Startup Spotlight: Wade&Wendy
A conversation with entrepreneur Drew Austin, who's hoping to transform the recruitment space with his new company.
By Andrew R. McIlvaine
Since 2014, venture capitalists have poured more than $5.5 billion into the HR technology sector, according to Bersin by Deloitte. Much of that money has gone into recruiting vendors, which is the hottest category by far in the sector. Here at Recruiting Trends Bulletin we'll be focusing on the many recruiting start-ups that are using these funds to bring new ideas and innovations to help companies improve the way they source and hire people. Our inaugural interview is with Drew Austin, the founder of New York-based start-up firm Wade&Wendy, which has built an artificial intelligence chatbot platform for recruiters.
First, can you explain the name of your company? Who's Wade, and who's Wendy? Ha! Everyone asks that. The original name was Wecrewt, and we had a bot we named Wendy, and nobody called us Wecrewt, they just called us Wendy. Wade, meanwhile, was a male counterpart to Wendy, and eventually we decided to just go with Wade&Wendy as the name of our company. It helps us with the message that candidates can get a personalized experience with us, with a bot that operates as an internal recruiter that helps candidates find positions that are relevant to them.
Can you summarize what your company does?
I started my career in recruiting about a decade ago doing executive search and agency recruiting and, while I loved the business model, the process and bandwidth constraints made it challenging to give candidates an optimal experience. I'd been getting more involved in the tech space and eventually ended up working for a wearable-tech company but I kept my eyes on the recruiting space. When I'd talk with recruiters, especially those working in a high-volume environment, I'd find a very fragmented space in which everyone's got their own processes and yet they'd all be having similar types of conversations throughout the recruiting process. Whether it was the initial conversation with the hiring manager or screening a particular applicant or conducting a reference check, all these conversations were taking up a majority of their days and dominating their time. Meanwhile, I saw all this technology being built to support the ancillary functions of recruiting but nothing to augment these conversations or alleviate the amount of time they took up so recruiters could be free to work on the things they most wanted to work on. We saw an opportunity to build a conversational type of experience in recruiting that could be interfaced with messaging infrastructure like SMS, Slack and Facebook Messenger. The other void we saw was recruiters who provided a high-touch personal experience to candidates but were limited in their ability to scale that up for larger volume. We felt that a product that can engage with people, learn about them and fill that middle void of personalization and scale can really help the recruiting sector. These days it's easier than ever to find people via LinkedIn, but how do you actually engage them? We've built a conversational engagement platform for recruiting, and the product we've built is Wendy, a recruiter chatbot who can have a role-specific conversation with candidates, let the candidates tell their story beyond the resume and then present those candidates to the recruiter in a most-informed way so that they, in turn, can make better decisions and move people through the process faster.
How many employees does Wade&Wendy have, and where does your funding come from? We've got a great group of seed investors, including ff Venture Capital and Randstad. Slack is also an investor. We're growing fast, with 13 employees so far, with a mix of engineers, product managers and conversational designers.
What's a "conversational designer"? It's an interesting new job. When you're building a chatbot, you start by thinking about all the engineering, but what really brings the chatbot to life is understanding all the components that go into a conversation, like narrative, personality and psychology. There's a lot that goes into designing an effective conversation, especially one with a purpose, and Wendy's purpose is to learn about an applicant so the company can make decisions faster.
What distinguishes your company from other recruiting-chatbot vendors? No. 1, we take a different approach to conversation. Most of the chatbots in this space take a very formulaic approach that's targeted for low-skilled roles and we can do that too, but we can also focus on conversations that are more dynamic. For example, if we're interviewing someone for a knowledge worker role, we can do a deeper dive into that. Also, we've spent a lot of time testing a lot of dialogue management systems, and conversation and engagement is what we want to make our specialty. What we're doing is allowing us to learn and define what a conversation between a human and machine is all about -- it gives us a lot of flexibility to iterate as we go, because people are still learning what they want from this type of experience. So, we think we can be at the forefront of recruiting conversations in general.
What's the hardest part about working at a start-up? There's a lot of experimentation -- you build something, put it out there, learn from it, throw it away, and do it again. When you're in this new space, you have to be very clear on what you need to validate. For us, we have to uncover some questions to the answers what is the right positioning for this bot, what type of conversation do you start first, how do you facilitate or automate conversations, what infrastructure is required? So it takes a lot of time to get to that place of clarity on what you need to buy, what you need to build and what people to hire. It's about building and evolving a team with limited resources and being able to grow and execute as fast as you can.
What's the most rewarding part of what you're doing? There are a few things. One is seeing your team of people develop new skills and take a dive into the unknown. It's getting to work on a vision you're passionate about, that you're excited to tackle every day. That's something I've gravitated to all my life. It's getting to work on problems I care about. It's not all about a given set of outcomes but the day-to-day working out of a hard problem with a bunch of really smart people -- that's a pretty rewarding experience.
What sort of long-term impact do you hope to have on recruiting? Our short-term goal is being able to deliver a better candidate experience and help companies make better decisions by developing a really knowledgeable chatbot for them. Longer term, our goal is to transform a recruiting organization that currently takes 60 days to fill a job and helping them turn that around so they can make final decisions in a matter of days by providing them with a really nice, well-rounded data set on who this person really is. Hopefully, by cutting the recruiting process from weeks or months down to days, companies will be much more comfortable taking chances on people because they'll realize that if a particular person doesn't work out, it won't take them long to find another person.