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Lessons Learned Running a Company & Foundation w/Evan Sohn

By Anthony Taylor - March 28, 2022

SME Strategy is a strategy consulting company that specializes in aligning teams around their vision, mission, values, goals and action plans. Learn more about how we can help align your team with our strategic planning and implementation services.


Untitled design - 2021-12-27T131748.040  Anthony: Welcome folks, to today's episode of the Strategy & Leadership Podcast. My guest today is Evan Sohn who is the CEO of Recruiter.com. Evan, how are you today?

podcast blog icon template  Evan: Thank you so much, Anthony, for having me on your show. I'm so great, by the way.

Anthony: Excellent. Well, I'm happy. I'm also doing great because I'm so excited to chat with you. Exciting things happening at Recruiter.com, and you've got just such a cool background of things that you do in the for-profit and not-for-profit realm. Why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about who you are what drives you? What keeps you busy on a day to day basis?

Evan: Sure. So I listened to another podcast the other day - people are now putting into their title on LinkedIn what motivates them. So hey, I am a father of three, married since 1993. If we were in the entertainment industry, I would probably get a trophy with a 'how does he do it? How's he married for all these years?'. But I've got three great kids getting older in life and in general.

I started my first company in 1989, I was 20 years old. I was a youngster at a time when young people weren't really starting companies. I was a programmer through college, so we started a company in mobile computing. So for anyone close to my age that remembers what mobile was in the 90s - it's nothing like mobile is today. We built a company, professionalizing mobile technology - handheld technology, for various different industries. We got acquired by Dun and Bradstreet in 1998. I stayed there for a little bit, got pulled out by a venture capital company to come join another startup in the security space. That led to a couple years later getting acquired by Message Labs, a UK based company, which was eventually acquired by Symantec. I stayed there for a little while, left, and got involved in another mobile company, which got acquired by Verifone. I spent about a decade in the payment space, at a great time in the payment industry, then left Verifone and joined a Silicon Valley company called Point that got acquired by GoDaddy probably over a year ago.

I got involved with recruiter.com about three years ago, and became the CEO at the height of the pandemic, June of 2020. That was like a 32nd short story gone longer. So there you go.

Anthony: Yeah, you just covered, you know, 15 or so -

Evan: 30 years - I covered 30 years in record time.

Anthony: You must be getting good at that. Yeah, that was quite the summary of a couple different career transitions. So let me ask, as you've gone through -of course I want to talk about recruiter.com, but because you're doing some really cool stuff in this space at an important time. What was it like going through all of those transitions and ownership? Was it helpful as a leader? Was it harmful as a leader?

Evan: It's a great question. You know, someone asked me recently, "what was it like being the CEO of a company at 24, and being the CEO of a company at 54?" Look, I'm equally as dumb, right. But you have a better gut when you're 54, than you do at 24. I think my team knows that when I say the word my gut tells me, that usually is indicative of I kind of know what I'm doing, or I have a really good sense of what's actually happening. I think the interesting thing is, doing it this time around years later, you really have all these incredible experiences. I've been very fortunate to have just some incredible experiences and people that I've met. And as I tell my kids, the smartest people learn from everybody, right?

Just because you're smart, doesn't mean there's something that you can't learn from just anyone on the street, from the homeless person to the CEO. I've really been fortunate working with some great people, great companies, great partners, and being able to extract lots of exciting sound bites from different people and making them part of my own strategy. The Silicon Valley experience was a great experience for me, but also having my own company back in the 90s was equally as interesting. The company that bought us also had interesting philosophies on things that they had to do. You really get to look back, now in your 50s, and say, "alright, what did I learn that was positive here, positive here, positive here and really build that into who I am today?"

I've been fired from companies, like anyone that's in sales. I had a CEO who once said, "you're not really a salesperson until you get fired". Until you actually have a real serious pipeline, a forecast a number, and you miss it and you get fired. Now you're really a salesperson, because that really means that it's not just about who you are as an individual, you know, it's what you're doing on a day by day basis. Companies change and morph into different things, and they need different skill sets at different times. But even that - these are all just incredible experiences that really go into building the character of whoever you are today.

Anthony: Yeah, so thinking of that, your career transition as a developer, salesperson, etc., and having to wear different hats at different companies at different stages. What is the hat that you wear now? Like, how do you identify yourself? Where do you drive the biggest value, currently?

Evan: Yeah, so I'm the cook, bottle washer, whatever you want to call it, right? I tell everyone in the company - we're about 70 people, I work more for them than they work for me. What I really do today is really set priorities, get everyone focused on their specific KPIs, get really good clarity on what the next stage looks like. If I was going to give myself a superpower, I'm really good at identifying a problem and then mapping out the workstreams necessary.

I've worked for CEOs that draw two circles in a line and go "I solved the problem - gee, that's really simple. We're at stage zero and next stage is global domination. Great. You see, I drew the line, I'm done." That's not the challenge. The challenge actually is how do you go from A to B? And how do you go from B to C? I think where we make missteps along the way, is that we jump too quickly - "gee, there really wasn't Step B, and you could just go from A to C without that step B". So when I would sit down - most of my life in the sales role, I love pitching and presenting. Most of the time when you're in a sales role, you're really trying to figure out what comes next. Right? How do you move that client along the way to really enable those things to actually happen? I find that to be the thrilling part of things.

So I usually come at it from a sales background, like what's next? What's next? What's next? Go get the customer, go get the signature, take them along that journey. What I've really been able to do is figure out what's next. When I would work at companies in a Head of Sales role, I would always sit down with the CEO and say "where do you want to be in a year from now?" And they would usually tell me where they want to be in five years. I don't care where you need to be in five years - that's not my problem. I want to get you to where you want to be next. So where do you want to be in a year from now? Really just gaining excellent clarity on what's next. How does that next thing look like? And the better you can define what the next step is, the better you know when you get there.


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Anthony: Yeah - there's a couple of different things. So I really like the what comes next -

Evan: Are you taking notes? So obviously I'm saying something either really stupid or really good?

Anthony: No, no problem. I just really want to make sure I get it. Because I see people who are extremely strategic that do it well, then I see when people do strategy poorly. They say, "hey, I've got this objective". It's qualitative. It's broad. And they actually don't know how they're going to connect the dots. That connecting the dots in an incremental way is so critical. And I think as a leader in your role, it's helping people not just take that big leap, because it gives them too much space to flounder, but enough space where they can say, "this big leap is going to be scary and you're going to screw up a whole bunch, but if we focus on a bunch of small leaps, it's easier. Then as a salesperson, it's about micro commitments - what's next?

Evan: Oh, say I'm glad you used the word micro commitments. I'm a huge believer in micro changes. What little thing can you be doing this week that's going to have that impact? And not being afraid to test and try new things. So I completely completely agree, you know, you and I are totally aligned. I'll give you another learning from Silicon Valley. My old CEO at Point, he had this line, "a trend starts with a single data point". He would say that the difference from east coast mentality and west coast mentality. On the east coast, for customer complains you'll say, "you know what, let's see if we get five more complaints. We get five more complaints, then we'll have a plan to go solve it or something like that". On the west coast, the moment there's a customer complaint, you assume that there's going to be 10,000 of the same complaint, so let's go solve the problem now. You look at how they've been able to really iterate incredibly quickly. It's because they don't wait around. They're just looking at a problem.

A trend starts with a single data point. I love that line, I must say it at least, you know, twice a week to the team. If not in form than in theory - "gee, this really worked for this customer, how do we thread data? How do we replicate that process across the board?"

Anthony: Yeah. So I've heard a couple things. I was talking to a colleague and she said "the West Coast people are big dreamers and the east coast people are pretty brass tacks". So he liked the Midwest, because they're kind of a compromise between the two. I also liked that idea of setting goals that start with the single data point, because I find when people try to set specific, measurable goals, SMART goals, they don't even know where to start. Well start somewhere. And once you start somewhere, you can iterate. So now here's my question to you, as a CEO, as a salesperson, as an entrepreneurial thinker - How do you pick your battles? Like how do you figure out both where you're gonna focus and where your team is gonna focus?

Evan: Yeah. So I had a great CEO who said, "the greatest challenge for growth companies is to understand the difference between a temptation and an opportunity". Great soundbite, right? By the way, Anthony, I live these sound bites. But temptation/opportunity. I would probably say that my spin on that today would probably ironically start at the end. How are we going to win as a company? We're recruiter.com, how are we going to win? And is your idea a distraction? That's not how we're going to win. Or should we be going into resume writing? Let's just make that up. Is that an area that we want to expand on? We get all these candidates, and their resumes aren't good. Maybe we should start a service that we actually edit their resumes for them? Are we really going to win at recruiter.com by having the world's greatest resume service?

The other thing that's really interesting, everyone that's in the company sort of has their own motive, right? I'm CEO, and I have a partner, he's the co founder of the company. I'm not a co founder, he was the co founder of the company. We are absolutely aligned on what's motivating us both. And every now and then you get people in different companies where, gee, I'm trying to grow my team, I'm trying to protect my team. If you've giving out these KPIs to everybody, everyone's KPI, everyone's going to be focused on their KPI and their specific KPI. If it's your head of finance, they want to make it profitability, they're going to hate when you hire people, they must hate when you hire people. If you're the head of sales, and you care about sales, all you want to do is hire people.

So clearly, there has to be this balance between everyone's objectives, and how they're going to get there. I think being transparent, as CEO, I try to be as transparent as possible. "Hey, guys, here's what I'm thinking about. Here's what I'm worried about." And when I do the all hands meetings I actually tell people, "here's what I'm worried about". They they appreciate that, you know, certainly in this new world, that we're living in, in this sort of virtual world. I can't walk into Anthony's office and see him like pacing around nervous or smoking a cigarette outside. No one sees that anymore. So if you're not seeing that anymore, you almost have to like, pull that out of people. Hey, what are you worried about today? What are you concerned about today?

Anthony: I love that, being able to share, so everybody has that common understanding. I think that CEOs potentially under consider that they can get their team to help them - they feel like they have to burden all of the weight. So there's the you helping others and others helping you.

Evan: Yeah. I'll give you a couple other things that we're doing at the company. So we have a culture committee focused on culture, and we sort of have the three B's actually four. Be bold, be an owner, be human and be grateful. Right? So we want people to take ownership. When you're in a fast moving environment, I don't want to have to hold everyone's hand through every single process. I want to be able to say, "Hey, Anthony, here's the mountain. Here's your bullets. Go take that mountain. Let me know when you're done". Or if you trip on the way we could fix it. That's being an owner.

Being bold, you know, take shots on goal your, your Vancouver guy, right? That's the being bold side of it. Take a chance. It's okay to say "hey look, I'm going to test out something and I'll report back, right?" You make a lot of mistakes, just make them quickly. And then the third - be human. There's a human element to everything. I love it when people in the company call me out. "Hey, Evan, you shouldn't have said it that way." You're right. You're right, I was obnoxious, my apologies. But we've got to be human. Then obviously being grateful and appreciative of everyone that's in the company, today more than ever. Your best asset at a company is its talent.

Today, more than ever, that talent has far more options than they ever had before. They don't just want to work at someplace that's going to pay a paycheck. It's work life balance and being being acknowledged, having progression and all those things really tie together. And literally, when we do high fives at the company, through a bunch of different systems that we use, it's "great job on x being bold, great job on this, great job on this". Be an owner.

Anthony: Yeah, so tying the acknowledgement, and then behaviours to those values.

Evan: #BeBold. Who's being bold in the company?

Anthony: I love that. So I want to ask you more about what y'all are doing at Recruiter.com. But before I do that, I'm going to have a weird segue question. You ready?

Evan: Anytime.

Anthony: Cool. What do you love about Eli Manning?

Evan: Aha, there you go. Because you saw the Eli Manning. So it's a little bit of a long winded story. In 1993, I had a brother who died of cancer. He was one day short of 29. He was a Wall Street trader and his boss friends wanted to do something to commemorate his memory. My brother was like a really sweet guy. In a world where no one is ever called really sweet. They had this idea of a Finance Conference, where they would get great speakers to speak for free and people would pay to hear the speakers. We launched in 95, which was incredibly novel. Most conferences that you go to, they're paid for by the sponsor, and then everyone else shows up for free, and eats away. Here was really the opposite.

The first year we had about 70 people on the conference, most of them were related to either me or the chairs of the conference and foundation. Now we have, 25 years later, raised over $100 million for pediatric cancer and other childhood diseases. We operate in 11 cities around the world. Sydney, Hong Kong, Tel Aviv, Mumbai, and then our big one is in New York. And it's all financial best idea conference, the 15 Minute shot clock, like we invented all that stuff. The founders of the conference invented the 15 Minute shot clock. We're a little bit famous now, there's a documentary on Netflix about Carl Icahn and there's a whole thing with Carl Icahn and Bill Ackman on Herbalife and that was all done at a Sohn Conference. So long story shorter, or short story longer, every year at the conference, we would have a keynote, and a little bit longer than 15 minutes about philanthropy.

We've had Ken Langone, we've had Mark Messier, and we've had Eli Manning. So we gave him an award - he does, Eli Manning, does a lot with children's cancer. And so there there you have it. I got some autographed footballs and you know, nice things with me and Eli.

Anthony: Very cool. Well, that's definitely a damn good reason to be a Eli Manning fan. I think it's really cool. Thank you for your work. My little known fact - my younger brother also passed away from cancer when he was 20. So it sucks. And, you know, I think it's great when people use their power for good instead of evil, or in addition to evil, I guess. So good on you for the work you do.

Evan: Thank you. It's probably some of the most fun that I have. The impact that we've been able to make - look, you lost your brother and I'll say cancer changes lives. Pediatric cancer changes families. And you know, not to diminish anything, but when it's a child, those are not the expected things right. It's supposed to be grandma and grandpa, right? It's not supposed to be brother/sister/child.

Anthony: Yeah. Well a challenge to all of our listeners, if you see anything happening in the Sohn Foundation or any cause that you believe in, consider an extra long minute and how you can help.

Evan: Thank you. By the way, it's also - we're doing a lot in the financial industry. We're a public company. We're on NASDAQ. I get every now and then, "are you any relationship to the Sohn Conference? The marketing people said, "hey, just call it Sohn. Now I like it, because it's, you know, for me, it's my brother. But yes, thank you for bringing it up, Anthony. Appreciate it.

Anthony: Absolutely. Well, that's how you started today, talking about what drives you. Well, it's your kids. So now we're full circle. So as we finish up here, looking at the company, the world that we're in, what excites you? What challenges you? What kind of a marketplace are you envisioning for the future that you're like, ready to play in that sandbox?

Evan: I'll tie this all together. So I've been pretty fortunate in my career with being pretty good at seeing where the hockey puck is going. So you know, my first company, no one was doing anything in mobile applications. And we're like, gee, if these things are gonna be popular, it's gonna be through third party applications. We were like the first ones doing real professional applications on mobile devices. We got acquired by the security space. We were doing instant messaging security, how do you ensure security in the payment space? We were doing smart terminals, now you see them everywhere, you know. So I've always been pretty good about really at the beginning of a process and seeing an existing industry and how you reinvent an existing industry. Everyone in this country is spending money on security, it might be embedded into your email system, it's in your router, or you have a network IT security person hosted VPN. Or if you're big enough company, you know, chief security officer, security people, etc.

I believe that the same way that that's happened in the security space will happen in talent acquisition. We will forever be spending more money on hiring and retention than previously, it's just a fact. We're not going back in time, where one person has a job for 25 years. And again, I'm generalizing. But it's not really a generalization. So we actually predict that every company with more than 20 people or so we'll be spending money with a third party on talent acquisition.

Now to date, there are really two choices for hiring someone. It's fundamentally two choices. You either do it yourself, and you post a job through indeed LinkedIn, ziprecruiter, or the other hundreds and hundreds of hundreds of job boards that are out there. You collect the resumes, you review the resumes, you screen the candidates, you interview the candidates, and you hire. So you did it yourself. Or you hired someone else to do it for you. You got a headhunter, and you said do it all for me and I'll give you 20 to 30% of the salary. Those are the two ways to do it. That does not work anymore, aside from the very high level executive roles.

We are reinventing that whole industry by combining our AI software, which has access to 170 million records in the US alone. We can engage just about anyone in the US. Then we marry that with our talent advisors and on demand recruiters. Think of it as like Uber for recruiting. We could help you as a small business through an offering that we call 'my recruiter'. So start.recruiter.com, it's all subscription, no placement fee whatsoever. So every company, no matter what your size, should have someone focused on talent acquisition and retention. We are doing that and delivering it today. We have incredible clients that range from Fortune 50 companies, to literally small businesses where the owner says, "Look, I would do it myself, I don't have the time".

You could do your own taxes also. But you bring on an accountant and they do it for you. Why? Because you're not qualified to do your own taxes. You could learn how to do it, but that's not a good use of your time. We believe the same thing, certainly in the small business level when it comes to talent acquisition, and we are completely prepared to do that for companies of all sizes.


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Anthony: Cool. I love that. Well, we're hiring two roles. We're looking for a US facilitator and a new marketing person. So I'm definitely going to check that out. What I'm taking away from that, from a visionary perspective, long term perspective, is that go where the puck is going not where the puck is. The world of talent, the world of people is changing. It's dynamic. It's really cool to hear how you're applying your tech thinking, problem solving, from here to here thinking to that problem, because it's only going to get more exacerbated. I also think on a global level, for the talent marketplace, especially the last two years. So I'm really excited to hear and see what Recruiter.com does and what you do personally in life and in work.

So where can people learn more about what you're up to? Where can they connect? Where can they use recruiter.com?

Evan: So it's Evan@recruiter.com. You can go to Recruiter.com, we got tons of information there. You could follow us on Twitter, you can go to LinkedIn, we actually run the largest LinkedIn group for recruiting and HR professionals. I'm on LinkedIn if you're interested. Also, if you're interested in using the service, you can go to start.recruiter.com. I think that's the URL right now for that service. Check it out. There's a lot going on in talent acquisition. More money will be spent in 22 then ever before in hiring and retention, and we actually predict that $50 billion more will be spent on talent on acquiring talent in 22, then on then in 2019. So we can come back in a year from now and I'll tell you how well we did.

Anthony: I can't wait - you'll have an even bigger smile on your face. But Evan, honestly, it's been such a pleasure chatting with you. I wish you, the company, and your family, nothing but the best. And just thanks for making the time to be on the show today.

Evan: It's a pleasure, Anthony. Thank you so much for all that you do and the information that you deliver to your audience on a regular basis.

Anthony: Thanks, Evan. I appreciate it. Be well. To our audience and our listeners, thank you for being here. I do encourage you to not only check out recruiter.com. Really consider the future of talent development, not only how you're going to bring people into your team, but how you're going to nurture them. Then hopefully you got a couple of really great sound bites out of today.

So thanks for being here. Thanks for watching. Thanks for listening. Thanks for subscribing. I just really appreciate all of our listeners. Once again, my name is Anthony Taylor. This has been the Strategy & Leadership Podcast.

Thanks for watching, and I'll see you next time!


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