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Gem’s 5th birthday: A co-founders’ reflection

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Talent Marketing

Posted on

May 26, 2022

Today is Gem’s birthday, and we’re feeling all the feels: astonished (where has the time gone?!), proud (look at all we’ve accomplished!), humbled (look at all we have yet to achieve!), and joyful (look at all the remarkable colleagues and customers we get to celebrate our birthday with!). 

It’s been an incredible ride so far. In five years, we’ve grown from $0 to nearly $30 million in ARR. We’ve raised $148 million in funding (our most recent round was a Series C at $100 million—the day Gem became a unicorn). We now have nearly 300 employees with a new cohort onboarding every two weeks, and we plan to be a team of 400+ by the end of 2022. We partner with over 1,200 customers in industries as broad as tech, finance, food and beverage, and medical. We recently hired a Chief Recruiting Officer, because we know what a strategic function it is, and we want recruiting to always have a seat at the table. And we’ve been innovating on our product at warp speed all along, with a recent focus on Full-Cycle Recruiters and Talent Ops professionals—we see you! 

To celebrate, we sat down with Steve Bartel (Co-Founder and CEO) and Nick Bushak (Co-Founder and CTO) to get some of their reflections on where Gem has been, and where they see Gem going.

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What inspired you to start Gem?

Steve: Nick and I were engineers building teams at Dropbox and Facebook, respectively; and we started noticing shifts in the recruiting industry from where we sat. Talent acquisition was less and less a reactive activity in which companies sat around and waited for candidates to come to them. It was becoming a proactive practice: the best companies were getting out there and engaging with talent well before they were ready to apply. Recruiting was starting to look a lot more like sales and marketing—a long-term strategy in which recruiters built and nurtured relationships with talent over time. 

One of the “aha” moments for us early on was when we sat down with a bunch of potential customers before we even wrote a line of code. We saw that all these recruiting teams were using sales and marketing tech for their recruiting. And we were like, bingo, this is a real need. Recruiters need something built specifically for them

Nick: I was at Facebook from pretty early on. I watched the company grow from 500 to 25,000; and I saw how critical recruiting was to the success of the business. Facebook put a lot of time and energy into recruiting. There simply weren’t great recruiting solutions out there; so they invested in a team of software engineers to build out internal recruiting software. When I saw that, I realized there had to be a better way, because most organizations wouldn’t have the resources that Facebook had to build out an internal product for themselves. ‍

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How have you seen the recruiting industry change over the years?

Nick:There are a few things that come to mind. The first is that recruiting has become a lot more data-driven in recent years, much like the transformation that happened in sales and marketing years ago. Recruiting is just catching up to those industries. And as recruiters become more data-driven, the organizations they’re embedded in are starting to view recruiting less as a cost center and more as a key strategic function within the business.

The other thing that’s happening is that enterprise software—in general, but I’m thinking specifically about recruiting software—is becoming a lot more focused on individual users. In the past, software built for businesses had a top-down focus. But we're seeing a shift across the business software industry to products that are built with the end-user in mind. I think those are two big shifts happening in the recruiting industry right now, and they’re powering a lot of what's making Gem successful. 

What’s the first thing you want potential customers to know about Gem?

Steve: How easy it is to use. We've got an incredible G2 crowd score—4.8 out of 5 stars. We have a 67 net promoter score, which is more reminiscent of a best-in-class consumer app than it is a B2B SaaS product. End-user experience used to be an afterthought—if it was a thought at all—in B2B software, but that's changing. And so the first thing that I would want potential customers to understand is just how remarkable the product is, and how easy it is to use. 

Nick: Ease of use, for sure. We hear this consistently from our customers. Gem is one of the easiest pieces of recruiting software to implement and adopt; and it’s software that the entire team—from individual recruiters to TA leaders—will love, because it solves real problems and drives real value. It makes the overall team more efficient and more strategic, and recruiting more visible in the organization as a true business partner.

Beyond the value of the hard product, though, I’d also want potential customers to know that our customer success and post-sales team is one of the strongest in the industry. We don’t just launch Gem and then leave you to your own devices. We continue to strategically help our customers with some of the biggest recruiting problems they’re up against. What are the best practices and tactics they can implement to ultimately meet the company’s headcount goals? That’s another thing we hear regularly from our customers—just how supported they feel beyond implementation. 

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At what point did you realize that Gem was going to be an impactful product in the recruiting industry?

Steve: There’ve been a lot of moments in which I’ve had ever-greater confidence that Gem is becoming something big—for both the industry and our customers. I think the first moment was when we got our very first customer onto the platform in less than two weeks of writing code. The fact that this organization was willing to use a scrappy product that Nick and I had only begun to build was validation that we were onto a much-needed product.

From there, the momentum just built. We grew incredibly fast in the first nine months—from zero to a million in ARR. That was a validating moment. So was the moment we tripled ARR last year, from $8M to $24M. Lately, though, the thing that feels most validating is the range of customers who are adopting and leveraging Gem—from some of the largest fast-food companies in the world; to finance firms; to companies that use Gem to hire doctors, or lawyers, or clinicians. This is great validation that Gem is onto something broad in terms of its applications. 

What’s your favorite Gem memory? 

Steve: All of my favorite Gem memories involve the team. But if I had to pick one, it would probably be when Gem was only about 18 or 19 people and we took the whole team to Hawaii for a week. The entire experience was incredible, and we left Hawaii as even better collaborators with an even stronger foundation. One of the highlights for me was capsizing a jetski with Caro[line Stevenson, Gem’s Chief of Staff].

Nick: We recently had the whole EPD [engineering, product, and design] team come in to the office, which meant we were all together for the first time since COVID, given we’ve been hiring remotely since the pandemic. It was remarkably energizing to see everyone in person; to reflect on the team that we've built; and to experience, in person, what a great set of people we've aligned behind a common goal.

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What does the culture at Gem mean to you?

Steve: It means a lot of things to me, but the thing I always come back to is the power and potential behind our shared values. Very early on at Gem we aligned on four core values: diversity, transparency, velocity, and customer focus. And they're embedded in everything we do—from our hiring practices, to our onboarding processes, to how we recognize and celebrate talent at Gem. I would add that we're a thoughtful bunch—really mindful about the day-to-day decisions we make and how those impact the rest of the team. And we have a really good time doing what we do.

Nick: Yeah, that’s one thing that feels very different at Gem: how thoughtful the team is in their interactions with each other. We're humble when it comes to identifying areas in which we're maybe not doing as well as we should be. And everyone is very conscientious in the way they approach collaboration in order to lead to the right outcomes at the end of the day. One of the things I've noticed about our culture is that everyone here takes extra time to do the right thing. So those things come to mind first: humility around where we can improve, and real thoughtfulness around collaboration. 

What's the most underrated thing about Gem?

Steve: That’s a good question! Historically, the recruiting industry hasn’t been as data-driven as other industries. Don’t get me wrong; there’s a ton of data in recruiting! But there hasn’t been a great way to aggregate and understand all of it. For the first time, Gem is bringing together recruiting teams’ data into one place and acting as a single source of truth. We’re providing analytics on top of that—so teams can forecast and capacity plan, understand the ROI of their various recruiting efforts, see where there may be bias in the hiring funnel and truly optimize their diversity hiring efforts, and more. All of this data and analytics happens in a Gem module called Talent Compass.

I don’t think Talent Compass is underrated; but I think because it’s a newer module, teams haven’t wholly wrapped their heads around how much value it truly drives until they get their hands on it. But we’ve recently watched recruiters, talent leadership, and recruiting operations dive in—and as soon as they do, they’re astounded. There’s a tremendous amount of value they can unlock from that data. ‍

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What specifically about the technology do you think is making the greatest impact?

Nick:A lot of what makes Gem special is that we're committed to bringing the user experience standards you more traditionally see in consumer software companies to the enterprise. A lot of our engineers have experience building products that have been used by millions of people, where user experience has been paramount. They’ve brought that mindset to their work at Gem. 

What do Gem’s employees mean to you?

Steve: Oh, Gem’s employees are everything! We wouldn’t have the great product we have, or the remarkable culture we have—and I wouldn’t be the person I am—without them. They’re brilliant, and reflective, and deeply in alignment with our company values. What I want most for them is that they feel fulfilled and supported here, and that Gem will be an accelerator for their careers. It’s why we’ve been so focused on offering things like L&D and investing in our People programs. Ultimately the question is: How can we help Gems grow in exactly the ways they want to grow? 

Nick: We wouldn’t be the company we are today if it weren’t for every single employee who’s touched Gem. It’s one of the reasons Steve and I aspire to build the world’s best place to work—because we know what an impact every individual has had on what we are today. I’d add that we hope Gems always feel like they’re in the loop around what’s happening in the business. Transparency is one of our company values. We want to make sure that all our employees are along for the ride.

What do Gem’s customers mean to you?

Steve: Customer focus is one of our four values. I mentioned the prospective customer conversations Nick and I had before we wrote a single line of code. We talked to about 50 folks during that time, to ensure that what we were envisioning was going to solve a big pain point for them. That was always our top priority: are we offering an actual solution to an actual set of pain points? Those conversations were where Gem’s customer focus was born. We’ve onboarded more than 1,200 customers at this point. And everything we do is in service of how we can drive the most value for them. They’re also some of my greatest teachers. 

Nick: I’ll second Steve here. Customers have been the foundation of everything we’ve built from day one. And over the years, we’ve been able to work with some of the most innovative recruiting teams in the world. Our customers are brilliant subject matter experts, and what we build is informed not only by the challenges they bring us but by the insight and precision of their feedback. Our analytics product is a great example of what happens when we truly partner with, and learn from, our customers as we’re iterating. We’ve built a product that really takes data-driven recruiting to the next level. 

What’s the biggest lesson that you've learned from Gem’s customers? 

Nick: The ongoing importance of DEIB. It’s top-of-mind for every organization; and I’ve got my ears open to the best practices our customers—who are not only cutting-edge, but also incredibly thoughtful—are implementing as it relates to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. I’ve learned more by watching their vulnerability and care in their own hiring than I ever could have imagined.‍

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Can you say more about Gem’s core value of “diversity”? 

Nick: When Steve and I were first starting Gem, we were clear that diversity was going to have to be a core focus, baked into the company’s DNA from day one. There’s no building a great product, or a long-lasting company, without a range of perspectives and experiences in the room. You can’t see your own blind spots otherwise, so you don’t make the best possible decisions. 

But I also bring it back to those earliest conversations with customers. Building diverse and inclusive teams was one of the most important things to our earliest customers, and it was the foundation of so many of our talks with them. Diversity had to be one of our core values not only because it was critical to building our own team, but because we were building the software that was enabling our customers to build diverse teams themselves. As such, it was a uniquely important thing for us to get right. We’ve invested in DEI initiatives a lot earlier than most companies do, from ERGs to inclusivity trainings. And we continue to invest in this across the board.

Where do you see Gem five years from now?

Steve: Our mission at Gem is to help all companies build great teams. And our vision is in that word “all”: that every single company—whether they’re a startup or a global enterprise, and whatever vertical they’re in—will be able to leverage Gem for all the different ways they hire. The applications are broad because teams have so many ways to engage talent: outbound, inbound, talent rediscovery and long-term nurture, recruitment marketing, branding, events, referrals, internal mobility. We’re building modules for all of these use cases, and my hope is that in five years we’ll be serving every use case a team can have when it comes to talent engagement. 

We’re building something universal because hiring is a problem for every company out there. So in five years, I think Gem will be partnering with companies of all shapes and sizes, across verticals like healthcare and retail and finance. Which means we’ll have to expand globally—thousands of Gems with offices around the world.

Nick: My hope is that, in five years, Gem is the key to making talent acquisition departments in any company a strategic function by unblocking all the tedious and manual work that goes into recruiting. Steve and I started Gem with the goal of eliminating all that manual, repetitive work. We wanted a solution that would automate that work while making the recruiting function more data-driven. We’ve exponentially expanded our customer base over these last five years, and I want to see an even broader set of teams using Gem to become strategic forces in their organizations. We want to elevate every recruiting team we can. 

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