In this episode, I’m at The Travelers Conference, the only conference held just for travel nurses and healthcare staffing agencies. I interview Kyle Schmidt, founder of BluePipes. We talked about what frustrated Schmidt when he was a recruiter, how healthcare staffing firms can make their travelers happier, and the two drunk kids who started Facebook in their dorm room.


Staffing Hub: So we’re here in Vegas for The Travelers Conference, the only conference built just for travel healthcare professionals. I’m here with Kyle Schmidt, talking to him about the conference and about his company BluePipes. As a thought leader in the healthcare staffing space, I was just wondering what you would say has been top of mind for travel nurses at this conference?

Kyle Schmidt: Well, thanks for having me first off, I really appreciate it. You know, I tend to think there’s nothing top of mind for any group of folks this size, right? I think they’re really just here to learn about the industry, learn what’s new with the industry, and meet and co-mingle with fellow travelers. To branch out and be together as a group.

I think for travel healthcare professionals can be, I wouldn’t say lonely necessarily, but at the same time, it’s a unique profession. A lot of people go to work everyday, and we share our work with people everyday. But, this is a unique type of work that you don’t necessarily get to share with people everyday.

So, sharing it in this atmosphere is, I think, what they’re really honestly here for. And of course, when I talk to travelers, the general vibe I get is just one of wanting to discover new things about the industry, new ways of connecting and communicating, syncing up with one another and that kind of thing. I think that those things are the top of mind issues.

I think there’s an overall vibe of curiosity about where the industry headed. I get that a lot, or I’ve gotten that a lot so far. Where are we going in the future?

There seems to be a lot of changes in healthcare — the thought leaders in this space are talking about a lot of changes. I think that’s disseminating down into the world of the travel healthcare professional. They’re learning a lot more about the industry than they did in the past as a result of just the way that social media and all that stuff works right now. So, they have become very curious about what’s happening on the inside, behind the scenes. Where they’re learning a lot more about that now than they were, say, ten years ago. And so they’re very interested in those topics as well.

Staffing Hub: BluePipes is also an agent for that kind of information, bringing travel nurses together to provide professional resources and providing answers to a lot of questions they have about the nitty-gritty of their profession. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired you to start BluePipes, and why you set out to meet that need?

Schmidt: So, there are two fundamental parts of BluePipes. From an outsider’s perspective,  most people find us from our content. And, that’s not necessarily what the impetus for BluePipes was.

The impetus for BluePipes was my experience as a recruiter and as a manager in a healthcare staffing company. I experienced a host of problems that still exist in the industry.

The main problem, the main frustration that was dealt with on a daily basis, was part of the onboarding process.

The onboarding process is very labor intensive. There’s a lot of documentation that needs to be filled out — a lot of details that need to be acquired before you can actually get a candidate submitted. And that causes a lot of friction in the whole process.

There’s this disconnect between the reality of the job market and the perception of the travel healthcare professional as to how everything works.

And it’s not on the travel healthcare professionals at all, but these jobs they close really quickly. And, it takes a long time to get a submission profile set up. Often times, in fact, almost every time, it takes a lot longer to get a submission profile set up than it does for the job to close.

So, that was the idea behind BluePipes: let’s speed up the onboarding process by providing the healthcare professional with all the tools and services that are typically found within the confines of an applicant tracking system.

Take an applicant tracking system and give those resources to the travel healthcare professional so that they can manage and own all of their career-related documentation so that when it came time for them to get onboarded with a new company, they could just click a button and be done.

And that’s where we hope to be headed. There’s a lot of software development that needs to take place in the meantime. But we’ve launched with a lot of features that people really like.

They can build their resume, their job application, their skills checklist, upload copies of licenses and certification. We have tools for companies to come in and recruit and post jobs and those types of things, to facilitate the sharing of the documents. Our platform is built so that the healthcare professional is in control of everything. So, we’re not selling their contact information. They control who receives their contact information, so it’s a beneficial platform for them in that regard.

That, then, is a little bit separate from the content marketing part of it, which is where a lot of people know us from. It was 2012 when we started working on that. There wasn’t really anything out there that was really pulling back the layers of really what goes on behind the scenes in healthcare staffing. There was a lot of marketing messages out there. And you can’t blame the healthcare staffing companies for having marketing messages. Of course it’s a very complicated thing, right?

From a healthcare staffing company’s perspective, the challenge is that they have this very complicated package to sell. Not only the pay package, but just the whole idea of travel healthcare. Everything that goes on there. You’re traveling, setting up travel arrangements, housing. All these kinds of things. It’s very, very complicated to sit down and explain that to somebody who is a potential customer.

And so that, then, leads to simplified marketing messages. The problem with the simplified marketing message is it causes a lot of confusion. In the same way that job postings closing very quickly can cause the person to be, the applicant to be confused and think, Was that a fake job? Were you duping me?

And really, they’re not duping the traveler. It’s just that it’s complicated. It’s hard to explain I can’t explain to you that that’s job going to close before you actually apply to it. It’s the same thing here with the pay packages and everything else.

If you get into a conversation about how a pay package really works you could lose somebody five minutes into the thirty minutes it’s going to take to explain all that.

But, I recognized that there were at least some people out there who were interested in that. So, we started writing content from that perspective which let us provide a lot of high-level, behind-the-scenes content. We’re providing value for folks that are interested in it. It really surprised us that in the long run people really loved it. It became something a few people started to read and to educate themselves on. And then they spread it out to the community from there and  now it’s this common thing for people to want to know, and to know how things are really working on the back end. So that’s part of what we do on the content marketing.

Another part that we do is we look at the industry as a whole and try to analyze where it’s headed and what’s going on behind the scenes. Not in terms of pay packages or the travel aspect, more the business aspect of it. And that’s also been fairly popular with folks. So I would say those are the two, the impetus for that was just we need to get eyeballs onto our website. And it ended up being something that the travelers really enjoyed, which we’re really thankful for.

Staffing Hub: It seems like BluePipes bridges the gap between this impetus towards DIY travel nursing, where the travel nurse is kind of a lone ranger fending for themselves, and, on the other side, a completely recruiter-driven or staffing-agency-driven model. Can you talk a little bit about, I imagine there’s some confusion as to how BluePipes plugs into staffing firms, or serves these lone rangers. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Schmidt: That’s a good take on it, too. There’s a lot of software that needs to get developed when you’re trying to do these things.

When I first started doing this, I went and watched The Social Network, about Facebook. And I thought to myself, Oh man, these two drunk college kids built Facebook in one night in their dorm room — I can totally do this! My entire vision will be a reality next week.

You know what I mean? It’s totally simple.

And what I quickly learned, very quickly, was that you take for granted the complexity that’s involved with software. Simple things like a log-in screen that had a thousand use cases and take forever. And understandably so, when you really are involved in developing that software, they take a long time to develop, and a lot of resources to develop.

The reason I make that point is that, we launched, we’ve been iterating piece by piece, using this agile approach to development. So, right now where we are in terms of bridging this gap between the lone rangers you described and the recruiter-driven model is that– so the healthcare professional comes in and they create their documents. Right now, what they’re doing is they’re downloading those documents. For example, saving them to their computer, their resume, their application skills checklist and what not. And they’re sending it wherever they want to send it. So, they could go into a company’s applicant tracking system, and of course every applicant tracking system says upload your resume here.

They could click that button and then upload their BluePipes documents. What the agencies gonna get is a really nice set of documents. They’ll get more than what they would receive on a typical basis. So that’s the nice thing. But still there’s a disconnect there, because what the agency really wants is to get that information to their applicant tracking system. So that’s where we’re headed next. So in terms of bridging those gaps, what we’ll be doing next is creating a system whereby there’s an API for the agencies to come in and of course, again, we keep healthcare professional contact information private. Healthcare professionals is the only one who can share their information. It only gets shared with companies that they chose to share it with.

But in this new sort of product that we’ll launch, basically we’re gonna have them connecting their profiles to companies who use our platform. And by doing so we create an electronic copy of data and documents. We put it into a bucket, lets say, for example purposes. We put that data and documents into a bucket for that particular healthcare staffing agency. That healthcare staffing agency can then utilize our API to get their applicant tracking system to come in and then pull the data out and the documents out, and get it into their own applicant tracking system, where they can make use of it.

Or they can use our submission management system, which allows them to edit, modify, add cover letters, background ques- excuse me, reference checks, and upload documents and those types of things. And then create a white label set of documents as a submission profile. Customized color, and of course we’ll iterate on that as we move forward, but they would in theory be able to get this candidate submitted right out of our platform. So that’s how we’re bridging that gap there between. So you have this network, its a professional network like LinkedIn. People join, healthcare professionals join, recruiters join for free, companies join for free. They’re all on the platform now. And it really becomes this way for the candidate, for the healthcare professional, to just come in and easily one click apply for the job. And for the company quickly get what they need to get that candidate submitted. And in addition, it offer them a very streamline and frictionless approach. There’s some customer service in that. You don’t have to go in and fill out all of that documentation. You can just go to BluePipes and click this button, and you’re done. So that’s the idea there, and hopefully that all comes together here within the next couple of months.

Staffing Hub: Awesome. So, you have a unique perspective as both a former recruiter and someone who’s actively trying to find innovative solutions for some of the top problems with travel nursing and with travel healthcare professionals. And you mentioned insights into how the industry is changing, and I was wondering if you could talk about that?

Schmidt: So, I think a lot of the talk in the industry revolves around technology these days. Sometimes I hate using that word, it’s really software. We’re not building rockets, we’re making software. So, it’s a lot of software stuff. Take a step back, there’s really two things going on. There’s this whole concept of this consolidation with the VMS, and then Mantis service provider and how that’s all playing out. And then there’s this separate line of technology. So I think those are the two big things that are going on right now.

So, speaking about them each individually. I think the vendor management service and Mantis Service provider things, that seems to be pretty entrenched, in here to stay. And it’s just a question of how that all plays out. And I think that the big companies that got an early start on the MSP and VMS model, they have a big lead in that right now. So I think the big question is are they going to be able to continue to exploit that lead, and get more and more of that market share in that segment. Or are the other companies who are now offering a little bit late to the game, but they’re offering their own MSP or their VMS, are they going to be able to start to compete and create a fractured market like the one that we had prior to the MSP and VMS.

To where you maybe have a bunch of companies who are offering MSP and VMS’s and the hospitals are using various different ones. I think that is the thing that remains to be played out there. And then the technology aspect of things. I think you have a couple of things going on. One is the companies themselves, the current slate of travel healthcare companies who are out there really trying to up their software game. They are making it easier for people to apply for jobs. They are using resume parsing services instead of having a candidate fill out an application right there. They’re using intelligent job matching services, they’re using automated submissions and things like that. And so there’s that aspect of it. And so that has a lot to do with healthcare staffing company really building out it’s own applicant tracking system for lack of a better term, right? Because it’s more than that when you do those kinds of things. But that they’re building out those pieces.

And then on the other side of things, you have the companies that are out there who are new to the game. Who came to industry and basically said “look, this industry has a lot of human touch to it, that we think can be automated out of the process, and so what we’re gonna do is we’re going to create a healthcare staffing company where you don’t have to deal with a recruiter”. These are really two different things, although to me they’re really one in the same. But from an outsider you look in and you think to yourself those are two different things. They’re exactly the same to me.

What the healthcare staffing company is trying to do with its software game right now, is to really automate a lot of what the healthcare recruiter used to do. And that’s happening in the recruitment industry in general. And what I mean by that is, the perfect example is auto-generated pay packages. So the biggest companies, they’ve probably had auto-generated pay packages for a while. But the smaller companies are now starting to bring those on. Whereby the job order just gets scraped up into the system, the system sees the bill rate. The system knows what the gross profit margin needs to be. And the system knows what housing in that area costs, and just spits out the pay package. Whereas before the recruiter was going in and going into this rate sheet and plugging in these numbers, and massaging them. Taking all this time to do that.

So, the point is that healthcare staffing companies have been looking at this. They’re in the recruitment industry, so they know what’s happening. So they’re doing a lot of that software automation on their own already. But you have these outsiders who are coming in at the same time, who are going either A) you’re not doing it fast enough, or B) we don’t recognize that you’re doing it. And so we’re gonna create this new model where you can skip the recruiter. And ultimately at the end of the day, no offense to those companies — but the bottom line is, if you’re W2-ing a person, you’re a staffing agency. You might say you’re not a recruiter. You might say that you’re not a staffing agency, but that’s what you are. If you are putting somebody onto a W2 you are a staffing agency. You are the employer of record. And so they’re essentially automating a lot of that process.

Some of them are doing it a little differently than others. Some of them are trying to maintain as much of the personal touch as they can. Others are trying to literally automate as much as they can out of it. And I think the interesting thing about those who are trying to automate everything out of it is that, at the end of the day there are a lot of things you can automate here with this software. But if what you have is a healthcare professional coming onto a website and searching for jobs. And then applying for jobs, on one side of the market place. And then on the other side of the market place, what you have is the employer coming in and posting their jobs. And then communicating with the healthcare professional. And then collecting the healthcare professionals documents, and then doing all that. Essentially, what you’ve done is, you’ve created a software platform that does automate a lot of things. But you’ve outsourced some of what the healthcare staffing agency once did onto your customer.

The healthcare professional calls the recruiter and says, “hey I need to find a job and here’s what I’m looking for”. Full stop. The recruiter then goes out and finds everything and does all the work. Where as in this case the healthcare professional is coming in and they’re going okay, here I am I can set up some job preferences maybe. But I’m going to go and then have to search for the job and evaluate the pay package and maybe look into some details about the area and that kind of stuff. That’s all the things that the recruiter would have done.

Same thing on the other side of the equation. Before the hospital would maybe email the healthcare staffing company a job requisition, and then that’s it. Now the hospital’s at least A, going to need to enter a job requisition into the platform, and then B, look at the candidates coming through, vet them. Take a look, make sure what’s going on, these kinds of things. And of course the platform can do a lot of that. There is this little segment of work that is bound to get outsourced into each side of the equation. So it’s this split level approach to it.

You know, and I’ll digress to say that perhaps they are totally successful in making it to where there’s this amazing software package that the healthcare professional comes in and clicks a button and here are five jobs, which one do you want? And you’re done. I think that’s the grand vision. We’ll see if those companies are able to execute. The same time that’s exactly what I think the healthcare staffing companies, at least a lot of them are. Some of them aren’t. You know what, I think the vast majority of them aren’t. The vast majority of the healthcare staffing companies are relying on third-party applicant tracking systems. We’re talking about the companies that have their own bespoke custom applicant tracking system, that they’re adding their own bells and whistles to.

I think that the industry in that regard, in that one level, is really in an interesting space right now. In order to get that level of granularity into a software product. It really needs to be your own. So I’m a little bit interested to see what happens with the third party applicant tracking systems. Because I feel like they’re the ones that need to really take a look at what’s going on and do a lot of adapting to what’s happening right now. Because if these companies who are really pouring resources into that bespoke software system, and very successful. That going to be a very, very good experience for the travel healthcare professional. And they’re going to have a really big advantage in speed to market, and those all kinds of things. So those third-party applicant tracking systems, they’re gonna need to take note of that and offer those features themselves.

Staffing Hub: Outside of developing their own ATS, possibly, I mean including partnering with a more customizable third-party system. But outside of that how, do you think healthcare staffing firms right now can best adapt to these twin changes going on between consolidating and VMS’s and this software push that is really changing the industry constantly?

Schmidt: That’s a great question, because what we’re talking about is hey, short of a software solution to this oncoming software thing. What is it that you can do? And ultimately what I can say is there’s probably a couple things I think. One would be, you gotta be flexible. I feel, and I could be wrong, but I feel that gone are the days of, hey, you wanna work with me, jump through these hoops. I feel like that’s . . . because you’re not getting that elsewhere. The candidate isn’t getting that elsewhere. So, it’s gotta be more of a: let me take care of it as much as I possibly can for you philosophy. And let me make this onboarding process as easy as I possibly can for you. And then that’s just the onboarding process. There’s the behind the scenes stuff. Getting the candidate submitted, which is happening in an automated fashion at some places. That really just comes down to, really you gotta stay on top of it from a human perspective if you’re not gonna automate that. So that’s one component of it.

The other component of it is to continue to differentiate because really I think that the companies that we’re talking about that aren’t involved with their own CMS. Like you said, a lot of the companies build on top of Salesforce or some other platform. But if you’re not doing that then . . . or if you are doing that then chances are you’re probably a biggish/large-ish company because you have some resources to devote to that kind of thing. So what that means is that the rest of these companies, they’re not tiny, but they’re smaller. And what I would say then at that point, that then becomes a service differentiation. Where you’re gonna have to differentiate based on service so that essentially you don’t allow the industry just to become commoditized. Because if it becomes commoditized then unfortunately its just gonna go to where the easiest, most frictionless process is. The healthcare professionals would just go to the most frictionless place, if everybody else was equal. So that then really becomes what it is about for those smaller companies. They’re not, I don’t want to, they’re actually quite big companies for small companies.

Staffing firms can get big, not easily, but quickly. It’s actually very difficult to build a staffing firm. It’s something I wouldn’t be able to do. So essentially it becomes about differentiating based on service. And, how can you provide that white glove service, and really not drop the ball in any facet of the process, which is a very difficult task.

Staffing Hub: So to be more human in the face of a bunch of . . .

Schmidt: Perfect. Exactly. So in the face of a bunch of automatons, you’re . . .

Staffing Hub: More human in the face of the robots.

Schmidt: Yeah, that really is the thing. That’s part of the reason that in our platform we build in. I think part of the debate between these companies who are saying we’re gonna fully automate everything and you never gonna talk to anybody, versus these companies who’re saying hey we’ve got a lot of automated stuff but we still got somebody to pull you through. And that really becomes part of the thing. Where are we headed in that regard. And one of the reasons we built in the whole networking, professional networking aspect, and messaging, and connecting, and relationship building aspect of our service is that I’m taking a chance. We’re taking a chance on that. No matter what happens here there’s still going to be a relationship that’s required. Because there’s a lot going on there. You’re not going to buy a computer or a car, or something like that.

It’s not like you go and buy this thing and you’re done kind of thing. This is a real human thing that’s happening out here.

Travel healthcare professionals are traveling around the country, away from home, you gotta set up accommodations, you’re responsible for a lot. And it’s a scary thing for them. So, having somebody there is important.

I am certain that there’s a certain percentage of them that are totally cool with not ever talking to anybody. But I think there’s a fairly large percentage of folks who, they’re gonna wanna have somebody there when they pull off something off of some device and something splatters in their eyes and they need to make a workers comp claim. They’re not gonna wanna just go online and be like, oh hey. I might have some disease in my eyes or something. They wanna talk to somebody. They want to talk to somebody when they show up at their housing and it’s a disaster. They want to talk to somebody. They don’t just wanna be like well oh let me go to the . . . Most people are gonna want to talk about that stuff.

Staffing Hub: What’s on the horizon for BluePipes? You mentioned a little.

Schmidt: Right now what’s on the horizon is this feature, that we call bypass. The idea being that you bypass the whole application process. One thing that I will say is that, in this feature, what we have them doing is . . . we give the healthcare professional the ability to connect their profile to companies. So when they connect their profile to a company, like I said earlier. They get the carbon copy of all the data and documentation. As long as the healthcare professional stays connected with the company, which they can remove the connect. They have company connections just like they have person to person connections. So just like a professional network or Facebook or anything like that. But you’d be connected to companies now. And by virtue of being connected to that company, that company automatically receives copies of your updates. So if you’re a healthcare professional now and you work with four or five different companies, which most do. They work with at least a couple. You connect with them on BluePipes, and now to keep your profile updated you just come to BluePipes and you update your most recent job, you update your skills checklist. You add your new updated BLS card. And each company automatically gets that.

So, now your profile is updated everywhere, when it’s time to go find your job you’re not scrambling around trying to update your profile with everybody. You’re just updating it in one place. So that connectivity is where we’re headed next. And then after that, we’ll take a step back and look at, do a little bit of clean up and things like that on those features. But we really want to get something out there with the pay package aspect of things, to simplify that, that’s something we know needs to be there. We know it’s important. But the problem with it is that it’s very complicated. There’s just concerns on so many levels, from wage re characterization concerns, to making it clear. Having it flexible enough to meet everybody’s needs. Different companies pay in different ways, they do different things. It needs to be flexible. So that demands a very large software build to tackle that problem. It’s a big problem on its own. So what we see is that there are some services out there that have pay package offerings that we feel are lacking in a large set. They’re maybe giving off some incorrect semblance of information.

The concept is sincere, and it’s there. It’s got good intentions, but ultimately because it’s not flexible enough or because it doesn’t meet all of the needs of the healthcare staffing company, and/or the healthcare professional, that it’s not a perfect solution. And so what we do with the healthcare pay package, or the travel nursing pay package, travel healthcare pay package, will be a lot more robust and probably take us a lot longer to launch. Which a lot of our features do, but we’ll get that out there following that. So we’ll have a pay package thing going on which I won’t reveal too much about. But you get the gist of it.

Staffing Hub: That sounds fantastic and very needed considering pay packages are pretty much the most confusing part of travel nursing.

Schmidt: Right they are, they are. They’re confusing in a way, again, that you know. I was talking to my partner about it the other night. What if we do this, what if we do that? And inevitably you get to this point of yeah but the healthcare staffing company isn’t really supposed to be doing that. A lot of them do that, but you can’t really do that. There are these things that are legality issues, that really put a wrench in how are you going to make this thing work. It’s easy for one company. I should say easier for one company to make it work for themselves because they have their way of doing the pay package, then you know exactly what you’re doing. But when you’re trying to say hey, how are we gonna make this so that its flexible enough to work for everybody, that’s when it gets a lot more complicated.

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