World Staffing Podcast #9 with Vahan Melkonyan, CEO of Cauldron


Intro: This is a brand new episode of the World Staffing Podcast. The interview podcast brought to you by, where we meet with entrepreneurs, successful business owners and the greatest minds of the staffing industry. We are interested in what drives them, what inspires them. We want to know what their everyday work looks like and what keeps them up at night.

We should all learn from them and at the same time, have a good time. And this is your host, Jan Jedlinski.

Jan Jedlinski: Welcome to a brand new episode of the World Staffing Podcast today with a fellow HR tech founder, who has built a very successful university campus recruitment service and met him a few years back when he was part of the Y Combinator startup school in a group of companies that I was at. And now he's tackling a new problem, which I think is ripe for disruption.

He's redefining job applications. I'm very pumped for this conversation. Welcome to the World Staffing Podcast, Vahan.

Vahan Melkonyan: Hi Jan, thanks for having me.

Jan Jedlinski: Awesome. I have a ton of questions for you today, but before we dive in. Tell us a little bit about your story into the HR tech industry. How did you guys start it? And you know, how did you get into that industry?

Vahan Melkonyan: Yeah. So as you mentioned, this is our team's second company together, so we're actually tackling this new problem together with it, with the same team almost. And we got into the space in second year of college from absolutely nowhere with no background in HR or recruiting or no experience doing any of that.

We just found it an evergreen kind of problem of how do you get a job as a student or as a recent grad. And we try to tackle it. It turned into a talent marketplace. We did some recruiting, we advised some companies and then we turned it into a university kind of junked platform that also helped them sort out their stuff.

The career center. And that's kind of how we got started. Eventually we helped 150 companies hire students. We placed 400 people in the first 18 months of our operations. And yeah, that's how all of my experience comes from basically.

Jan Jedlinski: Cool. It's very exciting. And then, you know, while building Bridge, I guess you have learned a ton from the customers you've been working with and that's how you ended up building the new company.

Right. So I know that you, with Cauldron working on a new problem, which is redefining job applications. And can you tell us a little bit more about that? Like how did you guys come up with the idea and where did you see the pain points in the market.

Vahan Melkonyan: Yeah. So again, we work with startups, we worked with enterprises where we pre IPO companies and one thing we noticed is that we didn't like how they hired. Obviously we didn't know anything about recruiting, how it's done by a textbook. Is that even a textbook, but we didn't like what was happening because of a few things. Well, it was taking companies way too long to identify the people they wanted to hire from the first batch of resumes, let's say.

Right. And they will complain to us, right? They will talk to us if we say, Hey, like it takes us five weeks. We were doing an interview stage. We're doing a first reading stage switching tasks. We're doing assessments, assignments, all of these things. And at the end of the day, the five people are hanging in my interviews.

They're not happy with it. They're not happy with the quality. Don't be happy. We dug a dipper. We found that about 60% of resumes never get read by a human. We found that a lot of times the rejections that would come just based on your resume, aren't based on anything, but like certain things that would usually cause bias into the reader's mind.

We found the tasks. Quite often didn't address the skills needed for the actual job. And there was a clear misalignment in those things and yeah, we thought we could figure it out. Something that would work better for them. We tried a few things there, kind of, we pivoted a few ideas here and there, one thing that stuck was moving as much information as much as much fact gathering about candidates skills and merit and their commitment as possible.

Into the job application instead of after it. Right? So that's kind of where to call it an idea comes from instead of just getting a resume and trying to figure these things out, based on that piece of paper, essentially what you do is you fact check and fact getter at the job application.

Jan Jedlinski: That's super interesting.

And I think that's super exciting also for the staffing and recruiting industry itself, right? When you look at the last couple of years, everybody's talking about the candidate experience, you know, the war for talent and skill shortage is basically, you know, bigger than ever, right. And companies are thinking, how can we attract our candidates and how can we make this entire experience better?

Walk us through the difference between the process today, like, you know how companies have set up their process versus what you would do with Cauldron. And so like, if a customer would basically implement your product versus their past experience, how would it look like?

Vahan Melkonyan: Yeah. So, I mean, everyone has an ATS, right?

Everyone knows what a CRM is. Cauldron is something in the middle of those two products. It builds on top of these already existing products and we call it an application experience platform. So what we help you to do is to build, design and calibrate your application experiences. So. What I mean by application experiences, it's really a few things.

One is we help you figure out what you should do, what you can put in the job application in terms of what tasks, what assignments. What kind of assessments you can put in the application. So it gives you enough information for you to actually maybe figure out who you want to interview straight from the application, or figure out a better shortlist from that.

Besides, you also help you figure out the candidate communication, what emails, what texts you want to send? What kind of messaging you want your candidates to have, all of that also backed by the stats and the data, the platform getters to help you improve at every cycle. So. Calibrate right.

You think of it as running a job application and then knowing everything you need to know in order to improve it the next time around candidate feedback, kind of engagement out of all of that. Yeah. So really what we help you to do is essentially yes. I ran out eventually. Is it on a job application that completely doesn't rely on a resume or a person's experience of education or any kind of information that you usually use for pattern matching?

So here you have concrete skill base merit-based info for how you screen people.

Jan Jedlinski: That's interesting. Do you see a specific use case in any segment that works best professional recruiting or meaning in certain skill segments that are maybe working better than others for this type of application?

Vahan Melkonyan: Yeah. So most of our customers currently are in the tech sector, or all of them are high, really high school in companies.

Biggest success cases we have right now are in these jobs that you hire a lot for. These are like evergreen roles that never close, right? They're open throughout the year. And you can really benefit from calibrating and running a few different rounds of the same job application throughout the year. So those are your customer support department, your BDRs, your SDRs, your sales associates force, your junior kind of engineering grows like QA roles, management roles, designer roles.

One way I look at it is the roles where you don't really have the concept of a portfolio. For engineering. I mean, you can tell someone to kind of show you a project or get help or something they've made. And you have a good understanding of their skill set, but there's nothing like that exists for sales, customer support, finance, all of these that are non-tech positions.

So yeah, what some of our customers have been doing, they've been building this application flows with tasks and questions so that they figured out what these people can do in a portfolio type of way.

Jan Jedlinski: Interesting. That's very interesting. So, you know, basically, you know, ultimately replacing the resume and having a workflow that tells you much, much faster.

If a candidate can actually do the tasks that you want them to do. And I think that's, you know, very timely, you know, as everything is moving more towards outcome based and task based type of jobs and engagements. Right? So I think every staffing and recruiting company should actually look at this type of experience for their candidates.

Right? If you look at the traditional staffing and recruiting companies out there, their application process that sits on their website, it's usually. Uploading a resume, adding a couple of details and that's pretty much it. Usually you have to connect your LinkedIn and then the data is not pulled correctly.

And then you, as an applicant, are super annoyed. You're drones on your back and it just takes ages. Right? So creating a much better experience for the candidate that will. Including company, a faster way to make a decision on a specific candidate and even use that as a competitive advantage to upsell this experience to your customers, right?

Staffing and recruiting companies are always looking for ways how they can justify their services and potentially implement. A product like Calderon could be extremely helpful. I think so kudos to you to come up with that idea and with this new concept, I think, right. There's obviously a few other companies that are solving similar problems.

And maybe we can talk about that a little bit as well. If you looked at the landscape of HR tech and job applications and assessment products, how would you compare to the traditional assessment product that is out there?

Vahan Melkonyan: Yeah, so really good question. I guess like when I look at the market, there's a few ways I see companies trying to address the problem of too many applications, right?

The first one is you have some kind of algorithmic way, a good mic system that screens through resumes and gives you a short list, which, which is something we as a company are, well, very obviously against doing, just because these algorithmic systems have resulted into in the very terribly toxic climate that's currently into the hiring market, right?

If you're a job seeker, You have so many things to think about when applying to job and like a statistic, is that an average computer engineer who's out of college needs to spend six to seven months looking for a job that's for them to market themselves network through companies set up set of three campaigns to hiring managers, right?

These are skills that a software engineer does not need to have. They don't need to have, they don't usually know marketing or sales concepts to lend their job. That's not something that they should be doing. Ideally, they would just focus on their work and improve their actual skill set. But we ended up in this market because.

A lot of times when applying to companies your resume or just keywords on your resume, mean much more than what your skills actually are. So I found when talking to applicants, I found that their original problem is how do I get to the doors of recruit, how do they talk to them, right? How they talk to these companies like a talent team, actually, I can't get into the door.

So when that's done, obviously like when people are looking at your resume or when. Other companies are giving you a chance. You have the other side of things, which are assessment companies, right? We want to assess your skill. We've seen your resume. We either like automatically sending an assessment, or we looked at your resume.

We'd like to, we're sending you an assessment to check for your skills. There are a lot of cool companies that do kind of coding assessments, coding tests. There are a few companies coming up. They're trying to replicate that model for kind of not non-tech roles. I think they're doing a good job. I think when you have a large enough volume of applications, you can really manually go through each application.

So a solution like this as needed, which is completely fine. These companies focus on making content and making the assessments for talent teams that don't have the bandwidth to do that in-house which is really good. In Cauldron we don't really focus on making the content just yet. Our platform is like a sandbox type of thing where teams can just play around and build whatever they want.

We're open to integrate with any kind of assessment system. You have to put it in front of applicants sooner into kind of a hiring cycle and have them do it up front. Instead of much later months later when their resume has to pass a few screenings first. Right? So that's something we help you to do.

What, obviously you can build out any kind of assessment on Cauldron. It's it's if it's kind of a test, if it's a video, if it's a question, so voice masters, you want to ask for we can do that

Jan Jedlinski: Makes sense. And you also integrate, I assume, with the applicant tracking systems off the world, right? Maybe on the hiring manager's side, Greenhouse or Lever, but maybe also on the staffing agency side, in the future a Bullhorn or similar ATS is used by companies already right?

Vahan Melkonyan: Yeah. So, we build on top of the ATS. So yeah, if you, if you have an ATS and everyone has an ATS, if you're using a tracking system and you want to kind of run your athlete to that, then you can do that after the initial screening stage that we provide to you. And yeah, I would love to someday work with hiring agencies as well, and see staffing is just swollen and see how we can capture that value for staffing agencies.

Again, this is a really interesting space. I think the value. The platform like Cauldron could give them is amplified tremendously for two, just because of the volume of hiring that they are doing.

Jan Jedlinski: I agree. I agree. Totally. And I think that there's a huge opportunity specifically in regards to a very hot topic in the market, which is direct sourcing.

So staffing and recruiting companies are looking to differentiate their services. Their clients are looking to obviously reduce costs, always finding new ways, right? Putting together new services that you can resale to customers, which are just speeding up the time to fill those roles is extremely important.

So, you know, the other thing is also branding, right? I think that's a massive issue in the staffing and recruiting industry. Nobody's really looking at that. And when you look at the generation of workers that is coming into the market, They're just used to completely different interactions on their day-to-day with absence and applications that they use.

And it's not replicated at all in the staffing and recruiting world. Right? So you still have very old websites that are not mobile optimized. A lot of cumbersome and clunky processes that people would just drop out of. Right. So, and then, you know, people are staffing, companies are wondering why they are not receiving applications or why staffing, like where candidates are dropping out of the process.

I think. That's one of the things that need to be addressed that I think Cauldron is in a very great position to tackle some of those problems. Let's maybe shift a little bit to the more general topic. You know, you, as a founder, you know, you've, you know, basically started your second company and, you know, there was always things that keep us up at night, but what is it for you?

Are there any things that keep you up at night these days as a founder of an HR tech startup?

Vahan Melkonyan: I mean as a Foundry in general, I think two things you'll have in mind always is how'd they get customers. And again, in some cases, how did I get funding? So those are like the problems that always, I think, keep every founder up at night. One thing, one thing as an HR tech founder. As someone who's gone through this process twice already is I'd mentioned about a space, is the persona of a recruiter or a head of talent.

Let's say I found that there are way too many different kinds of heads of town. So like talent leaders in this space, I haven't found a way to, to generalize everyone they're very different. And when you're working on a project, There is more work for you to do, to identify exactly what kind of people you're talking to or you were selling to, are you helping?

Right? So again, every type of company, every segment of company hires very differently. So if you're solving problems in hiring, then you have to know exactly who you're talking to. And the side effect of that kind of these junkies is that I haven't found places or spots on the internet where talented leaders hang out there.

Aren't there really communities that you can visit and Hey, yeah, I can do like, every person I need to do a user interview on this website or on the spot, right? There's not really a way to do that. You have to do much more homework to find out who you want to talk to and try to reach out to them.

LinkedIn is a good way to, Twitter is a good way, but. There isn't really that magical stack yet. And so you can just enter and everyone can talk to you, right. So, yeah for aspiring founders, that's something that you need to do more homework on.

Jan Jedlinski: Awesome. Yeah, I think you're right. Right. You know, the market is so fragmented and you have so many different use cases and so many people working in that industry, you know, not only in, you know, on the staffing recruiting side, but obviously much bigger on the client hiring side.

So to say, right. So do you feel like you get a different opinion about your product from every person that you talk to and they want to have customizations and they want to have something specifically for their use case. Or do you feel like it's very universal? Like, how are you approaching, like building products?

You know, from my experience in the past, we've had conversations and in every second call that was something completely new, which would be probably custom to that particular company, which we didn't want to do, obviously. Right. We wanted to build something that could be applicable for everybody. How was it for you?

Vahan Melkonyan: So we've had a really interesting journey again through pivots, the last iteration of Cauldron, I say, we've been pretty successful at connecting the vision of our product with potential customers and town leaders. They've been corresponding really well to like the idea of there not being just one standard way to apply to jobs.

It's a very simple concept that most of the best companies I talk to. They are always thinking, okay, how do we get rid of the rest? Like, we need more information about our candidates faster. We need to make decisions faster because like people are getting multiple offers. Nowadays.

We need to make good interviews because our hiring manager is spending way too much time, way too much time, just going nowhere with the interviews. So all these problems exist. I guess I haven't seen a lot of people who are actively thinking okay. How do we actually tackle the resume? I mean, everyone knows.

Applying to jobs where Fresno resumes. Isn't really a good indicator of skill that's been out there since the 90s, but that doesn't seem to be a good enough approach of how to have the resume and the best company I've talked to. They should be trying to implement those things. I mean, some of the companies I talked to are experimenting with the new Tech-Talk resume stuff, which I personally love.

I think, I think the eventual solution is going to be, it's going to be a more flexible one because every kind of role needs to have its own specifics of how you talk about applying or how you talk about like skill match for the role.

Jan Jedlinski: Super interesting. When you look at the customers that you work with today, what is your take on, you know, remote work?

You know, there are obviously mixed opinions right now. Some people want it. Your employees come back to the office. A lot of large companies go completely remote and sell all of their offices, what you see in the market.

Vahan Melkonyan: So I actually wrote a post on this on LinkedIn yesterday. So it's fresh on my mind.

One thing I've noticed is the best companies I talk to. Objectively the best companies in all metrics are offering volunteer remote. So if you don't want to come to the office, don't like we have enough remote policies where we, when we have enough in place that you can work from home and we won't lose productivity, we won't lose anything.

And if companies aren't on board with remote today, They're going to miss out on a much more productive team, a lot of cost-savings and like clearly high and get advantages in the future. The opposite I found is also kind of relevant. If a company has a super strict office policy, which usually turns out on the job description, it's a red flag.

They should get an interview. You should definitely, you should, as a candidate should definitely ask them questions about it. And why if they have a strong case, usually they won't. And if you're a manager, That's having problems, trying to convince that team to come on site. Then there are maybe bigger problems that you should be aware of inside your team and culture.

The coolest thing I think that's going to come out of this whole remote thing is the office. Like having a really cool office space has always been a benefit by companies like Google. They've built their brand on having a really cool office. I feel like it's part of their identity at this point.

And I think we're going to go back to the office, being a benefit, being a commodity. And I would really love to have a team experiment. People book their office space for the day or the week, just like they're booking a meeting room or just like they would book a common area or something like that.

I think that could be a cool model as kind of a hybrid model, which goes into voluntary mode. Like if you want to come to our office to do that, if you don't like to sit at home kind of thing.

Jan Jedlinski: Yeah. Makes sense. I think there's. I was thinking about this just recently, you know, maybe there is not like those large office spaces, but maybe there are smaller hubs that companies can experiment with where you can book a place or book, basically your team for half a day or a day to have.

You ride versus having this large office building somewhere to a store where people have traveled to for an hour. So I think there's going to be a lot of change and I'm actually super excited about it. Are you guys all working remotely? I know that you're going back and forth between the US and Europe often, where's your team located?

Vahan Melkonyan: We're distributed. So we don't see our faces too much. We obviously like someone's live in the same city. So we go out for drinks once in a while, but most of the work is done on discord. And we had this setup even before the pandemic hit. So we were used to it like working remotely working async right.

And I think that's been working for us, but that said, I do see us getting like a small kind of hub or small, like a office space for us to just, yeah, there are some days you want to see shorter, right? Do you want to do you want to kind of test the product you want to do some, you want to fix some bugs then?

Yeah. Like seeing each other obviously could help. So I see us getting like a small room to work.

Jan Jedlinski: Awesome. Where do you get your source for industry news? Are there any specific outlets that you read to get information about both the HR tech industry or the hiring market, or what type of outlets do you consume on a daily basis?

Vahan Melkonyan: So that's a good question. I'm active on LinkedIn. I'm active on Twitter. I kind of see what people type on there just to like, keep up with the news. I listen to podcasts. There are a few industry podcasts that are really good, And I mean, that's basically it. Yeah. And when there's a hot article that comes out, I usually follow that as well.

Again, LinkedIn.

Jan Jedlinski: Yeah. One last question. What advice would you give to someone that is starting a new HR tech company today? You know, you've been on that journey for the last year. Is there anything that you would do differently when you would start all over again?

Vahan Melkonyan: I wouldn't build a job marketplace, not a job board.

I mean, people are gonna build new job boards, but yeah it's a complicated model. I was studying, but I wouldn't try to build it myself, even though it teaches you a lot about marketing and building a product, but I would talk to many, many more of the recruiters and I would actually try to do like manual recruiting myself before I'm trying to build a product.

I think you can. Some of the problems in recruiting and HR are very apparent that everyone sees, but those problems aren't solvable just yet. But if you actually go into the market and then go into doing the work, you can find so much more that you can focus on.

Jan Jedlinski: Awesome. Thank you for that advice. Where can listeners find you?

I know that you will be around at some conferences. I think of one HR tech conference in Vegas, but besides that, where can somebody learn more about Cauldron or yourself?

Vahan Melkonyan: Yeah, so we'll be an HR tech in Vegas at the end of the month. So at the end of September, I will be active on LinkedIn. You can find me there Vahan Melkonyan.

You can find me on Twitter by the same name, I'm pretty sure. And you can check out the product and let me know anything. I think you think about it. Happy to give out a kind of free trial for some. Some of our patients.

Jan Jedlinski: Cool. Awesome. Yeah, we'll definitely link the website and your LinkedIn in the description.

And whoever's listening, reach out to bond for some trials for the product. I will definitely recommend it for any staffing recruiting company that wants to upgrade their game of applications for their candidates. And we should definitely talk about, and he's building a great product and I'm very excited to check in with you in the next 6 to 12 months to see how everything is going. I'll see if everything has changed or, you know, where you stand. I'm very much looking forward to seeing you succeed. So thank you so much for joining this episode. It was a pleasure having you, and I'm looking forward to our journey together in the HR tech space.

And I'll see you soon.

Vahan Melkonyan: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me Jan.

End: You've been listening to the world staffing podcast, brought to you by The digital storefront for your staffing business. If you liked this episode, make sure to subscribe and leave a review so you don't miss out on any future episodes. Got a topic you want us to touch base on. Shoot us a message.

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Welcome to the World Staffing Podcast where we speak with success-full staffing owners and operators to learn about the things that keep them up at night, their success stories, learnings and failures while building a successful staffing company and their thoughts on the future of the staffing market.

Jan got together with Vahan to chat about what he's been up too. They talked about Cauldron and its use cases and whats keeping him awake at night as CEO.

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