EmployUs Screenshot

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Dozens of people in the Triangle have made some easy cash this year thanks to a new software company that democratizes recruiting. 
Even more people will get that opportunity in January, when the platform called EmployUs goes live with more than 100 local employers posting jobs and offering financial rewards for the people who refer a winning candidate. 
Co-founder Ryan O’Donnell explains his mission at EmployUs, and in several ventures he’s started in five years since graduating high school, as “leveraging financial and human capital to build a better world.” In particular, he likes to give access to people who don’t have it right now. 
At EmployUs, that means anyone—not just a recruiter or an existing employee—can refer the next Archive Social software engineer or Citrix salesperson. And the more people hired from those referrals, the more money that person earns. Since a beta began in March, 35 companies have posted jobs and paid an average $3,000 reward to the person who referred the winning candidate. 

Large checks hang in company windows throughout the Triangle showing off the amounts earned for making referrals through the new site. 

EmployUs at the CED Tech Venture Conference

Venture capital flowing 

Funders have started getting behind the vision. Joining EmployUs co-founder and chairman Jeff Stocks, owner of The Nautical Group executive search firm and a long-time operator of the largest U.S. franchise of the global staffing firm ManpowerGroup, are a trio of notable regional investors: Sovereign’s CapitalCofounders Capital and local angel and Seventh Generation CEO John Replogle. All were connections made through an early advisor, former Bandwidth CTO Scott Barstow.
Along with several other angel investors, they've put $750,000 into the business to prep for a launch in the Triangle, and other cities, next year. All know the challenges of recruiting from leading their own tech and consumer product businesses. And Cofounders' managing partner David Gardner even has roots in the industry—he cofounded applicant tracking giant PeopleFluent. 

Stocks calls the investors “visionary in their thinking” because they believe in the company’s ability to change an entire industry. 
“We think we have totally disruptive technology,” Stocks says. “Our clients love it—we’ve got customers standing in line and demand has exceeded our expectations.” 

O'Donnell's social entrepreneurship focus 

At age 22, O’Donnell is pretty green to already have a theme to his career. But he started early as a student at the North Carolina School for Science and Mathematics, working with a team to organize the largest food drive in the world. At nearly 600,000 pounds collected in just 18 hours, it set a Guinness World Record in 2011. 
In his years as a business major at NC State University, he channeled that energy into several fellowship programs and another startup, called Pennies4Progress, which made it easy for people to donate change to a school or charity of choice while making purchases at a retail store. 
In 2012, he won the global Bill Clinton Hunger Leadership Award and in 2014, a $50,000 grant from the Institute for Emerging Issues. Along with a Pennies4Progress co-founder, he forged a partnership with DonorsChoose.org and a startup called Charity Checkout to allow customers at 6,000 retail stores to donate to any of 60,000 schools and nonprofits nationally. 
That was all while learning the startup world at the pioneering real estate crowdlending company Groundfloor, working as a recruiter at Stocks’s The Nautical Group to truly understand the business, and joining the inaugural cohort of the Citrix Accelerator's Raleigh Innovators Program while a senior in college last year. 

Partnering with an industry veteran

It was after working with Stocks for six months that the pair agreed to partner up. O'Donnell came to appreciate the elder man's industry knowledge, wisdom and willingness "to get his hands really dirty." Stocks says he’s always mentored young people—he serves as chair of the Poole College of Management at NC State University—but O’Donnell stood out. 

EmployUs cofounders
Ryan O'Donnell, left, is CEO of EmployUs. His co-founder, Jeff Stocks, is the company's chairman. Credit: EmployUs
“I think the definition of leadership is more and more about authenticity and he’s authentic, genuine, bright and humble,” Stocks says. “He’s nice to people and that pays dividends.” 
Perhaps that helps to explain O'Donnell's altruism. 
“It’s really about unlocking people’s potential by helping them wake up every morning and have a really great job, so they can provide for their family and love their work and make an impact,” O’Donnell says. “That’s where I see EmployUs being able to make the biggest difference.” 

Why recruiting

Sounds admirable enough. But there’s actually a pretty strong business case for targeting the recruiting and staffing industry. 
For one, it’s a $420 billion industry in which corporations shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to recruiting firms to place a top executive and tens of thousands for everyday hires like software engineers, customer service reps or salespeople. 
We’re also in an environment where talent is in high demand, especially in the fast-growing technology world where EmployUs has begun its efforts. A recent New York Times article detailed talent wars between unicorns and large tech giants in Silicon Valley, and there is no shortage of job postings at our region’s technology companies. 

Recruiting out of college also grew 9.6 percent in 2015, with engineering, business and computer science the most desired degrees. 
Venture capital is flowing into the space too. Funding to human resources technology startups topped $1.4 billion in the first half of 2015, compared to $1.9 billion in all of 2014. Less than $100 million went to HR tech companies in 2010. 

One of the three key categories for investment according to CB Insights is recruiting. Three of its “hottest recruiting startups nationally” are Glassdoor, Greenhouse and Jobvite, none of which are putting recruiting in the hands of the average person. 
EmployUs still has some things to figure out, like how to filter the best results as more and more people get on the site and make referrals. Also, how to ensure newbie referrers get as much attention as the ‘power referrers’ making all the money. 
Those are challenges sharing economy startups like Airbnb and Uber have faced as well—the community tends to dictate any individual success through reviews. In this case, employers or search firms can reward the best referrers. 

And yet, the sharing economy seems to be ready for recruiting. According to Pricewaterhousecoopers earlier this year, it is already starting to change the way recruitment happens and more innovation is bound to come. 

Improvements to make EmployUs "frictionless"

O’Donnell has already made a few key hires as funding started coming in over the summer. But a good portion of the new venture dollars are going toward improvements to the software and a coming mobile app. He hopes to make EmployUs a "frictionless" experience for employers, jobseekers (who can ask their networks for referrals through the site) and referrers by the public launch. 
For employers, that means integrating with the HR software and applicant tracking systems they’re already using. EmployUs will soon be offered alongside 100 other HR software companies in an ADP marketplace open to that company’s clients. EmployUs also lets employers run internal employee referral programs through the platform. 
Jobseekers can mine EmployUs for job opportunities and ask for referrals through their own network on LinkedIn. EmployUs will help those people determine the most connected people in their network, so referrals are trusted. And referrers are incentivized to make more and better referrals by getting paid more over time. 
O’Donnell is even making the experience appealing for recruiters, who could feel threatened by the new technology. Local search firms Hire Networks and Stocks's own The Nautical Group have already used the site to cast a wider net for their customers. 
“There are so many things in the hiring process that we feel are broken,” O’Donnell says. “We think with referrals, we can cut out a lot of that.”

EmployUs hopes to make the site extra enticing by letting anyone use it for free. It only collects a fee when a company hires someone who was referred via the site. According to Stocks, the cost will still be a fraction of what companies typically pay in advertising and to search firms to find solid leads. 

"Being in this business 38 years, I know the best talent in the world comes through referrals," he says. "When my client can hire a $200,000 salaried executive and only pay a $35,000 referral fee compared to the typical $70,000, it's totally disruptive, like Uber."