Inside an iCIMS Acquisition

When you want insights to big industry moves you go to the insiders. 


In this episode The Chad & Cheese are joined by phenom, Death Match Europe winner, and former CEO of newly acquired Opening.io, Andreea Wade. Andreea dragged along iCIMS' technical commander-in-chief Al "Witness Protection" Smith to discuss how Opening.io's team, vision, and tech will play into iCIMS' future. 


Enjoy this NEXXT exclusive.


PODACST TRANSCRIPTION sponsored by: Disability Solutions provides training and development to help your workplace leaders and employees integrate with and value people with disabilities.

James Ellis: Hey, this is James Ellis from The Talent Cast Podcast, and you're listening to The Chad and Cheese Podcast. So perhaps treat this message like an intervention. Why are you doing this to yourself? You have so much to live for, why would you waste your time here of all places?

Intro: 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.

Joel: Andreea. Yo, what's up everybody? This is The Chad and Cheese Podcast, I'm your co-host Joel Cheesman.

Chad: And I'm Chad, I love matching, Sowash.

Joel: It's a Monday, so we're just waking up from a beautiful weekend, here in the Midwest. We are happy to be joined today by newly acquired, Opening.io founder, Andreea Wade, but currently potfolio director of AI and machine learning, I hope I got that right it's a new title, and iCIMS's CTO, Al Smith. Guys, girls, welcome to the show.

Andreea: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Chad: So, Al's a part of the witness ... Just so we get into this real quick, Al's a part of the witness protection program, hence his name Al Smith, very simple, hard to find, there are so many of them, right? Yeah.

Al: It's actually based on what I'm capable of remembering, and it's a name I can't remember.

Joel: Speaking of preppers.

Chad: Joel just mentioned Andreea, that you are the AI, ML portfolio manager. Okay. So, what the hell does that mean? What do you do? Is this new? Is this something entirely new? Or has iCIMS had this for a while?

Andreea: So the role of portfolio director, it's something that iCIMS had for a while for various different areas of their business, and I know that I will be able to give a better answer in relation to that. My role, you kind of know what we did. We're very much, we always were an R&D labs company. So we want to continue to do more of that. We want to grow and build iCIMS Talent Logic. And then we want to further imagine the future. So we'll just keep R&Ding here, and doing loads of cool stuff.

Al: Yeah. Look, I'll piggyback on that. Our portfolio directors kind of own the business strategy and the investment strategy for particular space for us. And so broadly, we participate with solutions in a variety of different parts of the market. We ask the portfolio directors to understand how big that is, who's the competition, how much could we address, how much to invest and what would we bring to market when, and set out a vision of what that kind of value is, and the solution is. And then product managers, paired with an engineering manager, bring those products to market. So in many ways, consistent with Andreea, was doing as the co-founder for Opening. So, I feel like it's a pretty good fit.

Joel: A lot of our listeners don't know Opening, don't know the genesis of it, it was founded in 2015. And Andreea, you're a marketing media person, how in the hell did you get into this business, in machine learning and AI back in 2015?

Andreea: Yeah. No background in the industry, but we felt it. We were candidates and hiring managers and this was to become my fourth company, I guess. And I used to be a journalist, and I used to be a product manager, and I had a branding company and all these kinds of things. But there was one, I guess it ... Everything came together by my passion of just, without a focus and an agenda, of bringing good people together. I used to just, because I get involved and I got involved in a lot of the tech scene here, I ended up being the person who nearly knew everyone and I would just match people together. I would go, "What are you trying to do? Talk to that person," and so on. And 2015 comes, and I get very, very interested at that stage, I had another company. I get very interested in data and AI and ML. And I started talking to my cofounder, Adrian, who just moved here, in Ireland. I've been here 18 years and he moved here then. And as product people, as data people, as a process that he just went through at that stage and something that I felt as a person who was hiring people, we started looking at the industry. And we started playing with classical machine learning, it was weekends and afternoons. And just for about eight, nine months, we looked around at this industry that we're completely clueless around. But the vision from day one was surely there has to be a better way for someone to understand my CV.

Chad: So it is interesting because your background is not in this industry. Why do you think you succeeded where all of these other industry insiders generally really just have to eject?

Joel: Yeah. And by the way, the matching space, a little bit crowded.

Andreea: Yes. Yes. But we were naive and clueless and we had a vision. Right? And you don't ... If you want to start something and go, "Ah, these are all ..." You can very quickly find all the reasons why you shouldn't. Right? So we had questions. And I think the key, like when you were asking me this question, the key was that we had the questions and we asked as many people as possible from all sides of industry, talked to job boards, talked to ATS's, talked to CRM's, talked to recruitment agencies, talked to RPM's, talked to everyone who would give me half an hour, or be it Adrian, or whatever. We literally ... Because we felt we were so self conscious that we did not know, and maybe understand this industry, that we just continuously learn. And we asked everyone the same question 50 times. And I think that was really key because we try to understand that. And then what we did have was, we were pretty good product people. And we imagine things in ways that we saw good product being built, but not in this industry. Like literally good product being built.

Chad: Yeah. And I'd like to say, just what I've seen from you guys and watching you through this time frame, you had amazing focus as well. It didn't seem like you guys were looking to pivot five or six different times to try to "re-invent". So, your discipline seemed to be there where in most cases, most of those companies coming in and startups, they just don't have that discipline.

Joel: Yes. The company that they were during Death Match a year ago, is the same company that they are today. And I'll put a plug in there that she was a Death Match winner, because that's always awesome.

Chad: Oh yeah.

Joel: Andreea, you've spoken it a lot ... You have a tight relationship with Microsoft, I believe you're using their AI, their translation products and others, want to ask you about that relationship and what it's meant? And how that might segue with iCIMS's recent integration with Microsoft? And how maybe all of these worlds are colliding for a future acquisition?

Andreea: For us?

Joel: Yeah. I got that in there.

Andreea: I'm just going to talk from my perspective and then I'll let Al add to it. Look, for us it was really important, and I guess from day one ... We're in Ireland, and Ireland is small, and Microsoft had a really cool team on the ground that was talking to startups. And these two guys, I'm not even in my Opening role, I'm kind of mentoring at a hackathon and go away, and I get approached by these guys and they go, "We're here to support this hackathon and we're from Microsoft and we want to do all these things. And I know that you're here as a mentor, but I'm curious about what you're building." And long story short, we meet at different events and they go, "We really, really, really want to support you." And I have to say that the way that they have ... And at the same time, we were talking to various different other large corporates as well, that had these startup initiatives. But Microsoft felt real for many reasons. And it wasn't just, use this technology to do A, B and C, it was more, let us talk about you, what can we do for you? Let us put together a few videos. Let us support you with marketing. Let us sell you. All this, and it just felt very real.

Joel: Wow. Okay.

Andreea: And it just felt like they knew what they were doing and their approach was legit. We got to meet Peggy Johnson. Peggy Johnson who bought LinkedIn for Microsoft, about a couple of years ago, came to Ireland, because Microsoft has in Ireland, their first building that they own outside of the US. And Peggy Johnson came over and, our Taoiseach, the prime minister here in Ireland, our Taoiseach was there and they were talking. And then the MD of Microsoft here picked four AI startups to meet Peggy. And we had an hour with her. So we had various different supports that went outside of Ireland [Inaudible 00:09:52.13] and it was real and legit. And so coming together with iCIMS, I've learned, when I first met iCIMS in 2017, I think it was a week after I got to meet them in the States, was when they announced that Microsoft is a client. The announcements in the last month or so and our talks pre-acquisition, it just seemed that there was a common vision there as well with what we're trying to do. But I'll let Al explain more what iCIMS and Microsoft are doing. And we still have our network and we're working really hard to do more with them.

Al: Look, I'll take a swag at this. So I think you guys know Microsoft's been an important customer of ours for years, and we've been always trying to look for opportunities and when our customers have parts of their business that overlap or channel to try to go to market together. And that's why the dynamics, acquisition or integration made a lot of sense, and working with them. And you guys also know that we've been on a hunt to make sure that our talent solutions integrate with all the best HCM's, and also to make sure that we're a platform of choice as the HCM to actually address customers that have serious talent needs. So that that's kind of enough to think about it. But as Andreea said, when I first met Opening and learned about how they've approached the problem set ... I think both of you, we've probably had a couple of meetings over the last couple of years, talking about AI and ML, and I've been a pretty big fan of saying, "Look, it's an early market, let's not just go rush in." I want to get in to make sure that as we build things they're explainable, it's transparent, it's human led.

Al: The idea that it should help you with context to a set of decisions you're doing, yes, it can set up some automations for you, but it shouldn't be this black box just being here as the answer. One, there's all kinds of reasons why you may not have the right answer, number one. Number two, when we get into, and I think this is something you all know, iCIMS has always been really careful around data privacy and security and compliance, and the black box model just doesn't work. And when we met Andreea and Adrian, we just saw a company that had focused on building, not just a bunch of algorithms but a platform, and a platform that actually strove to deliver the explainability and the transparency around the decisions and going past just match. And that's some of the stuff that really got us excited thinking about the future. Match is great, don't get me wrong, but there's so much more past that.

Chad: We did notice the Freudian slip, you said acquisition there, Al. We're talking about Microsoft

SFX: Hell yeah.

Chad: Microsoft and iCIMS, just so that you knew that we caught that. Al, I'm a big fan of the prospect and we have talked about AI and ML over the years and matching. And I remember in Arizona at iCIMS Influence, late last year, I spoke with a few of iCIMS leaders, and you guys talked about a "Jibe matching engine", what happened to that? This was interesting, and it was really great to see that you guys obviously going through the acquisition process with Opening, but were there a lot of, kind of skunkworks things happening at iCIMS? And then you just thought, hell, we just need to go out and buy this.

Al: Actually, it's a continuity, right? So Opening had actually landed Jibe as a customer, and part of a Jibe matching engine used some of Opening's technology. And that was actually how we got the introduction. So the good news is the continuity goes all the way through. Now, there's other technology that sits around that we do believe that right now, the way these different models get developed and different algorithms get trained, that just relying on a single solution, doesn't always give you the best outcome. And so we've taken this kind of ensemble strategy on search/match problems, where we feed a set of data into three different models simultaneously, one of those obviously is Opening, and then look at how well the model gives you a result set and serve up the best fit for the situation.

Chad: It's like a bake-off, right?

Al: Almost. The one thing I think that got us really excited about Opening's technology is, they do a fantastic job when there's sparse data. I have just a little bit of data, maybe it's from an application, they're only bits of data, I don't have a full CV or something else. Some of the other technology models that we use can do a good job when they're doing their lower level parsing, when there is a lot of data. But, so many of the industries iCIMS serves, that data isn't rich and deep about the candidates that you're trying to find. And we love the balance that that brings to a full solution. Always gets us excited. And then by the way, you guys, I think this is very consistent in what we discussed last fall.

Announcer: We'll get back to the interview in a minute, but first we have a question for Andy Katz, COO of Nexxt.

Joel: What kinds of companies should be leveraging programmatic?

Andy Katz: Every Fortune 1000 company have to, anybody with extreme volume of jobs. You're recruiting for 20 positions a year, you don't need programmatic. You can go to a recruitment marketing agency or a job board and do a direct email with your company only you're not in with another 20 companies in a job alert, or you're not just on a career site or a job board. You can do banner advertising, buy premium placements. So where programmatic again, is one piece of the puzzle, it's not going to ever be the end or be all. And I do believe all the programmatic platforms out there have ancillary services to support that, knowing that you can't just survive on a one trick pony.

Announcer: For more information, go to hiring.nexxt.com. Remember, that's Nexxt with the double X, not the triple X. hiring.nexxt.com

Joel: Curious question for both of you, I guess, brand architecture, when you guys typically acquire a company, whether it be TextRecruit, Jibe, et cetera, they tend to be sort of standalone brands for a while, and then they eventually get sort of sucked in, I guess, to the iCIMS brand. I noticed that Andreea is no longer associated with Opening in terms of her title. What's going to happen to the Opening brand? Are there integrations out there with other services that will be impacted by a brand change if there is going to be one? Talk about the future of the brand and how it's going to integrate with iCIMS, if at all.