Agility in the On-Demand Economy | Transcript

Episode 6

Guest: Rob Biederman, Founder and CEO of Catalant

Air Date: October 30, 2018


Chad Nitschke:      

Hi everyone. My name is Chad Nitschke, co-founder, and CEO of Bunker, and also the host of this podcast, Ready, Set, Work. Ready, Set, Work is a podcast series focused on the future of work, specifically highlighting all different perspectives from the gig economy, to on-demand platforms and more. Join us each episode to hear from thought leaders paving the way toward the future of work.


 

Chad Nitschke:      

Hey, thanks for listening to another episode of Ready, Set, Work. I’m here to today with Rob Biederman, co-founder, and CEO of Catalant. Thanks for being here Rob. It’s great to have you on.

 

Rob Biederman:      

Great to be on. Thanks for having me.

 

Chad Nitschke:      

Yeah, our pleasure. I’ll confess that I’ve personally been a fan of Catalant for quite some time. So, actually going back to the early days when it was called Hourly Nerd. I think it was actually Gray Lock, one of your investors that provided the intro to your team. Andrea Black and that’s back when we were getting started, kind of early days at Bunker. Maybe for the benefit of our listeners, do you want to just share a little bit about Catalant and how it’s supporting, and solving problems toward the future of work?

 

Rob Biederman:      

For sure, for sure. We started Catalant, or we started Hour Nerd almost six years ago. The ingoing assumption of our company was largely that in 2013, and obviously even more true now in 2018, work didn’t necessarily need to be defined as a relationship that you would have with an employer where you would work at the same job every day, you know, for 50 weeks a year, and 40 hours a week. But, instead, in the era of Uber, and Task Rabbit, and Lyft, there might be the chance to a have far more dynamic exciting work life that consisted of lots of interactions with lots of different folks who would give you work.

So we set out to build a marketplace where we would connect high-quality elite business experts with company’s who could benefit from their talent. These days, we now have 60,000 people on the platform, and we work with about 30% of the Fortune 100. What we do for them is really help connect those people to a far more interesting, spontaneous, and really fulfilling professional journey.

 

Chad Nitschke:     

Yeah, it’s amazing. What inspired you to solve the problem and start the company?

 

Rob Biederman:      

You know, I think the way the traditional corporation source talent, makes it difficult for different types of people to participate. Whether you have you’re stuck in a geographic location where there isn’t necessarily a job that’s interesting to you. Maybe you have skills that are best deployed across a wide variety of companies, rather than just one. It was very clear to us back then that we needed a new work arrangement that would be a lot more inclusive, and help a much broader variety of people, you know, get involved and monetize their expertise.

 

Chad Nitschke:      

That’s great and then if you think about like the users and the Catalant platform, and maybe we can start with kind of the expert and supply side, and then go to the demand side, but is there a typical user? You talked about, you know, are these individuals that are kind of augmenting some other sort of income? Are they doing it full-time? Is it kind of a wide range of experts that are on the platform?

 

Rob Biederman:     

Yeah, they’re people who almost exclusively are working in this part of the economy. Now, they may not do all of their work through the Catalant platform, but these are not people who have full-time jobs that are moonlighting on the side. They are people who really committed to really being on the independent business expert side. They’ve looked at the universe of available jobs and concluded that probably the best way to be compensated for their expertise is in this kind of model. I think there’s a lot of upsides that go along with a more flexible independent life. Most notable among them, that if you’re somebody who has truly special expertise, this is a great way to get out of the traditional, kind of bands and pay scales of big companies. That if you’re somebody who’s ten times better, you can make a lot more money working for yourself.

 

Chad Nitschke:      

On the demand side, is it kind of a wide range of organizations? Kind of down to small business, and then you mentioned a really impressive kind of market share on the Fortune 500. Is it a pretty wide spectrum?

 

Rob Biederman:      

It is a wide spectrum. We tend to be very concentrated in the Fortune 100 and the Fortune 250 within a good deal of business with investment firms, asset managers, private equity firms, and the like. Now, I think historically our grounding was very much on the small business side, but what we’ve seen over time, is that the talent problems that companies have are actually most pronounced for the biggest companies. The biggest companies that have the most difficult time sourcing and accessing the most important that they can get. You know; accordingly, you know, the puck tends to go where the need is the most deep. We’ve definitely seen that that’s on kind of the Fortune 100 enterprise side.

 

Chad Nitschke:      

Yep, that makes sense. And then, one of the words and I know you guys talk about this a lot at Catalant, relating to the on-demand economy is just agility. That comes up as a pretty consistent theme. I’m curious if you think about that word. What does it mean to you for a business to be agile from a talent perspective?

 

Rob Biederman:      

I think what we’re seeing across really the whole Fortune 500 right now, is that sources of disruption are coming in really surprising ways that nobody could have possibly anticipated. And so, to at the beginning of the year, set your strategy, one thing that you know, as the leader of a big company these days is that there’s going to be a lot of unforeseen developments. And so you want to have a talent strategy that really matches that. That’s sort of where in our case being agile comes in, which is that you know, in the same way, that waterfall, long cascades of software product development made a lot more sense for you have an on-premise world with periodic deployments, the idea that rapidly iterating and dropping live, you know, code into a site and understanding in much more real-time terms, what skills and resources are needed, has a lot of the same themes that you want to be deeply responsive to the market. You just can’t possibly plan it in advance. That’s exacerbated by the fact that for traditional roles, that the life cycle of any one job posting, can be six, to nine, to 12 months. If you think about your competitor releases a new product, you didn’t know that you needed to be proficient at that area. Starting to learn about that space in six to 12 months isn’t really viable. You need to start learning about that space like this week. Taking a far more, you know, dynamic approach to talent is almost a no-brainer in a world where upcoming business challenges are so unforeseen.

 

Chad Nitschke:     

Got it. Yeah, so you mentioned, you know, 30% of the Fortune 500 that you work with today and so there’s another 70% that are out there. What do you think in terms of like those new prospects, those new clients? What are some of the barriers that they think of associated with, you know, utilizing independent workers, and a more agile workforce?

 

Rob Biederman:      

One of the most difficult challenges that people have in trying to learn how to use our space or learn how to use our company, is that it’s just so non-intuitive to think about turning what yesterday would’ve been a job description into a project. That people are so committed to the way that they’ve historically sourced talent, that it’s actually really difficult to even conceptualize how you would source talent this way. The most difficult challenge among them is obviously turning a potential job into a project. That is really hard if you think, you know, we have a problem with on-demand customer acquisition, you just saying we need somebody with customer demand generation experience is a lot easier than specifically scoping out a specific project with a beginning, and end, and a middle. So we probably spend 80 or 90% of our time with our customers, not selling to them, but actually educating them on they can consume talent in this way, and how it’s better, and you know, what stumbling blocks to watch out for.

 

Chad Nitschke:      

Yeah, no, that makes sense. I don’t know if this resonates with you, but my background is from the insurance industry, and just to do a little tangent, you know like, with used to, in the insurance industry – and it’s notorious for this, just hire like a mountain of consultants. In other words, if there was a problem to solve, and you would just hire like a mountain of consultants to kind of come in. It would be a six months project, and I honestly used to complain about that quite a bit. Not because I have anything against consultants, but I always felt like the way that they approached it was anything but agile, right? It was almost like smothering a smaller problem with just a really long-term kind of resource intensive solution. I’m curious, does that resonate with you? Have you seen … is that like part of the problem that you’re focused on solving?

 

Rob Biederman:      

Absolutely. You know, I think the biggest challenge that traditional consulting firms have is that they have a very traditional work model. They have a traditional work model and yet they’re trying to advise companies on very nontraditional problems if that makes sense. You know, it’s very difficult for McKenzie to be driving the absolute best, and latest, and brightest thinking, rather than actually dragging in people who’ve actually been in the space. To me, using conventional means to solve unconventional problems is just not very likely to succeed. Yes, your point on smothering your problem with lots of so-called experts and people, particularly when the team is overstaffed, and is really getting up to speed. I just think it doesn’t make sense.

 

Chad Nitschke:      

Yeah, no. I’m with you. It would honestly personally drive me crazy. That was one of my biggest frustrations inside of the industry. You know, kind of deploying that sort of solution, just literally spending hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars on consultants that would ultimately kind of smoother the project. It could’ve been solved in just a, you know, kind of a much more lightweight way. If that makes sense. And then, on the other side of that, so in other words, if you’re an expert out there, are there hesitations in terms of like making this move to become more independent?

 

Rob Biederman:      

You know, I think it’s obviously a very big change if you’re used to potentially going into work full-time for a lot of people on the platform, five, ten, 20 years of their lives. It requires you to be a lot more self-directed. It certainly requires you to think more critically about where your skills really lay, and how you present yourself to the market. I think people on our platform definitely report that they feel a much greater degree of connection, and purpose, and meaning in their work. But there are obviously some downsides, one of which is that it can be lonely working by yourself. For that reason, we’ve really encouraged a lot of teaming on the platform so people will actually work with others that they’ve met on the platform or in the offline world. And that really facilitates people both supplying much more interesting output to people, but then also having some of that human touch and emotion, that you know, can otherwise be missing.

 

Chad Nitschke:      

Yep, no, that makes sense. What are some of the things that you’ve seen that experts have done to distinguish themselves on the platform, and you know maybe in that top quartile of talent for enterprises that utilize Catalant?

 

Rob Biederman:      

The people who do disproportionately well, are the people who have truly differentiated subject matter expertise. So they’re people who really have carved out an area where they are a true expert. They can speak to that effectively. They have expertise that really resonates, and is meaningful with customers who are willing to pay for it. You know, probably sounds a little tautological when you think about, you know, who in the economy is successful. But I think in many respects, our platform is actually really a microcosm of that, which is that you see in real time in a marketplace, people who have truly differentiated insights, or skills in areas where big company’s feel exposed, and do really well. People that tend to be more generalist, you know, don’t win as many projects.

 

Chad Nitschke:      

Yeah, that makes sense. I’m curious, just in your perspective, do you think that results in, you know, just happier workers? In other words, like one organization focuses quite a bit of time on engagement, and just making sure that their workers are happy. I guess in, what you just describe, you have a worker who is really, really focusing on what they really love to do, and what they’re really good at. I’m curious, have you seen that manifest itself into just workers just generally being happier doing that sort of work?

 

Rob Biederman:      

For sure. I think everybody wants to do things that they’re good at. One thing that our customers tell us is that one of the problems they have with full-time employees in concept, is that because you can’t possibly know what your company’s needs are going to be for the following year, you might staff to kind of the middle of the fan of outcomes of what skillsets you’re going to need. But then, you’re going to end up probably over staffing with generalists in order to make sure that you’re not exposed in any broad area. And then, those generalists are going to be consistently groping in the dark a little bit for the very specific skill sets that might actually be the most relevant thing. Work outside of sweet spot is a big source of efficiency drag in big companies and is also, you know, pretty annoying on the supplier side. When you’re the worker and you’re being asked to do something you’re not good at, you know, very often that can be pretty frustrating and demotivating.

 

Chad Nitschke:      

Yep. And then, flipping over the enterprise side. You don’t have to use names if you don’t to, but I’m curious if you’ve had maybe one or two specific examples of companies that have really kind of made the switch. Being able to leverage like an independent workforce from being kind of that old, you know, kind of more old school traditional workforce? I guess, what do you think were the kind of one or two things that led them to be successful in making that switch? Like, how did they have to change, kind of you know, internally as a company?

 

Rob Biederman:      

For sure. I mean, the most important driver of being successful in this way of resourcing is actually, I think, harkens back to something that’s pretty important to being successful as a company, and that’s having a really clear-eyed notion of where you’re going and why. This is probably no surprise, but the companies that, when we meet with them, everybody at the company is all in on some strategic aspect; those are the companies that do really well on our platform. Where they have a really clear sense of exactly what’s required on the route to get somewhere. The ones where they’re kind of looking into problems or thinking about spaces, but there’s no real commercial agenda, are the company’s that experience less success. I will say, we usually actually, you might think that a platform like ours works a lot like many other staffing companies and would work with human resources, or contingent workforce. We actually find that our most successful client champions tend to actually be people more on the business side. So, the CEO, or the CFO, or the COO and they think about the need for Catalant far more in the context of things that are trying to get done commercially than any kind of HR or talent related initiative. It’s almost an afterthought that’s who we do what we do. The why is that they need to be far more proficient at innovation, or they need to bring in a much greater group of talent, or whatever that is.

 

Chad Nitschke:      

Yeah, that makes sense. This is actually a good Segway into like, what do you think like so if you fast forward the clock five years – and you can speak specifically to kind of Catalant, and or just more broadly the future of work – what do you think success looks like? Maybe part of the answer is what you just mentioned. Like kind of a shifting mindset of an organization to think about talent in a different way. I’m just curious to get your impression five years down the road. Like, what do you think that looks like successfully?

 

Rob Biederman:      

For sure. You know, I think the most successful companies going forward are going to be the ones that are ruthlessly dynamic in how they think about resourcing. That at the beginning of every year, they log in their most important initiatives to a system, hopefully Catalant’s system, and they say, “What are the things we really need to do this year well in order to succeed as a company?” Once they have that list, they look at how well they’re resourced against those initiatives, both from a bandwidth perspective and also from a expertise perceptive. And then, they make a very aggressive plane to backfill the gap. So they realize that you know, they don’t have the 13 experts they need in artificial intelligence or big data to be successful, they then make a deliberate plan to go out and get those people. That all leads to a world where market opportunities are being attacked in real time, rather than along the cycle of, it’s going to take six months to get somebody full-time and they’re going to take three months to onboard. The idea of using traditional resources, traditional full-time resources, and consulting firms to fight against digital disruption, doesn’t work just because of the very different timeframes that they’re on.

 

Chad Nitschke:      

Yep. And then, what do you think those services are that are just most in demand today? You mentioned like artificial intelligence, and like what types of services do you see in the Catalant platform that are just in greater demand from enterprises?

 

Rob Biederman:      

Yeah, we certainly see a lot of demand for anything relating to AI, anything relating to machine learning. We’re definitely in a time now where I think some of the advanced technologies that five years ago were really seen as pretty experimental are now actually deeply commercially relevant. There’s a chance to, you know, bring those technologies to bear in a way that is far more impactful today than I think anybody would’ve thought a couple of years ago. So for that reason, relatively sciencey skillsets that I think a decade ago we would have said were interesting and potentially useful, today, are actually almost becoming a competitive imperative. If you’re running a retail and you’re not using advanced analytics on the customer side, the chance that you’re serving those customers well, it’s just not that high.

 

Chad Nitschke:      

Yeah. It’s interesting. Before we sign off here, are there any last thoughts for our listeners? I guess if, you know, if there’s somebody out there that wants to get involved as either an expert on the Catalant, or you know, the flip side, hire some of the experts, what’s the best way to do so?

 

Rob Biederman:      

Yeah, we would love to have anybody just travel over to gocatalant.com. You can engage with our team and we will find a way to get you involved. I think, you know, the biggest changes, this is a completely new era, and I think people haven’t even begun to think through all the implications of how different this is for the world. Whether it means what are the impacts on commercial real estate? What are the impacts on the community? What are the impacts on the environment? What does it mean for how families are structured, or how people think about planning in their lives? If worked moved to a more spontaneous, you know, dynamic system, I think there would be a tremendous amount of upside that results, you know, for the workers, for the company’s, and then for society in the whole.

 

Chad Nitschke:      

Yeah, that is interesting. On the real estate piece, I was at an HR summit a few weeks ago, and they were actually talking about that point, specifically. There was one company there that had piloted, you know, basically just a work remote, just for one business unit. It did create some interesting, I would say real estate opportunities, right? You had people that were just working, you know, distributed, right? All of a sudden, they had this real estate that they were paying for and the facilities team was trying to decide like, what do we do with that longer term because to your point, there’s definitely some advantages if you move to kind of a more agile, nimble workforce. I think that’s a great point.

 

Rob Biederman:      

Yeah, and I think, you know, it could be a really positive force for standards of living. If you think about the fact that a lot of people are forced to live in big cities near where they can make money. If we could all live in a slightly more distributed way, think of how much more land each person could have, and how much less crowding, or whatever there would be. There’s I think, pretty material still over benefits from the world moving to this way of work.

 

Chad Nitschke:      

Yeah, definitely. I kind of like to think of it as democratizing talent, right? You can access talent the way that it makes sense for you, and talent can work the way that they want to work. So, I definitely think that makes sense.

 

Rob Biederman:      

I could not agree more.

 

Chad Nitschke:      

Cool. Thanks again, Rob, for being on the podcast. It’s been great to connect and learn more about Catalant. Thanks to everyone listening. Thanks for tuning in and we hope you can join us again on another episode of Ready, Set, Work. We love to hear from our listeners. If you have ideas, thoughts for guests, or suggestions for future podcast topics, please reach out. Tweet us at BunkerHQ, using the hashtag, Ready, Set, Work or email us directly at hello@buildbunker.com. All right, back to work.


 


Next Episode: “The Future of Work is About the People” Ft. Michael Burdick, Co-Founder and CEO of Paro

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