Jo Riley | From the FBI, to Celebrity CEO Rise & Fall, and Eliminating Bias in Recruiting

Losing a successful company to a hostile takeover may be discouraging for some.

For this week’s guest, it was motivation.

Jo Riley is an entrepreneur and investor, and Co-Founder and CEO of Censia, which helps organizations and companies to recruit talent more efficiently. She was also the CEO and Co-Founder of 1-Page, a SAAS solution provider which was also in the talent acquisition sector.

In this episode, Jo joins John to talk about her experience working with the FBI, starting Censia, and what it was like going through a hostile takeover of her former company.


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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Jo’s experience with the FBI
  • Are There Similarities Between Working in War Zones and Sales?
  • Selling Her First Company and Moving to China
  • People are a Company’s Greatest Asset
  • The Best Talent in the World is not Looking for Jobs Because they Already Have Them
  • Why Jo Decided to go Public on the Australian Stock Exchange
  • What Happened with 1-Page
  • Recovering from the Fallout of 1-Page
  • Tough Times do not Mean the End
  • Finding Investors for the Next Chapter
  • The Demonstration that Jo Does to Demonstrate Bias
  • How Jo Came to Work with SAP
  • Who Jo Thanks for Her Success

Resources Mentioned:


Sponsor: Rise25

Today’s episode is sponsored by Rise25 Media, where our mission is to connect you with your best referral partners, clients, and strategic partners. We do this through our done for you business podcast solution and content marketing. 

Along with my business partner Dr. Jeremy Weisz, we have over 18 years of experience with B2B podcasting, which is one of the best things you can do for your business and you personally. 

If you do it right, a podcast is like a “Swiss Army Knife” – it is a tool that accomplishes many things at once. It can and will lead to great ROI, great clients, referrals, strategic partnerships, and more. It is networking and business development; and it is personal and professional development which doubles as content marketing

A podcast is the highest and best use of your time and will save you time by connecting you to higher caliber people to uplevel your network. 

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Check out Rise25 to learn more about our done-for-you lead generation and done-for-you podcast services. 

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:14  

Welcome to the Revolution, the smart business revolution Podcast, where we asked today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now now, your host for the revolution. JOHN Corcoran.

John Corcoran  0:40  

Alright, welcome everybody. My guest on the show is Joe Riley. She’s the CEO and co founder of Cynthia which is a company that’s on the forefront of disrupting the $500 billion talent acquisition. global market. Cynthia helps organizations and companies to recruit more talented people more efficiently, efficiently. It’s kind of like the Spotify of talent. Intelligence Talent Search, helping companies to discover new talent just like Spotify or Pandora helps us to discover new music. And before that she was the CEO and co founder of one page, which is a SAS solution provider also in the talent acquisition sector. And in 2014, she led one page to a successful IPO. And then onto the I’m gonna get this right hopefully s&p slash ASX 300 by 2016. That’s kinda like the Australian list of the Top 300 fast growing companies but before that, get this she started her career in an international training unit for the FBI. I know we’re gonna find out how that connects to entrepreneurship, and had a full scholarship for crew at the University of Virginia, studied foreign affairs been featured in fortune Fast Company, Forbes, you name it Inc, all these different places. But in this episode, we’re going to talk also, frankly, about the entrepreneurial roller coaster, including the ups and downs, including being forced out of the company she founded and what it’s like to pick yourself back up again and start over. Again, which I don’t know anyone who can’t relate to having to do that, at some point, if you haven’t yet, you might at some point in the future. So listen to this episode. And if you are new to this show, Take a moment, think about what are the most important factors in career so far, I’m going to guess, if you really just fell down your career. It’s about relationships. And that’s what this is about talking to top business leaders, CEOs, founders and experts and asking them to break down how they built their businesses and the key relationships that actually lead to the backbone of any business help them to grow their business. And so if you find value in this podcast, which I know you will all we ask that you subscribe so you can receive the information and the downloads automatically. And also, before we get into this interview, this podcast is brought to you by rise 25 media which is done for you agency focusing on helping b2b businesses, to get more clients referrals and strategic partnerships are done for you podcast, and done for you content, marketing, and if you do it right, a podcast is so many things in one, it’s business development, networking, client acquisition, referral, marketing and more. And it even allows you to have a conversation With interesting people who may be worked for the FBI and and then has all kinds of experiences and entrepreneurship just like I’m about to do here today. So it’s one of the most enjoyable things that I do. So learn more, you can go to rise 25 calm. So as I mentioned, my guest is Joe Riley and let’s start with the FBI, shall we? I mean, that’s, that’s got to be one of the most interesting things I’ve seen. You said you always wanted to be in the FBI, you were recruited and you joined the international Training Unit. But then once you got there, you found out it wasn’t exactly what you thought it would be. And it kind of wasn’t exactly what you wanted to do, which led you down a journey which led you to other other occupations, but explain to me how you ended up with the FBI.

Jo Riley  3:43  

Yeah, um, so I, as you mentioned earlier, I was an athlete in college and so, first and foremost, I was always going to be a professional rower, which for all those that no growing they will be laughing right now. For nobody pays us the stadiums to play our sport. But I definitely wanted to be in team, national team started training the national team and had a really terrible injury. And as I after my fifth surgery in that injury, I was told by the head of the VA medical that I could never grow again, they couldn’t fix my injury. And so while the NCAA kept my scholarship, I I’m forbidden from rowing in the United States. And mostly that’s because I have a terminal or I have a an injury that that makes me not able to play a sport at all. And so while I was sitting there, my life over a funny part of me that didn’t really come up too much as i guess i started or as I looked at college, was that when I was a young kid, I I really wanted to be I always said I wanted to be an assassin. But don’t tell anybody that God forbid I would ever be on some like wanting to be an assassin as a young kid and I really wanted to protect the people I cared about the most. I wanted to Our country and at UVA, you’re surrounded by intelligence. You’re surrounded by a CIA. You’re surrounded by the FBI, NSA. We’re all right there, especially with Washington, DC, Washington DC being right or close to gay. And so unbeknownst to me at the time that I no longer could grow. I was approached by the CIA and FBI to join

John Corcoran  5:20  

and went up there. How did how did you, unbeknownst to you, you were approached by the FBI. Is it like one of your classmates was like, kind of like buddying up to you. What was that? Like? You know,

Jo Riley  5:33  

they don’t tell you that much. And they don’t tell you why they just, I think it’s a lot of things that come together. I think that both I think people in my family had been part of the CIA had been part of the FBI or had worked closely with them. And so I think I was on the radar for that I did well in school, I was a great athlete, and all of those things are important indicators to say When it’s trainable and coachable and can retain information, but also that has a very big core to nationalism, which I really cared about the greater good of our country. And so I was part of the Foreign Affairs. I studied Foreign Affairs at University of Virginia. But we had a unique department where if you did well enough, you got to design your own courseload and my professor, I was approached my sophomore year to join the FBI and CIA and by my senior by my junior year, they had designed my courseload and so my professor worked really closely with them as they had determined really what the right courses were for me. So I learned things like geometry, prime psychology of crime, I was taught espionage by two undercover CIA agents. It was amazing. It was me in a room with people and I was like, this is the best college experience ever. I started my work with them right and actually my senior year in college, my top security clearance passed and I started working with them through myself. Senior year wrote my college thesis based on my work with them and then was working with them right after. And so while I loved what I did I we trained police in the Middle East and Africa. And the reason for that was because the borders of nations it started to get really, they really been borders are so distinct anymore. We were losing US citizens all over the world from terrorism situations. And we needed to investigate those crimes just like we wouldn’t here in the United States, but they weren’t trained on how to investigate crime so that we can actually try them in case in courts here in the United States. And so the international training and it was set up to go and train local law enforcement officials on how to investigate a crime how to investigate for drugs, how to deal with a terrorist crime scene, have a manager Task Force, so really cool to be in the on the ground dealing with some of the top law enforcement officials and income countries where it wasn’t you don’t go and visit This is not where I was. I went on Christmas vacation with my family.

Unknown Speaker  8:04  

You’re not going to Cabo for these.

Jo Riley  8:06  

Exactly. Yeah. Was really eye opening. But I think one of the biggest things that happened was I watched my supervisor agents, watch to them that were really important one. Johnson, right, who’s the most who’s my direct supervisor, agent. And he and he started the international training it I watched him retire. And umbrella. He was one of the most famous FBI agents, he was the hero of the Miami shootout in the 80s. And I watched them both retire. And I would have to retire in 25 years from joining the euro. And so I would have been under 50, because I want this when I joined and the concept of watching them go through that journey, and watching them go from being so important and fundamental to the Bureau to almost their life had to start all over again and they couldn’t talk about anything. I would do anything with what they have in the past. And I and I think that was a really shocking thing for me, people are really important and the people that get you to where you’re going are really important. So that was difficult. And additionally, I really hated bureaucratic structure. I was an athlete, I was completely motivated based on merit. And so I’m in kind of a very random snip situation, I left the Bureau, I started in something that I think I knew I was really good at from a young age or just sales and fell in love with it, but started to do really well and opened my first company shortly after that, and grew that to hundreds of people and sold it couple years later. So

John Corcoran  9:43  

So it seems unusual to go from international training, you’re in war zones or all kinds of different countries training people to then doing sales. Were there similarities between the two?

Jo Riley  9:55  

Yeah, you know, I don’t know how I think they’re extraordinarily different and yet at the same time, They’re really important, I think everyone is always selling. And we all have, we’re all trying to figure out how to help each other and how to solve problems. And if you are the solution to that problem, it’s really key. And in the case of FBI is one of the solutions to the problem and one of the people that was there to help them and teaching a new methodology and one that’s different than what they’re used to doing, I have to sell them on why that’s the best way to do it. And even though that’s not traditional sales, if you think of it, I’m working, you know, selling a product or, or some kind of item over to somebody else in the end of the day. It’s very much a job of relationships and understanding what the problem is, and understanding what kind of solution is necessary is really key. And I think that that’s the core of successful sales. And so, you know, I look back I always tell people, you know where I’m in, I’m in talent acquisition now which is a fancy way of saying recruiting Hiring, there’s lots of ways you say this talent acquisition is is a key one. I’m in the people business now. And everybody likes to ask me about, you know, how do you know what you’re really good at? What if you’re just graduating school? And what if you’re in a transition in your career, you sold the company and what are you going to do next? And I always ask them, What did you do when you didn’t understand money? What were you doing? Who are you doing when you were five or six? And sure enough, a lot of the time, what we are really, really, really, truly talented up professionally are things that we were doing naturally, when we were younger, we didn’t understand the concept of money. And so for me, you know, I remember I was for here in San Francisco when I first started my best friend. We were Sacred Heart and on Broadway in Toronto, and we went house to house on Broadway, which is a nice part is m SCO in Pacific Heights and we were the snail Annihilators. And for quarter snail we would kill yourself. like to see them turn green. But we didn’t understand we had nothing that we really wanted to buy, we just loved the idea that we can do this. We can, you know, we had, we felt independent, and we felt like we were in control of things. And I think that, you know, when it came down to, you know, ticket rallies or a school rally or whatnot, I was always the person that was going to compete to win. And it didn’t really matter that I wanted to just be the leader in whatever I was doing. And so, sales is a very much a marriage driven, type organization. But also I learned so much by being in sales because everybody’s busy, everybody’s important and nobody has any time. And almost every decision is made within the first 30 seconds meeting a person. And that was shocking to me, because I’m super intrigued by that concept, and I think, how do I convey integrity How do I convey being a solution? How do I convey how do I understand their problems? That I care in 30 seconds, and make sure that I can continue on that conversation. How do I make sure to respect the people that are not necessarily decision makers, but get them to trust me enough to go and get the decision maker. So there are all sorts of things that I learned that I use every day today.

John Corcoran  13:18  

Yeah, that’s an interesting juxtaposition, you know, saying that people make a decision within 30 seconds. When when it comes to hiring staff, right, because oftentimes hiring staff is a slow process takes a while. And so how did you end up gravitating towards that and ultimately, founding one page? What got you passionate about that particular topic?

Jo Riley  13:44  

Yeah, so I sold my first company, I was 24. I moved. I met What is that? My ex husband, he is American, but it started a venture capital firm in China. So I moved to China for five years and didn’t see any Chinese And I didn’t know anybody. And I, I love that I felt completely out of, you know, I stood out so much in China, I lived in Beijing.

John Corcoran  14:12  

You have long, long hair. So I imagine two girls

Jo Riley  14:17  

are long and my eyes very randomly, very large. They always thought of alien.

And I thought a joke. And they, you know, I, I was very intrigued with being in a country living in a country that was had 5000 years under their belt where America was so young, how America was going. I moved there in 2007. And I left in 2012. And it was during a really tough time for America. But it was a really good time for China and China had this approach of just kind of demeanor of like, oh, how funny. You Americans are so young, you get so nervous every time that you might fall from the top He, you, you go through a bit of struggle, and you think it’s just all over, and they’re like this will happen again, you’re going to be at the top very soon. And you’re going to go back to the bottom, you’re gonna go back to the top. And it was this calmness and this, this wisdom that was so valuable to be around, especially at that time that I thought, you know, I think to this day was really important to understand because that’s, that’s also business in a lot of ways and applies to business. If you want to have a long career. There are times that are great, and there are times that are bad, and you will go through those Evan flows a lot.

John Corcoran  15:33  

Yeah, yeah, you’re talking about a guy who worked for a president was impeached, and the governor was recalled, so I can relate to that.

Jo Riley  15:40  

Yeah. And that’s, I mean, the greatest left what was amazing I built a mobile e commerce company, as I said, and I I drove back to that to the Chinese government, but I wanted to when you live in China, everywhere else is where do you go and visit. So in the last 10 years, I’ve traveled now over 110 countries And I always seek out the best. I always seek out business owners and decision makers in general. And I want to understand a couple things. And especially if I was going to go build another company that would have been, you know, building a third company I didn’t know I wanted it to be really big. And while I loved being able to create a solution and have an impact, and on a national level as as we did in China, I wasn’t motivated by e commerce. That didn’t make me feel great in right. And so I wanted to figure out what that was and I probably spoke to I saw around 5000 executives around the world in the last 10 years and I asked them what their biggest problem is, and pretty much all of them say or I asked them what their biggest asset is. First I am going to ask them their biggest problem. Their most important asset pretty much all say people, they say my people, the talent I have or that is the new currency today. That is the assets of today are our people and I’m asking their biggest problem and the vast majority, I mean, significant majority of them said, finding those people. I was like, why is this a problem for you? And what I learned was that the world’s going through a major digital transformation that the talent that we used to have and this is not this is nobody on this is going to go, oh my god, how am I name that the talent market is changed rather though it is, as you think of it through the lens of an enterprise as you think about through the lens of a business. It isn’t, oh, I need to hire different people. every single aspect of that business is going to change and the way that they’re thinking about scaling, that organization is also changing. So it’s a really interesting time where you’re going I need my people are plan and also the evolving future, all to align in order for me to find great people, right? And I think most CEOs are very scared or most executives are very scared today of how are they going to find talent that in a market where there is a skill shortage and there will continue to be a skill shortage as we’ve gone through this, this change in landscape. And so that really intrigued me, helping people understanding that number one resumes were completely ineffective at being the key thing, they got people jobs. Nobody goes I hired you on the resume. Right? Well, based on experience, and a lot of time resumes can even be read by the systems that are collected by and so I I wanted to figure out my my last company, one page was in how can we assess the talent that is applying to companies and how can we train How can we transition the conversation from here’s everything I’ve done, this is me in the past, to this is what I can do for you, incorporating my background, but in corporate The aspects that are important in my background. And so we created a technology that was built on a best selling business book called a one page proposal that my co founder wrote, also my father at the time. And one page was how do you write a one page business plan for a company so companies are put a challenge out to the market and candidates we can keep solve that challenge on the one page proposal and win the job but it was just really cool to see how doing that shook a lot of the biases that existed, you know, people, people had some of the best ideas and have the best that were the most successful in their careers. Were not the people that had the greatest resumes a lot of times they weren’t. And so that was that began my interest in in. How can we help companies find better talent from the beginning, not just assess the ones that are applying? Today, three quarters of companies around the world can’t find qualified talent. For the most critical jobs, so they’ve got to go outside of just posting a job because the best talent, the world’s not applying to jobs, the best time the world’s getting job,

John Corcoran  20:08  

right. So what is the tool these days that works for going out and finding those because oftentimes they’re working in other jobs?

Jo Riley  20:16  

That’s right. And well, that market is called the past market, and they are 95. There. 95% of the qualified talent market is acid. And we many companies spend time using platforms like LinkedIn, typing in keywords. LinkedIn operates like Excel. So you need to know what you’re looking for type in a keyword, it shows you the keywords. The issue, is there a lot of words that mean the same thing today that Yeah, while the while we’ve all had access to now platforms have, you know, segmented platforms. So if you’re an engineer, you go on these platforms have Stack Overflow and GitHub, and if you’re excited, you’re on trouble. And if you’re a data scientist on kaggle, and if you’re, you know, in sales, you’re on LinkedIn, and you got a These different platforms and the challenges, they’re seeing it everywhere. And it all there are lots of skills, there’s hundreds of skills that mean the same thing. titles, there are lots of titles that mean the very same thing. And they’re also titles that mean very different things. Vice President Bank of America is a very different thing than a vice president at SAP. So making sure that that you know, is, you know, that there’s intelligence behind all that is a really big is a really big need for companies today. And so, you know, what recruiters have done is they’ve been LinkedIn when they’re trying to find people that are passive. And those keyword search strings have become pretty saturated. The same people keep popping up. And the same companies keep going after the same talent. They go, there’s no talent. And so we looked at and said, How can we change search so that we enable the discovery of talent and instead of doing keyword search, how do we model people so that we can identify top performers and Do that all through intelligence. Today, Cynthia has over 500 million people on our platform. We are aggregating data from thousands of sources and we build the intelligence of insights to understand their career trajectories, performance gains, peers, their uniqueness, their capabilities. And it’s absolutely going after how do we remove the discrimination?

John Corcoran  22:25  

I did want to ask, before we get into I do want to ask about the discrimination issue, because I know that’s a big issue is, and you got this great example that you use when you do a speech, asking people to stand up and we’ll get to that in a moment, but with one page Whoa, why the decision to go public on the Australian Stock Exchange? What did that do? Yeah, so

Jo Riley  22:50  

I was presented with a unique opportunity to acquire a company that I had known Well, the company was a company called branch out and they had built They were really trying to build a LinkedIn on Facebook. And they were one of the first apps on Facebook, they’d grown the network to over 800 million people globally. And they had a tremendous amount of data. But as far as figuring out the business model, that’s something that they were scaling in size when all some Facebook changes their policies to start charging for advertising that scale. You know, it kind of went all the sudden into, into stall out because they couldn’t they it was they were getting a million and a half dollars a day and free advertising. So it was a big difference. Yeah. And they were, you know, they have raised $50 million from Excel. They were really amazing company, but I was a small company that wanted to acquire this company. My value is like $15 million. So I wasn’t looking at going, Oh my god, I’m going to I’m going to do this but I knew that if I wanted to do that, we were going to have to I wasn’t going to be Be able to go raise that from venture capitalist to do that round. And so I had been presented an opportunity. We were kind of going down the traditional route and about to start our series a round, we had raised $3 million in seed round and

growing the company while we had great customers, and

we were, we were presented it as I said, My ex husband was a venture capitalist internationally, and he ran a hedge fund that was very large as well. And he’s like, hey, tech is taking off in Australia, friend of mine wants to talk to you, you should talk to him. And so that kicked off the original conversation of Australia. And what was interesting about Australia was number one, that is a market that is has a lot because it’s the largest endowment fund of a of a nation. So its biggest one of the top three largest endowment funds of the nation. It’s, there’s $1.7 trillion in assets, looking to invest in a market that’s $1.6 trillion exchange. And so additionally, tech was taking off. And it’s a very good breeding ground for companies as they are about to go wet before they go public into the New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ, because you have to be you have to follow all very similar laws as a company that’s in, in, in New York, Western New York. And so the other thing was, we would have investors from around the world who would be able to make this a much more global type company than if we were going to stay and kind of grow traditionally. Also, I wouldn’t have to raise billions and billions of dollars until we start to show return to our shareholders and my employees. And so, you know, I think there were a lot of positives and I think Australia has done a good job and marketing those especially that you know, we were the first US tech company to list in Australia. Now there’s like a dozen companies that are set up here in the valley alone to just take over the public in Australia. So mainstream and popular but to be the first of anything is always challenging. And yeah. But you know, we we did list in Australia and it was a very interesting journey to go from a $50 million company to almost a billion dollar company in a matter of, you know, two and a half years.

That kind of scale, least all sorts of interesting things.

John Corcoran  26:24  

And now, you’ve received a lot of great press in those early years with one page, eventually things, take a downturn, take a hit. Eventually, you have a fight with the board and are forced out of the company or however you would describe it, but I want to hear your side of the story of, of what ended up happening for you at the end of the company, because, you know, my background is as a lawyer, and for many years, I represented a lot of different companies and every company you know, the end of a company or the end of downturn of a company is always messy, right. And so I know there was a messy end for one page. So tell us about take us through how that happened.

Jo Riley  27:15  

Yeah, so one page went through, you know, when going through that kind of hyper scale or size of my office spell visor really wonky two days a month. And as a CEO of a company that’s going through growth, especially the one that just made a major acquisition of a company and merging those two companies together, being out of the office is really tough. You know, I’m not being with my people, not making sure I set the vision and direction and, and I think also, we never, I never, my mistake was not spending my time making sure I have the right people around me to support that kind of scale and growth. And so we got hit with a hostile takeover. All right. corporate raider. And that started as a short manipulation scheme which was really a lot of people didn’t understand we’ve raised you know, $50 million mostly from fidelity. After that we started to get a lot of pressure on the stock where we would have just kind of, you know, crazy shorts every day and not but yet that that stock was not there for borrow and so then we, you know, months later someone showed up on a register and wanted to meet with me the day after he showed up on the register and said, I’m here to take over your company and give it to me and you can go eat your obviously go with that. So just go build another company, and I

remember the Terminator.

But the interesting thing is that we went through this, you know, we went through this process of what that way that they went about That, you know, being careful because I I’m not looking to talk too much about the specifics of it, but

John Corcoran  29:06  

you’re limited legally I understand in some ways. Yeah.

Jo Riley  29:10  

Yeah. Um, but really what, you know was interesting to that person was, hey, how can I get the capital in the bank and go in and put companies that I’m closer to in in this show. And sadly, two and a half years later, the stock is still frozen. That person is not allowed to list the company. And you know, as a lawyer, you under appreciate this like I was a CEO public company and not wants to have any lawsuit. I never, I never sold the shares of the stock. I never it wasn’t like I walked away going I made some big profit here. I was the largest shareholder of a company that was the best performing stock in the world for over a year across every exchange in the world. And didn’t one time go, you know what right now I’m going to go sell this. I Caring so much about the shareholder and people and I think and also what we are doing in our did the fact that I really wanted us to make a make a major change in the market. But I do think that we were up we went public way too early. I think a company going through that kind of growth and changes is different. I learned the most by going through that journey. That was today I would look at that as my competitive advantage is the fact that I’ve seen I’ve seen the worst and I’ve seen the best. And what I wanted to do is I started Cynthia was, I had this still this deep passion for changing the way that people got jobs, understood a lot more around where the bias inserted itself, it was not in the assessment process. It was way before that. And and I understood that the way that we search for people as a problem that we had to create dynamic search and so creating that would be really hard to pull off. I didn’t know any technical team that would be anywhere close to good enough. And so I remember hiring a co founder and CTO who has built some alarms, high frequency trading platforms in the world. And he was just so straight with me. And explained it to me very clearly the things that I didn’t understand, but that I was that he did around the mistakes that I may be made in the past around the technology, but that he is was going to build this in a way that was for security, scale, enterprise and growth. And I think the as we went as we went to market with senseo, what I learned and what I really focused on is how do we build an incredible technology that our customers love? And how do I have a baby become the face of the marketing versus like becoming a darling? A lot of people the media is there and they love to create a darling and they love to go after people that are that go through a fast rise and I think if there is A great organization there with a great customer base. It’s always going to support you that you don’t you know that for me that I don’t put down a journey. That’s the wrong journey. All of that comes together for success. And those lessons I learned through some of the hardest things I think any entrepreneur has to go through that came out of those where I’m realizing that it is such an insane advantage today.

John Corcoran  32:27  

Yeah, yeah. It’s hard to think of going through it. I’m sure you weren’t thinking that. But now, you’re given the benefit of years later. How you pick yourself back up again, after an experience like that. How long did it take for you to recover? I’m sure there were days when you just wanted to, you know, wear sweats and hang out in the house. But you also went through some other tough things. You went through a divorce. You lost your father, who is your co founder. Tell us about what all that was like experiencing all that you had. You know, when it rains, it pours I guess

Jo Riley  33:00  

yeah, I’m for sure. I don’t. I think if you put out all the things and this was what it was like going through a hostile takeover was, if you when you start a business if you were

Unknown Speaker  33:17  

they happen

Jo Riley  33:19  

to continue to happen every day, the sun keeps coming up. It’s a bit of a weird situation because I think that if I wrote those things out, I would think that they would kill me. And when you don’t die, the sun does keep going up and you’re like, ah, somehow surviving this, he creates this, this armor, which is unbelievable, and a calmness that I have such a different approach now, because I’ve been through that and I can see, you know, I can see the journey but one of the most important things that I was part of at the time was an organization called YPO stands for young presidents organization. Why do you expect Because people that were under 50, and started way back in the day that people under 50, were now peers, right? That were CEOs of companies that were going through major growth or that had large scale or big revenue or Republic or whatnot. They were over 50. Me lot of time were white males. They were not. He didn’t. They didn’t, you know, that was a pure group in itself. And so why people came to market looking at how can we have, you know, there it was started by a member who inherited a business at a young age of 25 inherited the business. And he goes, I don’t know who to turn to, but I have 2000. I think he had 2000 employees at the time and had to figure out how am I going to run this and how do I find peers account me through some of the challenging times and, you know, created his own peer group? Yeah, I think about you know, two years later, there’s 27,000 members globally $7 trillion in revenue under the members most exclusive presidents organization in the world. And what I’ve learned through that I’m lucky enough to be the chairman of FFA chapter and what I’ve learned through that journey, as I heard so many fantastic entrepreneurs tell their story is that the stories are nothing like the headlines, that they’re ugly and scary. People barely survived them. And they take major confidence blows through that journey. And they are surrounded by others that are telling them they’re not they’re not doing it wrong. But here’s some here’s their, you know, entrepreneur sharing their own experience of what they did in those similar situations. So for me, what was amazing is having these people I surrounded by that I respect so much be like, Hey, Joe, you’re pretty awesome. should probably do this again. I would didn’t think I should ever do anything. I was like, I’m I don’t know what I want to do, but I definitely was. I went through shock and someone I recently saw who’s gone through his own battles he said, as well it’s it’s post traumatic stress, you know, you are you’re dealing with such a high level of challenge and and it’s something that you’ve invested your whole heart and soul and and so when that goes away it’s it just it shakes everything and then you have your own personal problems and that was a big thing of YPO is it’s not just business challenges. It’s personal problems or personal challenges and family challenges, personal getting divorced families, losing my dad business going through all sorts take over those things. What I learned while I thought my story was the absolute worst, it was not the worst at all. And from some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world today are their stories are not what we maybe read in the media today. And it’s, you know, someone said, they’ll look around for Jr.

John Corcoran  37:01  

Right? Exactly one

Jo Riley  37:05  

with a really tough time. And now he’s Iron Man. And he’s probably one of the greatest and highest paid, you know, actors in the world. And some people would say, I think he’s pretty great. But I like our man. So, uh, I think that that’s just a and I think now more and more so the media has actually started to want to hear the stories of challenges, just like you’re, you’re showcasing here and I think people are interested in hearing about vulnerability because the truth needs to be told. Yeah, and it’s not all roses. You know, when I started, Cynthia, I didn’t know how we’re going to do that. I didn’t think we were even going to go and necessarily going, you know, I was I wasn’t trying to raise funding. But what was amazing is there are so many people that jumped in and were like, I want to be part of what you’re doing. We raised a $10 million seed round and that was enough for us to build this incredible product that we have today. And it goes market. That’s fantastic. But

John Corcoran  38:02  

and I believe you said most of that money came from connections through YPO. And people in your network people who, who knew certainly what you had been through, and bite of it, right? And perhaps because of it, we’re willing to invest in you.

Jo Riley  38:16  

You know how many times I heard people tell me they saw even, you know, we, we had a number of the largest funds in the world want to invest in, I think, at this stage that we were we really wanted to have investors that had, we’re going to help us a lot and enterprise and be great teachers for us. And so, you know, we didn’t take those term sheets, and we focus much more on different types of investors that I can’t tell you from that level to the investors we have today. They’re like I sought you out based on your background, like you are of one of the most unique backgrounds but you’ve also seem so much that you you’re not going to repeat those mistakes. Like this. So the greatest investments investors make are those that have built great fees. They go through a tough time, and then start again and right as they choose to start again, that’s where you backup. And it’s that, you know, you’re saying I’m taking all of those lessons that I’m applying them. And followed by, you know, the team that I have incentive is just fantastic. The board that we have our investor base just out of this world, our advisors are fantastic. And so we spent a lot of time I tell my my VCs, this I play I back to each of you with 30 to call the 30 people for each person is an investor in the company and they’re like, what? No, I literally, I mean, I never asked them for a reference, but I understand how important the relationship was going to be with me. And I’m so happy I did that because it taught me a lot and it taught me a lot how to work with them. And

John Corcoran  39:52  

it taught me a lot about how great they were. We’re running short on time. And so I there are two things I have to ask you about before we wrap up. Because I really want to ask you about these two things. So one is, you’ve got this really cool trick party trick that you do when you speak, where you have people raise their hands demonstrate bias. And some of these biases are like preference towards Ivy League or preference towards, you know, top performers in academia or something like that, or having worked in a fortune 100 company or something like that. share that, that little exercise.

Jo Riley  40:28  

Yes, this is one of my favorites recently. So I take people through the top biases of how you know with all the noise that is affected, hiring now, that noise has forced recruiters to create filters and those filters are not necessarily filters that are significant. So I take people through the top filters and I say Everyone stand up, and I’ve done this now with thousands of people and I go, I will stand up and I say Sit down. If you Don’t have a Caucasian name. That’s one of the top filters, say sit down if you’re any gender other than a male. Sit down if you didn’t go to an Ivy League school. The next one is to down if you didn’t work with a fortune 500 company I’ve yet to get there. Nobody’s ever been standing laughed. And I want to Yeah, no, I’m talking to rooms full of very powerful decision makers. So, you know, I think it’s always surprising for people to know that of the Fortune 500 CEOs, only 9% of them went to Ivy League schools and have a top 20 highest performing CEOs in the world. Top 20 of a fortune 101 went to an Ivy League school. And so I think for all of us, it’s always a shock is we put a lot of weight on that, but it definitely is not an indicator of success or the only indicator of success. And I think that what we looked at was how can we remove those biases? How can we help people so they don’t have to You put these filters on top of talent. That’s not what any of us deserve. And by the way, the talents that people that are doing that aren’t doing that because they’re malicious they’re doing that because there’s just so they have made him out of their their jobs have gone so out of control and they need intelligent technology to help them streamline that and make that more efficient. And I think there’s really it’s there’s never been a better time in the world for HR and talent to become sexy, and intelligence, just the way we’ve applied business intelligence to the enterprise. Applying talent intelligence to HR is the coolest thing they love. The fact that they can walk in with their own bosses and model people they can they can model their boss, they can go I’m going to type your name in here and bam, I’m going to see an entire shortlist of people that capability wise are identical to you but stripped of gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, disability, veteran status, and really what is amazing is You’re seeing people’s mind change. You see these, these filters they’ve created just start falling away. They’re like, wait a sec, I guess, I guess. top performers didn’t go to Ivy League like a second there. No, they’re like a ton of non males. And here Wait a second, there’s no there. They don’t all have Caucasian angels. Wait, they worked at companies I didn’t recognize, oh my god, look at how successful they are. And so I think that’s where there’s a big opportunity. And that’s what what excites me a lot is just watching that change all the time. I mean, seeing that happen as a job is it’s an exciting time that these types of tools are starting to emerge that never existed before. And I think that’s why companies like SAP, one of the largest companies out there has backed your solution. So as SAP has ordered 50,000 customers 6000 sales reps, and you recently announced partnership with them. And what we all want to know is how does that happen? I mean, I don’t think I know a single person who wouldn’t love that kind of high leverage partnership with a huge company that really has the potential to transform their company. So break it down for us. Sure. So I think that when we started as MC at the core for the team that for me, you know, the core of us performing executives and started this really and we sat around and, and said, How, how do we create the biggest impact but also where do we see and looking at that enterprise today? as they’ve gone through this or they’re going through this digital transformation? What are the biggest things they need and where are their solutions are big software solutions, not solving that for them? So si P has a very large HCM successfactors that is a human capital management system and You know, that has that gives you kind of if you think of it the whole cycle of an employee, so from the time they have a job opening all the way to time that a person leaves the company, they, they maintain that cannon, so or that person, so they do payroll and onboarding, and they do performance reviews, and they do everything. A lot of these systems focus on a recruiting strategy that is of active candidates and all of their customers have comes on board, we need passive candidates and we

are not applying our jobs. And we need to apply and we want to understand what the market landscape looks like, because we don’t even know how to define what we’re looking for anymore. What our competitors doing, like, what should we be looking for, right? There’s all these questions that they have. And what we looked at is saying how do we build a solution that is an incredible extension to an already fantastic organization. You know, successfactors has done a really good job with the HCM side and we come in and go We’re going to apply intelligence to this and we’re going to apply intelligence to talent acquisition in a way that fuels the organization for both adding new talent and hitting scale but also as they go through transformation and do internal promotions as they start leveraging some of the talent networks they built and so what as we did not when I you know, I think what what what SAP was looking at is how can we position ourselves how can we find solutions that solve this problem for us have been built with enterprise scale as a focus how we we set out ascencio to be to build the wow factor product and be the title No, like we did not want to be a vitamin product. Vitamin it’s like months later I think my ears longer like skin Johnny or whatever. Feel better in general, but Tylenol if you have a headache, like you need toner, there’s nothing that’s going to replace that and so we Today, how do we do that? I think that has been a big focal point for us, but build out with enterprise scale and that makes SAP sexy. And that makes it a big value add for the customer, it makes the customer all of a sudden look really, really smart and really cool. And so especially when they by selecting success factors and so we built it just worked out really well. We also don’t we didn’t create product that that competed or was competing with any of the sap product lines. And that’s another big aspect of it is they can have two things that are competing with each other in this global partnership and so we have Greg Tom the president success factors did announce that we are we’re the first company to be was called solution extension light. It’s also known as an endorsed apps partner, which means that SAP is going to coast on and comarca das A global level to their 450,000 customers. And so there are some very strong KPIs and very strong tenants to their their employees. And they

John Corcoran  48:10  

just got a sales force of 6000 new sales reps also.

Unknown Speaker  48:19  

Once ago,

Unknown Speaker  48:21  

that’s pretty insane.

Jo Riley  48:22  

Yeah, I mean, it is. It is amazing. And I think we also it’s been really cool to watch. You know, this. This is a really amazing time. And I’m a huge believer that the talent teams and the HR organization are the most powerful organization or most powerful department organization today, and that’s because they’re the conduit which great

John Corcoran  48:42  

organization. Okay, but before we wrap up, so how did it happen? Did you proactively reach out to SAP? Did you feel like, did you design your solution from the beginning saying this would be perfect for SAP? Or was it was it a connection?

Jo Riley  48:57  

We knew that this was going to be a right solution for The largest software companies because they understood it filled a really big gap in the market. And we wanted to be built in a way that said, if we’re going to create the biggest impact across the world, how do we do that, and we are going to do that through purchases, I can hit 50,000 customers faster than if I built she was really valuable for them and, and gave piece of big chunk about a way to the partner that developer. So I was introduced to SAP, but to one of the executives there and, you know, I guarantee all the executives, me quite a lot of people. And our solution, just every customer was telling that executive in their team. We gotta we need you guys to have this or we can’t, we’ve got to find a solution market that has this. And so very quickly, that led to we want to go deeper, I became part of what’s known as SAP IO program. As API was started As a it’s an incubator and fun inside of SAP that’s for early companies that really fill a hole for for SAP and from SAP customers and if you think of it it’s a it’s an incredible extension to the customers needs as he can build everything really fast know these guys get IBM Oracle workday to lay out like none of them can build at the rate of startup can or early stage company can that’s very nimble and understands the pain points of customer and can make changes based on customer feedback, really looked at and said how do we continue to win we started our integration with success factors through that SAP IO program. customer feedback started to come in they put us in front of customers they put us in front of the executives at sa P and one by one they came back and realized this is this is what you need. customers that we brought in you know we have short sales cycles and high ticket item credit product And we’re not that there’s not like a long sales cycle for very good reasons because they all fit in. So that’s really where I think the two things came together. And we started going through this, this really deep process of getting premium certified and going through legal and going through, you know, product and technology and security testing to make sure that we have the right you know, SAP takes their customers security and any product that they work with very, very seriously. And so we went through a lot of testing for that. And a lot of certification a lot of work on that on their time from our side. And so a time we announced it has had been a full time job on a lot of people side so Yeah, super grateful. We’re super excited. Um, I also I would hang my hat every day success factors, I think the way that they’re thinking right now is is Amazing be part of that is is fantastic. But I also think their customers are, are really stoked to be working with a company that is as forward thinking as he is right now.

John Corcoran  52:09  

That’s cool. That’s cool. All right, we’re running low on time. My last question as we’re almost out of time. And this is the question I always enjoy asking, but let’s pretend we’re at the awards banquet, much like the Oscars of the Emmys and you Joe are receiving the award for lifetime achievement. for everything you’ve done up until this point. Well, we all want to know is who do you think who are the mentors? Who are the friends who are the peers are the coaches who are the fellow YPO members, who are the people that you would acknowledge in your remarks?

Jo Riley  52:34  

There are a lot I would start with my team. I definitely would start even without with my co founders that were able to really understand my vision and and create out in their own vision and make us who we were, and I would add my partner and the support that I got through really They highs and really tough lows. Um, but I think also, I would think the people that were hard on me, I think that the lessons that I learned through those times, I mean, it’s almost weird that you want to thank the people that were really, really bad. But you kind of do I kind of do I want to I want to make sure that they understand like, there’s no better way that the motivation of being successful against their, their tries. Were was a big one. And I think that for me, the biggest one were the people that believed in me, the people that despite everything took a shot and and believed in me and for that I’m, I’m always going to be forever grateful and always going to be wanting to give them everything I possibly can and continue to be more successful than they ever imagined because they took a shot and I I never want them to I want to I want to surpass any expectations and I think that to me, is it As I look at those people today they come in forms of those that are around me and my investors partners just like you talked about with SAP my team that are incredible and be doing everything else they are so qualified and yet they choose to do this and they believe in so and you know that also comes with all the people in YPO that around me telling me that I’m not screwing up where I think I might or I am that there’s there’s ways I can improve and, and to believe in myself when I when I might forget that.

John Corcoran  54:39  

Excellent. All right. is the website and anywhere else people can learn more about you Joe.

Jo Riley  54:51  

Since he was great, I also our Twitter handle is concea underscore AI. So there were on LinkedIn or on Facebook, so follow us and Excellent. Alright, thanks so much.