Catching the VONQ
We joke about VONQ sounding like an STD our "roommate" caught in college, as well as saying their executive teams look like the bad guys from the Bruce Willis classic Die Hard, but truth be told, they're a company making waves in the employment space. That's why we recently sat down with CEO Arno Schäfer to dig into what's going on at the company. Turns out they're doing some really interesting things, like private labeling their tech so applicant tracking systems can make even more money.
What a world, amirite!?!?!
Enjoy this one, live from UNLEASHworld in Paris.
TRANSCRIPTION SPONSORED BY: Disability Solutions partners with our clients to build best-in-class inclusion programs and reach qualified, talented individuals with disabilities of every skill, education, and experience level.
Hide your kids! Lock the doors! You're listening to HR’s most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheeseman 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.
Oh, Yeah. What's up everybody? We are back live, Unleash World, Paris, France, and we are talking today with Arno Schäfer, our favorite diehard villain and CEO of VONQ.
I'm drinking beer in France. It doesn't feel right.
Drinking lukewarm European beer.
Italian though, right? Italian beer.
We're getting, we're getting Italian beer in a company run by Germans, founded by the Dutch. So we're all confused. Arno welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me.
Joel (1m 0s):
He's being very polite, German in the corner there.
Arno (1m 3s):
Chad (1m 4s):
It's not my turn to talk.
Joel (1m 6s):
Arno (1m 6s):
No, it's Europe, you know, so it's, you know, a lot of countries, so Italian beer, you know.
Chad (1m 11s):
All over the place. Yeah. Germans, I just finished some champagne, so that should, Yeah, that should go well with warm beer.
Joel (1m 16s):
So give us a little bit about you, and then we'll get into the company and what you guys are doing right now.
Chad (1m 20s):
Long walks on the Rhine. Yeah,
Arno (1m 22s):
We all walked on the Rhine. Exactly, exactly.
Joel (1m 24s):
It's Octoberfest. It's a Schäfer hause all year?
Arno (1m 28s):
I was actually picked up on the street to run VONQ. No, actually my story. It's a good, good question. So basically, I mean, I am now running VONQ since one and a half years, since February last year. I actually have a background in advertising technology and marketing technology, and had basically nothing to do with HR tech. So I approached and I thought, you know, what VONQ is doing that's really interesting, but you can develop that in a certain way, you know, and basically use the knowledge from Ad<inaudtech and MarTech and to make it more like a really,
Joel (2m 2s):
So you're doing more like Marketo, HubSpot, that kind of stuff?
Arno (2m 7s):
Well, in a way. In a way, yes. So I think how you run a business in a certain way, it's getting, you know, disruptive. And I think the HR technology, the HR space is pretty, I wouldn't call it old fashioned, but there's still, there's a lot of things to catch up with.
Chad (2m 22s):
Especially in Europe.
Arno (2m 23s):
And especially in Europe.
Chad (2m 25s):
I mean, because programmatic isn't really even a thing here yet.
Arno (2m 27s):
No, the thing is, I actually, when I was in talks with VONQ to run the company, I, you know, spoke with some folks in the industry and that said, well, I mean the biggest tool every recruiter uses is Excel, because basically they make the list and you know, they do the job posting.
Chad (2m 41s):
I thought you were gonna say, Joel, I'm sorry, go ahead.
Joel (2m 45s):
I'm like an Excel spreadsheet.
Arno (2m 46s):
Well, and I said, Well, you know, I can do that better, you know, so, and then I said, Look, I mean, let's, you know, give it a try.
Joel (2m 52s):
I think historically, some of the best companies that we've seen come from sales and marketing. They just spin it to an HR audience, which, let's be honest, trails everyone else in terms of innovation. So a lot of successful companies have come from the marketing space. So to me, that makes a lot of sense.
Arno (3m 9s):
Joel (3m 10s):
So talk about VONQ.
Arno (3m 11s):
Joel (3m 12s):
We talk about it a lot on the show, but it's usually in the context of an STD and condoms. So clear up the confusion of what VONQ is for our audience.
Chad (3m 22s):
Clear up the confusion. That's very good.
Joel (3m 24s):
Need a shot of penicillin.
Arno (3m 24s):
How did I catch the VONQ? You know, how did I catch the VONQ? So basically what VONQ is, we are a chop distribution provider in a talent acquisition space. So basically we distribute jobs from A to B. So we are there where job, where job is created, and we distribute that to job boards. That's basically what we do. And we do that in different and different types and different products. We do that high volume, automated, multiposting, for staffing agencies, and we do that also a highly targeted for enterprises.
Chad (3m 56s):
For how long> how long has VONQ been around? Because you're new to the US.
Arno (4m 1s):
Chad (4m 1s):
How long have you been around in Europe?
Arno (4m 3s):
Well, VONQ actually is a pretty old company. It's was founded 16 years ago, 2006.
Chad (4m 8s):
Oh, it's old enough to drive.
Arno (4m 11s):
Yes. And basically.
Joel (4m 12s):
And drink. And you're Germany.
Chad (4m 14s):
Arno (4m 15s):
No, actually it was founded by three Dutch guys at that time. Yeah. And then, you know, of course the company went to some, developments started to kind of digitalize the whole, let's say recruitment process. Then they became shortly an ATS and then they said, Well, you know, maybe that's not a good idea. Let's, you know, just stay neutral. And then we basically became the VONQ of today. And, you know, with the clear positioning, with focus.
Joel (4m 42s):
Are we talking sort of programmatic distribution or just kind of dumb we're gonna put it on job boards and see what happens?
Arno (4m 47s):
We can do both. I mean, yeah, we can do both. And I mean, one of the biggest milestones was probably, you know, 2019 or 2020 when actually VONQ, was before my time bought a company in Koning in Netherlands, which was a multi poster IGB. And that became basically the backbone of our technology today and of our offering what we call Happy, the hiring api, which is a wide label solution, which can be easy be integrated into ATS.
Chad (5m 16s):
See what he did there?
Joel (5m 17s):
He did segue there, didn't he?
Chad (5m 21s):
Joel (5m 21s):
Leading the witness and branding appropriately. Marketing guy.
Chad (5m 25s):
That's a great brand. So the market is amazingly different in the US than it is in Europe. Right. And it's funny because most Americans don't realize it until they go to Europe and then they start doing business in Europe, and most Europeans don't understand it until they try to invade the US. So talk about the difference, if you would, of how you were working in Europe versus the US.
Arno (5m 49s):
Yeah, so basically, I mean, VONQ is originally, as I said, a European company and we didn't even dream of going to the US until, you know,
Joel (5m 58s):
Arno (5m 57s):
The beginning of next year. Okay.
Joel (5m 59s):
Arno (5m 59s):
So, the thing is actually
Chad (6m 3s):
Saw the pot of gold.
Arno (6m 4s):
Exactly. So I think the issue is, I think, I've seen a couple of companies again, I mean, it's the ad tech technology moving from Europe to the states and most everyone failed because I mean, it's such a different market.
Chad (6m 20s):
Well then why do it?
Arno (6m 21s):
Chad (6m 21s):
You see it happening?
Joel (6m 21s):
It's the pot of gold.
Arno (6m 21s):
But then sometimes you have to learn from mistakes and basically do it maybe a little bit smarter than others.
Chad (6m 26s):
It's like sirens with the ships is like.
Arno (6m 31s):
Those times are over, you know? So, no, but actually what we did, because we said, well, we could do it different way. I mean, first of all, we could have just bought a company and we can just say, you know, let's have, you know, five guys, you know, sitting in a New York sales office calling people with no connection, no name, no brand. I mean, that's probably not gonna work. So we actually decided to buy people, so to speak. So we started with Josh, I mean, one of, you know, the persons in the US everybody knows in the HR tech world. And basically he brought a team together. And so we basically, you know, started with the established team. So they, you know, the team is growing and we know of 15 people and basically with their connections, with their, you know, network, it's what's much easier for us to basically succeed in the US than building it completely from scratch.
Chad (7m 20s):
Well, we talked about it on the podcast a few weeks ago. I mean, big, big hires. You got Richard Castellini, Doug Ries, and we're talking about guys who have decades in this industry.
Joel (7m 34s):
Chad (7m 34s):
So, I mean, that was in incredibly smart, but not just the people are different. You're coming at the US in an entirely different fashion than Europe. Can you tell us how?
Arno (7m 45s):
Yeah, so basically, I mean, in Europe we are mainly direct. So basically we are talking directly to enterprises. We work for DHL, BSF, and you know, of course you name it. Over a thousand enterprises we are working for. And we thought, look, I mean, if you now go to the US and start to call enterprise by enterprise, it's gonna take a while with a long sales cycle in HR. That's not gonna work. So basically we chose a different approach and we went indirect into the states. So basically we said, well, let's just reduce the number of people we have to call.
Chad (8m 19s):
Touch points, yes.
Arno (8m 20s):
Just the touch points, and maybe just focus on the top 10, top 20 ATSs, because they actually hopefully do the sales for us. And so that's what we did. And then, we could use of course, the network we built, you know, with the people you just mentioned. And basically it was a pretty easy access to the ATS because we told them, look, I mean, there are ways in the industry you can make money. I mean, one is the one you're doing, but the other one we can tell you because basically why don't you just add a marketplace, a store into your offering, into your, basically into your flow and use our technology to post media. And that actually is incremental revenues for them.
Arno (9m 3s):
So it's a win-win situation. And we gave them like a revenue share. So they built with our API, a store in the ATS and basically can sell media to their clients, which reduces churn for the ATSs. And actually it's also beneficial for the enterprise.
Joel (9m 21s):
You know, we talk a lot about ATSs that have marketplaces, they have the data, they know what's hot, they know what people are buying. And in historically what happens is an iCIMS text recruit thing where, oh, well text recruiting's kind of a thing. Let's just buy the most popular solution in our marketplace. You guys are actually helping them become their own most popular app in their marketplace.
Arno (9m 47s):
Joel (9m 47s):
By saying, Okay, you're buying this, here's your menu of items, and here is the Greenhouse job distribution product or whatever.
Arno (9m 55s):
Joel (9m 55s):
So me as a buyer, I've already bought the brand Greenhouse, you guys are wrapping your product into Greenhouse.
Chad (10m 1s):
It's like a super app.
Joel (10m 3s):
We could dig into that. Yeah. I mean it's helping them become the head of their own marketplace.
Chad (10m 10s):
Joel (10m 10s):
Double dipping if you will, because they know what kind of traffic and leverage these apps have and they can do the math and go, Gee, how much money would we be making? Because most of the marketplaces are free.
Chad (10m 23s):
Joel (10m 23s):
Right? It's not the Apple iOS where we get 30% and they're looking at you guys there with a solution of saying, We'll brand at you, we'll be the technology. Why wouldn't an ATS do this? I assume this has gotta be like shooting fish in a barrel.
Arno (10m 36s):
Yeah, that's exactly the point. I mean basically it's, you know, it's incremental revenue, it's incremental business for the ATS. And I mean, honestly, I mean, I speak to a lot of CEOs of ATS and say, I mean basically, would be stupid not to do it because I mean that's basically, you know, you know, it's the easiest way to,
Joel (10m 52s):
I mean, I'm not gonna build it myself. I mean, do you guys handle the customer service if someone says? I mean, the service side of it? Do you guys support that or is like?
Arno (11m 3s):
Yes. Well basically it's a completely flow after we do the delivery, we do the operations, we do the support. Partly that's, you know, depending on contract to contract and yeah so it's a certain flow. And so there
Chad (11m 14s):
There are build versus buy scenarios. This is nothing that you would ever want to fucking build because there are way too many partnerships that you have to deal with.
Arno (11m 24s):
Chad (11m 25s):
You think of all the niche and big player job boards and job sites. If you build this, you have to like, you have to herd all those cats corral. And that just fucking sucks. Yeah. If you can corner that, I get what you're saying.
Joel (11m 42s):
And I gotta think this is going to inspire some competition. Is anyone else doing this? Are you seeing some competitors?
Arno (11m 50s):
Yeah, there are other companies also. I mean, it's always difficult to speak about the competition. I mean, there are other companies doing that,
Joel (11m 55s):
And we will destroy them.
Arno (11m 56s):
I mean, if it's working, then it's working, then there's no reason to, you know, to go.
Joel (11m 60s):
You guys are the first to market on this stuff, right? I had not heard of a white label.
Arno (12m 6s):
I think so, yes.
Chad (12m 8s):
Well now eQuest did this back with Taleo 15 years ago and they got complacent now. I mean the thing was,
Joel (12m 12s):
But it was one product
Chad (12m 13s):
They came out, but it was one product and they had an exclusive with Toleo. Yeah. And they got complacent and then the market just opened up.
Joel (12m 21s):
So don't be complacent is what Chad is saying.
Chad (12m 26s):
He's German, they're not gonna be fucking complacent.
Joel (12m 28s):
So what services do you white label currently? I assume job distribution, but what else are ATS is plugging in?
Arno (12m 33s):
So basically, I mean, so to five seconds ad, we have a VONQ suite and then we have a Happy suite. So Happy is our product and we do the, you know, do the core, which is the marketplace. So it's the pure duration post, that's something which is built in, into the ATS. You can just click on it, like at, you know, if you buy something at Amazon, click, click, check out by. So it's as simple as that. What we also do, by the way, is we are offering with one ATS a payment, a wallet. So basically recruiters or the company can actually, you know, put money into a wallet.
Chad (13m 7s):
Like an Apple wallet?
Arno (13m 7s):
Yeah. Like a Apple wallet,
Chad (13m 9s):
A VONQ wallet?
Arno (13m 9s):
The VONQ wallet and maybe an ATS wallet and they can just use the money which is in the wallet and basically use it for their media buy. So that's something which is actually a product we built, you know, in a couple of months because we saw there's a need. So that's one thing. And Happy Job post, which is the multiposting part. So basically, own contracts from an ATS can be uploaded or from a client. And that's also product what we offer. Yeah. And what we also see, and it's also a thing in the states especially, is social impact and compliance is a big piece of our offering. So social impact, I mean, the trend probably right now, you know, D and I, you know, making sure you reach all the, you know, special sites.
Chad (13m 56s):
Do you find that bigger here in Europe than in the US? I mean, because the US companies talk about it.
Arno (14m 4s):
Chad (14m 4s):
But it's all warm and fuzzy bullshit, right? I mean, it seems like the EU really wants to put this in place. Do you feel that?
Arno (14m 11s):
I think there are two ways to kind of approach it. One is the regulation because, and in the states it's further down the road with the OCCP compliance needs. So if you do business with the government, you have to, you know, make sure that your audit proof post all jobs on those special sites. We don't have that in Europe yet. Yet. I assume that's gonna come. In terms of social impact D and I, I don't see, there's so many differences between Europe and the states. I actually think that the regulation in the states is probably coming to Europe. It actually also will help us offering that product in Europe.
Chad (14m 47s):
Arno (14m 47s):
And so I don't see that as a trend.
Chad (14m 54s):
One thing I see though is that there could be problems for programmatic vendors in the US because of their ability to target where jobs go and then where jobs don't go.
Arno (15m 6s):
Chad (15m 7s):
And there could be inherent bias in those distribution models. Obviously the smarter ones that are out there are already thinking about this. But do you see that as Europe starts to mature into programmatic, do you see that as automatically just baked into what you guys do?
Arno (15m 21s):
I think in general, in way. I mean, it's like, you know, performance marketing and Adtech you know, kind of. I see that a lot of people talk about it, but you know, very few actually using it. So I mean, we offer that as well, and, but we see the market doesn't really demand it that much.
Chad (15m 43s):
Arno (15m 43s):
So it's not our first priority.
Chad (15m 46s):
Arno (15m 46s):
I think still a lot of recruiters and enterprises and clients still wanna just post their job on Indeed, on StepStone, on the big portals just to, you know, see them there.
Joel (15m 55s):
Let's talk about MNA for a second, because if I'm sitting where you guys are, I have the relationship with the ATS, I have their trust, I have a technology suite, I would be on an M&A binge to say, how many products can we plug into this ATS that we already have a relationship with. So how many companies are you looking to buy in 2023? And what services?
Chad (16m 20s):
Joel (16m 21s):
Are in your crosshairs right now?
Arno (16m 22s):
I mean, we did buy a company already, you know, like a couple years ago. So of course we always assessing and looking, you know, in the market if there are any targets, but that's it.
Joel (16m 32s):
He's very tight lip. Did you see how tight the lip got? Yeah.
Chad (16m 36s):
Yes, yes, yes, yes. Well that's sending me signals right now. So we're at Unleash, we're here, we're here in Paris. What have you seen here that has surprised you about some of the tech that's happening now? And what do you feel like where the landscape is actually going from a recruitment tech standpoint?
Arno (16m 54s):
I think in terms of what I just said, I mean the DEI stuff that I think that's the whole area of being, you know, compliant, related, I think those tools are probably, you know, gonna be super important in the future. So I see that as a trend. And I think that's it, basically. I mean, I don't see anything that, maybe it's because I'm kind of single minded and No, but I.
Chad (17m 17s):
I appreciate that.
Arno (17m 18s):
No, but I think it's what I actually think is super important, if you want to be successful, is to focus. And I mean, I say that basically every four weeks and in our all hands, you know, we need to focus, focus, focus. Because I think if you're just on too many, you know, different areas, you just not gonna be successful because you have to have one special area where you're good at and that, you know, explore that. So I think we are top of the funnel and we wanna stay there. So we don't wanna, you know, move into a competition mode with ATSs or with CRMs or with other systems because actually we wanna partner with them.
Arno (17m 58s):
So we don't wanna create a competition.
Chad (18m 0s):
So no buying of any assessment platforms anytime soon.
Arno (18m 3s):
No. Oops. Did I say something wrong?
Joel (18m 5s):
We're seeing a lot of interesting things, particularly in the states with the ATS business. We see a lot of really big venture firms spending a lot of money to sort of consolidate ATSs. The I P O market is sort of on hold, iCIMS sort of teased that a couple years ago. How do you guys look at the macro environment for ATSs? Is it the consolidation gonna continue? Is the IPO market gonna heat up? Where are you on just the general market?
Arno (18m 32s):
I think, kind of, what's secure right now is that it's unsecure, you know? So I mean, the only content is changed right now, you know,
Joel (18m 39s):
Isn't that Nitche who said that?
Arno (18m 40s):
So I think, I mean, to be honest, I mean, first of all, I think there are of course macroeconomic external factors. Nobody would've, you know, predicted half a year ago with the war Ukraine with, you know, upcoming recession and inflation. And so I think that's of course, something which we still don't really see in our business. But I mean, it's probably gonna come. And I mean, the second thing is with, I still think that the ATS will be a crucial and central part in the whole ecosystem. So I think more and more services will move into the ATS and basically that they need to ramp up with, you know, services to basically become competitive.
Joel (19m 24s):
Yeah. ATSs may not be going anywhere, but they're getting a lot more competition.
Arno (19m 30s):
Joel (19m 30s):
We're seeing the one platform to rule them all. We're seeing CRMs, we're seeing chat bots.
Arno (19m 36s):
Joel (19m 36s):
Becoming conversation ai. I assume that you don't limit your opportunities to the ATS market. Do you see all of these platforms becoming an opportunity for VONQ?
Arno (19m 45s):
Yes. Yes. So we basically, we can partner with, you know, most of them. So what we also, you know, will do, which makes it super easy in the future to implement our service, is basically a widget, which is can be easily be, you know, integrated into the ATS or the CRM or whatever partner and they can actually make use of our, you know, services. So that's also something that we will release pretty soon.
Joel (20m 9s):
They're going to single-handedly bring back the job board industry by white labelling it.
Chad (20m 15s):
I can't wait. Oh my God. The big question here, is the Bundesliga better than the English Premier League?
Arno (20m 22s):
Well, I think in terms of, you know, football superstars, probably the Premier League is, you know, still more attractive. Of course.
Chad (20m 27s):
Well, because they're stealing the big ones, right? They they just got Holland from the Bundesliga.
Arno (20m 32s):
Exactly, exactly. Yeah. They got big ones and yeah, I mean they have, you know, Ronaldo in his late days, you're still, you know, playing there.
Chad (20m 39s):
Arno (20m 40s):
I think it's still, and to be honest, I actually prefer to watch Premier League over the Bundesliga because the Bundesliga is actually super boring in terms of championship, because only by Munich since, I dunno, 10 years, 11 years. But anyway, so I think the play is also faster and it's more attractive to watch.
Chad (21m 1s):
Yeah. Hey, it's sexy. More goals being scored. You're seeing nine goals, right? Instead of like the mill mills that are happening, which are for any American, we like to see scoring, right? And I think that's just a human thing.
Arno (21m 12s):
You like to score.
Joel (21m 14s):
Dude, pull a joke, you like to score, You totally miss that. You like to score. That's German humor right there. You like to score Chad Hahaha. Are they gonna do any good in the World Cup?
Arno (21m 25s):
Well, actually it's in a couple of weeks I think. I fear that probably nobody really cares, you know, about that World Cup because it's...
Chad (21m 33s):
Arno (21m 33s):
Yeah, it's, I don't know, it's in Qatar, and, you know, it's winter.
Chad (21m 37s):
That's a good point.
Arno (21m 38s):
But anyway, I mean, our team is the German team, it's like, you know, you just don't know what's coming out. I mean they're,
Chad (21m 48s):
Well that's why he doesn't care because he knows his team sucks.
Joel (21m 52s):
Arno (21m 52s):
Well, let's make it bet. I mean,
Joel (21m 55s):