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In the midst of what’s been coined the “Great Resignation,” the ongoing trend of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs, employers are struggling to recruit, hire, and retain top talent. A study published by the World Economic Forum found that 20.8% of recruiters believe it’s difficult to keep up with jobseekers’ current demands. Underlining the challenge, a 2021 report found that well-qualified candidates are only available for around ten days before being hired.
Against this backdrop, SeekOut, a Redmond, Washington-based recruitment platform, this week raised $125 million in series A financing co-led by GV and Tiger Global Management. The round included participation from Founders Circle Capital, Madrona Venture Group, and Mayfield, and brings SeekOut’s total capital raised to more than $198 million — valuing the company at more than $1.2 billion.
CEO Anoop Gupta says that the new tranche will be put toward investments in R&D and growing SeekOut’s headcount, as well as ongoing customer acquisition efforts. “[W]e’ll be growing our engineering, marketing, sales, customer success, and partnerships teams internally,” he told VentureBeat via email. “We’ll also be investing more heavily in data infrastructure, partnerships, and building out an ecosystem around our solution. This year, we’ll also focus on scaling internationally.”
SeekOut was founded in 2016 by Gupta, Aravind Bala, John Tippett, and Vikas Manocha, a group of former Microsoft employees who set out to launch a messaging tool called Telo that could provide information about people that others might be emailing. The team pivoted in 2017 to target the broader, potentially more lucrative talent management software market, which is anticipated to be worth $13.21 billion by 2028.
“While the Telo system was compelling, we failed to get scaled traction, and pivoted to SeekOut in October 2017,” Gupta said. “Today, SeekOut is a powerful AI-driven talent search engine helping more than 1,000 companies get a competitive advantage in recruiting hard-to-find and diverse talent. Six of the top 10 most highly valued companies in the U.S. leverage SeekOut for their talent needs … We’ve built a powerful data platform to integrate [with] numerous data sources that allow for smarter insights and more impactful, dynamic actions and results for every company’s greatest asset: their people.”
Leveraging AI technologies, SeekOut maintains a database of hundreds of millions of job candidates, including upwards of 29 million software developers. The platform uses natural language processing and machine learning to scrape and analyze public data, building profiles by blending information from GitHub, patents, papers, employee referrals, LinkedIn and Kaggle accounts, Facebook pages, company alumni, and candidates in applicant tracking systems.
“[SeekOut provides] candidates’ professional experience, education, and skills from public profiles and the open web … Each unified profile includes up to 100 different searchable datapoints including candidate skillsets, background and experience, education, and more,” the company explains on its website. “[It shows] candidates’ expertise in specific programming languages, and their ranking among contributors to different repositories, which SeekOut determines based on their GitHub activity. [It also highlights] candidates’ deep subject matter expertise based on published papers, patents, conferences, as well as metrics which measure how frequently a candidate is cited among papers.”
With SeekOut’s analytics dashboards, customers can search for talent using direct queries or custom filters across different social, professional, and technical sites. They can subsequently analyze the frequency or scarcity of specific skill sets and backgrounds, the geographic distribution of talent, and where candidates currently and previously worked, benchmarking against the competition.
SeekOut also provides messaging tools with templates and AI-based personalization, including suggestions for subject lines, the best time to send, and information from candidates’ profiles. Customers can send emails directly from hiring managers or company executives and schedule outreach messages with SeekOut’s automation tool, which allows users to create campaigns with response metrics.
“Compared to other solutions on the market, SeekOut’s new solutions break down the silos of internal data, it brings in relevant external data, and allows HR and business leaders to make sense of their employees and external talent,” Gupta added. “It provides a data-rich and data-informed way for HR and business leaders to have a comprehensive, 360-degree view of employees and external talent with analytics, predictive insights, and actionable recommendations that provides a competitive advantage in hiring, growing, and retaining their talent base.”
A growing market
A growing number of recruitment software startups claim that in-houe AI technologies are what differentiate them from the competition. For example, Celential.ai advertises AI to match software engineers with open roles, while Phenom People says it supplies AI-driven recommendations based on candidates’ location, interests, skills, and more. Another rival, Fetcher, proactively headhunts new candidates, ostensibly by crunching large databases of candidates.
Analysts and regulators are becoming increasingly skeptical, however, as the possibility of bias in hiring algorithms becomes evident. Amazon scrapped a machine learning recruitment tool that inadvertently favored male candidates due to an over-reliance on historical hiring patterns, and a recent Harvard Business Review report found that “most hiring algorithms will drift toward bias by default.” In November, New York City passed a bill that would ban employers from using AI hiring tools unless a bias audit can show they won’t discriminate.
“We are committed to the ethical use of AI in all aspects of our products. Our machine learning models are built specifically to mitigate unintended bias. Importantly, all decision-making remains with the recruiter. Our goal is to make the recruiter more efficient and productive,” Gupta said. “Our customers consistently report that they make better, faster, more equitable talent decisions by using SeekOut.”
Despite the pitfalls of AI technologies, HR professionals are expressing a willingness to adopt — or at least pilot — recruitment products powered by these technologies. A 2019 report from software company Sage found that 24% of HR leaders are already using AI for recruitment, while 56% plan to deploy it within the next year. And according to a more recent survey by Gartner, 47% of HR leaders will increase their investments in AI software by 2022.
“As we look forward, we find that enterprises are essentially flying blind when it comes to building and maintaining their workforces. The workforce is changing, and enterprises aren’t evolving quickly enough or haven’t had the tools or resources to keep up with jobseekers and employees,” Gupta said. “The data is locked up in silos of … systems within the enterprise. Further, no company is an island. Without the context provided by external data — external available talent, size of talent pools, diversity, open jobs, available skills and skills adjacencies, salary, competition — even good knowledge of internal employees is not sufficient to recruit and retain talent. And data itself is not sufficient, you need talent intelligence and predictive insights, you need recommendations for actions to persevere and prevail.”
SeekOut — which has about 120 employees — says that Salesforce, Waymo, UiPath, VMWare, Merck, and Experian are among its customers. The company’s total capital raised stands at $189 million, and annual recurring revenue is “in the $25 million to $50 million range,” according to Gupta.
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