:45
And to give you an example, I recently talked to a restaurant chain, and they have half a million candidates in their database and they’re trying to reactivate that. Since May, they have pinged and emailed all half a million candidates, restart with them, try to get them to convert to active candidate pipeline. Of the half a million people, they got only 5,000 to respond, and it was all email-driven. And they’ve come to us and they’re scratching their head. It’s like, “It’s just not working. What do we do?” So we come in and we say, “Listen, times have changed. It’s not just email. You need a combination of email, WhatsApp, text messaging, chatbots. So you need to meet the candidates as to how they are consuming content and on how they want the interactions to really happen.”

Anil:  11:42
And when you move to text messaging, when you move to chatbot; different mediums, different modes, we start seeing 30% engagement rates. So, orders of magnitude are different, and that’s where our customers get the aha moment. It’s like, “Okay, I have this amazing, underutilized asset, and now with Sense we are really able to transform the performance of that database.”

William:  12:06
I love that. Let’s move in a little bit into the Demo. And when you show people software, maybe for the first time. We’ve talked about it, et cetera. You kind of understand what their tech stack is and what tools they’re using and not using, et cetera. When you first show them Sense, what do they fall in love with? What’s that, I call it an aha moment, but what do they genuinely go, “I want that.”

Anil:  12:34
Yeah. One of the things that we are seeing today is, it’s around engagement and it’s around that 24×7… this bot can have a conversation on your behalf. So the biggest aha moments we see is, “Are you telling me that when my recruiters are done 8 to 5, at 1:00 AM, when somebody applies, within minutes you can screen them and you can schedule them with the recruiter?” Yes. So, that’s one of the biggest aha moments. Or they’ll say, “Are you suggesting that those 10 people from the RPO that I’ve just hired, I will not need to use them?” And that’s sort of the other aha moment; around efficiency, around workflow automation. I also feel like a lot of people suddenly realize that auto [inaudible 00:13:24] is super important, right? It’s not just about the experience but also, how is Sense saving me cost and also reducing my time to hire?

Anil:  13:34
So I would say, William, today the conversation is solely focused in, especially in the high volume spaces, are on time to hire. If my time to hire was seven days, can I make it one day? Can I now hire somebody within 24 hours? Because if I don’t, I am going to lose that person. So, saving is king.

William:  13:55
Yeah. I think some people misunderstand kind of high volume. If someone’s applying to a McDonald’s, for example, they’re also applying to Walmart and also applying to somewhere in the mall. So they’re applying to multiple places that might pay 12, $13 an hour. They’re not necessarily looking at food service, like we do, industries.

Anil:  14:21

William:  14:22
They’re just trying to get a gig. They’re trying to get a job. And I think, I love the way that you’ve brought this around the speed. I love the 24/7. I think there’s also something to be said about candidates. You said it earlier; meet them where they are. But it’s also, candidates today are more apt to deal and to interact with bots, and that’s not unusual. Or text; that’s not unusual. So, I like the ability to kind of meet people where they are. I like the ability that machines don’t need breaks, they don’t need time off, and so they can work when… if a candidate applies at 2:00 in the morning, they can have a conversation, and that can happen with them right there. And again, if it’s not a fit, it’s not a fit. Again, some of those, to your point, some of those knockout questions. If it’s just not a fit, you can tell the person right there. Candidates that go forward in their process have to have this. Thank you for applying. Apply to other jobs.

Anil:  15:31

William:  15:32
Yeah. But candidates, the faster you get it back to them. I really like the way that you brought that back to speed, because price, quality and speed; we got to get faster so that we match the candidate’s speed.

Anil:  15:44
Absolutely. And at Sense we are laser-focused on the candidate experience. So, we measure it. So every single conversation, every single text message. Once we end the conversation, we ask them, “So, how was this experience for you?”

William:  15:57
Oh, that’s awesome.

Anil:  15:58
So our satisfaction scores are 94% plus on average, across all these millions of conversations that we have every single day. So, laser-focused on that. We want to ensure that the teams, the recruiting teams, the TA teams, feel like… If yesterday they could talk to 100 candidates a month, a recruiter could talk to 100 recruiters a month, today that same recruiter can actually have conversations with 500 candidates and therefore increase their throughput, therefore increase the number of people they end up hiring at the end of the day.

William:  16:31
Yeah. For me, it’s again, you’ve asked for feedback. And again, before, we’ll say without Sense, you might have those conversations but you don’t have clarity and visibility into whether or not those were successful or not. So for me, the score being 94, 95 or whatever the percent is, that’s great, first of all. But the other, the better part for me is that you’re measuring it. You’re asking for feedback. You’re asking the candidates along this process. Like, “We want to get better.”

Anil:  17:06

William:  17:08
“We might’ve got it wrong. Okay, this conversation didn’t go well. Okay, you know what? Fair enough. We can make it better.” And again, if you don’t have visibility and insight into that, then how do you ever know to get better?

Anil:  17:20
Absolutely. And the other thing, William, maybe I’ll bring it up. One of the things pre-pandemic, people didn’t really care about what happened post offer. And that’s been the big, big switch right now. So in the service industry, retail, hospitality, warehousing, logistics, oh my gosh; people are getting offers and then just not showing up. Without naming this big logistics delivery provider, they have candidates that go through the entire recruiting process through us, and then people accept the offer. And then, guess what? How many people actually show up on the first day? 40% people do not show up. So, 60% people are showing up. And then another logistics company… actually, sorry. Warehousing company that we are dealing with, is they have only 50% of the people show up on the first day for orientation. And then on the second day of orientation, another 50% drop off.

William:  18:20

Anil:  18:20
So this is the reality of the labor market in the hourly world, in all these different verticals. And what they require the software to do is, please do not stop the engagement [crosstalk 00:18:34] ones at offer. You do them all the way. So first day, how do we make sure, between offer and first day as maybe background check is happening or some other things that are happening, how do we make sure that they’re engaged, that they’re actually going to show up to work? And then even post that. How was the first day experience? How was the hiring manager? Yeah. Go ahead.

William:  18:55
Well, no, what I love about that is, is there is no stop on the engagement. You just keep going. You go from candidate experience to employee experience. And once they’ve accepted the offer letter and said yes to that, the work starts. The work’s not done. The work starts. And especially now in the service industry, I think you’ve nailed it in that, you want constant communication. You want to text them or whatever. You want to be able to communicate with them and just go, “Hey, listen. This is what your first day is going to be like.” There’s probably some incentives that need to be used to make sure people show up. You’re going to go through training. Some of that pre-boarding or post onboarding stuff you could probably push to pre-boarding. So we can look at those things a little bit differently, but I love the idea of, first of all, if you thought… like you got the offer letter signed and that’s it, and it used to be that’s the line of demarcation; you hand it over to HR and you’re out of it.

Anil:  19:58

William:  20:00
That is just, and especially in your world, that is just not the case. Let me ask you, last thing along the way out is, is buying questions. So again, you deal with global heads of TA, CHROs. You deal with people that do a lot of hiring and they’re doing high volume hiring, which is really difficult. What would you like for them to ask you about Sense?

Anil:  20:26
Yeah. I think the best clients and the best prospects or customers for us are the ones that understand the difference between checking a box, which is like, okay, do I have a CRM? I check a box. Can it send a text message? Check a box. Those people versus the practitioners that are really focused on performance. Okay, at the end of the day, if I have a solution where I’m able to engage with only 10% of my, let’s say my database, you’re basically not serving and providing the right service, right? Versus another company that can give you 30%, 50% performance on the same database. So I’m looking for practitioners that are on the maturity curve and are able to look forward and say, “Okay, it’s not just enough for me to check a box. I actually need this software to perform for me and to return on that investment that I’m making.” So, those are the best kind of people that we love to entertain, and we go toe-to-toe with them.

William:  21:31
Do you have a knockout question that… I mean, that’s a… maybe is a knockout but you just understand what it… because you used the word maturity curve. And so, that assumes that they’re somewhere on their journey. So how do you know where they’re at on their journey based on the questions that they asked?

Anil:  21:50
Yeah. Yeah. So, it actually, some of it stems from the kind of technologies that they’ve already adopted, right? So a lot of companies come to us and say, “Hey, listen. I’m looking for consumerization of my experience.” Okay, great. Have you done it on the customer’s site? That’s a pretty, actually, interesting thing. Do you, for example, have a chatbot on your site that talks to your customers? If that is the case, that company might be much more open to trying that out on their recruiting site. So a vertical… I don’t necessarily want to knock on this vertical but we’ve met with a lot of banks today that say, “Oh, no. We cannot do any texting. We are not allowed to use text messaging at all,” and we are in a state of shock. You want to hire 40,000 people next year and you cannot text people? I mean-

William:  22:41
That’s putting an… I mean, first of all, it’s putting an arm behind. And the candidates have changed. So you made this point earlier; the candidates have changed, so either you adapt and you change or you’re not going to get the candidate. Someone else will.

Anil:  22:55
Exactly. But at Sense we are patient, so we know these companies will turn around. They will change. Yeah. And then the second kind are the ones that come in and say, “William, as you know, in the HR space, when you do executive hiring, your recruiting experience is so differentiated. You will run those potential, exact candidates in a very different way from the recruiting process. When you’re doing campus hiring, you run the recruiting experience in a very different way, right?

William:  23:27

Anil:  23:27
Same way you do now, people are starting to do for DNI, which is awesome to see. We are waiting for the shoe to drop where everybody… if you’re a 80,000-person company, you realize, this year I need to hire 10,000 people, only 20% of that hires are professional, are white collar. The other 80% are my blue collar, gray collar, whatever that might be. I need to run a very differentiated, fast speed experience, right?

William:  23:57
Yeah. Yeah.

Anil:  23:57
And some of the tier leaders haven’t yet woken up to that. They still want to run them through a 30-minute application process online, on a mobile that entire applicant experience is broken. It will not work long-term and we need these tier practitioners to start thinking differently.

William:  24:14
Yeah. I can see that. I mean, first of all, some of that’s broken process. Some of that is status quo; they’re stuck in kind of, where they’ve been historically. Some of that’s technology. But it’s recognizing that everyone wants a great experience.

Anil:  24:31

William:  24:32
It’s now a part of the human condition. If you apply to a job, you want a great experience. Well, first of all, thank you Anil for coming on and explaining Sense to us. Absolutely loved our time. And thanks for everyone for listening to the Use Case Podcast.

The Use Case Podcast

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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