Founder Focus: Joe Meyer of ExecThread

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Joe Meyer founded ExecThread, to solve a pain point he felt acutely himself. Joe had sold his company to Apple and, after the obligatory stint at the acquirer, was looking for a new exec-level career opportunity. He was astonished when he revealed all sorts of important things about his career profile to an executive recruiter and the recruiter did not take notes, because (as the recruiter conveyed to Joe) she wasn't currently working on a search that was a good fit for him. That’s when it hit him that the executive recruiting industry was totally broken, short-sighted and overly transactional; and he decided to build a solution for the problem. Two and half years later, and only 6 months after coming out of stealth mode, he has $7MM in VC funding and 25,000 highly selected and engaged users helping him map where the “hidden jobs” are. Among his backers is a co-founder of LinkedIn who was astonished that ExecThread could be aware of the “passive job seeker”, execs who would entertain an offer but who are not seeking a new position actively. Listen to this interview with a founder building a company that promises to be very big and very profitable.

Click here to read full episode transcript.

Some of the topics addressed:

  • Sal Daher’s Pitch for Angel Invest Boston Syndicates
  • Introduction of the Guest
  • “Absolutely. I also experienced the pain point when I hired executive recruiters as a hiring manager at my last two companies as well, so I've seen it both from the candidate-facing perspective now, as well as from the client or hiring-company perspective.”
  • How ExecThread Works – Accessing the “Hidden Job Market” for High-Level Execs
  • “I quickly realized, though, that this walled-garden approach in the executive search industry actually benefits executive recruiters much more than it does hiring companies, and far more than it does candidates.”
  • “…we've created the largest aggregator of non-listed and non-published jobs in the world, that you won't find on any other job platform out there.”
  • How ExecThread Got VC Funding
  • LinkedIn Co-Founder Lee Hower about Execthread: “"Wow, you guys have access to the passive job-seeker."
  • Joe Meyer Speaking of Executive Recruiters: “…I gave them everything that wasn't on my LinkedIn profile, and the thing that amazed me was, they didn't write it down.”
  • “For an incredibly manual process that we think can be largely automated. And there's a lot of inefficiency in this industry, but there's also a large appetite to pay for solutions.”

Transcript of Joe Meyer on Founder Focus

Sal Daher’s Pitch for Angel Invest Boston Syndicates

SAL DAHER: Hi. This is Sal Daher of the Angel Invest Boston podcast. If you've been listening, you might have noticed that I love being an angel investor in Boston. The reason for this is that there's so much going on in the startup space here in Boston: practical founders working with leading inventors, venture capitalists, angel investors, patent attorneys. It's a really exciting scene. Now, you can join us in syndicates, which allow people who are not part of the angel investment community to invest alongside Boston's leading angels. I invite you to leave your email address at angelinvestboston.com in the syndicates section, and we'll be back in touch with you to help walk you through the qualification process as an accredited investor. Remember, there is no obligation to invest when you put your email address there. I hope you'll really enjoy today's podcast.

Introduction of the Guest

SAL DAHER: Hi everybody, this is Sal Daher from the Angel Invest Boston podcast. Today, we are on Founder Focus with Joe Meyer of ExecThread, Joe Meyer is a repeat founder, he has a very interesting company that is solving a very difficult problem, so I'd like to welcome Joe Meyer.

JOE MEYER: Hi, Sal. Thanks for having me on.

SAL DAHER: Tremendous. So, Joe, please give us a little bit of your background. I know you're a repeat founder, you've sold a company to Apple, and so forth, so just give us the full story there.

JOE MEYER: Yeah, I have been in the tech startup community on both coasts, in New York as well as San Francisco, for the past dozen years of my career. My last startup, HopStop, I was the CEO of, and they were acquired by Apple. It was a mapping and location-based services company. Prior to that, I ran revenue for another successful startup here in New York City called Quigo, which was a contextual ad network that competed against Google AdSense, and that company was acquired by AOL. And now, I am the founder of ExecThread, and prior to Quigo AOL, I was a general manager at eBay in Silicon Valley.

SAL DAHER: Okay. You've been around the block a few times. Very good, Joe. So, tell us the problem that you were addressing when you started ExecThread. What brought you to starting ExecThread?

JOE MEYER: As I mentioned before, my last company was acquired by Apple, and I found myself at Apple post-acquisition for a year or two, and I started thinking about what I wanted to do next. I was starting to look at new CEO and president-level opportunities at other startups, and found myself, for all intents and purposes, in an exec-level job search. Needless to say, I hadn't been in a job search for quite some time, and I found myself, two months into it, starting to reach out to executive recruiters, reach out to my network, and realized that two months into it, I was really no further along than when I started. And all of a sudden, I realized that there were some massive inefficiencies in the industry, and all of a sudden, I became much less interested in finding my next job, and much more interested in figuring out how to improve the exec search process from the candidate perspective.

SAL DAHER: So you're highly motivated to be addressing a pain point that you experienced yourself.

“Absolutely. I also experienced the pain point when I hired executive recruiters as a hiring manager at my last two companies as well, so I've seen it both from the candidate-facing perspective now, as well as from the client or hiring-company perspective.”

JOE MEYER: Absolutely. I also experienced the pain point when I hired executive recruiters as a hiring manager at my last two companies as well, so I've seen it both from the candidate-facing perspective now, as well as from the client or hiring-company perspective.

How ExecThread Works – Accessing the “Hidden Job Market” for High-Level Execs

SAL DAHER: Excellent. So, please give us a brief description of how ExecThread works, and I understand it's a platform that uses input from members of the platform, so please explain.

JOE MEYER: Yeah. I think it's important to talk about one of the primary frustrations I experienced when I was starting to job-search when I was at Apple. As many executives and aspiring executives know, the vast majority jobs at the executive level are not posted or listed anywhere. You won't find them on job boards, and it's what is called the "hidden job market," which means that the only way you can find out about these great job opportunities at the executive level is either through someone in your network letting you know about it via word of mouth, or by an executive recruiter proactively reaching out to you.

SAL DAHER: Ah, so there's no transparency, it's a very opaque kind of business, precisely because it's a high-level position and people don't want to be very public about it, and so forth.

“I quickly realized, though, that this walled-garden approach in the executive search industry actually benefits executive recruiters much more than it does hiring companies, and far more than it does candidates.”

JOE MEYER: Yeah. You know what? I quickly realized, though, that this walled-garden approach in the executive search industry actually benefits executive recruiters much more than it does hiring companies, and far more than it does candidates. And for me as a candidate, the thing that really frustrated me was the fact that I knew there were plenty of exec-level jobs out there for which I was qualified, and in which I could be very well interested, but I had no way of finding them. I had to wait and have them find me, and coming from my entrepreneurial background, you like being in control and influencing things, and there's not much you can do to influence whether jobs come across your desk, because people that don't even know you — i.e., executive recruiters — make the determination of whether to send you a job opportunity, and they make that determination based on doing manual Boolean keyword searches on LinkedIn, and either you appear on the results or you don't, and that doesn't necessarily mean that if you're qualified for the job, you're going to appear on their search results.

SAL DAHER: So how does your system address this problem?

JOE MEYER: To be quite honest, and quite simply, I said to myself as a candidate, "You know, it would be great to have more transparency into this hidden job market," and I didn't even know it was called the hidden job market back then. So I said to myself, "How can I find out about all these hidden, non-listed jobs?" And I thought, "You know what? Who knows about all these jobs in aggregate?" Well, yes, all the executive recruiters do, but they're not necessarily interested in changing their industry-

SAL DAHER: Never.

JOE MEYER: ... or improving it. But in aggregate, all of the candidates that they reach out to for each of those individual job opportunities know about the jobs. So if I could tap into that same pent-up frustration that I was experiencing as a candidate, and if I was correct in saying that other candidates are equally as frustrated, then maybe we could band together and tap into the wisdom of the crowd, and share our collective and individual knowledge of these opportunities into a clearinghouse called ExecThread.

“…we've created the largest aggregator of non-listed and non-published jobs in the world, that you won't find on any other job platform out there.”

JOE MEYER: And in return for sharing jobs that you're finding out about through word of mouth and recruiters, you get credit for those contributions, and then the clearinghouse — i.e., ExecThread — disseminates those job opportunities back out to the crowd at large, and does so in a clever way by telling ExecThread members a lot about these opportunities, but not disclosing the name of the hiring company, or the name of the recruiter, or the name of the hiring manager. If you want to find out that information for a job that looks like it's a great fit for you, then you redeem points to find out that hidden information, such as who is the hiring company, who is the hiring manager, and who is the recruiter. So, by virtue of this, we've created the largest aggregator of non-listed and non-published jobs in the world, that you won't find on any other job platform out there.

SAL DAHER: Interesting, interesting. So, are you in a position to disclose the scale of things, the growth statistics that you have?

JOE MEYER: Yeah, absolutely. It's pretty impressive. We only started to tell people about ExecThread like five months ago. To that point, we were in skunkworks mode, stealth mode, if you know what I mean. We were building out the platform and the technology.

SAL DAHER: Sure.

JOE MEYER: And we've now scaled up to 25,000 members who have contributed over 10,000 jobs, and just to put that in perspective, there are over 25 million executives in the world today, so think about 25,000 members contributing 10,000 jobs that you won't find on other job platforms. It's pretty interesting that there's a very long tail of these jobs out there, and we've only tapped into the market at the highest level, but there's so much more room for transparency in this industry, and to blow this out.

SAL DAHER: I have no doubt that that's the case. So, what is the current growth rate of this adoption by these executives?

JOE MEYER: It's important to point out that we're a vetted and curated network and community, meaning not everyone can sign up. We built software that enables us to know who you are when you sign up. You give us very little information on yourself, and we, through software we've built, and through partnerships we've forged, can figure out exactly who you are, and what your experience is, and your skill sets, and your accomplishments, to figure out if you would be a really good fit for this community or not, and if you would be apt to be able to give and get, since it is a give-to-get model.

JOE MEYER: And so, needless to say, far many more folks have applied than have actually been approved, and we believe that keeping the quality of the network very high accomplishes a few things. One is it instills trust in the members — they want to be part of a community of peers — and two, it makes sure that the quality of the job opportunities being submitted stays very high as well. We're really encouraged by not only the growth, but by the quality of our network. Executives from over 80% of the Fortune 500 companies are part of this network. Executives from over 75% of the billion-dollar startups are part of this company. Some of the most impressive executives in the world are part of this network.

SAL DAHER: So you're building a really interesting platform, you've got 25,000 executives from some of the leading companies, the Fortune 500, top startups, and so forth, and they have contributed 10,000 jobs to your platform. How do you make money from this?

JOE MEYER: Yeah, it's a great question, Sal. First off, we are not currently revenue-generating. We are building out the platform, we're building out the network, and most importantly, we're providing a service that's of high value to our members that they can't find anywhere else, and as a result of that, and of the give-to-get nature of our model, our engagement rates and usage is very, very high. So, taking a very eBay-like, Netflix-like, Amazon-like approach to this opportunity, and saying to myself, "You know what? There are two pieces to matching a candidate to a job at the executive level."

JOE MEYER: One is what's written on your professional profile, your CV, your resume, your LinkedIn profile, right? Then, you need the other piece of information, which is your intent. What does that candidate want to do moving forward? One, are they actually loose in their saddle, and are they apt to make a move? Two, if they are, even if they are gainfully employed, apt to make a move, what type of opportunity would get them to make a move? Are they interested in moving cities, are they interested in going from a big company to a small company, are they interested in switching industries, are they interested in switching functions?

JOE MEYER: By virtue of the high levels of engagement that our members have with ExecThread, we know the answers to those questions, without ever having to get on a phone call or an email thread with our members. So, to answer your question, the plan to commercialize this service is to create a matching platform, a sourcing solution for hiring companies, so that when they are trying to hire an executive in their company, we can provide them a shortlist, a high-quality shortlist very, very quickly, based on what we know about our members.

How ExecThread Got VC Funding

SAL DAHER: Okay. Now, I understand that you are VC-funded?

JOE MEYER: Yes, we are VC-backed. One of our lead investors is NextView ventures up in Boston; Rob Go and Lee Hower are two partners that have invested in the company. But we've raised $7 million to date in a first round of funding, and we've raised it from some of the biggest funds in the world, including Canaan Partners, based here in New York as well as San Francisco, Javelin Ventures in San Francisco, Corazon Capital in Chicago, and NextView Ventures in Boston.

SAL DAHER: Wow, this is impressive. And your raise was done on the basis of ... Basically, because you're a repeat founder who had-

JOE MEYER: No, to tell you the truth, I think that played into it. When I first conceived this service and incubated it in my living room on my own laptop, I was operating it for a few months, and tracking all the stats on an Excel spreadsheet. And I did meet with investors early on, to see if there was something here, just to confirm my assumptions, and they offered me a little bit of seed funding at that time, and I said, "You know what? Let me actually put more meat on the bone here. Let me prove that there is actually a there there here."

JOE MEYER: So I then went back, around a year later, after putting more meat on the bone, and getting more validation, and I said, "You know what? Let me go raise a very healthy seed round, five-plus million." And VCs don't throw that sort of money around without doing diligence not only on the founder, but on the market opportunity, and what they saw was a big white-space opportunity. A huge industry, executive search, is a huge pond to swim in, and the reality is that there are no competitors in the industry besides industry incumbents, big large search firms that have been around for decades, that take a highly manual approach to the way they do things. And you have access to rich, structured, intense data, and you take a more automated, streamlined, digital approach to things, and do matching in real time instead of the way it's done today, it creates a very unique opportunity.

LinkedIn Co-Founder Lee Hower about Execthread: “"Wow, you guys have access to the passive job-seeker."

JOE MEYER: And to be quite honest, when I was presenting to NextView Ventures up in Boston, Lee Hower, who was one of the founders of LinkedIn, who was doing diligence on us, said, when we were presenting to him, "Wow, you guys have access to the passive job-seeker." And I said, "Yes, we do. We do have access to the passive job-seeker at the top of the triangle, at the top end of the recruitment triangle, where the dollars are the largest."

SAL DAHER: Wow, that is something. Mentioning the LinkedIn founder, who would buy you? I mean, presumably your VCs want to have an exit, so who do you think would be a buyer for a company like yours?

JOE MEYER: You know what, Sal, first off, I never start companies just to get acquired. That being said, I see no reason why ExecThread cannot become a very large, successful, standalone company, highly monetizable. You're talking about companies like Korn Ferry and Russell Reynolds, and Heidrick & Struggles, who only do a couple of hundred executive searches a year, and are public companies. We have much loftier ambitions than that.

SAL DAHER: Wow, so you think you could be doing ... Because of the fact that you're sort of crowdsourcing this knowledge that is not ... Let's face it, even the recruiters themselves don't have this.

JOE MEYER: Correct.

SAL DAHER: You know, a single recruiter is very limited. They're looking through keyholes all the time.

JOE MEYER: They have not built up a community of members who are highly engaged like we are. They have databases, but the reality is that they do keyword searches on LinkedIn, which doesn't give you access to the key information you need. We have a vibrant, lively, real-time community that gets bigger and bigger every day, that's vetted and curated, that we know a lot about, and that's a very valuable asset.

SAL DAHER: That is really fascinating. You stumbled on [inaudible 00:16:37] that you've ... Well, not stumbled so much as determinedly dug up the way to solve this problem.

JOE MEYER: I think the key here, to be quite honest, is, if you talk to executive recruiters, and you ask them who their customer is, they'll tell you, "My customer is the one that pays the bills," which is the hiring company.

SAL DAHER: Yes.

JOE MEYER: I started ExecThread with a candidate-first perspective. I said, "What would be the best solution for the candidate, who is and should be the most important person in the process, right?" And I think by taking that approach, combined with my years of digital experience, I created a clever approach here that I don't think any executive recruiter could ever possibly have conceived.

SAL DAHER: It is a very clever approach. You know, the way things are, it's very hard for recruiters to be sharing information and so forth. The databases they have, it's basically information that goes out of date very quickly, it's not stuff that people have an interest in maintaining. I think that it's remarkable that you figure out this kind of wrinkle, this imperfection that exists in a market, and that you're building something to exploit it. I spent 30 years looking for imperfection in the bond market; it fascinates me to see someone exploiting an imperfection in such a significant market.

Joe Meyer Speaking of Executive Recruiters: “…I gave them everything that wasn't on my LinkedIn profile, and the thing that amazed me was, they didn't write it down.”

JOE MEYER: I think, Sal, that it's also a very transactional industry. So, light bulb moment for me went off, to be quite honest, when I was in an altruistic job search. I was actually looking for my next career opportunity at the executive level, and I actually met with a few executive recruiters, and the thing that amazed me was that I told them exactly what I wanted in my next opportunity, I met with them in person, I gave them my profile, I gave them everything that wasn't on my LinkedIn profile, and the thing that amazed me was, they didn't write it down. They didn't enter it into a computer, or into a database, or into a spreadsheet.

JOE MEYER: They just had a conversation with me, and at the end of the conversation, I asked, "Why didn't you register any of that information?" And they said, "Well, I'm not working on a search right now, Joe, that's a good fit for you, and we'll let you know when we find one." And I said, "Well, how will you know in the future if I'm a good fit for a search if you're not logging this information and matching it against the requirements of that future search?" And that's when it went off like a light bulb, and I was like, "Wow."

SAL DAHER: In order to survive, they have a square peg in their pocket-

JOE MEYER: Correct.

SAL DAHER: ... that they want to put into a square hole somewhere. And if you're not a square hole-

JOE MEYER: And they want to do it in the next 90 to 180 days, i.e., the duration of that search, and then they'll worry about the next search, 90 or 180 days from now, and that's not how it's done in eCommerce, and that's not how it's done in ad tech, and that's not how it's done in location-based services. At HopStop Apple, and at eBay, we built profiles of all of our members and our users, and we leveraged that information for future engagement purposes. So I'm taking a very digital-first approach to an old, laggard industry.

SAL DAHER: Yeah. That is really impressive. When I first read about the company, I was sort of saying, "What's the technology angle of this? How can you use technology to change this?" And now, it's eye-opening to see that you're creating this platform, a community to crowdsource this information, and to create value  from information that people have in their heads, which is useless otherwise. What does it look like for the next two years for ExecThread?

JOE MEYER: It's a great question, Sal, and for the past year or two, we've been really focused on the plumbing, building out the technology, building out the platform, building out the features and functionality of our member experience. But over the past few months, we've been building out our soon-to-be-launched commercial offering, and that ties into your question, which is, we're going to morph from being an engineering-only company, an engineering-driven company, which will always be engineering-driven, but now we will be sales and marketing and customer-facing oriented. We're going to start going to market and providing a solution to hiring companies that we think will be very well embraced, and I think that will keep us very busy for the next two years. We've already done a number of pilots with hiring companies that have been very successful, that give us a very strong reason to believe that there's a lot of demand in the market for an alternative to the traditional executive-recruiting model.

SAL DAHER: Yes, I can imagine that there is, so this is really interesting.

JOE MEYER: And you're also talking about an industry here where it's crazy in terms of how much money executive recruiters charge for their services. So, on the high end, for big recruiting firms, they charge close to $200,000 or more per search. On the lower end, you're talking about $100,000 per search. Per search.

SAL DAHER: Wow.

“For an incredibly manual process that we think can be largely automated. And there's a lot of inefficiency in this industry, but there's also a large appetite to pay for solutions.”

JOE MEYER: For an incredibly manual process that we think can be largely automated. And there's a lot of inefficiency in this industry, but there's also a large appetite to pay for solutions.

SAL DAHER: I can see that. Having these headhunters, recruiters working ... It's an extremely fragmented industry, even within these large entities. A lot of people keep this stuff very close to their vest, and they don't open up very much. I don't think it's an industry where there's a lot of cooperation, and I think that this is really a very exciting way to get around that, and to extract this valuable information from these silos. I'm really grateful that you took the time to come and talk about ExecThread, and I look forward to following your progress and seeing more of your posts on LinkedIn. We connected because of a post on LinkedIn, and I just found it really fascinating what your company's doing.

JOE MEYER: Sal, thanks for having me, and just to touch on one thing you just mentioned, the fragmentation in this industry, what I will say is that it's a very, very large industry, much larger than the analyst reports cite, and it's larger than is cited mainly because there's an incredibly long tail in this industry. The advent of LinkedIn has now reduced the barriers to entry in this industry, so that anyone can really become an executive recruiter, which means that there are hundreds of thousands of executive search firms out there, from the small little boutiques all the way up to the big ones. And what that means is, like you said, information is siloed, but more importantly, there's no economies of scale on this industry. Everyone is doing it the same exact way, and we think it's time for a platform-driven approach in this industry to consolidate it as well.

SAL DAHER: Well, sounds really promising. Joe Meyer, I'm really grateful that you came on to Founder Focus to tell us about this exciting company that you're building, ExecThread. Thanks a lot. This is Angel Invest Boston Founder Focus, I'm Sal Daher. I'm glad you were able to join us. Our engineer is Raul Rosa. Our graphic design is by Katherine Woodman-Maynard. Our theme was composed by Raul Rosa. Our host is coached by Grace Daher.