FIRING SQUAD: Real Links' CEO Sam Davies
Referrals rock! Ask most companies and they'll tell you referrals are the best resource for candidates they currently employ. Unfortunately, vendors hoping to solve the referral riddle have largely fallen on their collective faces. Remember Jobster? H3? Exactly. But one startup is hoping to change all that and they're willing to put their better mousetrap in front of the Firing Squad.
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Announcer: Like Shark Tank? Then you'll love Firing Squad. Chad Sowash and
Joel Cheesman are here to put the recruiting industry's bravest, ballsiest, and baddest startups through the gauntlet to see if they've got what it takes to make it out alive. Dig a foxhole and duck for cover kids. The Chad and Cheese Podcast is taking it to a whole other level.
Joel: Oh yeah. I've got an itchy trigger finger today, Chad. We haven't done Firing Squad in a while so I'm pretty pumped today and I've had about eight glasses, sorry, eight cups of coffee. Glasses would be too bougie for me.
Chad: You are pretty bougie.
Joel: It's true. All right, today we are honored to welcome Sammy Davis Jr, also known as Sam Davis, the CEO of Real Links. Sam, straight out of the UK. Man, welcome to firing squad.
Sam: Hey, what's up guys! It's great to be here.
Joel: Pleased to have you here. It's Friday in London, it's almost a happy hour. Are you in a pub right now?
Sam: The rest of our team I'm here with you guys instead.
Chad: You take them and you're like, "Get the fuck out of the office. I've got to do this thing."
Joel: Nice moral support. "Hey boss, we're going down to the pub. Good luck."
Joel: Jesus Christ. Well, Sam, give us a little bit about you and then Chad will read you the rules, we'll get to the company, but we want to learn a little bit about you because no one knows who the hell you are.
Sam: Yeah, no, that's fair. So yeah, a bit of background on me, I went
into recruitment immediately after university, lasted about six months being a recruitment consultant, randomly doing early years in the North of England. Don't ask where that is. Then decided to kill my soul a little bit more and go into corporate law.
Chad: Oh shit.
Sam: Yeah, it was hell boys. It was. But actually I got referred from one law firm to another law firm and it was that which prompted me to think actually the reason I decided to work here, the reason I decided to join this law firm is because it came from somebody I knew, somebody I trusted. Why is this not happening more? And that was basically the Genesis of this. And thankfully I decided, no offense to my old colleagues, to get the hell out of there and set this up and my life has been significantly better since.
Joel: All right, so who's your football team?
Sam: I am a Chelsea fan.
Joel: Beatles or Rolling Stones?
Sam: I'd go rolling stones.
Joel: All right, very good. Chad, read him the rules.
Chad: All right, Sam, you are going to have two minutes to pitch Real Links. At the end of two minutes you're going to hear the bell. Then Joel and I are going to hit you with rapid fire Q and A. If your answers start rambling, Joel's going to hit you with the crickets. That just means tighten up your game and move along.
Joel: Move along kid.
Chad: That's right. At the end of Q and A, you are going to receive one of three grades. Number one, this is what you want to hear, the big applause.
Chad: That's right. Get your bank account ready. The money's going to be rolling in.
Joel: Make it rain Sammy.
Chad: That's right. Number two, the golf clap. Yeah, you can do better than that. You might be on the boat, but you can do better than that. And last but not least, the Firing Squad. That's right, hit the bricks, close up shop, get the hell out of here because more than likely, this is not the thing for you or anyone else.
Joel: Take your ass to the pub.
Chad: That's Firing Squad. Are you ready Sam?
Joel: Two minutes starting...
Sam: Employee referrals are a great hiring solution. They lead to a 39% better retention rate and candidates are three to four times more likely to be hired to name just a few referral stats. The problem is that generally companies struggle to get more than 10% of annual hires through referrals. That's what our employee referral platform Real Links comes in.
Sam: As you guys know, there are a few other players in the market, so I'm going to focus on what makes us different here. Our platform syncs in employees connections on LinkedIn, email, and Facebook, matches into live vacancies and notifies HR teams and employees when a match has been made.
Sam: Employers have huge networks but it's too unmanageable and time consuming to search through them each time a new vacancy comes up. Our platform makes it manageable and supports diversity in the processes. As candidate data such as name, ethnicity, nationality, and gender is anonymized in the HR view, removing any unconscious bias.
Sam: Our referral methodology is another key differentiator. We use gamification of rewards. We don't take a "one size fits all" approach. Each company is different, so we run focus groups to understand employee motivations and customize the gamification to meet their needs. It might be a raffle, it might be a point space leaderboard, but you don't know until you speak to the employees. This way we're able to increase referral participation and longevity.
Sam: We also boost participation by letting employees select whether a referral is a recommendation or an introduction. People generally only feel comfortable recommending four to five people as referrals, but we have big networks of contacts with relevant skills and experience. Introductions to those contacts are also valuable. Allowing employees to identify what sort of referral it is takes the stigma away from them needing to be recommendations and opens up the referral network.
Sam: Addressing one of the other key reasons for low engagement, we keep employees updated during the referral journey. Employees no longer feel that their referrals end up in a black hole and there's no transparency. We're already working with a number of large organizations including McKesson and Adecco. We white label the platform and do a two way integration with ATSs for our clients.
Sam: Find out more about us and our pilot offering at reallinks.io.
Joel: Hello. Look at that, he actually had the website address at the end of it.
Sam: I was listening for the other ones so I heard Joel make that point.
Chad: So it also, it sounds like you've had about three pots of coffee as well.
Joel: Yeah, he got in a whole lot there in a short period of time.
Chad: Kudos to that. Joel why don't you turn it up.
Joel: Yeah, for our American speaking listeners, that could be a little tough for them.
Chad: Just slow down the podcast, you can do that.
Joel: Yeah. Yeah, that's right. Half speed folks. It'll sound great. All right. I'm always interested at first in terms of sort of the name and coming up with it. And the one thing that I looked into was, so you guys are really ".io" and so reallinks.com is for sale. I'm curious, did you sort of explore getting the ".com?" Were you married to the "io" from the outset? What's up with that?
Sam: Yeah, being completely honest, we had a Real Link store "co.uk" initially. That was the site that we went with. And as we sort of scaled up, we got the investment. We wanted to obviously be seen as more than just the UK. And yeah, looked into it and the "io" just felt like sort of more along the lines of sort of a tech startup and where it was going. And that was just a decision that we made at that point.
Joel: Sure. All the kids are doing it now. Are you open to exploring buying the ".com" at some point?
Sam: Yeah. Yeah.
Chad: Easy, easy answer.
Joel: And did you mention the investment in the opening?
Sam: I didn't mention the investment in the opening line. I can talk you through that if you want.
Joel: So mention it now.
Sam: Yeah, sure. So we got some pre-seed and there's some seed investment through a VC called Fuel Ventures totaling sort of a roughly 1.4 million and it's been crucial. It's really helped us in terms of sort of scaling out the team, as is often the way with a startup.
Sam: It was Dan and me in his basement, for quite a few months with our MVP and we went out there and with our MVP we were able to sort of win a couple of big clients, including actually McKesson who we've kept and Norton Rose Fulbright. But it was very apparent to us that to get to where we needed to be, the platform needed to be better. We needed to have the right infrastructure in place.
Sam: So yeah, it's allowed us to hire on the tech side, hire on the sales side, and hire on the marketing side. And the platform that we have today is a lot, lot better than the platform that we had when we were working out of the basement, which is great.
Chad: So you talk about all this hiring, how many employees do you currently have?
Sam: Yeah, we've got nine at the moment.
Chad: Okay, so nine. You had me thinking it was like 50 or something with all this hiring you were talking about it.
Sam: Yeah. I mean, yes on the face of it, it seems like that. But when you're a startup and it's two people actually going from two to nine makes such a huge, huge difference. So yeah, I get that.
Chad: Okay, so employee referrals, at least what we've seen here in the
US and I would assume that transcends across the pond, they already work. It's usually the number one or number two source of hire for many hiring companies today. Right? So why do they need to change? It's already working. Why do I need to spend money on something that I'm not spending money on, but it's my either one or two source of hire? Why do I need to change?
Sam: Well, I mean I would contest it in a sense that I would say that generally you see the percentage of annual hires in particular across Europe and the UK are being sort of under that 10% of annual high mark. So actually, if when you factor that in, there is an enormous amount of growth opportunity there in terms of pushing that percentage up.
Sam: We believe a bit of good referral scheme, even without our product should be up around the 15-20% mark. We believe with our product we can get up to sort of 30-40% and that's where I really think that it's beneficial, because I slightly disagree in the sense that I do think that a lot of companies have it as quite a low percentage of their only hires and it could be a lot higher.
Joel: Sam, we met you at Unleash in Paris. Bill Boorman introduced us, which I won't hold against you in the Firing Squad.
Chad: Oh, I will.
Joel: But I'm curious, how did you fare at the Unleash competition?
Sam: We went in it. So basically, we signed up for a Unleash later on, so it wasn't possible for us to enter into the competition, but we are going back and we are going back to it this year and we will be entering.
Joel: And you'll be in the competition this year. Okay, so this is a nice little primer for you guys headed to Paris next year.
Joel: All right. So as I understand it, so I'm at a company, you connect to my social network and you basically read my social networks skillset. So let's take LinkedIn for example. So you know, my LinkedIn connections, if there's a job in sales, you know everyone in my LinkedIn network that has sales in their profile and you alert me and say, "Hey, here 10 people that we think might be a good fit for this job." Do I understand that correctly?
Sam: Yeah, that's essentially it. Yeah. So it's for all of the jobs that say a particular company. So we'll say it's McKesson for example. Particular job title goes into our taxonomy of related job titles. Same thing happens with all of our employees contacts, they'll go into same taxonomy where we are able to drop a match off the back of that. They will be shown as matches to you as the employee. It also allows the HR teams to sort of go into the platform and they're able to see where any of their contacts, any of their employees contacts have been matched to jobs and actually prompt the employees to make a referral. So if they're getting prompts from the platform but actually if the HR person's like, "I really want to see this candidate," they can send a referral request to the employee as well.
Joel: Okay. So are you tapping into APIs to get that connection? Are you doing any scraping? What's sort of the backbone of that?
Sam: Yeah. So it's really important, particularly from a sort of a GDPR perspective, that the employees obviously consent to sharing their connections with the platform.
Sam: So when it comes to sort of email with Gmail, Hotmail, et cetera, it's an easy sort of upload for an API there. When it comes to LinkedIn, essentially we allow them to sort of download their connections and upload their connections into our platform via way of a CSV. And we've sort of set up a nice sort of funnel for that to happen quite well in terms of the onboarding and the training piece that we do with clients.
Chad: Wait a minute, all the employees have to do that from LinkedIn profile from LinkedIn profile? So if I have 300 employees, are you saying all 300 of them, to do this the right way, have to actually go through this process?
Sam: Yeah, and it's part of the onboarding. So it's not that time consuming and it comes down to our customer success piece to nail this. Actually, the guy that you referred to earlier, Bill Boorman has been a big part of us developing that customer success piece to essentially make it as easy as possible for the employees to do that quickly and easily and make sure that we have the right onboarding plan in place. The customer success piece when it comes to that, it's crucial.
Chad: So Chad touched a little bit about in terms of threats to the business and I think relying on that is obviously a threat, right? So if LinkedIn changes how you're able to download contacts or able to access contacts, I assume that's obviously a threat to your business. Do you agree, disagree? And if agree, how are you sort of managing that minefield?
Sam: That's a fair question. So basically when it comes to the contacts that you've got on LinkedIn, so say you know your 300 contacts that you refer to. You have a right because they're your contacts that download details of them, which is why LinkedIn has that thing where you can essentially download a CSV of your contacts. So they can restrict certain amounts of information but they essentially still have to give you that right. LinkedIn made it I guess as hard as possible for people to essentially go through that process.
Sam: Which is why they did do the APIs. But we're pretty safe in the sense that they've done that piece and we've still made it work. I think a little while ago, they were more open and certain companies were reliant on that API piece and they thought it would be a bigger issue than it is in terms of getting users to download and then upload. And it's actually interesting to see with the right onboarding plan you can make that work.
Chad: So then how often do they have to download their contacts? Because obviously people are adding them all the time. Maybe deleting contacts or profiles are updated. How often do they have to do this?
Sam: Yeah, so it could depend on company preference. So basically we have it set up so every three months the employee will be sent a reminder to refresh their contacts and they can refresh their contacts at any point on the dashboard of the platform as well.
Chad: So when it comes down to the whole process, it really depends on how LinkedIn plays the Whac-A-Mole game. We just had a conversation with Sovren, the president of Sovren and they do parsing and they are talking about how LinkedIn, just incrementally, they're making it so much harder for companies to be able to do what they do. And I could see them perspectively, maybe not shutting you off totally, but just keep you chasing the rabbit as far as you possibly can and making it harder for you to do business. Have you seen them? How many changes have they made since your inception of the organization? What's that span been?
Sam: Our MVP didn't have this piece of functionality, but since we've essentially built this piece of functionality, they haven't moved the needle in terms of the way in which people can download their connections. Prior to that, so obviously I've spent quite a lot of time sort of researching this, doing the evaluation of it. They had made that decision to make it harder. But my understanding and the advice we've had from a legal perspective is that they can't really go any further than this.
Sam: So they have to as a base level provide this to users off their platform because although they're the intermediary, you know when you connect with somebody it's your connection and they've chosen to share their data with you.
Sam: And subsequently you have the right to essentially pull that information, which means that we're relatively safe because they can't make it much harder. And we've actually found a workaround that is working and an onboarding plan and that's getting employees to do it even though it is a little bit more cumbersome than it once was.
Chad: Yeah. Keyword "workaround." My next question, what is a bias-free application? It says it on the website. What does that even mean?
Sam: I mentioned the HR view of the platform. Essentially for the HR view of the platform, when they go in and they're seeing employees connections, they're not seeing any personal identifiers. So they're not seeing their ethnicity, they're literally just seeing their experience. So where they work and their skills, et cetera. And the whole point of that is essentially, we're trying to make it so that they're not influenced by things such as gender, nationality, ethnicity, name.
Sam: So look, there is always an element of being complete transparent, a bit of bias and these things. I mean the very fact that you went to a certain university and that's being seen, it affects, right? It impacts.
Sam: It would be outrageous to say that we've removed that completely, but we have done a bit there to help and ensure that it's perhaps a bit better than that you see elsewhere.
Chad: Gotcha. Okay. So in employee referral programs, we're talking about actually trying to add a more diverse talent pipeline into the organization. Well employee referral programs have unintended bias already engineered into them. When you're hiring friends of Bob, you tend to get a bunch of people who look and think like Bob, so why would I focus on this aspect of hiring instead of diversifying?
Joel: Yeah, Bob sucks.
Sam: Great question. So you know when I was talking in my pitch about sort of recommendations and introductions? I was talking about how referrals historically tend to fall into sort of this recommendation bucket and that tends to be your friends of Bob, as you put it, that four to five people who are like Bob, who go to the same pub as Bob, probably go on holiday with Bob and you don't necessarily want more of those people.
Sam: However, we tend to have quite vast and often diverse larger networks on LinkedIn through people that we may have studied with or people that we've potentially worked with, et cetera. They tend to be a lot more diverse than just my friends. Historically, people haven't referred those people beyond the recommendation piece, which means the referrals as a system aren't as sort of diverse as they could be.
Sam: By actually opening it up and getting people to sink their connections and doing the matching for them, IE. looking at their bigger network, and saying, "Hey you're contact, Jill, who you never go on holiday with, you never go to the pub with actually seems to have the right skills and experience." Don't worry if it's not a recommendation, which you make an introduction is actually opening up the referral network and I think it's moving it away from being just your friends of Bob that referrals have been seen as historically.
Joel: Sam, it looks like most of the interactions with opportunities and employees is via email. I'm curious, if that's correct, are you looking at adding SMS in the future? Maybe a Slack integration, WhatsApp, et cetera? Tell me about that.
Sam: Yeah, 100%. Again, I'll refer back to the referral methodology piece. I couldn't squeeze any more into my pitch, so that's why I couldn't talk about that. But one of the things that we're looking at alongside that is what communication channels they use.
Sam: We were dealing with a gaming company at the moment and it's like, okay, when you guys are communicating and you guys receive notifications, do you want that by email or do you want that by Slack? Or would you want that with dealing with, I won't say the name of the company, another company, and actually for them it made sense they wanted their notifications by WhatsApp.
Sam: So in answer your questions, yes, it will always be sort of via email, but as soon as we learn that in the focus group, we will look to build an integration around whatever communication channel they want to be notified on. So we're actually just about start a pilot, which is all going to be done via WhatsApp notifications.
Joel: And curious because you guys are relying so much on LinkedIn, for example, does it sort of restrict you from using your product with, let's say, service industries like restaurants, dry cleaning, things like that, people who don't necessarily have a LinkedIn profile?
Sam: Yeah, really good question. Basically it reverts us back more to sort of version one of our platform actually and that piece of functionality. So the example I just gave you about the WhatsApp sort of communication notification piece is really relevant here. You might go in and run this focus group and be like, yeah, we're not connected on LinkedIn, but we all have Facebook and WhatsApp groups. So in that situation what you do is you're like, okay, well you're not being notified about any jobs here, but we know you're connected to them.
Sam: So what we do in those instances is we encourage them to share on the networks that they're connected in. We don't do the matching piece for them as such, but we use our gamification functionality around sort of rewarding them for the different things, the different actions should we say, and encouraging them to share and send to people on the networks that we know that they use and that we learn about in those focus groups.
Sam: So it does work. We've seen it work. It just requires a different approach, which again comes back to what I was saying right at the beginning, like when we set this company up we were a little bit naive. We were like, okay, well if we build it like this it'll work for each company. But we learned pretty quickly it doesn't, so we need to be able to customize and adapt. It took four companies like you're describing there, like McKesson for example, our longer standing client. There's a big group of their employee base which is in that boat.
Chad: Well let's get into the adopting piece because most of these platforms or these processes or these programs have not been adopted because they are a pain in the ass from an engagement standpoint. How do you get past that? How do you get past not really having that kind of gray area of can I, or do I, or how hard is it to participate?
Sam: You mean in the initial sort of onboarding piece or just sort of the life cycle?
Chad: All the way through. Its onboarding as well as the adoption on the day to day.
Sam: Absolutely. Yeah. No, it's so crucial. Again credit to Bill here, but actually going back to these focus groups again has a lot to do with how we get people on board it. So the rewards piece, so most organizations that you go into will have a referral bonus. And that referral bonus would be sort of paid six to nine months, sort of down the line when somebody passes probation or when they're hired, but it's really far in the future. And often most employees haven't been asked what they care about, what rewards would motivate them.
Sam: So we go in and we sort of speak to them about, okay look, we want to launch this, obviously there's a bit of hassle in it in terms of getting you guys doing it. It's sort of outside of your job, what would make you do this? Why would you do it? And then they start speaking us about the sorts of rewards that they want about the sorts of gamification they want. So it might be like a weekend trip in Paris.
Chad: So it's catered to them is what I'm hearing.
Chad: It's actually something that they want as opposed to something that the company thinks they want.
Sam: Precisely. But not only that, it's more immediate. So it's like rather than waiting six months, there'll be a monthly raffle perhaps and you could win sort of a weekend trip. So making those rewards more immediate and acknowledging them for the different actions, including the onboarding piece. And when you're rewarding them with stuff they care about and you're making it more immediate really helps with that onboarding. But you have to learn what they want first.
Chad: Yeah, it's like the mouse hitting the button for the sugar cube. So what about from a business aspect, what are you doing from a partnership development/channel development standpoint?
Sam: Yeah, so we've got a few partnerships with ATSs already. We have one with Alio.
Joel: Yeah, Taleo?
Sam: Alio. Oh yeah, the other one. We're in the process with Cornerstone and we're in the process of building out more as well because it's crucial for us to be partnered with all the main ATSs.
Chad: Kenexa, iCIMS. PeopleFluent.
Sam: Yeah, absolutely. We are in discussion with that.
Chad: I see it on their website.
Sam: So it's crucial that we're, partnered and doing that. That's not the only partnerships or the channel that we're looking at, we're in discussions with Korn Ferry at the moment and a few of the big HR consultancies because we see that as being a key way of us scaling and being used as well.
Chad: What about pricing?
Sam: Yep. So it all depends on the company size. It's done on the basis that the number of employees that an organization has.
Chad: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Sam: So for smaller organizations it starts at sort of four pounds per employee per month. But that scales way down when you're talking about the likes of Accentures of this world. If you were talking a global rollout, obviously that would be astronomical. So we sort of tailored the pricing depending on how big the organization is.
Chad: So it's seeded almost too to an extent? If you have a hundred versus 300 the pricing is going to vary, do you have that siloed out on the website for people? How's that work?
Sam: Yeah, it's not on the website. The reason for that is... Anyway, we are up front with it as soon as possible. In the pipeline piece.
Joel: I'm really intrigued by sort of the badge and the data around the employees who are doing the most referring and sort of creating a competition internally. So that's not a question, but just curiosity of how engaged are employees, like do they really give a shit about this stuff? Do you see anything that would indicate like, wow, they're really fucking geeked on this stuff or not?
Sam: Yeah. Again, it all comes down to the [inaudible 00:26:47]. If we get a focus group and we get some killer ideas off the back of it, it is really cool to see how excited they can get, particularly around the raffle stuff. When you're talking about a monthly raffle and you make it viable for everybody to actually have a chance of winning, you need to do points basically that's leadable for six months, for example.
Sam: Within a month you've got your, say, five people at the front. It's
hard for everyone else to catch, right? At least do a drop off. You don't think you're going to do it. It's like playing fantasy football. Whereas if you actually sort of do it on a more regular basis with a raffle, it does get people excited. It is cool to see. But it was all about being the right reward and something that they care about.
Chad: There we go.
Joel: All right Sam, that's the bell and you know what that means. It's time to face the firing squad. Are you ready?
Sam: I'm ready.
Joel: All right, Chad wants to go first.
Chad: All right. So Sam, we've talked about this and I think that you being able to feed off of more than just LinkedIn obviously is incredibly important, but you've got to remember once you start feeding off of that morphine drip, you become addicted. And LinkedIn could shut you off at any time or play the moving the actual goal for you or where you get the data or where you get the contacts. The key word "workaround" is one of the things that you're going to have to really be diligent about with platforms like LinkedIn. Not to mention the whole friends of Bob things still within employee referrals is a problem, right?
Chad: But I do agree 100% we need better employee referral programs. We can do better from an engagement standpoint. We can do better from a maximizing of the people that we know. I love the small immediate points of engagement and the gamification, which I think is awesome. And overall to stop the friends of Bob problem, we need data to audit and auditing will be the key to getting to an unbiased process. That's the only way we can do it.
Chad: So for those reasons, and I think you're working through some hurdles and some obstacles you'll be able to, but for those reasons I'm going to give you a big applause.
Joel: All right, way to go, Sam. Nice synopsis there, Chad. Always intriguing as usual. All right, it's my turn. I got to admit, when I heard about another referral solution, I couldn't help but sort of wax nostalgic and think about all the referral sites and solutions that have failed in the past. H3, Jobster, I could continue to name many. People have argued that, hey, well social media will change the game, mobile might change the game how we communicate, et cetera.
Joel: I tend to think that we're probably closer to the right time for a referral system than we are away from it. So I do think that the time is probably right for a company like Real Links. I think the team is great. The initial funding I think is going to get you through that first hump in terms of your development.
Joel: I don't love the sort of manual process that employees have to go through to get data. I know also you had mentioned that you look into email addresses of workers and try to create profiles through it that way. So I think you'll eventually work through some of that as well. I'd love to see you get the ".com" at some point. I'd love to see you become more global, get some more big companies in the basket, which it sounds like you're working on.
Joel: Unfortunately, I don't give big applauses for stuff that will happen or what will probably happen or could happen, but I definitely think that you're on the right track. I think you just need to continue to work hard and make some of these things happen. So by no means the guns, but for me, you got some work to do, but you've come a good long way. We'll see you at Unleash. I hope you kick ass and win that competition, just like Job Sink who we also recently had on the firing squad. But other than that, Sam man, keep up the good fight and good job.
Sam: Awesome. Yeah, that was great. Thanks for having me on, really enjoyed it.
Joel: And Chad, as we always do, man, we out.
Chad: We out.
Announcer: This has been the firing squad. Be sure to subscribe to the Chad and Cheese podcast so you don't miss an episode. And if you're a startup who wants to face the firing squad, contact the boys at chadchees.com today. That's www.C-H-A-D-C-H-E-E-S-E.com.