• Chad and Cheese

FIRING SQUAD: HR Lancers CEO, Chris Russell


Today freelancing is hot, either as a side hustle or a full-time affair and the Gig Economy seems to be getting bigger and bigger every day.

The big question: Are HR giggers ready for a platform of their own?

Chris Russell, a job board industry veteran brings HR Lancers, an "HR Marketplace" to Firing Squad. Does first to market mean glory, fame, and acquisition or simply a rush to market with a souped-up job board?

You'll have to listen to find out! Thanks again to our friends at Talroo for supporting FIRING SQUAD!

PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION sponsored by:

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Chad:

Talroo is focused on predicting, optimizing, and delivering talent directly to your email or ATS.

Joel:

So it's totally data-driven talent attraction, which means the Talroo platform enables recruiters to reach the right talent at the right time and at the right price.

Chad:

Guess what the best part is?

Joel:

Let me take a shot here. You only pay for the candidates Talroo delivers.

Chad:

Holy shit. Okay, so you've heard this before. So if you're out there listening in podcast land and you are attracting the wrong candidates and we know you are, or you feel like you're in a recruiting hamster wheel and there's just nowhere to go, you can go to talroo.com/attract. Again, that's talroo.com/attract, and learn how Talroo can get you better candidates for less cash.

Joel:

Or just go to chadcheese.com, and click on the Talroo logo. I'm all about the simple.

Chad:

You are a simple man.

Pirate:

Yee be poo without Talroo.

Intro:

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, time for a little Firing Squad. What's up gang? You're listening to the Chad and Cheese Podcast Firing Squad episode edition. My name is Joel Cheesman.

Chad:

And I am Chad Sowash.

Joel:

And on today's chopping block...

Chad:

So excited.

Joel:

We have, full disclosure, longtime friend, not only of the show, but just in general, Chris Russell. Please welcome Chris to the show.

Chris:

Yeah, let's get it on, fellas.

Chad:

There he is.

Joel:

Spoken like a Yankee fan with a lot of confidence going into spring training, obviously.

Chris:

That's right. Let's go Yankees.

Joel:

All right, Chris, well, before we get into your new thing, tell us a little bit about you. Obviously, Chad and I know you from way back, but many of our listeners do not. So give us the elevator pitch on you and your crazy mad scientist life, and then Chad will read the rules of the show, and then we'll get your pitch and have at it.

Chris:

Yeah, cool. Started out in the job board world, back in the good old days of 1999, when D was just a small little player on the scene.

Joel:

'99? I weren't even around.

Chris:

Exactly. Well, a few years later. I've been in this space for about 20 years, mostly in digital recruiting as I call it, as running job boards, different startups, spent a couple of years in corporate recruiting as well. And for the past five years, I've been working for myself essentially as a freelancer, a writer/podcaster in the space overall. So a lot of people know me, but that's a quick background on who I am and what I do.

Joel:

Outstanding. Well, Chad, tell him what he's won.

Chad:

You have won a two minute pitch for HR Lancers. At the end of the two minutes, you're going to hear the bell. Then Joel and I will hit you with some rapid fire Q & A. If your answers start rambling, then Joel's going to hit you with the crickets. That just means you need to tighten your shit up. At the end of Q & A, you will receive a one of these three grades. Number one, big applause.

Joel:

What you want.

Chad:

Yep, means you knocked it out of the park, man. Number two, golf clap. Okay, we might've been a little bit impressed, but you are not there yet. Last but not least, the firing squad. Ouch. You should pack your shit up and go home. You should start something different. This is not-

Joel:

Restart jobs and pods or something.

Chad:

This is not your thing.

Chris:

It's a good thing I bought that flack jacket on Amazon yesterday.

Chad:

Yeah, so that's the firing squad. All right, are you ready, Chris. Are you ready?

Chris:

I'm ready.

Joel:

All right, in three, two...

Chris:

My name is Chris and I'm an HR freelancer. I've been working for myself since I left my last corporate job five years ago, and over the past year or so, I began to notice more and more HR pros and recruiters leaving the corporate life in favor of working as an independent consultant. The growth of the freelance or gig economy, as some refer to it, is a real trend these days. A report by the freelance union says that 56 million people are now freelancing and increase to 3.7 million over the last five years. According to ADP, one in six enterprise workers are actually gig workers paid is either 10.99 consultants or short term W employees working one to six months.

Chris:

If you've ever spent time in some of the popular recruiter and HR groups on Facebook, you also notice this story. I frequently see HR pros and recruiters posting in search of messages looking for remote work as a consultant for example. They crave the ability to set their own hours and work from the comfort of their own home. There are thousands of us out there and it was time I thought to create a resource that brings them together and provides a way for these HR Lancers, as I call them, to you find work and be found. That's why, in January, I launched hrlancers.com local marketplace to find and post remote and onsite roles specifically for contractors and consultants in the HR space.

Chris:

The site contains gigs and projects for everything from benefits to sourcing to writing, and it's already working. Alisa Penny, a small business HR consultant from Abilene, Texas has been hired. She created an employee handbook for a small tech startup in Charlotte, for example. And I've even hired some of the recruiters myself to write for me and one of my clients around HR recruiting topics. In the past 30 days, the site's received over 5,000 visitors and we signed up over 400 freelancers to the platform. I want people to think of HR Lancers as the Upwork for HR, so feel free to post a gig or a profile today at hrlancers.com.

Joel:

Boom. Nice pitch. Nicely done. Marry me.

Chad:

You mentioned Upwork. What is your definition of a marketplace?

Chris:

It's a place where both the employers and seekers can come together. Essentially, that's it. It's pretty simple.

Chad:

A traditional job board, you can actually see as a marketplace?

Chris:

Yes.

Chad:

Okay, so does HR Lancers fit into the same kind of mold or do you look at them fit, you fitting into the same kind of mold as other freelance sites that have, again as you'd said, that have become incredibly popular.

Chris:

If you look at Upwork, it's essentially a job board that's with all the data essentially hidden overall. You can even find Upwork jobs coming into Google for jobs itself as a side note. So they are, in a sense, of job board but it's just essentially a private one. You don't know who the contractors are by name until they actually apply. And you can't see the names of the employers who are posting gigs up there overall. So from that perspective, HR Lancers is an open marketplace where you could see everything. All the profiles are public for those who choose to activate them, and all the gigs are publicly available much like a job board is.

Joel:

Chris, a lot of folks who don't know you, I'll clue them in that you are famous in our industry for launching, let's call it small, hobby-like initiatives. Is that fair to say?

Chris:

Yeah, my biggest success was a company call AllCountyjobs, which I ran for about 13 years. I ran it out of my house. I had a couple of employees over time, but it was essentially a lifestyle business.

Joel:

Right. You launched a lot of things, let's call it, spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. You mentioned the growth and freelance and things like that, but what was it about this idea that really put a fire under your butt and said, I got to do this and do it right?

Chris:

From my own experience, it comes from, I think overall, and I really thought that something like this could be big. If I had to pick to predict the future here, I think this could be my last legacy for what I do overall as someone in the HR industry overall. This could be a big site in other words. People know me for a lot of small projects out there, but this I think has the potential to be the biggest thing I've ever done.

Joel:

So if I were to say, hey, one of my skepticisms about this business is that in six months, you'll launch something else and you'll lose interest or sell it off to somebody. You're here to tell me right now on this show you're going to commit to this thing? In two years, you might have employees, you might have a staff and an office and all that good stuff. Are you telling me that right now?

Chris:

Yes I am.

Joel:

Okay.

Chris:

Definitely. One of my key traits, guys, is persistence. So for anybody who knows me knows that I'm constantly plugging away and grinding out there no matter what I do. I've shut down stuff in the past that hasn't worked, have admitted that stuff. But this is something that is going to be around for two years from now, three years from now, five years from now, guaranteed.

Chad:

Cool. Can I access all of the giggers for free?

Chris:

Yes.

Chad:

Okay, so why pay to post? If I have access to those individuals, not to mention are you afraid of other technology coming in and actually scraping a lot of that data for their own purpose of re-monetizing? Why open to the public and why do I need to pay if I'm an employer? And the third prong of this is what about all those other technologies that are out there that want that data?

Chris:

Yeah, it's funny you mentioned that because there's actually a one site called Active Hire, which appears to be scraping resumes off of there right now. I've seen that referral traffic come in. Another job board I ran as well, I saw that same site come in as well. So I don't care. Right now, I want to build a community and a foundation, and that takes time overall. So this first year is really just making it a frictionless experience overall. And so, the reason I want to open it up is essentially to do that, to make it simple and easy. You can go on there today and hand a contact that freelancer, their phone number, email is up there overall.

Chris:

Over time, that may change. I'm not saying it's not going to, but I want to create a simple transparent site that everyone would find easy to use overall. So that's the simplicity of, I think, it makes it a frictionless experience and just helps to grow the overall user base more quickly overall.

Chad:

Gotcha. So there are 56 million freelancers out there today. Do we know how many of them are actually HR freelancers?

Chris:

No, we don't. If I had to guess, I'd say there's probably... If you count freelance recruiters in there, probably a few hundred thousand.

Chad:

Okay, okay. Currently, you have 168 giggers in the platform.

Chris:

Yeah.

Chad:

How do you get there? How do you get to that hundreds of thousands? How do you actually do this? How are you going to attract more giggers? Because, obviously, if you have more giggers, what are you going to have? You have more employers wanting to try to come in and utilize the site, right?

Chris:

I don't think we need a hundred thousand giggers to actually make the site successful overall. I think that number is probably closer to five to 10,000 after the first year or so. And that's what I'm shooting for overall. I'm spending money advertising, I'm doing shows like this to get the word out and it takes time to do that, guys. I'm not so dreamy-eyed that I think it's going to happen overnight, in this game for a while. So it's going to take one to two years to get to that point.

Joel:

I'd like to dig into that marketing and you're spending money. What are you finding to be the most effective ways to market this thing to HR folks?

Chris:

The best way is social media right now. As I mentioned, it was groups in part of my pitch there so Jobs for Recruiters is a Facebook group out there, it's pretty popular. I'm on there every day just looking at the post and commenting to people. That's by far the number one way to get traction. I've already hired one of the lancers on the platform to actually do outreach for me as well. As part of her job, she's actually has a quota to go out there each week and invite X number of people to the platform itself. So I'm leveraging other freelancers to do this as well overall. And then from a paid standpoint, I've been using LinkedIn ads right now, which probably getting about a three bucks a click on average as far as that goes just targeting HR out there.

Joel:

When you first mentioned this to me, I think you more than most, understand the niche site. You made your first success with All County Jobs when Monster and CareerBuilder and those guys ruled the earth. But you were able to find a niche there locally, as many others did, to find success. That was largely driven on SEO and optimizing for terms that when people search Toledo jobs or Boston jobs that you could be successful. When I look at maybe your thought process on this, how do we niche Upwork? How do we niche Fiverr and other companies like that?

Joel:

But when I look at those being tech platforms, big, large public companies with a lot of resources, they've been around for a long time, it reminds me of when companies were doing video, jobbing video. And certain job sites had their own video platform where everyone knew it's never going to be as good as YouTube. YouTube has the resources, they're going to have 4K, they're going to have all this cool stuff, and they're going to have the audience. Do you really think that nichifying Upwork and Fiverr is a strategy that's going to work for you?

Chris:

Yes, and I think it's already happening, guys. If you look at some of the stuff out there that's getting funding for example. I'll mention a few of these. Marketer hire, which is a marketing freelance platform, picked up a million and a half bucks recently for funding, I would say Communo. One of the guys you know as well. It's a marketing freelance platform as well, got some funding as well. So we're seeing the nichification of gigs right now in the industry.

Chris:

I talked to a guy last week who runs a group called Biteline, which is an app for a dental hygienist to go find temporary gigs overall. And so, there's one for nursing out there, there's stuff for hospitality. So we are seeing a nichification of the gig industry overall. I think every industry is going to have some form of gig marketplace that serves it in the future here.

Chad:

I agree. How long does it take to create a profile in HR Lancers?

Chris:

Just a couple minutes. You just signed with your LinkedIn profile or you can create your own, upload your resume.

Chad:

So if you sign in with your LinkedIn profile, all my data from LinkedIn will actually pull over into the site?

Chris:

Yeah, it pulls down your entire chronological history of all your stuff there.

Chad:

Okay, you might want to get that checked out. I tried to do that three times this morning and it never worked.

Chris:

Oh, yeah?

Chad:

Yeah. Transparency also equals ratings. If you take a look at Fiverr and Upwork and whatnot, you see the "better" rated giggers floating to the top. You've gone away from that, correct me if I'm wrong, you've gone away from that and you're actually charging giggers to be featured, which is not really transparent overall, that's just if a gigger has more money than they're going to get more exposure. So why did you choose to go that route instead of a ratings transparency route?

Chris:

I'm not saying it ratings will never be on the platform. I think they will eventually. But I wanted to give freelancers a way to join for free, which they can do of course. There's no charge there. If they want to upgrade their listing and feature themselves in certain categories, things like that, they can do that for a small fee overall.

Chris:

If you look at sites like Upwork, and this is another reason I started HR Lancers, because I think Upwork specifically is trying to take advantage of freelancers out there. They charge 20% of project fees, which to me is ridiculous overall. Plus they charge you a monthly fee of $15 a month just to actually join the platform overall. And they're a public company now, so they're all about the dollar and they're going to be trying to suck that out of freelancers wherever they can I think overall. I want to create a free resource for these guys, and by charging them 80 bucks a year to feature their profile for a year, I think it's well worth the money.

Chad:

Okay. Is posting by the hiring companies manual?

Chris:

Yes, it is. Although, we can scrape as well if they give us a feed.

Chad:

And that's for the same $19 a month?

Chris:

Yep.

Chad:

Okay, excellent. How are you marketing and selling into HR departments? Because obviously going after HR Lancers to get them in to create profiles is one thing, but how are you going after the HR departments to be able to get them to know about the platform and start using the platform?

Chris:

Yeah, a couple of ways. I've got my own email list as well I built up over the years through many different newsletters and sites like RecruitingHeadlines for example. So I'm using and leveraging that as well. I'm doing a lot of outreach on my own on social media platforms as well. I see these roles or comments that say, hey, why don't you repost this on HR Lancers? Actually, I'll go and repost it myself for them as well. And the other part of this is that... the demand side of these roles out there, the demand side is there. There's definitely more freelancers today who want these types of roles than there are these roles exist.

Chris:

So that's probably my biggest challenge right now, is finding the companies overall. But there's enough out there to keep the site going and keep... These remote roles themselves essentially... I put them on the site, they're getting 10, 20, 30 applicants within a week. That's how in demand these things are overall. So it's not that hard to find the seekers out there. They're there, it's just a matter of getting enough demand side positions onto the site.

Joel:

You touched on money briefly. Are you currently looking for funding? Are you just going to bootstrap this thing for the foreseeable future? What's your plan around that?

Chris:

Yeah, I can bootstrap it for as long as I wish, I think, overall. At some point, I think I would like to look at raising money overall. I think it's such a big opportunity here in this space and there's definitely validation from other players, other sites like Communo in the market or hire out there that validate this type of model overall. So I do think that's a possibility in the future.

Joel:

Yeah, and in terms of growth, Fiverr and Upwork launched... Fiverr used to be $5 gigs, and that used to be all that they had. But it was largely an international group of giggers. And then probably, I don't know, Western companies and people hiring them is your model. Are you global in nature? Do you want to grow North America and then dribble out into Europe and Asia? What's the current plan of targeting and what's the future?

Chris:

Yeah, I'd say North America first. That's where my is my audience is overall. That's what people know me from here. I think it'll eventually build into more of a global site. We are already getting people from overseas creating profiles on the site.

Joel:

So you're not blocking countries currently?

Chris:

No. You can't do that technically, but that's really a pain in the ass.

Chad:

Any why, right?

Chris:

Exactly right. But I do think eventually it can be more of a global site. The next stop will probably be the Europe area and things like the UK and stuff like that. But yes, North America for now and we'll see what happens in the future.

Chad:

Okay, can giggers apply using their HR Lancer profile?

Chris:

Yes.

Chad:

Excellent. So how does that actually work? Can they apply and then...

Chris:

Yeah, they can fill in a little cover letter or submission profile there, summary. And then they can attach the resume if they like or attach another document that has details of the project or whatever. But yeah, they can apply to that directly and the employer just gets an email and logs in and goes to check the status of that application.

Chad:

Okay. So it's not going into their core system, it's going into their email and really just letting them know, signaling them at that happening.

Chris:

We can redirect to the employer site if they have the ATS whatever, but generally better to keep them on the site overall.

Chad:

Yeah, that's just a quick link but they still have to go through all the hoops. My overall thought process is today that companies don't want to use another platform. They want that platform to integrate with their core system, so that if somebody does apply, I don't have to go out to another system and try to jump in and pull those resumes over into my applicant tracking system. Sales partnerships, who have you aligned with to be able to get the word out there and to be able to create sales channels because I'm sure one guy selling isn't your plan.

Chris:

Yeah, no, definitely. I haven't got there yet. I did speak with Jessica over at Workology the other day and she brought up the idea of creating a course for freelancers to help them get off the ground. So I'm talking to her about that overall. It's a partnership with them. But that's it right now. But yeah, you're right up. I can't do this alone, guys. And I definitely realized that. It's the reason I hired Alisa down in Texas there to help them with outreach and I'm sure I'll be hiring more over the course of the year to help with this and any continuing partnerships and things like that.

Joel:

Hey dude, I know you're a closet techie and you like shiny metal objects and things like that. I'm curious, I know you're a fan of mobile and believe that that's the future. First part of my question is should we be expecting native apps to come out for HR Lancers or will you remain desktop for the foreseeable future? And secondly, what sort of tech would you like beyond mobile to start integrating with the system, if any?

Chris:

Yes, I definitely think a mobile app eventually it will be a good thing to add to the site overall. If I got funding tomorrow, probably the first thing I would do is create an app overall. I don't think it needs it right now. I think that the vast majority of recruiters in HR out there, particularly on the employer side, it's a desktop universe for the most part with those guys. If you look at the actual stats of a typical site that recruiters frequent today, it skews towards the desktop side overall. But, I will create an app at some point in the future for the audience there. Other tech, I want to build a community here too. We're going to have Zoom Hangouts for the lancers on there. We may do some courses as well. So I do want to build more of a community feel, particularly this first year, to get everyone involved overall around some of this stuff. So I think the next year will be really focused on content and community versus tech right now.

Joel:

So you're saying virtual reality isn't in the near future?

Chris:

No, I will not. What's that CareerBuilder app called?

Chad:

Pokemon for HR Lancers.

Joel:

That's it from me, Chad. Do you have anything else?

Chad:

No, sir.

Joel:

All right. Chris, are you ready to face the squad?

Chris:

All right, let me button up this flack jacket here.

Joel:

Yeah, put on the helmet, buddy. Tighten up the chin strap.

Chris:

All right.

Joel:

I'll go ahead and go first. I think there's a lot of good here and I think total transparency with the audience. Chad and I spoke before the call and we were worried what's this going to be about? And Chris is loosey goosey with stuff. But Chris was super, super firm on this is what I'm doing, this is my focus, this is what I'm committed to. And I really believe that. So to me, that hurdle was cleared pretty quickly. In just looking at the business, I think it's a question of do you believe in a future of niche gigs and contract workers versus a monolithic site to do that or maybe as a variety of big sites with a lot of resources. The answer is obviously only time will tell.

Joel:

But if look at history as a gauge, if we look at Job Search for example, it's more or less a few sites that are job search sites and we have niche sites for everything. But those are pretty much secondary. Will Uber Eats compete with Upwork or Uberwork? And so, we have all these players with money and resources. My contention over this whole thing is that I don't think that you'll have the resources to compete with some of the bigger companies that can do this. Imagine if LinkedIn tomorrow said we're going to have contract workers and we're going to compete with Upwork, which is not totally out of the realm of possibility. I think that definitely could happen.

Joel:

If that happens, all the HR people are on LinkedIn already. So I think that deep sixes your whole business if they decide to do that. Although I think you're committed, I think this is a market, this is an opportunity. I don't think you're looking to cash out a $1 billion valuation at some point. I think this is, hopefully for you, your next 10, 15, 20 years of working. So in that case, it's possible, but I think there is a lot of risk here, a lot of threats. So for me, it's a golf clap. I think there's a lot of uncertainty, but I think you're going to make a success of it. I just don't know how big.

Chris:

Fair enough. Appreciate that.

Chad:

Fair enough. Didn't even need that flack jacket.

Chris:

No.

Chad:

All right, Chris, my turn.

Chris:

Alright Chad.

Chad:

First and foremost, Niches Smart, Niches Necessary and specialty sites like this can make awesome money. And you can get some really good traction if you execute and you start to set expectations. You'd said earlier there is validation in the market of people saying that this is something that we need. I agree 100% but I feel like a marketplace is an entirely different concept. This is more of an open job board where there's no transparency to the ratings, there are people that are obviously transparent, which is, again, another great way to get people in to start using and perspectively scraping until you shut that down, not to mention, as I had said, I used the LinkedIn sign in with email verification, which I thought was awesome.

Chad:

Problem was it didn't work. It didn't carry my information over into profile and there were three different times that I received a 429, too many requests message error from the actual site itself. So leaning on LinkedIn and other organizations, you can do at your own peril obviously. But overall, it seems there is no question this, there is a validation, I believe, in marketplaces and marketplaces to be more niche, more focused only because you are a veteran in this market. And I know that you have industry network contacts and you have the wherewithal to be able to get this done, anyone else, they would be facing the guns right now, but because of your history, I think you can definitely knock this out if you focus and execute, which is why I'm giving you a golf clap.

Chris:

All right, I'll take it.

Joel:

That wasn't too bad. You can take the bulletproof vest off now and take the helmet off. It's all good. All right, Chris, for those out there that want to learn more about you and the company, where do you send them? Hrlancers.com, my friend.

Joel:

Too easy. Chad, another one in the boats. We out.

Chris:

Peace out.

Outro:

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 chadcheese.com today. That's www.chadcheese.com.

#FiringSquad #Talroo #GigEconomy #Freelance #Marketplace #Startup #HRLancers

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