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It's Josh Zywien, Smashfly's VP of Marketing #chatbots

On this exclusive, the boys interview Smashfly's VP of Marketing, Josh Zywien (pronounced "zwayne") to cover a broad spectrum of topics, including Zywien's opinion on chatbots, how job boards are doing in Google's World and the next big thing.



Announcer: This, the Chad and Cheese podcast, brought to you in partnership with TA Tech. TA Tech, the association for talent acquisition solutions. Visit

Joel: Chad, why do recruiters spend money on unqualified or uninterested candidates?

Chad: Dude, I don't know. Because they're recruiters? What in the hell are you talking about in the first place?

Joel: All right. Stay with me here. PPC campaigns mean you're paying per click, and the person who clicks could be qualified or unqualified. You don't know, and you're still gonna pay for that click.

Chad: Hell, man, a subscription model is even worse, because you're paying for all of the candidates, not necessarily qualified ones.

Joel: Bingo. So the answer is current pricing models suck. Duh. So what if you handed over cash for only interested and qualified candidates? And I'm talking about candidates that are actually qualified, the ones that meet all of your job requirements from years in the industry to specific skills.

Chad: I gotcha. Now you're talking about Uncommon.

Joel: Bingo. Uncommon is where the model does not suck.

Chad: Uncommon is simple. You set your monthly budget, and Uncommon only charges you when you get an interested applicant that meets or exceeds your job requirements.

Joel: That's U-N-C-O-M-M-O-N dot C-O.

Announcer: Hide your kids. Lock the doors. You're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts, complete with breaking news, brash opinion, and loads of snark. Buckle up, boys and girls. It's time for the Chad and Cheese podcast.

Chad: Yeah!

Joel: Yo, yo, yo. It's an Uncommon exclusive.

Chad: That's right. Got Chad and Cheese. This week, guess what guys? We're talking to Josh Zywien, VP of Marketing from SmashFly.

Joel: Don't call him Bruce.

Chad: Don't call him Bruce Zywien. JZ.

Joel: Wayne's World.

Chad: Call him JZ. That's what his friends call him.

Joel: Excellent.

Chad: We might not be friends yet, but too bad. I'm calling you JZ. VP of Marketing from Smashfly. Welcome JZ.

Joel: What's up, Josh?

Chad: Okay, so give us a little bit about JZ. You haven't always been at Smashfly. What actually brought you to this point in your career? How did you make it to this pinnacle?

Joel: How'd you get lucky enough to be in the employment industry?

JZ: I've got a really screwed up, meandering path to here. I actually was a journalism major in college and had dreams of being a Sports Illustrated writer. I wanted to be Rick Reilly basically. So, I got into that industry and found out really quickly that it pays nothing and that the industry itself was just in a total nosedive. And tried to get out of that as quickly as possible. Ended up going to work for CBS in a worse job as a copywriter for a radio station.

JZ: So, you talk about picking two absolutely dead industries. I was excellent at that. And then just decided after that we oddly enough and totally serendipitous we found out my wife was pregnant with twins, and we were living in Boston at the time. And Boston's not a great place if you have two little kids and two working parents. You basically just sacrifice one salary for ...

Joel: It's never really a great place.

JZ: No, no. That's true. We actually ended up ... As stupid as this sounds, we both ended up quitting our jobs. My wife was an attorney and moving from Boston to the Detroit area where she was from. And rather than work for CBS out in Michigan I started my own company as a freelance writer at first.

JZ: Somehow that progressed into me helping a venture capital firm called OpenView build out its content marketing machine. And this is way back in 2010 before that was a big thing, which led me down the path of marketing and long story short, Smashfly was one of the companies that OpenView had invested in. They were looking to hire a marketer on their team, had asked me if I knew anybody, and ended up raising my hand and that's how I fell into this to be honest with you.

Joel: Yeah, I know somebody, me.

JZ: Right, exactly, exactly. Now, whether that was smart or not you can debate.

Chad: I guess we'll find out. Well, for the future CMO of Smashfly. I want to say it's probably pretty good.

JZ: Oh, you hear that, Thom. Make sure Thom Hennessy hears that.

Joel: Now, my question is, as a marketing guy would you have named any company Smashfly? Was Smashcockroach taken at the time?

JZ: Yeah, and honestly, I think still in a closet somewhere at Smashfly HQ, there's some fly swatters that we would send out to the customers. And it's ...

Sound Effect: Boo!

Chad: Okay, I'm not on board with the fly swatters, but ...

JZ: Yeah, nobody was on board with that.

Chad: I'm on board with it. I can smell both of those pretty easily. Joel, he's got to have something simplistic, like Indeed or something.

Joel: Yeah, because fly is so complicated. For those who don't know Smashfly, Josh, give us the elevator pitch on what you guys do.

JZ: Yeah, so Smashfly started originally as, came out of really the need to have a job distribution tool way back to seven, eight years ago. Evolved in a recruitment marketing platform. That wasn't a thing when we were founded, but it's a thing now obviously.

JZ: I think it's trending more toward the core system being the CRM, so Smashfly is obviously really hangs its hat and its anchor on the CRM, but we build career sites for companies, power the back end with a content management system. We have an events module. Obviously, Emerson, which I think we're going to be talking about. That's our recruitment assistant.

JZ: It's really everything that a company needs to market its opportunities to talent ahead of an opening ahead of a need. So, you can build pipelines and build up talent pools that you can go from or pull from instead of just relying on job boards and a horrible ATS application process.

Chad: So, from job distribution to CRM to RMP to chatbot, having chatbots. There's a lot of evolution that's happening. But you guys actually just switched CEOs here what in the last six, eight months or so. Have you seen, and obviously you're going to say something incredibly good because Thom's listening. But what was the big difference between the vision of old versus the new vision with Thom and crew?

JZ: Yeah, so I think it's ... And you can call BS on this, but it's a true story. Mike Hennessy was our founder and came from Brass Ring, was the chief architect over there before he founded Smashfly. And Mike is truly an innovator, an idea guy who's great at seeing a hole in a market or a need that could be filled in going and building that thing.

JZ: I think what Mike recognized, and I think he said this in a press release that we issued at the time, and Mike's still active with the business. But he recognized that there's a point at which the idea guy needs to pass the baton to somebody who's much more operationally minded and can take the business and scale it, and that's really Thom's background.

JZ: So, Thom doesn't come from the industry but has worked for two companies, one that IPO'ed and one that was acquired right before he joined Smashfly actually. Vista Partners I believe who just invested in iCIMS.

Chad: Within this short amount of time, what is being the one big difference between having Thom as a CEO and the new vision of Smashfly?

JZ: Yeah, so I think it's no secret that our market has matured quite a bit, and it's a lot more competitive. There's a lot more companies that are both focused on recruitment marketing and CRM specifically. But there's a lot of fringe technologies as well that I think create some confusion in the market. So, there needs to be a very clear go-to-market plan for how we're going to continue to develop the platform but for what niche we're going to carve out and where we're going to focus our time and effort.

JZ: Thom has a very strong technology background as well, so when you talk about the two different maturity phases for a business when you're just playing around with an idea, and you're trying to test that idea and see if there's a market for it. There's a lot of experimentation that can go on, and you can bounce between different ideas and play with different things.

JZ: When you get to the point where the market accepts the technology and you're ready for scale there's a whole different operational process that needs to be put into place for the business, and that's the technology's ability to scale; it's our internationalization and our global expansion. Thom had a lot of really key experience there that Mike maybe didn't have or didn't see in himself and was happy to pass the baton off. So, Mike still acts as our internal R and D and also works with our team to develop some things.

Joel: Hey, Josh, I'm going to switch gears off of Smashfly for a second, but I'm real interested in your analytics products. And anyone who offers analytics has a real insight into what's going on in aggregate in terms of traffic and where things are really happening. And Chad and I talk a lot on the show about Google and Facebook and LinkedIn and how much in trouble some of the job boards are.

Joel: I'm curious what are you seeing trend-wise from your analytics in regards to what sources are coming up in terms of candidates for companies? What trends do you see?

JZ: Yeah, so I think this won't be a shock to you guys, and I think it's only going to continue, but we've seen a lot more as Google for Jobs has taken root and more traffic is being directed organically to career sites we're starting to see a lot more traffic. And it's still the Indeeds and the CareerBuilders of the world still drive a ton of traffic to our customers' career sites.

JZ: I don't think that's going to change; there's still a lot of traffic being driven by niche job words. But Google's the 800 pound gorilla that's going to continue to get bigger. So, if I were Indeed I'd be very concerned. I know it was part of your podcast last week. Everything looks rosy for them now, but I'd be really curious in six months or a year to see if that's still the case. I think it's going to compound from Google specifically.

Joel: Yeah, and do you think that a lot of the niche traffic that you're starting to see, some of the rise in that traffic might be due to them doing much better in the search results in Google now since Indeed doesn't own all the damn search results?

JZ: Yeah, I think it's ... Well, you guys know, Google has always been interested in quality traffic and traffic and traffic really being directed, really shortening the line between the organic source or the root source of the content and the end user. So rather than directing them through three different channels to get to ultimately the place that they wanted to get to in the first place, how do you shorten that distance?

JZ: The thing with the niche job boards that I think ... where I think there's huge opportunity there, and I don't see a huge opportunity with job boards generally, especially the larger ones. I think they're going to continue to struggle, but those niche job boards with so much focus placed on quality right now, they can deliver that, right? They have an understanding of whatever market they're serving, and the people are there because they know that jobs are going to be directed specifically toward them. So I think for the end user, for the candidate obviously, it's a much better experience, and the content's much higher quality, but then the traffic being directed to the end career site or the end destination, I think, is obviously much more targeted.

Joel: What are you seeing ... Aside from the analytics piece, you guys do a lot of work in branding. How is branding changing for companies? I mean, with chatbots and things like that, branding seems to be taking on a whole new life of its own. What are your thoughts around that?

JZ: Yeah, so I think ... And this is where branding ... To a certain degree, marketers still screw this up, and I think, in a lot of ways, talent acquisition and recruitment marketing and employer branding are ... they follow the tail of marketing. But a lot of marketers, even today, still isolate quote-unquote "brand" to colors, logos, tag lines, that kind of stuff. And that's part of brand, but, to me, brand is really a company's full experience and story, and it's everything related to someone's engagement or interaction with that company.

JZ: So to me, employer branding and recruitment marketing really has to do with that entire experience for a company. So it's great. You can have a beautiful career site, but as soon as you dump a candidate into the ATS supply process, that whole thing breaks, right, and all of a sudden, a candidate goes from having a very positive perception of a brand to maybe a negative one.

JZ: So for me, it's looking at the entire experience that someone's going to have with the company from their very first introduction to it all the way through what that experience looks like as an employee. That could be onboarding. It could be employee engagement. It could be internal mobility, that kind of stuff. But to me, that's all inclusive of brand. And I hope that the market starts to kind of do brand that way, as opposed to brand being designing a pretty career site or just slapping a chatbot on the front end and hoping that fixes some small part of it.

Chad: Chatbot, chatbot, chatbot, for goodness' sakes.

JZ: Right.

Joel: Let's talk chatbot, shall we?

Chad: Let's dive into chatbots real quick. So let's talk about what a chatbot can do. And you guys just released your recruiting assistant chatbot named Emerson, which Joel loves because he's so mad about all these female ...

Joel: Even male.

Chad: ... all these female chatbots.

Joel: I'm not mad. I'm not mad.

Chad: He is furious with all of these female chatbots.

Joel: You guys zigged when everyone was zagging. That's good.

JZ: Yeah. I think what we saw too, right, is there was some ... When we were thinking about the name itself, there was a lot that kind of went into that, but we thought it was a little unfair. Our head of product, Karla Toyloy, really planted her flag in the ground on this. But her point was that why does an assistant always have to be female, right? Like, why can't it be male and somewhat androgynous too? Like, Emerson, as a name, was somewhat purposeful because it can be male or female. You can really interpret it however you want.

Joel: We're still waiting for Pat, the chatbot.

JZ: Pat, right, exactly.

Joel: The Patbot.

JZ: Yeah, the other ... This is a really subtle feature that's part of Emerson, but any company that implements Emerson can change the persona. They can change the name. They can change the face. They can do whatever they want. Emerson's the one that we kind of stuck with. Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Boston, died in Concord, Mass., which is where our headquarters are, and had kind of a transformationalist view of the world, and that's kind of how we operate too. So there was some thought process there, but I agree with you, Joel. I think it's ... There was a lot of female recruiting assistants in chatbots and some that weren't male or female and just straight up bots. We thought there was kind of a window to differentiate a little bit there.

Chad: So that's the recruiting assistant side of the house. There's just so much more you can use chatbots for. So this is the first segment, right, being able to help recruiters, being a recruiting assistant. What about the candidate side, on the website being able to handle applications via text or messaging? I mean, are you guys looking at all those different aspects? Is that kind of too far for what you guys are doing right now, or what's next on the chatbot horizon for SmashFly?

JZ: Yeah, and this is why I think like ... I don't usually get very far when I try and make my argument that a recruiting assistant is different than a chatbot, but I do fundamentally believe that they're different things. A chatbot, to me, is very binary and has kind of a very static or myopic purpose. A lot of them today are very focused on jobs, so it's just returning jobs or it's helping somebody apply for a job, and that's great. That serves a part of the market, and it serves a need. The way we view it is how do you turn this thing into an assistant, and not just an assistant for candidates on the front end, so helping them kind of answer questions and find jobs and schedule interviews and understand what the interview process is going to look like, but for recruiters as well?

JZ: The challenge with all of the great technology that's in our space and all the innovation that's kind of happening is you create this clustered mess for large enterprises, where they might have 15 to 20 tools and in some cases a lot more. We've got one customer that has, I think, 35 different technologies that they use as part of their stack, which is just ... Yeah, it's just a horrendous thing to try and tame, and then to be able to pull the data from all those things and make sense of it all is really difficult.

JZ: But the biggest challenge is adoption. So it's great that you have all these tools, and they might be the best, but are your recruiters going to use them? Are your sourcers going to use them? Are they actually helping those people solve real problems in their day-to-day workflow? That's kind of how we thought through this whole assistant thing. So to answer your question, Chad, I think there's no limit to how we're thinking about this ... where this could be applied and how it could be used, but it's very much focused on how do we make things simpler for not just the candidates on the front end, but their careers on the back.

Joel: So I'll make a quick plug for our interview with the iCIMS CEO, Colin Day. I believe ... Remind me, Chad. I'm pretty sure he said, "Our biggest competition is clutter."

Chad: Yes. Always.

Joel: Like, trying to cut through the clutter. And I think that's what Josh is sort of saying with some of these products and services out there. But sticking on chatbots, Chad, considering it's such a cluttered mess, in this week's show Chad and I talked about Emerson specifically and how this thing was going to be commoditized, that all services like yours are just going to have their own chatbot or maybe buy up some of the ones in a garage sale that are out there. I want to know what your thoughts are on my commoditization theory and what inevitably is going to happen to all the other stand-alone solutions like Mya and Olivia and AllyO.

JZ: Yeah, so I think it's a natural progression for any of these types of technologies, right? There's a few core systems in any market, and I come from marketing, so ... When you think about marketing automation, there are a lot of tools that serve a purpose independently and kind of on their own when they're founded, but eventually just get wrapped up into the larger platform, so either integrating with them.

JZ: So Salesforce has been great about obviously creating this ecosystem where all these different new technologies can plug in, but I think that's the case in our industry as well. I think you're right that ultimately all the big players in our industry, whether it's us or you get even bigger into the Workdays, SAPs, Oracles of the world, it's going to be something that they have, and it's going to be something that they're all going to need, and there will be an acquisition spree at some point.

JZ: But I think that's ... Again, I don't think that's unique to chatbots or

your recruiting assistants or anything like that. I think you'll probably see that with a lot of the different kind of, I hate to call them point solutions, but the smaller systems that really are the core systems that teams operate out of. So I do think there'll be consolidation. There'll be commoditization at some point.

JZ: I just don't think it's going to be as soon as maybe you make it sound. I think we're a few years away from that, and I still think there's an opportunity to ... And this is our own belief. You can differ or disagree, but I think there's an opportunity still to differentiate between a chatbot that can do very simple, basic automation and a recruiting assistant that really is designed to be a little bit more flexible and adaptable to kind of needs.

Joel: I think we probably agree more than we disagree on that point.

JZ: Yeah.

Joel: What do you think, Chad?

Chad: I think the question is do you believe chatbots are bigger than SEO?

JZ: Are you asking me that or Joel to defend his position?

Chad: Yeah. I mean, yeah, because I know what Joel's position is on this. Do you think chatbots and what chatbots can actually do for process and for ... I mean, just for systems overall is bigger than SEO?

JZ: I think it's ... I don't know if I'd use the word bigger, but I think it's different because SEO ... Where SEO is kind of unique is that there really was one winner there. Obviously, Bing and Yahoo still exist, but what is it? Like, 5 to 10% of website traffic is directed through there?

Chad: Yeah, but in our industry. If you take a look at our industry, right?

JZ: Sure.

Chad: How many SEO platforms were there out there and which ones actually sold, versus how many chatbot platforms are out there today and how many do you think are actually going to be sold?

JZ: Yeah.

Joel: So I'll ask the question differently. Jobs2Web sold for a hundred-some million dollars to SAP. Are any of these chatbots going to sell for more than a hundred million dollars?

JZ: I'm going to go out on a limb and say yes.

Joel: Oh.

Chad: And there's going to be more than just one. That's the thing.

JZ: Yeah, yeah. I do think that, because I think again ... And I know, Chad, you made this point on the last podcast, that the real key difference here is that SEO is something that can be kind of engineered to a certain point, and at some point you get to a point where there's not much more you can do. Now, there's more you can do than somebody else, but the actual functionality reaches a point where it's somewhat static. Like, there's not much further you can push it. In fact, the further you try and push it, sometimes you make it worse.

Chad: So in this industry, chatbots are definitely going to be bigger than SEO. I've got to get on to my next question, Josh. So ...

JZ: I think so, yes, yeah.

Chad: SmashFly has really changed from a billed to a partner kind of scenario, and we've seen this with Olivia and then obviously HiringSolved. And so can you give us kind of like an idea of what you see happening with different platforms like SmashFly who instead of trying to develop technology for every single gap that's out there look to actually partner and why that is what we're seeing more often than actually the builds happening.

JZ: Yeah. I think the question comes down to it. If you ... Any product that you buy, do you want a company to try and do everything marginally okay or would you rather it focus on whatever its core value is extraordinarily well and then find the other pieces that plug in and make sure that those pieces are the best of the best. For example, Apple when it developed the iPhone, it could have gone and built its own camera. It had plenty of engineers, it could have figured out how to build a camera, or it could have gone and figured out how to build processors, but it didn't do that because there were already companies that were extraordinarily good at building really small cameras and really quick processors so it just used those companies that helped build its hardware.

JZ: I think the same thing should happen. I'm not gonna say that it will happen with every company, but in our industry, there's so much good technology and so much good functionality that's out there, I just don't know how the hell you get your hands on it as a buyer, or how you figure out whose thing is better than another. What we're pretty good at, and I think we have ... our VP of business development, Lynne Foster, is really honestly I think one of the best at this, is just really understanding the market and being able to identify the opportunities for us to partner with companies like Paradox or HiringSolved or whoever and get their tech fully integrated into ours, and that lets us focus on what we're really good at and lets them kind of innovate as well alongside us, so that way as those companies continue to develop and get better at what they do, we can do the same with our core technology, and then work on things that we think are maybe a little bit tangential to what we do, but get better, get better at them.

JZ: Yeah, I think it's gonna happen more. I don't know that every company will buy into it. Some companies still just think the best thing to do is build.

Joel: So Josh, take me into the Smashfly war room for a second where the dry erase board resides and what is the next big thing in this industry in terms of what you guys are talking about in that war room? What are the next partnerships you want to either build or what kind of products are the next things you want to introduce and bring to your customers?

JZ: Yeah. I think you guys have two sponsors I believe who are in that space and I think this is maybe an obvious answer, but programmatic is one. I think for us, we've had a job distribution tool, but to a certain degree that has limited functionality in a world of programmatic, so I do think programmatic is an area where could we invest and could we try and build something that is marginally okay? We probably could but why do that when there's the Uncommon's of the world or I think JobAdX is maybe another one that you guys work with.

Chad: Yep.

JZ: I think assessments and really kind of like I think there's a very large difference in the quality of assessment tools out there. Some of them provide very basic functionality that look like an assessment but really add no value to the company long term, and then there are these really deep psychological assessment tools that tell you a lot about how someone thinks, how they operate, to a certain degree what someone's writing style and how they write tells you about how they work. There's a lot of investment into machine learning there to process all the data that comes from candidate engagement. If a candidate has a conversation with our recruiting assistant, for example, there's a lot more that they're willing to share in that conversation than they might be if they fill out a talent network form or an application.

JZ: I think processing that data and trying to look for some sort of indicator around what that person is like truly and what they will look like as an employee, there's a lot that can be mined from that that you can't get from traditional applications and form fields.

Joel: So you're saying the Second Life comeback isn't coming any time soon.

JZ: No, no.

Chad: Yeah, Joel. Your half horse, whatever that thing is called Avatar is not coming back, man.

Joel: I'm at a dance party right now, thank you very much.

Chad: So talking about machine learning, now SmashFly has partnered with Google, right? Are you guys using the job search API?

JZ: Yep, so we have I can't say which customer, but we have a customer finishing up data right now. It's a really large Fortune, I would say Fortune 50 so I don't isolate it too much, but huge, huge, massive employer that was a great test case for us because of the amount of data and then the volume of searches that they get. That's been pretty remarkable to see the difference.

JZ: Yeah, we're partnering with them there. I know that the Google Profile's API also is something that we've explored and looked into, but yeah, there's a few different things, Google and outside of Google that we're looking at with machine learning.

Chad: Well that being said, just as you bring up the candidate search, we're seeing companies who are specific to actually building that kind of technology like Career Builder. Google's gonna do it better than we do it and knowing that SmashFly is more on the focus of partnering versus building, especially when you've got an organization like Google who's going to do it better no matter what, do you see SmashFly and some of your clients, and I would assume that the clients are probably gonna choose this more than anything else, do you see SmashFly going full Google?

JZ: Yes and I would say that Google is one of those no-brainer situations where especially when it's Google and search. There's no reason to try to replicate or recreate what they've done. I think it's smart for Google to get into this space. I just don't know why you'd try and fight that stream. I think it just makes too much sense and they're too good at search to really screw around with trying to fight up against that.

Chad: Well then the matching piece right?

JZ: Right.

Chad: Because you've got the job's API, then you've got what I like to call the people API or the candidate API. To be able to mold those together, same tech, then you start matching. That's pretty damn powerful, not just from the standpoint of being able to provide side, periphery searches and whatnot but also being able to provide emailing and things of that nature that's more relevant than what you can do today.

JZ: Yeah, for sure. I think it's, again, what Google is extraordinarily good at is surfacing the most relevant information, no matter what. In our industry, in our use case obviously that could be people, could be jobs, but I think it's ... the key here obviously is ... We've got search functionality built within our platform and also on any career site that we build, I think it works really well or pretty well, but when you stack them up against Google, it's hard to really do better than they do. Again, this is where [crosstalk 00:29:07]. Exactly and I think this is where, to your point, customers are gonna help us make that decision very easy. I'd be shocked if the market in two years ... you talk about commoditization, I think in a lot of ways Google will commoditize search in our industry.

Joel: Well, Josh, man, we appreciate it. We know you're a busy guy. Thanks for coming on the show. For anyone who doesn't know SmashFly, where can they learn more?

JZ: Yeah, We actually just redesigned the whole site. We have some new product pages up there and I'm feeling pretty good about it, so that's the best spot.

Joel: And anyone who's really bored out there, just go to the site and talk to Emerson, their tripod, to pass the time.

JZ: Yeah, exactly.

Joel: Chad, Josh, we out.

Chad: We out.

JZ: Thanks guys.

Joel: Remember to visit

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