Ed Barrientos

Are you wondering how the digitization of business during COVID-19 could impact your work environment going forward? On this episode of The Staffing Show, Ed Barrientos, CEO and chairman of Brazen, shares his experience bringing virtual event engagement into the fields of human resources and talent acquisition. He shares his thoughts on the evolution of permanent remote positions within companies and gives tips for businesses looking to embrace the challenges and changes that come along with making the shift to more flexible work.

David Folwell:
Hello everyone. Thank you again for joining us for another episode of The Staffing Show, very excited today to be joined by Ed Barrientos, who is CEO and chairman of the board of Brazen. Ed, Why don’t you go and kick it off by giving a little introduction about yourself?

Ed Barrientos: Sure. Great to be here. Very excited to talk about Brazen and the industry. I’m Ed Barrientos, I’m the CEO of Brazen. I’ve been actually the CEO of Brazen now for almost 11 years, which is hard to believe. You can’t see me, but you can imagine I have a lot of gray hair from lots of interesting experiences and building a great startup. Brazen began actually just at the end of 2007 and has been one of the pioneers in bringing virtual event engagement into HR, talent acquisition, and so forth. And we help organizations attract, engage, recruit, and retain talent.

Folwell: That’s fantastic. And start in 2007, when we were starting to look at digital tools on this front, but definitely early to kind of adopt or kind of jump out there in front of things. What challenge were you trying to solve at that time or what was kind of the inception point for the start of Brazen?

Barrientos: I think the initial starting or founding idea was this belief. And I’ll step back in that, the company was founded by a mix of Gen Xers and Millennials. And this is very early as you can imagine, those Millennials at the time were like 24 years old. So the whole concept of Millennials coming into the workplace was pretty new. And there was this belief that, “Hey, there’s gotta be a better way of engaging Millennials and bringing them into the workforce than had existed at the time.” And the idea was, “Let’s find a way in which employers and candidates, job candidates, primarily Millennials at that time, could actually engage in conversation before they applied.” There was this belief that look, I’m a Millennial or I’m a candidate and I want to know more about the company than simply looking at a job listing and just hitting apply.

We felt like the conversations that do happen within recruiting were kind of happening way too late in the process. So they weren’t attracting enough Millennials. And that was the founding idea, but that idea has kind of stayed with us. It’s part of our DNA, this belief that human engagement is really critical, especially at the front end of the recruiting process, where you’re trying to explain as an organization, as an employer, what it is that you’re about, what your company culture is, all these things are really powerful to do in the beginning as a way of engaging and pushing those candidates further down the funnel eventually to the application. That was the beginning idea and it stayed with us and it’s what led us to build what was the first virtual event platform specifically for talent acquisition.

Folwell: Oh, that’s amazing. And with that, I mean, it looks like you guys are … With the little research I was able to pull up because you had quite the growth rate, could you tell me a little bit about kind of the size of the organization and what the growth has looked like for you?

Barrientos: Sure. Well, as you could imagine, being a leader in virtual event technology has definitely paid off in a time when things went remote and virtual. So we have definitely been growing like crazy. Today, we are just at 120, 125 employees, we’re expecting to finish the year very close to 175 employees. So you can see that we’re growing very, very quickly. Without giving you specific numbers, I can tell you, we grew over 250% last year and are expecting to continue that growth rate over the next 24 months, 36 months. Very exciting times for Brazen.

Folwell: I have to imagine that COVID is kind of like the perfect storm for the adoption of technology like this. Something that was probably already happening at a good pace because everybody should be checking out new ways to engage with candidates. But I imagine that the last year has been pretty wild for you.

Barrientos: It really has, and sometimes people think it’s just the pandemic or COVID, but we kind of forget there were a couple of things that happened last year. There was a lot of social unrest, Black Lives Matter, a lot of things that happened that really raised the consciousness of organizations all over, not only in the U.S., all over the world for the need to be more diverse, the need to be really reaching out to talent pools that can bring in diversity and inclusion. So you bring all that together and you really have almost the perfect recipe for needing tools that help you reach far-flung talent pools, whether it’s in the country or all over the world.

Folwell: Yeah. And with that, I think one of the things you and I have chatted about just briefly, but the employee retention has been something that’s come to the forefront. Coming out of COVID, I think most people know this stat, I saw it on SIA a couple of months ago at this point, up to 70% of employees are looking to change careers or change jobs this year, which is a very scary stat for any employer. I would love to kind of know what your thoughts are on, how do you do a better job of employee retention going forward? I know that’s the top of mind for all of our listeners.

Barrientos: It’s interesting because when you think of remote work, oftentimes people are thinking of it in a very limited fashion and I’ll get to retention in a second, but if you think about remote, oftentimes whats pops into the head of many people is, “Okay, I’ve got a bunch of folks that used to come into the office that are now working from home.” And that is one aspect of this. And yes, some companies are going and saying, “Look, at some point in the future, we want you to return.” Although Apple, which had made that comment today, reversed it because of the Delta variant.

Folwell: Oh wow, I didn’t see that yet.

Barrientos: They’ve said, “Okay, no, we’re not going to do this in the fall. We’re going to wait and we’re not going to force anybody to come back.” But coming back to this is that that is one element of remote. The other element of remote is that somewhere last year, companies, employers all over the world began to say, “All right, well, if we’re doing remote anyway, people are working from home anyway, well, they don’t have to be co-located in the same area as our office.” So you brought in the permanent remote in a sense into the mix.

So today you have, yes, you have people that live in the area that your office or your offices are. And then you have those that will never be in an area close to you. So now you, as a recruiting organization, as an HR organization, have to live with the fact that you have these two pools that you’ve got to deal with. Now, how is that playing into retention? Well, what is happening is that all employers, or many employers all over the country, all over the world are beginning to realize, “Okay, well, we’re going to have a portion of our workforce that is co-located and a portion that is never going to be located here.” So that opens up the world of where we recruit.

What that’s doing is that it’s creating competition for employers. Let’s say we’re here in Arlington Virginia, we used to worry about other tech startups that were in Arlington Virginia that could be trying to poach our employees, hire from the same pool we were hiring from. But today we have to worry about the West coast, we have to worry about New York, we have to worry about the South, everywhere right? And what’s happening is that is fueling up so much that offers are flying all over the place. So our employees just like your employees, everyone’s employees are seeing the fact that their opportunities are now beyond just their location. And that is putting an enormous amount of pressure on everyone because employers now have to match, in many cases, some of the best, highest benchmarks in the industry, because that’s who’s recruiting and trying to poach your people today.

Folwell: Yeah, absolutely. I really think companies that are going to try to force going into the office after this shift, I think they’re all going to struggle. I think it’s going to be a hard thing to do. I mean, there are people who want to be in the office. I like showing up, but I’ve had a remote team for seven years now. And I know that once you get used to this type of lifestyle, traveling where you want, working from where you want, it can be difficult to say, all right well now somebody has done this for a year and a half, and now it’s like, “Hey, come back into the office five days a week.” I think it’s going to be difficult for employees to buy into it. How do you kind of see that playing out in terms of employee retention?

Barrientos: Well, I think that’s very much spot on. I think where we see a lot of tension is that oftentimes recruiting teams get this, they’re seeing this firsthand, they’re in the trenches of dealing with this. The challenges when management at higher levels of some of these organizations is coming down with edict saying, “Nope, we want everyone back.” The poor recruiters and talent acquisition folks want to pull their hair out because they know what that means. Because it has not only a practical effect in terms of both retaining and recruiting new people, but it actually is a really tough hit on the employer brand and culture. Many of these organizations work so hard to create a culture that is progressive, is open, is all these things that candidates are looking for. But if there is that edict or there is a demand that people come back, it seems to conflict with the culture. And these talent acquisition teams are having to really wrestle with that in trying to synchronize what their culture does, what their culture says with what may be coming down from above.

That is a real challenge. I mean, we see other companies of course, are moving extremely quickly to make it very clear to their employees that, “Hey, we understand that this new flexibility is important to many people.” And by the way, there are a lot of parts of the country that are still wrestling with the pandemic in full force. It’s not like it’s completely gone. So this puts a lot of pressure on folks, both from a safety perspective, from their own individual personal situation, some may have kids at home and then they don’t have childcare because that’s not come back yet. So I think companies can really do a lot to show their empathy, their flexibility, and that’s needed to retain employees today. You gotta be able to show that, along with all the other competitive pressures like compensation, perks, all the other things, you gotta be able to show that empathy, flexibility, and understanding that the world is different today.

Folwell: I mean, it’s definitely an opportunity for the businesses that, at least from my perspective, I think there’s a huge opportunity if you are out in front of it saying, “We are going to offer this flexibility.” It’s going to make it easier to recruit talent and to retain talent in many ways. Now, I mean, there’s arguments on the productivity side and efficiency side I’m sure on the other end of that, but I definitely do think it’s something that a lot of businesses are kind of shifting towards. What do you kind of see as best practices for retaining your team? Things that you see other companies that are doing that’s working very well.

Barrientos: I think the first is what we just talked about is just acknowledging that the world has changed and that this kind of flexibility is kind of here to stay. You’re either going to be one of those companies that is carried into the new world kicking and screaming and doing things piecemeal, or you’re going to embrace it and realize that, yes, there are some challenges, but there are some opportunities here and very quickly communicate to your team that, yes, you get it. That’s important also for candidates today, whether it’s Gen Xers, Millennials, Gen Zers, how a company behaves overall in society and how empathetic it is, is a key consideration of where you want to work as a candidate. So this is now very much wedded to your employer brand, your culture, your employee culture, all of these things are important to get in front of. So that is definitely step number one. If you can’t get through that, it’s going to be very difficult from a retention perspective.

I think the second piece is we’ve had to do our own benchmarking of everything from compensation to benefits, perks, flexibility on vacation time, sick days, mental health, all these things are in one sense, it’s great because some of the better companies out there have shown the way in what is now becoming very standard, and the competitive pressure out there that this talent world we’re in is going to quickly move the needle up and force everyone to do that. So I think that’s number two.

Number three is an acknowledgement that being home or being remote is different and carries also some stresses and burdens. For example, if you are one of those companies that’s doing hybrid, your company has to stay ahead of figuring out how you’re going to make those people that are remote feel like they are still part of the team, that there isn’t a penalty for being remote. All these things need to be proactively handled. Companies can’t wait for the problems to grow and emerge as much more serious problems. In fairness, this is all new to everybody. And what’s kind of interesting, it’s not only new to us in this country, it’s new to the whole world. It’s kind of an amazing thing that this has happened to everybody. No one is excluded.

So I think those are the three things I would say, again, make sure that you’re communicating your flexibility and offering that kind of flexibility of being remote. Number two, making sure that you’re benchmarking, pay compensation, benefits, perks, and you’re keeping up with what’s happening because competition now is not just your local competitor, it’s everywhere. And finally, making sure that you acknowledge the fact that remote can be very hard, being on a Zoom call hour after hour is difficult, creating lines of demarcation between work and home life is difficult. So those are the three things I would say are critical in retaining employees today.

Folwell: I can tell you, our team for the first few years of being remote, I’d always been in office previously, and we have spent quite a bit of time talking about how do you communicate remotely, what channels to use for what, what is the expectation around response times? Because as soon as you are remote and in front of your computer at home, it’s very easy to work every minute and feel like you need to respond to everything all the time. So I think it’s a really good point to talk about kind of how do you adjust your processes and communication strategies with the team to make sure that you’re empathetic about working remote and also to make sure everybody’s engaged and you’re getting done what you need to get done. Do you have any other specific tactics or things that you guys have done at Brazen to adopt and kind of work remotely more efficiently?

Barrientos: One other thing I’ll bring in as I answer this is the fact that a company like Brazen has more than doubled in size, which means that many of our new employees have never met. We never had that opportunity. So things like onboarding become really difficult, but again, what we have found is that onboarding can be done pretty well virtually. You just have to make sure that you’re aware that this is different than it used to be, and that you have built techniques and real methodology around it. That takes into consideration that yes, this person isn’t going to be sitting there and going to lunch and doing some of the initial meet and greets that we would do in a physical onboarding, but we have basically done the virtual versions of that. So we do have meet and greets. Everybody that comes in has a long list of meet and greets on Zoom or on any other platform that is there to be able to get these people connected.

We also have brought out of, I’ll say, taken off the shelf, some things that maybe we didn’t think were as valuable anymore from the past, like staff meetings, all hands meetings. They’re not always efficient, definitely in a physical world you just can’t do it, but in a virtual world, you can actually do that. And what we do is we have staff meetings where we have a general time for announcements and these types of things, but then we do breakouts and allow groups of four or five to meet and just talk about any topic, it could be an ice-breaker topic, it could be a topic that is important to the company. Being able to really still continue almost that water cooler, three or four people coming together serendipitously to discuss whatever is on their mind, you can still do that. I mean, again, you have to be a little creative and you have to use technology, but you can still do things like that.

We also use Slack. Many companies use Slack or Teams or other types of internal communication systems that provide unique little features, like Slack has something called Donut, I think. And that allows you to create the opportunities to set an online lunch date with three or four other folks, just to talk about different topics. We’ve done those types of things. Now using our own platform, we do mentoring, coaching. We’ve seen a lot of our customers doing that as well, especially for folks that feel a little bit alienated or feel isolated because they’re not connecting, being able to have that kind of mentoring and coaching opportunities, that can help a lot. And it’s actually, believe it or not, that type of activity works really well online. It’s just more efficient. It’s easier to connect and easier to bring people together, regardless of where they are. Whereas in the physical world, it would have been a little more complicated to do. That has helped a lot.

Folwell: Yeah. And I was actually just going to ask if you’re using your software for some of these activities. And tell me a little bit more about how companies are using it for mentoring or coaching. I mean, is it just video conferencing similar to Zoom or what’s kind of the nuances and how does that worked?

Barrientos: It is different than Zoom. There are obviously some overlapping capabilities like video conferencing, being able to do webinars. The difference is really in the context of an event, when you use the Brazen platform, it is a much more natural way to break out people into one-on-ones or two-and-ones, or however you want to split people off. Brazen really is ideal for that. As I mentioned at the beginning, we initially designed the system to create very personal one-on-one engagement but at scale, where you could have the whole company coming into one particular event, being able to say, “Hey, look” … We tend to organize an event into booths. So you could go into a booth that is doing coaching for a particular area. You could go into another booth where the CEO may be getting a keynote speech about a particular topic, it could be DNI, or you could go in and just network kind of in a speed dating format with other employees, other members of your team.

There’s just a lot that can be done. And that’s one of the powerful things. We love Zoom and we use Zoom as well for just like we’re doing today, but a virtual event is something different. It really focuses on the event concept. One of the other things that we’re extremely excited to see is the use of Brazen and what I would refer to as sort of the overlap between recruiting and retention, which is internal mobility. So a lot of our customers use Brazen as a way of letting their teams not only know about opportunities within their company. If they’re going to change jobs, my gosh, you want them to do it within the company, not to leave the company. So being able to offer those opportunities and be able to chat with perhaps hiring managers or others that can talk about different career paths within your company, very powerful use case for us. And another great use case that we’re seeing more and more is employee resource groups that are coming together. It could be DNI-focused typically, African-American employees that create a resource group and use our platform for engagement, mentoring, coaching, and so forth. So lots of different ways of using the platform for that.

Folwell: That’s great. And I know kind of the cornerstone of what you guys do is a virtual job fair. Is that correct?

Barrientos: Yeah. One of the areas that we also work in along with everything I’ve just mentioned is we power the university career fairs. Many organizations go and recruit at universities. We power most of the universities, the large universities out there that put on virtual career fairs, they’re using our platform. So they’re using it from that end, but we also have large, large enterprise customers that use our platform to do single company hiring events or campus recruiting events. So it’s sort of both, all of the above.

Folwell: Yeah. And I saw on your website that you guys, I mean, I saw names like Amazon, KPMG, Deloitte. I saw that you have some big corporations that are using you guys for their virtual career fairs. Can you talk a little bit about how staffing firms or the use case for staffing firms and is that different? And if so, any nuances or anything that you could share on that?

Barrientos: There are a lot of similarities, we do have a lot of staffing firms that use the Brazen platform for a whole range of applications, use cases. I will tell you, you can look that up on our site, one of the largest staffing firms, Randstad actually is one of our investors. But we play really nice with all of the staffing firms. Oftentimes staffing firms will use us on behalf of their clients to do very specific staffing and recruiting. Sometimes they’ll do it for their own purposes. The use cases are many, similar obviously, but yeah, we have a large, large group of staffing firms as customers.

Folwell: Awesome. And I was just curious because I was talking with a staffing firm the other day, in the light industrial space and they’ve had a ton of success. They’re doing a traveling career fairs, a pop-up van type of an experience. And they were having great success on that front. Do you have any stats or kind of comparisons in terms of how the impact or value of a virtual job fair versus in-person or kind of a traditional job fair?

Barrientos: I’ll start with sort of the obvious and that is that for probably the last 10, 15 years, most of the recruiting process is digital. You go in, everything is handled in the ATS, the CRM, there’s compliance issues for that and so forth. And the one piece that has not been digital in the career fair world was, for example, college career fairs. You have these students that line up, they all want to chat to one or two companies. There’s a huge line. You stand in line, you have your resume, you’re all suited up. You get to the end of the line and because there’s so many people and there’s only a couple of folks on the employer side, they very politely take your resume. They put it in a binder and they give you a card and they say, “Now, go to our site and apply.” You’ll get a handshake out of it. But we see a lot of bad survey data from students that get really upset because they feel like, “I did all this and it was kind of a waste of time.”

That’s number one is the fact that the candidate experience is just so much better. Students can stand in multiple lines and chat with multiple employers easily on a virtual setting where they can’t do that, they can only be in one place at one time that they’re physically there in a line. That’s one. I think the other big one is just the employers. You’re talking about employers, I’ll just say a university that is out in the middle of nowhere, it’s sometimes hard to get a lot of employers to drive to the locations, spend a whole day, sit there, get their little table and talk to people and take resumes. You’re going to get some, but what we’ve been seeing is 2, 3, 4 times the number of employers are willing to come in into that kind of a situation because gosh, they can do it in between everything else they’re doing, they don’t have to dedicate a whole day to get to the location, set up, all these other things. There’s just a lot of efficiency.

The other one is just, if you’re sensitive about carbon footprint and waste, we were talking about some of these universities, and I’m particularly talking about universities, but this applies to all career fairs. You may have hundreds of employers with maybe each having one or two recruiters all kind of heading down to this location, they’ve got to have swag and other things that they’re giving up. So it’s not the most ecologically-friendly thing in the world. So there are lots of reasons why right now what we’re finding is many of the, at least our corporate customers are saying, “Yeah, we may do very limited interviewing, but the career fairs, it’s just so much more efficient to do it online.” And we can bring way more people, more hiring managers, more company ambassadors and others to a career fair if it’s online because it’s just easier to logistically make that happen.

Folwell: It’s interesting as you’re talking about that, I imagine the number of employers, the number of people that are on the corporation side that could be there to interview, but the number of candidates that can show up is all of a sudden also unlimited.

Barrientos: Yeah, absolutely.

Folwell: And for the people that maybe can’t make it there because of work, they can pop in for a little bit. So I imagine just attendance on both sides increases quite a bit.

Barrientos: Oh, it’s been amazing actually. And one thing to keep in mind, sometimes when you think of an online experience in a career fair, you’re thinking of a candidate sitting in front of a laptop or a computer, most of the folks that visit a career fair are actually doing it on their phone. We have been phone-specific for almost since the beginning. So to your point, I can take maybe 30 minutes or an hour from whatever I’m doing, I may be working, I may be at another job, I just want to-

Folwell: Maybe in your lunch break.

Barrientos: Exactly. And I can do that for an hour and have a chat and be back at wherever I’m going. Whereas if you have to take off a whole day, that’s hard for a lot of people, that’s very difficult, and in any case, you’re going to reduce the numbers, you’re going to reduce attendance.

Folwell: Absolutely. And with that all, I know we’ve been talking a lot about kind of the adjustments we’re seeing companies make today. I think you guys were way ahead of the curve on the digital transformation and recognizing that this is going to be a digital experience, which has happened even more rapidly, but kind of going forward for Brazen also kind of corporate HR and hiring, what trends do you see happening and kind of where do you see things like the next three to five years?

Barrientos: To be honest with you, I think what we’re finding is that HR, corporate HR in general is beginning to, I’ll say it this way, the tactics and strategies that have traditionally lived within, let’s say, employee engagement, within HR on that side, are beginning to come into talent acquisition and vice versa. I think you’re beginning to see this area because there’s so much fluidity between those, the people that you are trying to reach from new employees want to know how your existing employees feel about your company, how they’re being treated. So that line is becoming a little more fluid. And we’ve heard that before with let’s say 10 years ago, the whole concept of employee referrals was huge. There was a lot of software that was built to encourage that because of that same concept, but what we’re seeing at least from Brazen’s perspective, we like to say that we help organizations all along that career lifecycle be engaged by or engage candidates.

So even from college, our platform is used, as I mentioned in the college experience and college recruiting all the way to the recruiting itself of maybe more experienced hires, all the way to the employees themselves. For us, that’s been exciting to see that this kind of personal engagement where you’re really letting your company culture, your company employer brand shine through is here to stay. And it’s sort of transcending the traditional lines between retention or employee engagement and recruiting. I think that’s great because I think if you were to survey and we’ve surveyed a lot of let’s say gen Zers who are just beginning to come into the workplace, and of course the Millennials, how a company states their values, how they treat their employees today is on par with things like compensation. Which in my time, I’m a Gen Xer, I mean, it was like compensation and tell me about your company later. And it’s still very important obviously, you’re not going to go to a place that’s going to give you half the comp. But when all things are equal and right now, as I mentioned, things are starting to equalize amongst companies all over, then the next thing is, what are your company values? How are you acting on those values within your existing employee base?

Folwell: Yeah absolutely. I think that the shift towards purpose-driven companies and making sure that you really have your values aligned, it is something that … I’m on the younger side, the upper end of the Millennial group. But I would say that I’ve seen that transition in last 20 years where hiring used to solely just be about, “How much am I going to make and how many hours do I need to work?” And now there are people frequently taking jobs for less money just because they believe in the company and the company values and the culture, or even more common in some of the IT and tech space, I see a lot of people say, “You know what? I know I’m going to learn more here.” And that can be a cornerstone aspect of it as well.

Barrientos: And I love that because I think the danger for companies today is, and I’m not knocking anyone, I mean we probably fit that too. Years ago, everyone spent a lot of time writing great copy about their values, about their culture, and they put it on their career site, but the actual acting on that was not always followed through. So what happens is, and people make sometimes fun of that, every company looks the same from that perspective. Everyone uses sort of the same language, but I think candidates today are looking for more. They’re looking for a kind of proof that you actually walk the walk, not just talk the talk. And today, it does mean that you are sort of along the lines of what we were talking about, you’re acting on those values and you’re paying people fairly, you’re providing the flexibility, you’re helping and continuing engagement within the employee base. All these things now are sort of table stakes.

By the way, you did say something I couldn’t resist because I don’t know if you’ve heard this, this is a term I heard recently which I kind of love, it makes me laugh. Hopefully it’s not insulting. The term is “Geriatric Millennial”. I’ve never heard that, I saw that in The Wall Street Journal and I thought, “What on earth is that?” And it’s basically a Millennial that’s kind of on the older end of Millennials, so…called Geriatric Millennials. I don’t want to know what they call us older Gen Xers. I don’t even want to go there.

Folwell: That’s hilarious. I have not heard that. There’s actually, I missed a little segue, but there’s a special on Netflix called the Elder Millennial. It’s Iliza Shlesinger and she talks about being right at the cusp in teaching the younger Millennials. So pretty funny concept. So kind of jumping a little bit in topics, but for anybody kind of entering into the corporate HR space or staffing space, or for that matter since you’re a tech leader, what advice do you wish you had been given when you were kind of entering into your career in the leadership role? What do you wish you had known as you come into your role?

Barrientos: That’s a great point. I’ll start with the HR side first. This is not so much my experience, but that it is the experience we hear a lot, it’s changing, which is great. But I think in the past, HR has never gotten enough credit. It didn’t always have a true place at the table. People will say, “Didn’t get enough respect.” And I think for me, going into tech in the HR tech field, you realize that budgets are sometimes constrained, resources are often very tight there. I think what’s exciting is that that’s changing. I think people are finally… I mean, this is not news to anyone that most companies today, their assets are their people. If you look 50 years ago, it may have been your factories and your machinery and capital, those were the things you needed to build stuff. Today, much of the world economy is based on people, it’s information.

So I think it’s taken a while for the organizations to sort of let that sink in, that their most valued asset is their people. And HR is a critical competitive tool. I don’t think that is often seen enough and acknowledged enough. And you do have, talent acquisition sometimes is starved of resources, isn’t given enough resources. HR, the same. I think that’s changing. I think I would not have guessed that 11 years ago when I entered the HR tech space. I wouldn’t have guessed that, but it’s something that was kind of disappointing when I entered, but I’ve been excited to see this change and because of where we are today. There’s a talent war, technology has entered in the biggest way possible into HR. So HR folks now have to really be just as versatile with technology and adopting technology as marketing or engineering or other areas used to be. It’s becoming a very exciting space. That’s what I would say is that that has been one of the things that we fought in or fought against early on in our company history, being a vendor in the HR tech space, but you’re seeing this change. You’re seeing so many new ideas being implemented, everything from employee engagement tools and talent networks within company, I mean all sorts of great new innovations and it’s a great time to be in HR right now.

Folwell: That’s amazing and I’m glad to hear that it is changing because I fundamentally agree with you. I think your people are a competitive advantage if treated correctly, managed correctly. And I also think I’ve seen historically HR within corporations is treated as a cost center, not somewhere where you’re going to get in ROI. That’s something that you have to do. It’s the rules and regulations. And I love to hear that it is changing and that people are looking at it a little bit differently because I think it can have a huge impact. So that’s great.

Barrientos: To give you an example that I’ve been seeing more on the retail land, restaurants and hospitality, they’ve had to make massive changes to just attract people. And the executive management teams of these companies are like, “Oh my gosh, we’ve got money coming in now, we want to do this but we forgot about the fact that we need all these people and we can’t get them.” It’s forcing change. And I can assure you because we have many customers in that sector, the TA teams and HR teams have been saying this for years, there just wasn’t enough motion, there wasn’t enough movement to have this kind of come down from the executive levels and really begin to give resources, more resources to HR. And that’s in all the categories we talked about, flexibility, comp, all these things. That to me is exciting as somebody that strongly believes in what you just said, talent is the most competitive weapon you have. Seeing that mirrored now in the changes in HR, talent acquisition, and so forth is pretty exciting.

Folwell: And just to kind of add to that, you were talking about how management is having to change. I just saw, I think it was a LinkedIn post, so I haven’t validated this to know that it’s a real thing, but that McDonald’s was giving out iPhones as a hiring bonus to get people through the door. And I know a lot of people are talking about how difficult it is to get people in and I hear that from staffing firms all the time. And then I’ve also talked to some companies who are like, “Well, we’ve raised our rate by 20% and it’s not as difficult now.” I think that might be the world we live in for a little bit. I mean, I think there’s a lot of levers to pull, but I think that’s one that companies are kind of having to adjust a little bit on.

Barrientos: Yeah. I think just to that point, I think it is fascinating to me. And you probably have seen this too, is I don’t think anyone would have predicted this that there are folks that actually have used this time, they couldn’t work to really kind of think, “Wait a minute, I do other things.” Now, that’s going to be a great windfall for certain industries, but it’s also going to make it really hard for others. Part of it is supply and demand. Organizations that have kind of, maybe, they just took for granted that they would always have labor, they would always have talent coming into them, now realize that it’s not just the companies that are trying to hire electrical engineers and physics PhDs that have to do recruitment marketing and difficult engagement work up front. If you’re in the restaurant sector, you better convince people first that they should apply and not assume that, “Oh yeah, we open the doors and there’s a job listing. We’re going to get a million applications.” Those days I think are gone for a long time. That’s good for everybody actually.

Folwell: I completely agree. So jumping into kind of the last set of questions, maybe called the fire round today, in the last five years, what new belief, behavior or habit has most improved your life?

Barrientos: Oh, wow. I’ll get personal and I’ll say that probably the biggest one has been listening. I am an extrovert, that is my personality, which can lead to bad habits. And I have had to sort of build into my own way of communicating with people, pauses. Of course, here I am on a podcast probably be up so much of the time. But in all seriousness, I think I have learned to be a better listener. And I have realized that doing that not only improved my ability to lead and manage, but it improved things everywhere, in my personal life, in my relationships, all things. I would put that in there. I don’t know if that’s what you were looking for, that type of thing, but that is certainly what’s helped me.

Folwell: I love it and I second it, so it’s a skill set that I’ve been working on. Over the last, actually, oddly listening to an audiobook on Audible about listening. So I second that one for sure. What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? It could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.

Barrientos: Oh, that’s a good one. I mean, personally, again, I love learning languages. I think one of the biggest investments I made years ago was to really put effort into learning other languages. I spoke Spanish, but I’ve learned to speak German and I learned to speak French. And it’s not because I necessarily was going to use that language, I did and I lived in Germany for a long time, so I had to do it for that. But it just opens your mind, kind of going back to the listening concept. It allowed me to sort of listen from a different perspective. What would somebody that doesn’t have our constraints and let’s say our language? It just gives you a slightly different way of looking at life. It opens up, you begin to empathize a little bit more if you understand and kind of come out of the binds of your own language. That would be one thing that looking at it over time has had an incredible impact on the way I look at the world.

Folwell: That’s amazing and I’ve never met anybody firsthand who’s talked about it that way, but I had read about a study where they said that the language you use can actually change. If you don’t have a word for an emotion and you don’t know how to talk about it, you may not ever express it even though you’re feeling it. So that’s super interesting to hear you talk about it kind of firsthand.

Barrientos: Oh yeah. Well, and just to that point, this was something I read, I didn’t know this word, in Italian for example, there is a word and it’s a perfect word that captures that feeling when somebody let’s say is putting a table together, they put a lot of thought into making it look great, but for someone outside, it just looks like it was put together naturally with beauty, that sensation, that feeling, there’s a word in Italian for that.

Folwell: That’s amazing.

Barrientos: That is cool. Actually, there are words in English that are like that, that just capture a feeling that another language has to use a couple sentences to describe. And that’s the power. So yeah, I 100% agree with the author that wrote what you said.

Folwell: That’s great. Do you know the word? I’m curious.

Barrientos: I’ve tried. This is a problem with being an elder Gen Xer. I don’t remember it anymore. It was a really cool, beautiful sound. Everything in Italian sounds amazing.

Folwell: Yeah, it all sounds wonderful.

Barrientos: But I can’t remember what that was.

Folwell: I love that. The last couple of questions, so how has a failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?

Barrientos: Look, I will tell you to be very honest, the minute you decide to go into the world of tech startup, this is my third, it’s like 90% failures and 10% successes all the time. You’re constantly at it. I think if you can deal with that failure, and I won’t even say a failure, if you can deal with failure on a continuous basis and not give up, that perseverance is critical. Especially in our world of being a tech startup, oftentimes perseverance is the number one survival technique, if you will, or tactic, because oftentimes you have to wait. We were early for our technology, our ideas were a bit early, the market had to catch up. And oftentimes if you can’t live long enough to see the success you’re gone. So sometimes it is just a matter of surviving long enough to be able to see your success.

Folwell: I love that and I definitely resonate with that as well. What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

Barrientos: Oh geesh. Okay. I don’t know if it’s a habit, but it’s sometimes not something that most people do. I am a big ping pong player. It’s not something that a lot of people do anymore, although it is an Olympic sport. I did see that it was being played. I love challenging people to ping pong matches and it’s kind of a goofy thing. And we don’t have one at Brazen because I would spend too much time playing ping pong because I love it so much. But that is kind of one of those weird little things that I’ve always loved ever since I was a kid, I loved the game of ping pong. I don’t know if that’s absurd, but it’s odd. Yeah.

Folwell: And when we meet in person, I would love to play.

Barrientos: Oh, I see a challenge.

Folwell: We’ve got a table in the office. I try to play daily.

Barrientos: Wow.

Folwell: A huge fan as well, I love that. That’s great. So with that, any closing comments or suggestions that you’d like to share with the audience?

Barrientos: I’ll leave with, we were talking about special words that capture a lot of meaning, I’ll leave with the word empathy. I think we’re at a time right now where we need a lot of empathy. Talent acquisition teams, HR teams, employees, job candidates, they’re going through a lot of changes. There’s a lot changing around them, around the world. I think being empathetic in how you recruit, how you engage employees, giving benefits of the doubt, giving more flexibility. All these things really matter right now. Again, pointing back to what I mentioned about career sites and stated vision statements and value statements and so forth, now’s the time to really bring those to the forefront and apply them, especially with empathy. That’s what I would say. We’re trying to do that at Brazen, being empathetic and treating our employees with care, love and flexibility.

Folwell: Awesome. Well, great closing comments and Ed, really enjoyed the conversation today. Thanks so much for being on the show.

Barrientos: David, it was a pleasure and I’m going to hold you to that ping pong match.

Folwell: Absolutely. Next live conference, we’ll have to coordinate.

Barrientos: Absolutely.