By Peter Weddle, CEO TAtech
Mike Durney joined me for a recent TAtech Live interview as a part of our Oral History Project on the early days of online recruiting. For those of you who may not be familiar with him, he was the CFO and then the CEO of Dice.com and Dice Holdings for over 18 years. During the interview, I asked him what was the most important lesson he learned during that time. His answer might surprise you.
First, some background. Dice was founded in 1990 as an online bulletin board for IT and engineering professionals looking for work. Mike joined Dice in 2000 as CFO and took the company through a bankruptcy in 2003 and an IPO in 2007. In the middle of that span, Dice Holdings began to acquire other niche sites, including ClearanceJobs.com, eFinancialCareers.com, and AllHealthcareJobs.com. Mike became CEO in 2013 and rode off into the sunset five years later in 2018.
That almost two decades of experience in the job board trenches in general and those unique to niche job sites in particular give him a unique perspective on what works and what doesn’t in the management and growth of such sites. So, during the interview, I asked him, “what are two or three of the most important things you learned about how to build a successful job board business?”
He replied that, while there were a lot of things he would have done differently, one stands out above all of the others. Today’s challenges are different, he acknowledged, with the pandemic and its accompanying business downturn, but over his 18-year span, he and Dice also faced their share of tests, the dot.com bubble and the Great Recession being the two most significant. What he wished he had known then that he knows now is this: it’s critical to keep investing even during the hard times.
Investing During Hard Times
Companies that aren’t advancing are, by definition, falling behind. No one is saying it’s easy, but Mike argues that continuing investment in the business is the only way to secure the future of a job board. You might survive a business disruption by hunkering down and hanging on, but you won’t survive what comes next by doing that. A site’s competitors that do invest during a downturn are much better positioned to leverage the acceleration and growth that occur after it, and that competitive advantage can and often does doom their less prepared peers.
What kind of investment was he referring to? Well, that’s only limited by the imagination of those leading a job board. It might, for example, involve the acquisition of another site that could strengthen a job board’s portfolio of products. This week’s announcement of iHire’s acquisition of WorkinSports.com is a case in point.
Similarly, a site might decide to build out its own suite of products. For example, Talroo, a self-described “job advertising platform,” recently introduced Qualifying Questions to help employers more easily filter out unqualified applicants. And then there’s Circa.com, which used to be known as LocalJobsNetwork. It announced a new development called AI Candidate Matching “to help companies accelerate their success toward building more diverse, innovative, and high-performing teams.”
All of that activity raises a simple but profound question: just where does a job board get the resources to invest in hard times? Some sites are fortunate; they have the internal reserves to fund an acquisition or new product development. For everyone else, there’s the bank, of course, but often the alternative is an outside investor, whether it’s one or more angels, a private equity firm or even a venture capital company.
For example, WizeHIre recently raised $7.5 million in a Series A funding round “to provide small businesses a faster, easier hiring experience previously only available to large corporations.” And late last year, MarketerHire raised $3 million in funding from the founders and senior executives at several leading digital brands.
It’s clearly not a trivial undertaking, but all of this activity is proof positive that investing during hard times is possible. It also reminds me of an old aphorism in academia: publish or perish. Mike Durney would undoubtedly counsel that in the job board world, it’s something similar: spend or succumb.
Food for Thought,
Peter Weddle is the author or editor of over two dozen books and a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the founder and CEO of TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions. You can check out his latest books on Amazon or in the TAtech Bookstore.