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The Future of Startup Culture, Corporate Social Responsibility, and...Gattaca?
August 28, 2018 Jeremy Goldman
We had such good feedback from the first part of our interview with Ian Siegel, the co-founder and CEO of ZipRecruiter, that I kind of feel like a jerk that we kept this second part from you guys for a few weeks, but I hope you feel this was worth the wait. We talk about the always-on mentality of today’s companies, how we mythologize startup culture, how ZipRecruiter’s policy towards mealtime is actually part of their ethos, the future of corporate social responsibility, correcting for our own biases in order to become better predictors of the future….and more. As always, be sure to rate and review us, and subscribe if you haven't already, for god's sake.

Episode Transcript

Speaker 1:0:00Hi, I'm Jeremy Goldman and this is future proof,

Speaker 1:0:13so we had such good feedback from the first part of our interview with Ian Siegel, the Co founder and CEO of Ziprecruiter that I kind of feel like a jerk that we kept this second part from you guys for a few weeks, but I hope you'll feel this was worth the wait. We talked about the always on mentality of today's company is how we mythologize startup culture has zip recruiters policy towards mealtimes, actually part of their ethos, the future of corporate social responsibility, correcting for your own biases in order to become better predictors of future and so much more. So. Without further ado, let's jump right in.

Speaker 2:0:48I think one of the funniest facts about the job market in general is that most entry level jobs that are described self-described as entry level asked for one to three years of experience.

Speaker 3:1:00Yeah, no, so true. And that's why internships. I mean, I would be nowhere without trying to build up that experience really early on. I mean, I think, uh, I mean another thing that I feel probably when you and I were coming up that we were really lucky about and I don't know how lucky people are now is almost like the future of plugging in and unplugging at the end of the day, uh, because we obviously have a little bit of an always on mentality. I don't know what you advocate for at Ziprecruiter or even what you see the best in class company is doing, but I mean, what do you think kind of the future of getting work done looks like a, is it, is it good to always be connected to your teammates, you know, 24 slash seven. Is it good to always be available if somebody wants to instant message you? Uh, what do you kind of prescribe for us? And also what do you think is going to be happening in that general area?

Speaker 2:1:58I think there is a mythology that has evolved around, in particular startup culture and I have spent my entire career 20 plus years building Internet startup. So I was there at the effectively very beginning and now I'm running a company at scale right up in the present. And the mythology is effectively, this is almost like a cult. You've got to dedicate your life to it. You've got to work seven days a week, you've got to be always on the companies that win are the companies that go faster, that deploy more code, that, that work harder and fundamentally that is the opposite of what I have seen create success at every company I've been at and to be clear to of them IPO and one sold for hundreds of millions of dollars. So these companies were not failures. And I think, you know, the great thing about running a company and running ziprecruiter is I'm able to build the culture that I want.

Speaker 2:2:49You know, we built this business and for the first four and a half years we bootstrapped. We didn't take any outside money because I really didn't want anyone to tell me how to build a startup. I had a lot of theories about a healthy startup would be. And part of that philosophy was work life balance. And we have literally preached that all the way through today. I don't believe in the death march. I don't believe in the always on. I think well rested periodically. Unplugging employees is the best workforce that you're going to get. And in fact, we took this so seriously that we implemented a no vacation policy here, which doesn't mean no, you don't ever get to take vacation. It means take whatever you need. You know, your kid's sick. Stay home with your kid. You want to take a one week vacation, they'll take a one week vacation, two weeks later, you want to take another vacation because he had some extraordinary opportunity to go take that vacation. You know, we believe in treating everybody like adults and we believe in creating an environment where whether you're single or you're a family or you're starting a new family, you feel supported by the business. Another example is, you know, we give three months of paternity leave, both to men and women here, a paternity or maternity leave when they have a new child. We want you to go spend that time with your kid. And I just think those kinds of investments payback tenfold.

Speaker 3:4:04Oh, I mean, absolutely. I think also one thing that's really interesting is the fact that you guys do this and the fact that you were so close to the hiring community, I think kind of has a, uh, tells a story which is that if you guys are doing these things, then surely there are best practices because if they were not best practices, you guys would probably be the first to know, right?

Speaker 2:4:26Yeah. And I think, I mean like here's one of the common recruiting techniques used by companies in particular in the technology space. They say, I'm going to bring in breakfast, lunch, and dinner so that you never have to leave the office. When we had that option here at ziprecruiter. And what I said is let's bring in breakfast so that when they start their day, they're fed, but let's not bring in lunch and dinner because at lunch I want them to go out with their coworkers and a dinner. I want them to go home and eat with their families. The whole notion of feeding somebody three meals a day is really a selfish idea around enticing them to stay and work harder, work longer.

Speaker 3:5:08Yeah. Yeah. I mean I think it's A. I've been saying that for awhile and I think that it's in a weird way, it's like this, I don't want to say like purely evil thing, but it's a, it's this thing that people do that they don't necessarily admit why they're doing it and that to me is I find the more problematic issue surrounding it is that you know, you're doing something kind of making it like you're doing it for the right reasons when you're not really in. And that's what I like about what you're doing as a company is that it adds value to society and by the way, you guys can make a living and be a for profit company at the same time. And I'm wondering what do you think the social responsibility of businesses is in general to use technology for good and are the consumer expectations of the typical company going to change

Speaker 2:5:58or evolve in some way in the future? I mean, I've thought about this a lot and it's a really interesting time and you look at what's happening with people's personal data and uh, you look at the potential for jobs being eliminated because of technology and there needs to be some real thought and they're, you know, like you look at something like ai and we spend a lot of time on ai here and the discussion that's going on at Google right now around militarizing ai where you use these machine learning techniques to build smarter weapons that are totally autonomous and so that no human being has to make a decision whether to injure or kill. These are, these are like giant, weighty philosophical questions that really speak to sort of the soul of the society we want to be. Do we really want fully autonomous weapons, perched on buildings, defending borders?

Speaker 2:6:53I, I, I feel like no technology is inherently good or bad. It can be used for both purposes. And I definitely think that we, in particular, the ceos of companies need to be thoughtful. Uh, you know, when we started building machine learning, we're not only do we do machine learning, we started experimenting with something called deep learning and the difference between machine learning and deep learning is fundamentally in deep learning. The algorithm designs itself, it tests a bunch of different theories and then it figures out what the best rate of matching is using signal data that gets fed back to it, but it's logic is so complicated that we can't reverse engineer it. The data we feed into that deep learning algorithm that's generating these outsized winds in terms of the satisfaction of employers with the candidates we deliver, the training data comes from humans and humans inherently suffer from an unconscious bias.

Speaker 2:7:46It is pervasive through our society and when we looked at how great the algorithm was doing, we thought, holy cow, maybe what we're potentially doing here is systematizing unconscious bias. We're perfecting it because the algorithms too complicated for us to understand exactly what it's doing, but we know employers love the candidates were sending and we also know they have this bias. So what do we do about it? We have spent many, many cycles that ziprecruiter deciding what information we will and won't give to our algorithms. Simple example, name, name tells you so much about a person named can tell you gender name can tell you, ethnicity named can tell you a lot. And by removing names from the consideration set, we were able to remove, I would argue, a substantial portion of the bias that potentially could be introduced with these algorithms. And when people talk about how do you address unconscious bias in society, it's interesting because these algorithms actually may be the better way to address it. Then trying to educate everyone about whatever their inherent sentiment may be towards different minority populations are different genders.

Speaker 3:8:56Yeah. That's actually really interesting because in some ways, uh, that, that ties into another, uh, question, uh, I want to ask you, which is how good of a job because the typical organization have to be doing at promoting diversity. And, uh, over the next, let's say three years, I always try to. It's hard. It's hard to predict out past that point, but you know, my take of it is that while it's a scary thing for a lot of people, it winds up becoming a competitive advantage because you naturally have a workforce that isn't just diverse in terms of how it looks, but as diverse in terms of opinion and multiple perspectives apply to any problem is typically a good thing. So what do you. What do you think kind of that looks like and what will consumers expect of the company is that they're doing business with?

Speaker 2:9:44I would say right now society has a problem. Our problem is that there is significant bias in hiring that the people who are doing the hiring are unaware of. They think that they are open minded, meritocracy oriented, hire the best candidate individuals and over and over again, the research shows that the bias that is unconscious is incredibly strong. Is there an organization more merit based than Google? I would argue it would be tough to find. Right. At Google, they did a study of unconscious bias and they found that if you had an African American or a Latino name, your probability of coming in for an interview was something like 30 percent less than if you had a traditional Anglo name. They then went and said, okay, so our white hiring managers have bias. They then went and broke it down by their African American and Latino managers and guess what?

Speaker 2:10:53It turns out they had the same bias, the same bias, so whatever. We're getting indoctrinated to interculture, whatever, whatever is affecting our brains decision, it's affecting everyone and it seems to be affecting them equally. It is really difficult for me to believe that we're just going to make everyone aware of the problem and then somehow monocultures are going to cease to exist and we're going to have these diverse a well balanced teams. I actually think technology is probably going to do a better job than humans will have surfacing the best candidates and highlighting the reasons that they are the best and one of the things that's really interesting is that not just ziprecruiter, but a couple of other companies. We're all in a race to find as much what we call signal data as you possibly can, and signal data is things like, uh, what information does the candidate put on their resume?

Speaker 2:11:52What do they search for? But what if we could go further, what if we could get things like their salary history, what their bonuses were, what their annual raises were, what their performance reviews set. Once we collect information at this scale, we will be able to better indicate who the right candidates for jobs are than any human being ever was or ever will be able to do again because the algorithms have no bias. The algorithms can look at a super set of data and extract incredible, powerful insights from it. And that's where society is headed right now.

Speaker 3:12:31You know, uh, I was not going to ask you this question, but I actually just thought of this now. Have you seen the movie Gattica? Yeah. So what do you think about that? I mean, is this because I, as you were talking about it, uh, I always think about the unintended consequences of just about anything, right? So could there be something out there that Jeremy was going to be much better at and for whatever reason he didn't want to go down that path, but can we unintentionally create a future where we are so good at identifying what people will be best at, that we maybe don't identify, let's say, where their passions are or where they feel that they should be, even if it's wrong, um, you know, what unintended consequences does it have when nobody ever makes a false move in their career. I just know for me, I actually have made plenty of boneheaded moves and you know, I probably learned something from one out of every two of those. So do you think there's any unintended consequences that could happen? And I don't mean to be hard, but I, I always kinda think, you know, I go down this path,

Speaker 2:13:39yes, the post apocalyptic future where technology has changed the way we live. I look, you know, let's pick, let's pick a modern company. Let's, let's, let's use airbnb. Uh, airbnb comes into society, grows like a weed, and suddenly hotels around the world are freaking out. Oh my goodness, this is eliminating jobs. This is a taking an established industry and it's taking billions out of the Tam of the industry. It's, it's creating this whole new category which is a individuals renting out their own spaces, technology. This technology is bad, it's disruptive, and the reality is there's a few hundred thousand people around the world now who make their fulltime living, renting out space. AIRBNB has created a few hundred thousand entrepreneurs who are self employed, making a living and arguably contributing to society by creating places for people to stay that were more desirable than what the hotel industry was providing before.

Speaker 2:14:46There's always good and there's always bad with technology and it's really, you know, it's easy to focus on one side or the other. Autonomous cars are going to eliminate 3 million jobs in the United States. That sounds bad. The flip side is a, nobody is searching for a driver job on ziprecruiter. Job Seekers didn't even want these jobs. That was considered a low quality life to be a full time driver. Yeah, you are your own boss, but nobody really wants to drive for a living further. There's downstream consequences. Do you know that the average cost of living is going to go down significantly with autonomous cars? Not because you're not going to have to buy cars anymore and you're not going to have to pay for gas and you're not going to have to pay for car insurance. That's all true, but do you know that every apartment building you rent requires you to also pay for a parking space?

Speaker 2:15:34There's 250 squarespace feet of space in a garage that you are renting at the same time you rent your apartment and that cost is now going to be afraid. They're not going to require you to pay for that anymore. In fact, they're probably going to convert their underground parking garages into more amenities to lure you into their buildings. So yes, technology often has negative consequences, but there are also offsetting positive consequences. And I think when we talk about things like skills identification and aptitude identification, here's the truth. Not everybody is good at everything and most of us don't even have the opportunity to discover all the things we might be the best at. Now in the example you provided, they were using genetics to do it. I'm dubious that this is going to be a genetic test in the future, but I do think things like, um, aptitude in particular for stem related fields is something not everybody gets exposure to and there's extraordinary upside and quality of life. If you can move into these fields, it's got some of the best employers in the world to work for and it has some of the best employer perks that you will find in any job category. Yeah.

Speaker 3:16:45And No. Well, let me actually ask you just one more thing in closing just because I think you just kind of brought this up. I know we were talking about those perks that may be in the future. People will realize are not necessarily perks per say. What, what is kind of a perk that you've seen that works well or that you anticipate will work well for the company that's trying to recruit the best talent in the years ahead?

Speaker 2:17:09So we've tried every perk at ziprecruiter and uh, we also have, you know, high hundreds of thousands of jobs getting posted in our site every month so we can see what's happening with perks that companies are offering across America. There's sort of a standard set of things that are like health insurance, 401k a vacation policy, you know, maternity, paternity leave. Like these are all becoming effectively table stakes. A lot of this stuff that we called perks in other countries around the world is just like the base expectation. It's really interesting how the US has evolved into one of the harshest workplace environments of any in the world. But I think speaking from personal experience, the thing I find really interesting is there isn't necessarily increased satisfaction at employers who offered the most perks. What really seems to drive increased satisfaction with employment is recognition and acknowledgement for contribution. I think what we'll find increasingly is that employers who have set up systems for acknowledging contribution are going to be the ones that are the highest rated on the variety of employer rating sites out there and are going to do the best job of retaining their current staff and if history is our teacher companies with the highest retention rates of employees are also the companies who have the most success. Recruiting new employees.

Speaker 3:18:42It's so interesting to me that you know, like we talked about the future all the time and everybody's like, what's this really innovative thing that I can do to get people to stay? And it's like, well, you can recognize them for their accomplishments because not making fun of it. It's true. It's like sometimes there are basics, basic things about being human that are the foundation and that and that we have to go back to often.

Speaker 2:19:07Yeah. We at Ziprecruiter, we. We did an experiment where we deployed a system where employees can actually bonus each other so everybody gets an allocation of bonus dollars that they can give out to whoever they want to every month and it gets refreshed every month and when we started with this system, we didn't know if anyone was going to use it. It has had an unbelievable impact on our company because now recognition isn't just top down. Recognition is cross department recognition can be from someone getting trained to their trainer. It is. It is a currency internally that where the weight of it is much more on how it makes people feel than the actual dollars that are being deployed and the rewards that we offer for the bonus points that people can accrue are everything from gift cards to experiences and that's what's so interesting is that the experiences are so coveted and an experience could be something like lunch with the CEO. So what we find is that a acknowledgment is powerful and that people here seem to value experiences as much or more than they do either straight cash dollars or physical rewards.

Speaker 3:20:13I love it, and by the way, speaking of experiences, it's been amazing to have you on. So, uh, I know you got to go, but, um, thank you so much Ian, for, uh, for making the time. Really appreciate it.

Speaker 1:20:25It's been fun. Thanks for having me. So, hope you enjoyed part two of our conversation with Ian. If you did enjoy, don't forget to rate and review us and subscribe if you haven't already for God's sake. I'm so happy that all the great feedback we're getting. So keep it coming. And until next time, I'm Jeremy Haldeman and you've been listening to future.

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