Storytelling about WorkLLama with Saleem Khaja
Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 115. This week we have storytelling about WorkLLama with Saleem Khaja. During this episode, Saleem and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing WorkLLama.
Saleem is an expert in all things workforce management and tech. His passion to deliver a staffing-solution experience that creates a wholly human connection 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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Ladies and gentlemen. This is a William Tincup, you’re listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today we have Saleem on from WorkLLama. Here we’re going to be learning all about his firm. So without any further ado, we’re going to jump right into it. Saleem would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and introduce WorkLLama.
Thanks, William. First of all, thank you very much for giving us this opportunity to be on your podcast. On behalf of everyone at WorkLLama, once again, thank you very much. My name is Saleem Khaja. I’m the COO and co-founder of WorkLLama. Among other things, I focus on our product strategy and I focus on delivering our solutions to customers. So my background, I started off as a software engineer. I decided to get into the business side, working on implementing enterprise systems in light industrial space, moved onto the wireless space, worked at Nextel and after Nextel, I’ve been chasing that startup dream. And I teamed up with a group of guys in 2016, where WorkLLama was launched as a product within another organization called [New Ways 00:01:54]. And we took a core platform that was built to support multi-sided stakeholders at New Ways and around 2016, if you remember, there was a lot of talk about uberization of the workforce.
There’s talk about the whole on-demand staffing and just-in-time staffing and things like that. And because of our heritage and being in light industrial space, we ended up in conversations with a lot of the previous relationships we had, where we were asked if we could take the platform, the multi-sided platforms that we had built for different lines of businesses and apply it to solve the problem of sourcing labor in the light industrial space. So we started our journey in 2016, managed to work with Gap, try to implement our solution to direct source contingent workforce for them, during the busy season of the year, which is around the holidays.
And we were very successful in deploying our platform and seeing how it performs. So in two different markets, we implemented the platform and we were able to build talent communities of about a thousand people each in both those markets. So being a tech company we always try to see how we can get the most by leveraging technology and optimizing costs. So we heavily relied on building a very robust referral management functionality, and that’s what we used to build those talent pools. And as part of the journey, we also learned a lot about what we’re good at, what we are not good at, what is good in the platform, what needs to be done. And coming out of it in 2018, we took a step back and decided we are not equipped to be a staffing services company, we are a tech company, let’s go back to what we do best.
And that’s when we set out a roadmap for our organization. Coming as outsiders, it was very beneficial for us because it gave us a unique perspective as we were laying out this roadmap. And one of the things we saw was, talent was kind of the neglected piece of the puzzle when it comes to sourcing contingent labor or even direct hires.
So at that point in time what we said is, why can’t we apply the same concept of consumer retail journey. How you attract customers, how you treat them throughout the process, and convert them into your brand ambassadors. So they continue to bring you more customers. Organizations have done a great job at it. They boiled it down to a science, most of the successful organizations. Then we said, why isn’t that same model applied to talent? Because they’re one of the most critical pieces of the puzzle in your organization and in your organization’s success. Therefore, why not apply the same concept that you’re applying externally to source customers, why not do the same to source talent?
And once we decided that should be the core philosophy of treating your talent like customers, then it became relatively easy for us in terms of deciding what are the pieces that need to go into the platform. And then we looked around the competitive landscape and how the industry was, and that also helped us in figuring out a very robust roadmap. And we built a complete solution that engages in the entire journey of time, right from job discovery to post-placement and ongoing engagement. And as we started looking at putting together a solution that way, we figured out that is a solution that will help us deliver on the promise of finding happiness and work. So that in a nutshell, or in a long elaborate matter-
No, it’s great. And the Llama, I assume is a metaphor for something that’s with you along the way for your journey.
Absolutely. Absolutely. And they’re known to be great… they work well in groups, kind of a team mindset, they’re hardworking, they’re beasts of burden.
And it’s also helped us create a great mascot and some something memorable with everyone we interact with.
I had the privilege of being down in Machu Picchu in Peru, and a Llama followed me around the entire time I was there. It was fantastic because it was literally like my best friend. I would walk around, followed me around the whole time. First question I want to ask is about product strategy because I think it’s an area that we don’t talk enough about in terms of how do you determine what’s next for the product? How do you go through your decisions to make, to figure out what features get added, maybe even what features get rolled down, but how do you make decisions on the product?
So the main guiding principle for us is that end goal. Which I was saying, how do you help change that narrative of “Hey, I hate my job” to “I absolutely love my job”! So, once we have the guiding principle, we kind of look at everything that needs to go into the platform as, will this component help us deliver on the promise of helping people find happiness in work? So that kind of becomes our guiding principle. And then we start looking at, hey is this something that fits in the core platform or are these things that fit on the edge of the platform? If those are things that fit on the edge of the platform, then they kind of get prioritized differently. And we look at if those fringe components are in a mature space.
For example, I could think of parsing resumes and matching jobs. It’s pretty much a commodity kind of product, but we need it on the edge of our platform. So we wouldn’t spend a lot of time going after building something like that. And we also look at the right kind of partners in the industries where we can core innovate. But again, those should be things that help us deliver on that guiding principle of, “Will our solution helping to find happiness in work”? So those are kind of the things that we take into account in trying to determine which components go in and how we actually go about bringing those in.
Yeah. I’m going to assume there’s some level of competitive intel, which we don’t really need to get too much into, and there’s probably a bit of customer feedback, people that are using the product. You’re going to listen to those folks as well, because they’re buying the product, they’re using the product. They might see some things obviously that you can’t see or things that could get a little tightened up or made better. Tell us a little bit about the buyers, about your customers. Give us an idea of some personas or profiles of just… not brands and things like that, but in general, what do your buyers look like?
So, because of the approach that we have taken, it’s treating talent like customers. And in our buyer profiles includes anywhere you need talent. But our journey led us to start with staffing suppliers where we put our platform to stress test and that was intentional. We took that approach to make sure everything we have put into the platform can stand the stress of the business requirements that the staffing companies deal with. So we have a portfolio of customers that are in the staffing space. They’re again across industry verticals, we have light industrial, we have healthcare, we have IT. So, that’s where we started our journey. So that makes up one portfolio of customers for us. And now we are moving up the value chain and targeting this whole talk about direct sourcing contingent workforce.
And so we have a portfolio of customers that are in that space, looking to direct source either themselves or working to manage service providers to help deliver on direct sourcing. And our next stop in our journey is to directly work with enterprises where we act as a total talent solution, that bridges both the direct hires that organizations do as well as contingent talent that the organization sources. And be that one single platform that helps, attract, engage, retain, redeploy all types of talent that an organization deals with.
I love that you started in staffing because in your premise was wonderful because if it works in staffing, high volume, all kinds of industries and some hourly, some salary, just crazy volume. If it works there, it will work on the corporate side. But it’s very hard to get it to work there. It’s why a majority of the HR and TA tech is built for the corporate side, not the staffing side because it’s hard. So I really respect the fact that you all started there purposely, to then just say, we’re going to put it on the stress of chaos and see how we do there and then we’ll… Life will get much easier when you work with the fortune 1000, for sure.
So let me, let me ask a little bit about the demo. So when people first look at WorkLLama, take us into that experience, what’s unique? What do they find fascinating? What do they fall in love with? What’s that aha moment?
Yeah. So, one of the things that most of our conversations start with is how do we leverage, because our journey, like I was describing to you, it started out with building talent communities and leveraging referrals. So our conversation starts with referrals and how to leverage an organization’s brand, build brand ambassadors, to source talent via referrals. So, I mean, if you think about it, the brand is what brings customers. And again, the brand is something you can leverage to bring talent in. So the conversation started out with, Hey, let’s discuss how we can look at referrals as a channel for sourcing talent.
And I’m sure, with all the conversations you had, referrals tend to be one of the greatest channels to source high-quality talent. One of the fringe benefits of sourcing talent through referrals is most often the candidates also tend to be a good fit culturally. The whole bird, so the same feather flock together, applies. So when we start looking at referrals, our customers start seeing how they can leverage the brand, how they can leverage their existing network, our existing talent pool. Every organization already has employees that work for them. How can they leverage their brand and that employee pool to reach beyond the existing talent network, to start building their talent community? And some of the things we have done in the platform that enable our customers to then leverage a multilevel marketing model to expand the referral capability and then look at how they can use the same concepts to retain talent. So there’s a lot of different things. And then as we are presenting these, that’s where customers go, wow, we can use this in so many different ways to source talent and retain talent.
So that’s kind of how our discussions start and because we’ve taken the platform approach and the whole thing about being engaged in every aspect of the talent journey, that’s when the next wave of aha moment, it’s not one there’s multiple in our demos that happen. And then they start thinking about, wow, why do I need 10 points solutions, when one platform can actually do all of these pieces. So, that’s the next component that comes into play. And obviously treating talent like customers, the whole consumer retail journey model is another aspect that customers discover. And one of the things William, that we firmly believe in is, if you really want to leverage AI, you need a single solution that engages in every aspect of a talent journey. Because if you need to be processing millions of records to make a real-time decision and telling someone that, Hey, when you interact the brand, you may have wanted to start out being a product manager.
But because of these unique volumes of complete data sets, we may be able to tell you that, Hey, now you may want to consider A, B and C, and here’s a career path. Because we’ve seen someone at this point in the stage in their career look like you, but they ended up being a great CFO. Therefore, maybe you want to consider that. So when we talk about these things as, Hey, having this unified data set of every aspect of a talent journey and how that helps you truly harness the potential of AI. That’s another thing that starts clicking in our customer’s mind, going, oh, okay, I get it, now I need a, a unified solution. They obviously are familiar with not having point solutions, the IT overhead dealing with multiple vendors, and all that stuff. But when we start talking about looking at on as customers and looking at how eventually a single solution will help them get to that promised land of AI. That’s another big aha moment in our conversations.
So real quick on the, a contingent, because we talked a little bit about the contingent workforce. Has that changed with COVID and remote work from home, are we rethinking contingent in a little bit different ways, now? In a… I’d say post-COVID, we’re not, I got out of COVID, I understand that. But at this particular moment in history, are we thinking about contingent differently? Are you finding that your customers are having different conversations with you about the contingent workforce?
Yeah, definitely. What COVID has done is, it’s basically eliminated the geographical boundaries or the constraints of being in the office. That whole thing, everybody had to learn overnight on how to adapt to that. And one of the things that we are seeing is, especially in hard-to-find talent, and when we are trying to hire, candidates are very open about having multiple jobs. Because that type of talent is hard to find so even if you can get a slice of what you can get, you’re going to accept that. So what that means is they are no longer your permanent hires. They ended up being in that model of the contingent workforce. And all the research that’s coming out these days, it’s pointing to organizations ending up with about 43% of their workforce being contingent labor. So there’s a lot of these different things that I think are going to drive towards having a more and more contingent workforce, supporting an organization.
That’s wonderful. So let me ask the best type of buying questions. So you’ve been doing this a little while and you kind of get questions from prospects that the full range, the full spectrum of a really, really, really intriguing stumping type questions. And then your questions are a bit benign. What are your favorite personal favorite questions? When you hear a prospect say something, you’re like, okay, this person gets it, I like this question. This is a great question for us. Just give us some examples of those types of questions.
So the great questions? This is a great question by the way. So one of the things that we find… When an organization asks us this question, it gives us a sense of the amount of homework that an organization has done. It’s not purely about, Hey, what features do you have today? What can it solve for me? Because all vendors tend to have the same answers. Hey, we help them save money, you get ought to be efficient and all those kinds of things. But the organizations, that in a way display that they have a digital transformation strategy in place or they have thought through change management. Or they’ve thought through the resource commitments. Those organizations typically ask us questions on, Hey, what is your long-term vision?
The conversation is around, Hey, what is the philosophy? Like you asked, I mean, what are the data points you look at when you’re making decisions on how you build something? So organizations ask us about the overall underlying philosophy of the product. They want to know about our roadmap, they want to know what is actually under the hood and not just features and functionality. That kind of tells us that there is a certain level of maturity, that the organization brings to the conversation.
And obviously, the resource demands are also a really good question. We get asked, Hey, how many resources would we have to come in to make this really successful? I mean, buying a great tool is great, but if you don’t have the right resources and right change management and ongoing operational support for a product, that’s just kind of sit on the shelf and it actually is not good for anyone involved in that transaction.
So success in 2021 looks like? So if we get to where you and I talked in January of 2022, and you’re looking backward at the year, what does success for WorkLLama look like?
So for us I think we’ve been very successful in the staffing space. For WorkLLama the success would look like, being one of the top tier products when it comes to direct sourcing contingent workforce and also being a major player in the enterprise space. And we are doing certain things within our solution that had to do more with the intangibles, that come into treating your talent, where we are trying to do some things related to wellbeing and things like that. So success for us would be to have a broad adoption to those type of features that we have in our product. But we’ve taken this talent first community first approach. And we’d like to see a wide adoption of those capabilities and actually start seeing us move further down the path of delivering on our underlying promise of helping people find happiness and work.
Love it. Okay. Last question. And it’s the favorite customer story slash use case. So out of all the folks that have used WorkLLama today, no names, it’s not that, it’s the story, what’s kind of your favorite story of how people have used WorkLLama.
Wow. Okay. We have a customer who embrace the solution in a way that no one else has done that for us. And this customer has taken every single piece of the platform and incorporated it into their business, so they can actually achieve what we keep talking about as the underlying promise of the product. And it’s not a very big organization. This is a small organization that has really big aspirations, where they want to go. And it’s incredible to see such a small organization have such a vision to embrace a holistic platform in dealing with talent. Everything that has to do with talent, they do all of that stuff through our platform, right from the first touch point, to going through the hiring process through post-placement and then redeployment and ongoing interactions. So it’s pretty incredible to see how such a small organization is strategically thinking about where they want to go and they get what the platform is capable of doing and taking them to that that promised land of their own organization.
Well, this has been wonderful. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast Saleem and talking to us about WorkLLama. It’s been a pleasure and I wish you continued success.
Thank you, William. Really appreciate the opportunity and we’ll stay tuned for your podcasts. I’ve listened to quite a few and they’re really great and insightful.
Thank you very much. And thanks to everyone for listening to the Use Case Podcast. Until next time.
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.