Monday, July 23, 2012
Interview with Navid Nobakht, Recmnd.Me
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
As a hiring manager, and as the former CTO of Buy.com, Navid Nobakht, Co-Founder of Recmnd.Me (http://recmnd.me) had a problem--how to really figure out if someone he was hiring could actually execute. We caught up with Navid --one of a number of executives to have recently departed Buy.com after its acquisition a couple of years ago by Rakuten--to hear more about his new startup.
Describe what Recmnd.me is all about?
Navid Nobakht: We are building an online recommendation system that focuses on social recruiting. The problem we're trying to solve, is one I found from in my experience as a hiring manager in the IT industry. It's really hard to find top talent, and what makes it really hard, is there is a lot of legwork to find the talent pool. And, once you find that talent pool, vetting that pool is a challenge. It's hard to determine when a person who looks good on paper and at an interview, is actually someone who can execute on the job. In the past, the people I've always hired have been from recommendations and referrals from people I've worked with, and who I trust. If someone you have worked with and trust recommends someone, that goes a long way to determining if that person is good or not.
Right now, there is no dedicated place online that you can go to. There are job boards for resumes, and sites like LinkedIn to network and connect with each other, and they do have recommendations, but what they lack is the scoring element. The problem is that when you look at recommendations on LinkedIn, most people don't have any, number one, and the whole recommendation process they've built is subjective and flawed in a lot of ways. If you've ever written a recommendation, it's one of those things where someone requests one from you, and if you like that person and want to give them a recommendation, it's sort of a challenge to write something that is thoughtful and interesting and honest, but also not too fluffy. Plus, it makes it difficult from other recommendations. Or, if you don't want to give a recommendation, there's tha guilt factor. It's kind of like doing employee reviews--no one wants to do them. Plus, if you're a hiring manager, it's hard to really tell if that person was good or not based on those recommendations. What we've built, is a system that takes all of the subjectivity out of that, and approaches it in a more scientific way, using an algorithm.
How do you do that?
Navid Nobakht: On Recmnd.me, the first thing you do is to create a profile, which lists what your current position is, or last position was, if you are not currently employed. It also lets you load in how long you've worked in the industry, what kind of degree you have, and some keywords that describe what your specialties and talents are. Once you have that, people can come, and your coworkers and people you've done business with can recommend you. Those recommendations are based on a numeric scoring of three attributes, between 1-10, of your intelligence, personality, and dedication. We felt that in the workplace, and in hiring, those three attributes are the most important. Intelligence is really important, and you want to hire the brightest and best people to solve the problems you need solved. Dedication is important, because you want people who will go the extra mile, and work as hard as possible. Personality is important, because people like to surround themselves, and others would prefer to surround themselves with someone who creates a positive work environment.
When someone visits Recmnd.me, it scores you on those three elements. That score is completely, 100 percent confidential. We never disclose that to anyone, and never plan to disclose those values. If you visit the site, and you create a profile and someone scores you, you just get an email, saying that they recommended you, congratulations, but the actual score is completely confidential. What we do with that, is we take that value, and other factors about how long you've been working in the industry, your degree, and how many recommendations you have, and use a weighted algorithm to come up with a discreet score for you. Once we have that score, then we can produce a ranked list of search results based on keyword, title, name, and other factors. We then create a sorted and ranked list, based on those scores. With my background as CTO of Buy.com, if I wanted to hire a Java or .NET developer, I could do a search on those titles with a keyword, and create a list, constrained to Southern Orange County or Southern California. I can then see who are the top rated people for that position.
Then, I can contact them through the site. If their status is looking, I can contact them and try to get them in for an interview.
Can you talk about your background, Buy.com and why you decided to pursue this idea?
Navid Nobakht: The idea was interesting to me, mainly because it's a problem that I had, and other people had it too. I think, in a startup environment, and in creating a new business, it's always important to ask yourself what the problem is, and what I'm trying to solve, and if it need solving. Thta kind of determines how valuable the product is that you're building. I think, timing wise, it's just a great time to be entrepreneurial. With the flexibility cloud computing gives you, the barriers to entry to creating a tech company are a lot lower, and the administrative overhead of infrastructure and infrastructure costs are not there anymore. From a technical standpoint, we can build and deploy and launch a lot quicker and cheaper. All the costs, from hosting to storage to scaling up an scaling down are all gone. My experience always working with our own infrastructure an dealing with launch planning, planning for capacity and new product launches was always interesting. One of those things you had to plan for what the estimated capacity was going to be or how much it would grow, and at launch it was almost impossible to determine that. You'd just put a finger up in the air to see how many servers you needed, and if you need to load balance this, spread your database across X machines, and so on. With the cloud, you don't have that problem, and if your needs grow you can grow.
How has the experience going from a big company to a small one?
Navid Nobakht: It's been great. I worked at Buy.com for twelve years, and my experience was like working at a hundred startups. We had gone through many pivots in our business model. We started in 1999, before the Internet heyday was at its peak, and we had gone public, gone private, and even built international satellites of the company. We even changed our business model to provide a service based, instead of a traditional ecommerce platform. We started running e-commerce for third parties, in a white label business, and we even created the first Windows-based, digital download service for music back in 2003, right after iTunes launched. I had done many thing which were startup-esque, and that experience seasoned me for this, and prepared me to basically build something from nothing, which is what we're doing now. That helped a lot. It was not too much of a transition, and although we have less resources than Buy.com would have, at the same time, we're starting fresh and able to create our own product.
What's the business model for the service?
Navid Nobakht: We're building this product to serve the needs of hiring managers and recruiters. As we're building the site, for right now, the site is completely free to use. We're in the period where we're letting people sign up and search and use the site for free. Signing up and creating profiles will always be free, and searching will always be free. We'll then extend additional functionality and features to subscribers, who for a monthly fee can access some additional data on profiles and recommendations. For a recruiter or hiring manager who is a power user of the site and system, we'll be offering a very small, monthly fee so they can subscribe and get additional data. It's not only how many recommendations you have, but who the recommenders are. When you're hiring someone and they have three recommendations from their family and neighbors, that's different from someone who has recommendations from three Fortune 500 CEOs. That's important to know. We'll also be providing tools for recruiters to contact people as subscribers, and provide additional search features to filter and slice those searches.
Finally, how are you financing the business?
Navid Nobakht: We've been talking to angels, and at this phase, we're looking to do some fundraising to get our seed round, to be able to take that and staff up a little more, and really accelerate the features and functions on the site. We're self funded to this point, and looking to get additional funding for a seed round, to get us to the next level.