HR Examiner Podcast – Recruitment Chatbots – John Sumser and Jonathan Duarte, Founder & CEO,

I first met John Sumser, the Principal Analyst at HR Examiner, and one of the most sought after HR technology analysts, some 20 years ago, back in 1998, or so. HRExaminer

That year, John hosted a cocktail party at his home in Milly Valley, CA for a small group of HR technology founders who where attending the SHRM conference in San Francisco. It was a pretty small group back then.

I’m not sure how it all came together, but the party started winding down, and typical to any great conversation with John, questions about the future of recruiting, technology, and the market continued to deepen.  At the time, there were only a handful of ATS systems and job boards. Most ATS systems were customized resume scanning systems that took paper and fax resumes, digitized them, and made them searchable.

The conversations continued late into the evening, concluding with conversations of mergers and acquisitions, while enjoying John’s hot tub. A memorable night for sure.

I recently had the honor of speaking with John on the HR Examiner Podcast series, where we talked about Recruiting AI, chatbots, text messaging, and loads of other technologies entering the recruiting and HR markets.

Over the years, I’ve had numerous memorable conversations with John, an wanted to share a couple of my favorite “Sumser Quotes”. (they’re paraphrased.)

A Social Network for unemployed people?

“Who would ever want to join a social network of other unemployed people? That makes no common sense. Who wants to hang out with bunch of equally depressed unemployed people?”

… John’s response to my question; “What do you think about Jobster?” at the Jobster launch party at ERE in San Diego 2004? Well we know how that story ended. Meanwhile, another little company had yet to surface publicly in the recruiting space, a social network for professionals… LinkedIn.

Diversity in the workforce:

“Here’s the problem with solving diversity in the workforce.

Say your company has been successful for years, and the one thing that’s unique about your culture is that everyone wears a clown suit.

As business continues to grow, you need to bring on more people.

So you interview some great people and hire who you think will be a great employee.

Then, on the new recruits first day of work, they show up bright and early… wearing lederhosen!

Now what do you do?

Do you make them change to a clown suit? Do you make everyone else wear Lederhosen? Do you find a way to embrace clown suits and lederhosen?”

If you ever get a chance to sit down and have some deep conversations with John, I’d highly recommend it.

Beware; Be prepared to think! Bring an open mind! And, Good Ideas and Data, go a long way!

Complete Transcript below:

John Sumser – HR Examiner – Interview 2018


John Sumser: Good morning and welcome to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations. I’m your host, John Sumer, and today we’re gonna be talking with Jonathan Duarte.

John Sumser: Hey,

Jonathan Duarte: how you doing, John? Great. Great. I’m ready to roll.

John Sumser: Cool. So why don’t you take a moment to introduce yourself.

Jonathan Duarte: Yeah, so my name’s Jonathan Duarte I’ve been in the space quite a long time.

Jonathan Duarte: I started one of the first internet job boards back in 96 and have been on the forefront, a lot of technology, but in the kind of back of the atmosphere, but have basically been running software companies that build technology from the top of the funnel all the way back down the background checks and connecting all the dots.

John Sumser: How’d you end up doing this?

Jonathan Duarte: Yeah. Long story short, so I was a, an er, what we call E R P consultant back in the day for JD Edwards, a couple years out of college. So this is now like 93. [00:01:00] And there really, there was no real internet, at that point, or not the web. And I got into it because in 96 when I started Go Jobs, a friend of mine had told me about this internet thing like the year before.

Jonathan Duarte: And I was consulting, living in. Hotel rooms and said, this just isn’t gonna work. As 23, you’re supposed to be out having fun. And I was working in hotel rooms consulting. So I quit my job and said, okay, I’m gonna find something new to do. And the whole internet thing was just blowing up that year.

Jonathan Duarte: Netscape went public. And I was technologically savvy enough to understand where it was going, and jumped on board the fact I think even most recruiters, how they get into recruiting, they fall in into it. And our first product we were trying to build was, believe it or not, an I V R system, similar to what DICE was doing with a billboard system back in the day.

John Sumser: So what are you doing today? You’re pioneer and now you are doing it again.

John Sumser: [00:02:00] What’s the story?

Jonathan Duarte: Yeah, so I think three years ago I got really excited or learned more about text messaging. Text messaging. I’ve got two kids, an 11 and 13 year old, and that’s how they communicate. And but I got interested in how it’s working on the B two B side because it basically is not being used at all other than in marketing and then in some smaller areas.

Jonathan Duarte: And since I started in. I’d say, in 96 my premise has always been how do we get candidates closer to employers and employers, closer to candidates at the right time and the right place. And after 23 years I’ve had success. I’ve had failures trying to get there. But that’s always been the rule.

Jonathan Duarte: And what I saw with text messaging and just messaging in general is it is. Almost like the holy grail of being able to communicate at scale in rapid fire. So I started building chatbots in that space to try to build [00:03:00] recruiting automation using that platform. So what does that look like? We build real life examples is, I like to use this one is In the US right now, of course, re unemployment is pretty much at a 50 year low.

Jonathan Duarte: And if you look at any retailer, you go to ikea, you go to Walmart, you go to Sam’s Club. Every retailer has a sign out front that says, now hiring. But the problem is most of those signs lead a candidate on a mobile phone to try to type in 20 characters to some career site. That doesn’t work. The conversions are terrible.

Jonathan Duarte: So the alternative to that is use mobile friendly solutions, which is a text messaging platform, and have somebody type in the word jobs and text, message that to a computer and instead of redirecting someone to a website, You just get their contact information immediately. You ask ’em what their first name is, their last name, [00:04:00] what kind of job they’re looking for, where they’re located.

Jonathan Duarte: And you get 90% of the people that complete that conversation versus a career website which are great for branding, but they only convert less than 10% of the users. So you lose 90% of the people that ever show up. And so I think that’s the differences. Then recruiters have the ability to communicate over text and get that kind of scalability, which since nobody’s opening emails anymore it just seems to be working and seems to be working in a very big way.

John Sumser: That’s interesting. Lemme see if I can get what you’re saying here. If you use your smartphone to look at a.

John Sumser: While they have made them fit the screen the interface is still as if it were on a desktop. And so it’s very hard to fill out that when people come to career websites on their phones, the failure rate is quite high. Is that right?

Jonathan Duarte: Yeah, absolutely. With your two [00:05:00] disposable sum thumbs, trying to type in 20 characters like home, and then try to communicate and web, we haven’t really gone that far.

Jonathan Duarte: I. In the nineties we created Web 1.0, and then we created Web 2.0, which were now forms, that just dumped stuff into a database. We haven’t really got to Web 3.0 ’cause web is a one dimensional interface or inter, the web base. But text messaging is a two-way, and that’s the difference, is you can communicate at scale, which you couldn’t do in on a webpage.

John Sumser: That sounds pretty counterintuitive. It’s a step if you’ve got a form that can be filled out, so you ask all the questions at once. It’s pretty counterintuitive to say that a better way to do that is ask the questions one at a time.

Jonathan Duarte: Yeah. But, and I’d I agree. And that’s, when we were first testing this stuff, it was like, this is just weird.

Jonathan Duarte: But, we were gonna [00:06:00] test a hypothesis. My friend and I, my co-founder Mike and I, we created a chat bot on Facebook Messenger in 96, in 2 20 16. And our hypothesis was, let’s just see if people would communicate over messenger and look for a job. And we had no idea what was gonna happen.

Jonathan Duarte: Surprisingly enough that chatbot, Gobi, our first one went viral to 103 countries in 30 days with no marketing. And we’re like, wow. People will use their thumbs instead of a keyboard. And that’s the majority of our workforce. They don’t sit behind computers every day.

John Sumser: The majority of the workforce doesn’t sit behind computers every day.

John Sumser: Do you have stats about that? That’s really interesting.

Jonathan Duarte: Yeah, I think I, I don’t have off the top of my head, but I think that what’s the hourly part-time workforce in the US is something like 60 million. And let’s just say hypothetically it’s 160 million in the workforce. That’s just a [00:07:00] part-time.

Jonathan Duarte: But if you look at the retail hospitality, That workforce, the construction, logistics, trucks, drivers, those numbers start, going over 50% of the US workforce pretty quickly. I just don’t have the numbers in front of me.

John Sumser: That’s great. That’s great. That’s really interesting. So now we’ve got a system that asks you the questions one at a time.

John Sumser: Is there anything to a chat bot that’s more than that?

Jonathan Duarte: Yeah, absolutely. Like you can get to a position and I think this is where everyone’s trying to get to and we talk about the Gartner curve, about early adopters and how interesting everyone got in 2017 about ai. And the reality is when you, in this kind of Gartner curve, you look at it is everyone gets really excited, excited about a new technology.

Jonathan Duarte: And you can see that early part of that Gartner curve come in. And the reason you see that is because everyone’s throwing [00:08:00] ideas at it, but it takes a lot of ideas to actually get to solve real problems. And so that curve starts dropping off. Then you start coming back with the entrepreneurs who really got what we call product market fit, which is a solution where we found a problem, in this case, maybe a recruiting problem, one of the many.

Jonathan Duarte: But how do you communicate at scale? And you found how it work fits into the workflow and the technology was good enough that it didn’t seem off and you weren’t talking to a computer or it didn’t go into error loops. So I think we’re still on that kind of top of a lot of people throwing stuff at ai.

Jonathan Duarte: Our perceptions are that we should be driving cars, autonomously. But recruiting is still a very workflow intensive process. And I think AI is going to be coming. It’s coming, but are we gonna see it in [00:09:00] the normal mid-market? You know where most people are hired right away. No, it’s still gonna take a little time because everyone, especially in hr, their workflows are different.

Jonathan Duarte: The tech stacks are different. We’ve got 220 a t s companies. It’s gonna take some time before the technology catches up to the reality of HR and recruiting and a human workforce.

John Sumser: So again means when you talk about chat bots, talking about. A tool that uses text to acquire the exact same information that you’d have on an application for a job on a website.

John Sumser: Is that right? It,

Jonathan Duarte: yeah. And it might be a little bit I would say it’s, Not as good of the data that you could get from a webpage because someone sitting behind a keyboard has a lot more keys and it’s easier to type in. We know that there’s a failure rate of candidates applying via mobile, which is about less than 30% of candidates [00:10:00] apply via mobile, but they.

Jonathan Duarte: Apparently the other numbers say that 70% of candidates are using mobile to find jobs, so there’s a drop off, and what the problem is that it. We still have Word document resumes, so that kind of workforce, that’s computer driven. I e you know, the professional workforce, that workforce is still gonna be web based because there’s a lot of resumes and bigger documents that need to get, put around.

Jonathan Duarte: But your hourly server at T G I Fridays or the hotel front desk or the. The Uber driver. These individuals don’t need resumes to perform their job or to get hired. They just need a structured sequence of questions, and they’re usually short and quick.

John Sumser: That’s interesting. So I keep hearing people talk about Chatbots that are much smarter than this sounds right.

John Sumser: This is like you pay somebody to stand on the street corner and read the [00:11:00] questions on the job applications to the person applying for the job and collect the answers. One at the time. And I keep hearing this stuff about things that are more sophisticated than that but it doesn’t seem like it’s actually happening.

Jonathan Duarte: Yeah, it’s, there are companies out there that are putting together really sophisticated AI and N L P programs, and we use some N L P or we call natural language processing within the chatbot as well. But we’re not trying I think this is the kind of differences. As a 20 year exec in this industry, it’s about trying to solve the problem today, and we’ve got really big problems today.

Jonathan Duarte: That’s where the market’s gonna buy for the most part. There are companies and early adopters in the enterprise who have bigger problems and they need a longer term solution. So they have the money and effort and resources to invest in technology for five years or 10 years, and so that, that’s the exciting stuff.

Jonathan Duarte: Gartner curve, but that’s not gonna hit [00:12:00] mid-market anytime soon. And when you say, oh, we have a chat bot that can essentially just read your brain, that’s just not really gonna happen. But you can have a chat bot that will walk you through a script, help the employers get more candidates, especially in the retail where they’re just dying for candidates right now very quickly.

Jonathan Duarte: And the conversion rates are much, much higher than a webpage.

John Sumser: That’s interesting. So do you call those two different kinds of chatbot different things? Do you have language for.

Jonathan Duarte: I think a lot of people are using the word so there’s two, a lot of words. Everyone’s been using AI and artificial intelligence, but if you break that down in our area in a chatbot, there’s really scripted chatbots, which is customized question, answer, question, answer, question, answer, and you can have some derivations or fork, those conversations.

Jonathan Duarte: That’s all fine. It’s very, it’s a much lower tech. A solution then have a computer trying to understand the question and answering [00:13:00] open-ended questions and then relate that to a specific job versus a category of jobs. So the artificial intelligence is really about trying to understand open text.

Jonathan Duarte: Responding accordingly, but in a scripted technology, it’s much cheaper and easier to implement than trying to use the AI part of it and or to that extent. So that’s where we’re focusing more of on the scripting side. I think that’s where the the immediate potential for the majority of the market is.

Jonathan Duarte: While the AI is coming, it’s just gonna be really expensive for a lot of people to implement.

John Sumser: So tell me about the the work required to install the kind of chat bot that you guys

Jonathan Duarte: Yeah, so our, we’ll just use two examples. The. Chatbots that our clients are looking for is either a web chat that sits on a website, [00:14:00] if you’re going to Comcast or your cable company, and you’re gonna ask a question and or you could imagine a candidate showing up to your career site.

Jonathan Duarte: And again, 90% of the people who visit your career site just disappear. And then there’s the text chat. And text chat is really you just texting into a phone number. What it takes to actually implement one of these things is we just, we have the technology in the backend. What we do is we help the client write the script for what they want to do.

Jonathan Duarte: And in this case it’s almost germane. Everyone’s doing a lot of the same thing, so we’ll get to the point where we can rapid fire these out, but it’s not there yet. The idea is how do you. Create a script that’s on brand, on message and response to the candidates in in approved way for the brand.

Jonathan Duarte: So we’ll go ahead, write the script. We provide the technology, then we just hand it over[00:15:00] to the client and give ’em a phone number. And in many cases we can do that in 24 hours.

John Sumser: That’s really interesting. So are you like doing thousands of these or how, where are you in the process?

Jonathan Duarte: Yeah, we’re still onto the a hundred mark. It’s, it, the problem is and thanks again for having me on the show, is it’s the education process. There are a lot of other real big problems in recruiting and trying to take the time to understand this as a TA leader of what the benefits are.

Jonathan Duarte: It has been hard. So it’s new technology, so we just don’t have the bandwidth of the VPs of HR to understand what the stuff can do. And of course, because it’s a new market, there aren’t that many case studies. So it’s an education process as that, as the market gets educated and they understand that it’s quick to implement, it doesn’t take a lot of internal resources and the return on investments much higher.

Jonathan Duarte: It’ll get to market faster. And [00:16:00] so that’s where I think most of us are, is there’s a lot of venture, backed companies in this space and we’re self-funded. So it’s a little bit different of how do you get to all these people as quickly as possible.

John Sumser: So one of the things I’ve noticed about, about some of the.

John Sumser: People buying. The stuff that I’ve gotten to know is it’s very difficult for them to tell what’s a good company to do business with and what’s not a good company to do business with. And as a result you find people going, oh, those people who had the really nice offices with the really big view of San Francisco and $50 million in backing, that’s a good business.

John Sumser: And these little people in bad offices with bad lighting and lots of pizza boxes in the corner, that’s a bad business. How do you know what I. Am I right or what

Jonathan Duarte: I totally, and there’s a lot. Here’s the thing. As a [00:17:00] VP of ta, if you’re gonna go walk into the CEO’s office and tell ’em you’re gonna work with this company who can barely get a presentation together because they’re not marketing people but their technology is awesome and the r o I is great.

Jonathan Duarte: You’re taking a risk. Versus the, guy who shows up on Forbes magazine with the greatest thing since sliced bread. That’s an easier sale and the risk is less. So how do you get across, that? And I’ve had clients say, Hey, we’re really interested in your technology.

Jonathan Duarte: It’s awesome. Do you do ai? ’cause that’s what our VP wants. I’m like, I can spell AI as much as he needs it. It’s really not, I. I think the best way of looking at it’s this is that when you’re looking at a platform of technology, find a vendor who knows your space and can solve your problem. Any technology in HR is about solving a problem if the [00:18:00] vendor can solve your problem and understands your problem and has an innate understanding of your business and your workflow.

Jonathan Duarte: They’re the people you wanna work with. It doesn’t matter how much venture capital they’ve sp out and lost because they don’t understand your problem or how great their glossies look. It’s really about finding a company that can understand your problem and implement what you’re trying to do.

John Sumser: That’s a tough message to carry.

John Sumser: That’s the old smelly person in the corner is better than the guy in the shiny suit.

Jonathan Duarte: Yeah, absolutely. So when you see those 40 by 40 booths at HR Tech in November, just ask the sales person how many years of experience or what kind of workflow problems they’ve been able to solve.

Jonathan Duarte: And just, and then head right over to the to the cheat booths in the side seat and the the non venture guys. And you’ll find out somebody who can rewrite your entire code base in a couple hours.

John Sumser: That’s great. So a lot of what goes on [00:19:00] in AI involves using open source stuff. I assume that you use open source material to get a bunch of your work done. Tell me about that.

Jonathan Duarte: Yeah, so we we actually started our first chat bots. We wrote on the Facebook platform using a tool called that quickly we realized wasn’t scalable and scalable meaning this makes sense to the, to enterprise buyers, is that.

Jonathan Duarte: Somebody else owned the code. That was the framework. And that was good to do what we call a proof of concept or a M V P or, trying to get to the market and understanding the use cases and those things work. And then, For the AI side, there’s lots of tools for N L P that can, that you can use, like companies called Witt AI that was purchased by Facebook and the company called was built, was bought by hubs.

Jonathan Duarte: So there’s all these tools out there versus going to a I BM Watson [00:20:00] where it’s gonna cost you a little bit more, but it’s stable. It’s a platform. Many people are using it. So there’s that. Do you use something that is. Free. Free or low cost that might get you there, or do you have to pay for something that’s going to get you longer and stable?

Jonathan Duarte: And that’s where after actually a little bit of time doing this and doing some pilots with some clients, we actually built our own framework, we own our own code, every line of it versus other companies that are, outsourcing parts of that code, which then causes problems if they have a client who needs a, a derivation or customization to the code.

Jonathan Duarte: But outsourcing, anytime you’re gonna outsource part of your code with open source stuff it’s great. You can get to market faster, but you have the potential that you just don’t own what you’re doing. And there are Chat bot companies in this space saying, Hey, we’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, and they don’t own any of their code, so their scalability is gonna become a [00:21:00] problem.

Jonathan Duarte: When that company needs a little bit more. They want to do some other kind of use cases that the company doesn’t actually own the code and can’t support.

John Sumser: So last thing is there’s a cloud of ethical issues around the new technologies that are emerging. What are the big ethical issues in your work?

Jonathan Duarte: Ours, right now here’s my take on ai. I, and I’ll do it real quick because I may not answer your question directly, but in, in my opinion, AI. Is going to be a hard sell to the VP of hr when you’re talking about a computer answering a question on behalf of the company. That would be what we would consider real ai, or I think you and I agree that would be the more human approach to AI is it could solve problems on itself.

Jonathan Duarte: You can’t give a compu, a computer, the opportunity to answer a compliance question yet, and [00:22:00] I don’t know if we’re ever going to completely outsource that. I don’t think any VP of HR is ever gonna sign a check to a company who says, we’re gonna outsource your compliance. So I think we’re at this point where AI can be useful, but it’s gonna always be a.

Jonathan Duarte: Kind of a partner. It might be the person who sits next to you in the pool as a tool, but it’s not going to be the front person to a lot of solutions. So ethically the other side of this is the the diversity and the Other problems you have within biases. And we don’t actually deal with that much because we’re not trying to scrape resumes and match them.

Jonathan Duarte: Like companies like Textio can help on that side, but that’s not our side. So from our side, we don’t have too many ethical questions about how AI’s implementing. Thus far, but that, did that help answer some of that stuff for you?

John Sumser: That’s a [00:23:00] piece of it, but let’s just poke a little bit harder and, yeah.

John Sumser: What are the diversity stats associated with applications that come in through your method? Because

Jonathan Duarte: that’s the bias, that’s the bias question, yeah, we don’t have any data on that. And we’re still early too. And again, the other side of what we don’t actually take full application.

Jonathan Duarte: So we’re not doing an O F C P A D O L compliant application. We’re taking the front end and almost like a C R M communicating with the candidate upfront and they’re not applicants. So we are very clear with our clients that no one in our system should be considered an applicant. We forwarded all candidates into the a t s to go through the application process.

Jonathan Duarte: But what we do know is that I had some stats the other day is eight for one client. We had a web chat and an s m s chat bot that we were running very similar script from. And [00:24:00] the candidates are still on a website even though they’re on the browser and they’re answering questions. And the majority of the candidates are still, 70% are mobile.

Jonathan Duarte: And what was interesting was this was for a hospitality client and 80%, or I think it was like 75% of the people were using an were using iPhones for part-time, hourly jobs in hospitality. And I’m like, Wow. Why do these part-time hourly folks have iPhones? I figured the number of Androids would be much higher, but it wasn’t.

Jonathan Duarte: The data is still early. And again, we don’t, we stay away from the applicant side. And again, it’s just because we’re not a good Ss m Ss at this point is not a good application for an actual apply. It’s a good communication tool, but it’s not the The be all, end all for O F C P type of stuff.

John Sumser: That was a, that was an education. I always liked talking to you because you get two or three [00:25:00] amazing notes over the course of the conversation and I ain’t got some takeaways out of this. So is there anything you wanna make sure the readers take away before we’re done?

Jonathan Duarte: Yeah I think it’s, going back to what you mentioned about the picking a vendor who knows the industry is Find someone who actually understands your problems in your company and there’s lots of them, and leverage their knowledge base instead of just listening to the sales pitch.

Jonathan Duarte: That’s my whole pitch ’cause I’m come one of those guys. I don’t have all, the, I don’t have the 40 by 40 showing up at HR Tech, but you’ll find, I’m sure we could have some great conversations about solving problems in your business pretty quick.

John Sumser: So reintroduce yourself and tell us how to get ahold of you.

Jonathan Duarte: Yeah. My name’s Jonathan Dewart the co-founder and c e o of Go Hire, and that’s go And you can reach me at

John Sumser: Thanks so much, Jonathan. It’s been a great conversation [00:26:00] time just fed by. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this.

Jonathan Duarte: Awesome. And thank you very much John, and appreciate it and love all your work.

John Sumser: Thanks. You’ve been listening to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations and we’ve been talking with Jonathan.