Nov 3, 2009

RiseSmart CEO Sanjay Sathe on the new direction

I've already interviewed Sanjay Sathe once last year, and that was at a time when RiseSmart was trying to establish its own JobConcierge service for senior management.

RiseSmart is now trying to establish an outplacement service too.

When it recently got $ 4.6 million in VC funding it seemed like a good time to catch up with Sanjay again and to understand what is in the future for RiseSmart.

Here are Sanjay's answers to some questions I sent to him via email:

1. What is RiseSmart planning to do with the latest VC funding?

At this point we’ve proven the business model of our outplacement solution, RiseSmart Transition Concierge, and it’s time to grow market share. So we’re going to expand our sales team while continuing to invest in operations and client service.

It’s really been remarkable that we’ve been able to walk into Fortune 500 companies and win their outplacement business away from longtime, and in some cases deeply entrenched, incumbents.  We’ve done it time and again.  This reinforces our belief in our vision — that our way of doing outplacement will become the dominant model in the future.  If we use the investment from Norwest Venture Partners and Storm Ventures wisely, we’ll be well on our way to making this vision a reality.

2. How is the new strategic direction being received by existing clients?

Nothing has changed for existing clients of our consumer service, RiseSmart Job Concierge.  What’s changed is our marketing strategy.  When we launched, we planned to build a B2C offering to compete with TheLadders — and we believe our service is a better value than TheLadders.  But TheLadders is spending millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads, and the consumer market in general is crowded, so the investment required to cut through the clutter and build a brand is high.

With RiseSmart Transition Concierge, on the other hand, we are dealing with a smaller universe of prospective clients and the noise level is a lot lower.  Corporate clients are hearing the facts and connecting with our message.  As a result, we’re bringing thousands of jobseekers into our system much more cost-effectively than by trying to reach them individually through a broad-based ad campaign.  And because satisfaction levels have been very high among users, we can count on reaching new B2C customers through word of mouth.

3. What are the biggest challenges that a firm like RiseSmart faces?

Any upstart company faces challenges in going up against the big players and old guard.  Outplacement is a $3 plus billion industry, so the entrenched players have a lot to protect; they have been enjoying very nice margins for a long time.  Now, we are threatening to permanently reduce the cost structure of the industry, and they don’t like it.  We expect them to throw the kitchen sink at us from a sales and marketing perspective as we continue to win away their clients.  But we enjoy a good challenge.

4. What other players in the industry are you watching very closely - and with respect :-) ?

We watch the traditional players like Right Management and Lee Hecht Harrison closely — and we do respect them for all they’ve accomplished.  They built this industry.  We’re just ready to take the baton and move things forward.  We expect our competitors to adapt and to begin offering services similar to ours — but we’re confident they won’t be able to do it as well, and certainly not at our price point.

5. What should job seekers do to land jobs of their choice?

The most important thing is to use your time wisely.  You had a routine in your job that filled your days — and now that is gone, like a rug pulled out from under you.  How do you fill all those hours?

What you shouldn’t do is sit in front of your computer searching different job boards for hours at a time.  It’s a time filler that can make you feel productive, but it’s not a good use of your time.  This is particularly true because job boards are notoriously inefficient — how many times have you searched for “executive” jobs and wound up reading job descriptions for executive assistants, for example?

That’s why our Job Concierge service — which is not only our B2C offering but also the core of Transition Concierge — is so valuable.  We do the online searching for you so you can focus on tasks that are more important, like leveraging social networks, sharpening your resume, crafting custom cover letters, and networking at industry and professional events.  This is the smarter route to finding a new job.