Entrepreneurs naturally take different paths. Some nurture an idea for years before they start a small business. Others spot an opportunity and seize it instantly.
And some stumble into a profession, over time become obsessed with the idea that technology should be easier to use... and help build a staffing technology company that was ranked #151 on the 2017 Inc. 5000 list (and #9 in software.)
Brandon Metcalf is the co-founder and President of Talent Rover, a global software company that provides a mobile-first, cloud-based software platform for staffing and recruiting -- think everything from initial sales to client invoicing.
But as you'll see, how Brandon -- and Talent Rover -- got there was anything but a foregone conclusion.
You're what I like to call an accidental entrepreneur.
If six years ago you had told me I would be running a startup, I would have laughed at you.
I worked in banking for a few years and then joined Kelly Services, the multi-billion dollar staffing solutions company. I was a sales manager in Colorado, and the job just clicked for me: Within 9 months I was the top producer in the country for our division. So they sent me to Sacramento to see if I could turn that territory around, then sent me to San Francisco... and then I got a random phone call from Kent Gray.
I didn't know who Kent was, but he was adamant that we needed to go to lunch.
When the co-founder of a recruiting firm asks you to lunch... you take the lunch.
Absolutely. Kent recruited me to CVPartners. With Kelly I was in management roles. At CVPartners I was headhunting and worked on high-level openings: CFO, VP... executive search. It was a lot of fun, but I got a random phone call from Google right when I was thinking I might like more of a challenge. Somehow they magically know when you're ripe for a call. (Laughs.)
Just like with Kent, when Google says, "Let's talk," you talk.
They made me a crazy offer. The money was good, it was Google... but I liked working with Kent. So I told him about the Google offer and he said, "Give me a couple hours."
He comes back and says, "You're the most technical guy I've ever met. You don't have IT experience but I have faith in your ability... why don't you take over IT, because I trust you."
The money wasn't Google money, but I took a leap of faith and said yes.
Which also means he took a leap of faith on you. People forget that leaps of faith often go both ways.
Absolutely. And I wanted to pay back his trust.
So I started ripping everything apart. I hated our phone system, hated our basic infrastructure, hated the fact we couldn't scale our technology... but one of the biggest problems was the software we were using. While it was made by the biggest player in the space, it was terrible. It seemed like it crashed every Friday. Our recruiters had to enter data into Excel because it didn't have a reporting tool...
We looked around for something -- for anything -- better, and nothing fit. Staffing and recruiting is a $400 billion business globally, but firms were using all these different systems that were cumbersome and didn't talk to each other and their staff were re-entering data in multiple systems.
I was shocked that there was nothing better available.
So you decided to build your own.
Kind of. We made a terrible decision that turned out to be one of our best decisions: We settled on a software vendor that sold us a dream and delivered a nightmare. Implementation was a disaster. Data migration alone took 9 months. I worked 80 to 100 hour weeks just trying to make it work.
Finally we got the system to be somewhat stable, and Kent flat-out says, "This isn't working." No one could make placements. Everyone in the firm was on 100 percent commission, some of our top producers were billing well over a million a year... and we were cutting their legs out from under them. I had to turn our old system back on -- so now we're running two systems that don't work.
So why was choosing the new software a great decision?
It was built on Salesforce, and I had to spend so much time trying to make the product work that I ended up teaching myself how to develop inside Salesforce.
Now when our programmers look at my code, they laugh... but it did work.
That experience taught me a little about programming but a lot about what I wanted the software to do, and why. All that time and effort led to an initial design.
So I talked to Kent and said, "You might think I'm crazy... but why don't we build our own system?"
Kent looked at my budget and the ROI and took another leap of faith and said, "I'm trusting you to do this."
That would give you an internal tool but not a salable product.
We started to build it and I thought, " Wait a second. No one else is doing it this way. Why not sell it?"
So I went back to Kent and said, "Now you're really going to think I'm crazy," and in 2011 we officially formed the company. In 2012 CVPartners took it live and gave it a good thrashing and gave me very direct feedback, and in 2013 we sold it to our first customer -- and they're still with us.
That sounds easy, but it wasn't. In 2013 it felt like we had no idea how to run a software company. In 2014 things clicked. Then, in 2015 and 2016, the hockey stick effect kicked in.
We've come a long way, both as a company and as a product, but it's rewarding to look back and know that the heart of our product is the same. It's grown and evolved and serves more verticals, but that initial focus remains.
Building a great product is one thing. Getting a market to embrace it is another. How did your growth occur?
In 2014 I gave a speech in Hong Kong about the globalization of software. I got off the stage and the chief marketing officer for Adecco in Asia said, "We're launching a new brand, and I would like you to talk to the directors to see if your software can help." We won the business, deployed the product, took a project live in 90 days that merged four databases, in different currencies and languages, seven different countries... and did it on time and under budget.
The head of solutions delivery for Adecco said, "How did you pull this off?"
How we pulled it off is at the heart of how our company works. I flew to Singapore at least four times every month. Anytime they wanted to have a meeting, I was there in person, both through the sales cycle and deployment.
We needed to prove ourselves. They needed to know us, to see the passion, to know that we would do whatever it took to build the relationship and gain their trust.
We also have an advantage: We know what it's like to do our customers' jobs because we've done those jobs. Even so, there's no way we would be here without Salesforce. Salesforce is the engine that powers us. It checks so many boxes.
So now we're in thirty countries with Adecco, and are looking at rolling out globally.
When a potential customer asks, "Who is your biggest customer?" and we say, "Adecco," they say, "What region?" It's fun to say, "All of it."
You've worked for big companies, now you run a company... what have you learned along the way that other entrepreneurs can benefit from?
One, confidence is king -- but there's a big line between confidence and arrogance. You can be confident and still be respectful and humble.
Two, you can't do everything. Early on I felt like I could do everything. Now the company is definitely not about me. I may be the spokesperson and may be setting direction, but it's now about all of our employees -- so my job is to transfer my confidence to our team.
We have 120 employees today and I never have to ask them to stay late or come in early. My challenge is getting them to stop working. Many of them come from the industry, so they get it: They've been in the situations we try to solve, and they're passionate about solving those problems -- and they're confident we can solve those problems.
Three, you're not always going to make the right decision, and neither are other people, and that's okay. I probably make hundreds of decisions every day, and some of them are bad calls. I try to look at both the outcomes of bad decisions and good decisions: Learn from what you did wrong but also celebrate what you get right before you dive back in.
If you don't take a moment to celebrate the positives, you'll quickly lose your motivation and passion.
There are plenty more, but the last is to think bigger, not just in terms of growth but in how you will set yourself up for growth. We know that in six months our business will have grown dramatically. How do we prepare ourselves for that? How do we double in size while still keeping our focus on our customers and our employees?
We're not growing for the sake of growth, though -- we're growing to keep up with demand. That makes it easier to keep the focus on customers, because they're the primary factor behind our growth and our success.