Shannon Russo, CEO of Kinetix, on Taking Risks and the Nuances of Working as an RPO

Shannon Russo, CEO of Kinetix, joins The Staffing Show to talk about her experience with building her own business after working in the staffing field for most of her career. She talks about how an RPO is different from a traditional staffing firm and delves into some of the key drivers behind her company’s growth, such as focusing on strengths and being willing to invest when others aren’t. She also touches on the concepts of employment branding and recruitment marketing and how these can impact company success.


David Folwell: Hello everyone. Thank you for joining us for another episode of The Staffing Show. Today, I am super excited to be joined by Shannon Russo, who is the CEO of Kinetix. Shannon, thanks so much for being here today. To kick things off, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and how you got into staffing?

Shannon Russo: All right. Thanks, David. And thanks for having me on the show, excited to be here. So I actually have been in the staffing space almost my entire career. And so Kinetix was a natural follow on to that, but I actually started my career in the nineties in staffing, so I have a lot of history and helped grow one of the large players, of which there’s a few, from 400 million to over four and a half billion before we left. 

So really fun, got to see because of my background being more finance, I really got to see a lot of the strategy and the acquisitions that we did and so that was really exciting for me. And then at some point in my career, I really wanted to get into operations and so the last few years of my time with them, I was really trying to get operational jobs and they kept seeing me as a finance person, and so at some point I had to take my marbles and go home. And so this is going to sound crazy, I liquidated 100% of my retirement….

Folwell: That’s amazing.

Russo: And purchased three teeny-weeny staffing and recruiting businesses in 2004 and formed Kinetix in 2005.

Folwell: Oh, that is amazing. So you actually just went for it, you went all in.

Russo: When I say it now, I feel like I’m crazy. At the time, here’s what I told my husband….

Folwell: Yeah. That’s a big leap, you got to believe in yourself.

Russo: I did. And my husband believed in me, and what I said was worst case, somebody will hire me if I completely fail at this and we’ll start again. So here we are so many years later, 16-and-a-half years later, it’s really been a great run and happy to say that the original strategy I had with a little bit of tweaking is the same today. I was wanting to build a recruitment outsourcing business and so I leveraged the incredible skills of the companies I purchased and built the business from there because I did not want to start and say, “Hey, I have no clients. Would you like to work with me?”

Folwell: Yeah. That is a hard time. So what type of staffing agencies did you purchase, were they three different types?

Russo: So they tended to be professional skills, multi skills, actually, mostly in corporate spaces. So no light industrial, none of that kind of space. So very commercial and then in 2014 I got a referral, and so now we’re heavy into healthcare as well. So those are our two big spaces at this point.

Folwell: Awesome. And so why don’t you tell me a little bit about what is Kinetix, who are your ideal customers? Tell me a little bit of background about who you guys are.

Russo: Okay. That’s great. So we consider ourselves an RPO, which to other people are recruitment  outsourcing business. And how that is different than staffing is really that what we are trying to do is be our clients. So as opposed to being a third party, we use our client’s email addresses, their ATS, we’re in their systems, all the candidates go into their systems. And instead of doing a typical viral search and we’ve done search for a long time, I’m going to find, screen candidates and then I’m throwing them over the fence to you. 

The difference is in RPO, we’re on the other side of the fence and so we’re getting those candidates, we’re submitting them to the hiring leaders, which is somewhat similar, but then we’re working with the hiring leaders, looking at internal candidates, external candidates, getting them all the way to when they’re going to hire, making the verbal offer and then at some point handing off in the onboarding. So we are doing the full-cycle recruiting and we’re doing it as the client.

So the candidate may or may not know that the recruiter is someone that works at Kinetix, they would have our client’s email address and it’s full cycle.

Folwell: And what are some of the benefits from a client’s perspective of RPO versus staffing?

Russo: It really depends on what their goals are. So if their goal is to hire permanent employees, RPO is an excellent model and especially if your internal recruiting team is struggling with harder positions. It’s a really good model because we’re doing what your corporate team does except we’re actually giving you the benefits of working with a search firm-ish, because we’re actually doing the sourcing, which internal teams don’t tend to do. They tend to post and pray, wait for the candidates to come. And if the candidates don’t come, then they’re like, “We can’t fill these roles, we have to go outside.” So we fill that gap in between, does that make sense?

Folwell: Absolutely. And just in terms of, for the audience or for people that are newer to the staffing industry, how do the fees work with the client? Are you looking at…so the same as if you’re having a salary or is there a per hire? What do the operations….

Russo: Great question. So it’s a very different model. So based on the volume of recruiting that we’re doing for the client, we have a fixed management fee based on that, that’s trying to cover my baseline. And then the biggest cost to the client is the per-hire fees, which are based on the roles or the job family’s difficulty. So we, in our pricing, work with them to try to understand the nature, and then we may have an adjustment if we hire an internal candidate. So again, we’re dealing with all of those, anything, we’re filling the jobs for them as them.

Folwell: Still performance-based, but the fixed fee is the key difference and probably a lower performanc- based instead of the 20 to 30%….

Russo: Typically, it’s about half the cost. Now, here’s one of the reasons. If you’re a search firm, I could tell you that, on average, what we used to say is you need five searches to close one. If you can do better than that, you’re going to be super profitable, but five to one was the average. With the RPO, that is not the case because we have to fill the job so we can share back some of that risk that we’re putting into the fee to make it so that we can pay our team and have some profit. Does that make sense?

Folwell: That makes complete sense. That’s a great explanation. And can you just tell me a little bit about the size and growth of where you guys are at right now?

Russo: Yeah, absolutely. So we have just under 100 on the team. Almost all of those are recruiters, big percentage of them are recruiters. That’s a big change. So we were probably close to that coming into 2020. 2020 was a rough year for us like everyone else. So “deep v” is what I like to call it. And then 2021 was our largest year ever, significant growth, but coming out of 2020, that’s not hard to do. And we’re accelerating this year, but last year I would tell you probably a lot of people in the staffing space, we are back against the wall. We couldn’t fill the orders we had, we just didn’t have enough team members and it took us into 2022 to stabilize that.

Folwell: Yeah, I’ve heard that from most staffing owners, staffing agency owners. And then I’ve also heard that RPO a lot because of the need to fill that, more organizations they’re working with multiple staffing agencies. They’re trying RPO, they’re really trying anything they can and I think they’re also looking at RPO as potentially a cost savings versus hiring 100 people through a staffing agency. So I’ve seen, anecdotally heard, that there’s been a lot of growth in the RPO sector in the last year.

Russo: I think that’s probably true because they’re feeling a lot of pressure to do that. And the difference is because I’m learning the culture, yes, it’s a little more cost-effective, but the other part is it’s closer to having an internal team, but with more flexibility, if that makes sense.

Folwell: Absolutely. On that note, I feel like the best staffing agencies from what I hear are doing almost value-based hire, hiring the candidates that match the core values, which is something that makes perfect sense, hard to do when it’s a one-off, easier to do…

Russo: Hard to do but it just takes a lot, you’re learning every time. And so one of the advantages that we have is if I’m working on 150 recs for you, we can spend the time to train our team. We understand your benefits, we have all of that stuff, because that’s part of what we’re doing because we’re doing that full cycle.

Folwell: Absolutely. And I know you talked a little bit about the different verticals you work in, but can you tell me who is your ideal customer, at what point is it where you feel like this is exactly who comes to us and works with us?

Russo: So somebody that has around 50 to 100 jobs at the lowest end that they might want to assign to us and 5,000, so believe it or not in the RPO space that would put us in the middle market. So 5,000 hires a year is a great sized client for me on the large side, on the low side, 300 hires a year, couple hundred hires a year. So we think about it as the number of hires per year, as opposed to the size of the client, because you could be small, but do 200 or 300 hires and that’s an ideal client. But you need to care about the people. So for us, we wouldn’t tend to do a lot of light industrial repetitive roles, we tend to do the more difficult, more nuanced roles. That’s like a specialty for us. And I know it sounds terrible to say that the other ones don’t care about the employees, but really the employees are super valuable to the client that makes more sense…

Folwell: The relationship and the effort that goes into hiring and it’s less of a transactional hire.

Russo: Is more important to them, they don’t consider them a widget.

Folwell: That makes sense as well. And one question, I don’t usually ask them this, but per our conversation earlier today, it sounds like you’re looking at potentially acquiring an additional RPO organization. What does your ideal acquisition look like?

Russo: Yeah. Thank you. Yes. We’ve gotten to the point where we feel like we’re really a, what we might call a platform size. We really have the technology infrastructure and the operational infrastructure to really add a lot more. We think for somebody that’s maybe on the smaller side that has a single account or a couple accounts that maybe feel like they don’t have enough support, that might be a perfect partnership. And so would love to find somebody, I’m not restricted by size, but would love to find someone that wanted to partner and thought they could get acceleration, but is really leaning into this full-cycle recruiting as opposed to at the very top end, just finding candidates and throwing them over the fence.

Folwell: And one thing that we also talked about was just the nuances with RPO and how some staffing firms are balancing what they’re calling a recruitment, I think you called it recruitment staffing, could you share a little bit more about that?

Russo: Yeah. Or sometimes we call it top-end RPO. We don’t do this, but there are people that are really doing well doing what I would call “recruiting staffing,” but they’re selling it as RPO and the companies, large companies specifically, are buying that and they’re basically sourcing and doing in a very light, initial screen and then they’re throwing those candidates into the recruiters at the client.

Folwell: Got it. So it’s like a blend, it’s like in the middle of staffing and RPO.

Russo: Yeah, and they’re calling it RPO. The clients are buying it as RPO, but the difference is they’re charging on some sort of resource basis. Not tend to be hourly, it tends to be weekly like resource per week, per month, per two weeks. So it’s very resource-based whereas ours is hires-only based, not resource-based. There’s nothing related to how many people I have on your account, if that makes sense. So very different.

Folwell: Got it. That makes perfect sense. And so it sounds like you’ve clearly figured out how to grow an organization. You’ve done a great job of that over the years to get to the size that you’re at. What have been some of the key drivers to your growth over the last few years?

Russo: So two things that I would tell you is being willing to invest when others won’t invest like right now as the market’s getting a little shaky and investing in technology. Coming into COVID, as hard as that was with nobody wanting to hire anybody, we were really well set up. We had most of our people in the office pre-COVID, a big percentage, probably 60%, 70%. And now we have none. And our transition was seamless because we had already started allowing people to work virtually. And so all of our infrastructure, our phones, our ATS being connected to that, everything being virtual-ready. And it’s funny because at the time we were even encouraging our clients to do video interviews, if they were struggling to get people and they were like, we don’t really want to do that. And then boom, it’s completely staged, right?

So making those investments that…really set us up to not have to focus on that and we could focus on the other things because there was so much that you had to deal with, that really helped us, I would tell you. And then the second thing that has been very hard, really trying to stay focused on what we are good at. So not accepting and/or firing clients. So that’s the hardest thing that probably I’ve ever done, but I will tell you that both having the discipline to say “no,” hard though it is when somebody’s like, “Yeah, I want to work with you!” or saying, “This is not going to work long-term,” and making that decision earlier. Those have been two of the things that I think while in the moment might have not been good, really helped set us up for stronger, consistent growth.

Folwell: Absolutely. That’s great advice. And so you’ve mentioned there that you’re 100% remote, no offices that….

Russo: Yeah. So I do have an office. It was half a floor plate, it is now under 3,000 feet and my accounting team and my payroll do payroll for my folks. And so we have a very small corporate, our teams can come in and have meetings there. So we use it as training and places to have smaller meetings. And then when we have a large meeting, we do that offsite. Whereas before we used to do a lot of that in our office, because it was bigger.

Folwell: Yeah, no, that’s amazing. And it sounds like you’re in a good position going into COVID. And with that, right now we’re going into — what potentially my last guest I had on said we’re already in a recession and we’ve been in one by the time they announce it — we’re there. How are you setting up? Are you doing anything differently with the business? Are you doing things strategically in terms of investments in tech right now?

Russo: Yeah. So we’re continuing to invest in tech. There’s been so many new products so we are constantly on the sourcing side, specifically, dipping our toe in and trying new things a lot more around AI, but AI just in terms of sourcing as opposed to AI in the process. So we’ve done a little bit with AI in the process. What we’ve found is it’s a mixed bag. Very much depends on the skillset of the person you’re going after and the client’s reputation for that middle one. Our team is fully able to do bulk texting. That’s something that I would tell you is a non-…. that’s table stakes now, it didn’t used to be, but it’s table stakes now.

Folwell: 100% table stakes, yep.

Russo: And so those kinds of investments to make that, and then we’re working hard to make it so our recruiting team does not have to go anywhere else. And so integrating, any sourcing directly into our ATS is of critical importance to us. We used to allow, like everybody, here and there and we’ve really tried to shift that because our recruiters can be more effective if they don’t have to jump here and there everywhere.

Folwell: And are there any specific tools that you’re able to share without giving away the secret sauce in terms of sourcing, anything that’s or any strategies or tactics that you found that have been especially useful?

Russo: So I know most people jumped on the Indeed bandwagon early and we did as well. What I would tell you is we are pulling back on Indeed and there’s multiple companies that do this, but more campaign management tools. And so those investments have worked better. So Indeed, we love you to put money in, and just don’t manage our campaign. We’ll just take it, we’ll spend every penny. So tools that can help you manage that campaign, that’s the kind of stuff that we are focusing on when I talk about AI, if that makes sense.

Folwell: And more on the programmatic side of….

Russo: Programmatic is exactly, that’s exactly right. And so we’ve found that that’s a way better spend. And so thinking about your sourcing spend a little more holistically and saying, where am I going to put it and where do I get the most bang for my buck based on the skillset that I’m recruiting for, because it’s all so incredibly different. And so it’s not like we don’t use Indeed, but we might use those for specific skillsets and do boost campaigns where it’s pretty narrow. And then we use programmatic for other places where it’s a little more difficult and the variability of the cost per click is so strong.

Folwell: Got it. That makes complete sense and I’ve personally seen a lot of success with programmatic, I had a marketing agency, it’s a good path to go down period. So it’s something….

Russo: Highly recommend.

Folwell: Yeah, absolutely. And two different topics that I know that we had not really talked about, but were on the list of things that you had some expertise in: employment branding and recruitment marketing. And I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit about either of those and a little maybe what the difference is between the two.

Russo: Well, I’ll give you our definition, David, I’ll give you our definition. And that is that employment branding is really the articulation and understanding of others, not you, the client, the company, of “What’s in it for me to work for you?” So that’s your employer brand, we might call it an EVP, an Employer Value Proposition. “What’s in it for me to work for you?” That’s what we would call your Employer Brand or we often will call it an EVP, an Employer Value Proposition. 

And it’s hard for people, for clients, especially, to wrap their mind around that because they want to tell me what they think it is. That is not what it is. It’s the people who turned you down. It’s the last three people that you hired. It’s the last two people that left you. It’s what they think. And then you can have an aspirational “what you want it to be.” And then you have to work to meet that gap between what it is, which is what everyone else thinks, and what you want it to be.

Folwell: And so basically looking at the Glassdoor, the Google reviews saying, “All right”… well here, and when you say employment, then you’re talking about the actual clients brand that you’re hiring for?

Russo: Or the company or yours if it’s you that wants to do the employer brand, it could be me. Then that gap is I might want to be this, but everyone else is telling me what I actually am and what we would tell you, you said you have marketing. We would tell clients sometimes to also lean into the negative of that. And people say “yes” to that, except when you present it to them. But what I would tell you is we worked with a software client and they were ruthlessly authentic to the point of almost being aggressive with each other, but that was who they were. And we said, you should talk about that because there are people that are okay with that and those are the right candidates for you because they will stay. And it took us probably a month to convince them that you need to, they were like, “Oh, that sounds terrible.” And we’re like, “It’s true.”

All the interviews we did said it was true. And when they finally did it, what they would tell you on the other side is it was brilliant because they didn’t have as many misses because everybody’s dancing with each other, right? Especially if you’re smaller growing company, every hire, it’s expensive for so many reasons.

Folwell: That’s a personal lesson that I’ve learned over the years is if you don’t tell people in the startup space, if you’re not, “Hey, this is going to be probably the most challenging role you’ve ever experienced. It’s going to be hard, there’s going to be a lot of great things.” But if you’re not upfront about that and you’re like, “Oh, it’s all butterflies.” And it’s like, “Nope.” Then three months later, you’re hiring for that person again. So it’s like….

Russo: And it’s bad for both of you.

Folwell: Exactly.

Russo: And so I would separate all of that discussion about “who you are” and “why do I want to work for you?” from “recruitment marketing” that for us, is a little bit more about, “What are you doing to get your opportunities out into the world?” Which can include all the sourcing and the programmatic that we talked about. But it also includes a little bit of branding, but it’s less branding, it’s more getting it out there. So we would separate recruitment marketing to getting the message and your jobs out there.

Folwell: And any recommendations, specific tactics that you have found on the recruitment marketing side that you’re open to sharing?

Russo: So what I would tell you is your marketing team doesn’t want to support you, typically, because they want to do the company brand only. And this employer brand is really important for you to understand. And then you want to align that with your messages so you can mix in the company part, but that alignment and then working hard to build content around what it’s like to work for you. If you’ve got a technology group, you should have your technology people talking about the cool things they’re working on that’s not confidential because if I’m a developer, I’m going to be really excited listening to you talk about that. And that might pull me in and then you’ve got to use typically social, there’s no magic here, you can pick the channels. There’s a whole bunch. And a lot of….

Folwell: You’ve got to be in most of them at this point.

Russo: That’s right. And there’s plenty of tools out there that can let you multi-post so that you’re not having to do everything individually. So you can leverage technology, but do that work and a lot of people don’t want to do that work. That and that little bit of content creation is work. So you can’t just say, “Oh, hey recruiters do this.” No, you need to commit resources if you want to be successful in that longer-term.

Folwell: And so with that, operationally, do you have a separate, it sounds like, do have a separate team for recruitment, marketing, and employment branding?

Russo: Yeah, separate team and they rewrite our client’s job descriptions also because recruiters can’t do that. And job descriptions are not marketing documents. So yes, to both.

Folwell: That’s great. And I think investing in marketing right now is the future of staffing, especially with everything being digital, it’s all online.

Russo: Yeah, and it’s really operational because this writing the job descriptions, you might not call that marketing, but it’s writing, which is why it’s more marketing. And so recruiters are not writers, you might have somebody that’s okay but they’re just not. And so thinking through that functional delivery and saying, “We need to dedicate resources to being able to do this well.” By the way, same with the sourcing. We’re not relying on our poor team who’s running hard, delivering on recruiting to find all these. We’ve got people who are dedicated to finding the tools, vetting the tools, making sure they’re integrated and doing that work and those kinds of investments, we talked about investments, I think that’s some of the differentiator instead of saying, “Oh, my recruiters can do it.” That’s not their strength. They’re sales people, that’s what they’re great at.

Folwell: It’s not their strength and even if you get them to do it, that’s not going to be the outcome that you want.

Russo: No. And you can leverage and provide to them stuff that will make them so much more effective.

Folwell: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. And with that, we’re going to shift gears a little bit, but what are some of the other major trends that you see in staffing or just in RPO and where do you see things going over the next three to five years?

Russo: Yeah. Great question. I am hearing, you are all, the whole, “We’re in a recession, it’s bad now, it’s coming.” What I would tell you is it depends on what space you play in as to whether or not you’re feeling it. I would tell you that my compatriots on the manufacturing side are much further in than my compatriots on the healthcare side, who are not showing any signs of slowing and there’s everything in between is what I would tell you, but inflation is here. So that’s a thing. 

The second thing on the, “Can’t all be 100% remote.” We’re feeling that on the technology side with our technology clients, that’s an interesting shift. I’ll be interested to see how that goes over the next six to eight months. Does that make sense?

And part of it’s being driven by the big names that everyone knows — Apple, Amazon, Google — they are all cutting back. And so the, “I can get the best job any time, I don’t need you.” It’s an interesting shift that I feel like is happening. And I think the candidates are dragging behind, understandably. So it’s going to be interesting to see the next six to nine months, 12 months to what happens there specifically on the technology side.

Folwell: And so I think from what I’m hearing IT, developers, there’s such a gap in the need for development that I don’t know, it might shrink, the demand might shrink, but there’s still enough.

Russo: Is it enough?

Folwell: Yeah. Same with healthcare.

Russo: And a lot of it depends on what your skills are. So the other thing that I am seeing mid-size companies do now that I never saw before was they’re willing to invest in people with less skills, pay them less, but invest in them to get more skills, which I would tell you pre-COVID that never happened. Never. And I don’t know if that’s just the, “I can’t get people.” So they’re opening up to that, but I’ve seen that. 

The only other thing I’m seeing on the healthcare side, which is another big space for us, is there’s a little bit of whiplash coming on the travel nurse side. It’s been such a heyday and what I’m hearing over and over from the healthcare systems is, “We want to get rid of travelers.” Now, here’s what I would tell you. That’s not the….

Folwell: Yeah. They can’t.

Russo: But getting to where, “I’m only using staffing for flex positions,” I think that’s where they’re headed.

Folwell: Yeah, the pay rates for travel were….

Russo: Instead of using it for core position.

Folwell: Yeah. I’d heard of just some wild pay rates in the travel nursing segment where it’s like up 4x what a normal travel pay rate was and in a specific time.

Russo: That’s right. And you can only do it for four weeks or two weeks or you can take a vacation from your other job. So I think all of that is going away. And so that’s the other part of the industry that I think is going to see tremendous change over the next 12 months.

Folwell: Absolutely. And so you think travel’s going to be…you do think that it’s going to hit the travel industry a little bit more than the rest of healthcare as a whole?

Russo: I do. Yes, I do. I think allied has less pressure, believe it or not, than the higher level, which I don’t know that I would’ve been able to say before.

Folwell: Got it. That’s interesting to hear, get insight.

Russo: Because of the gouging on the nurse rates. So I think it’s specifically because of that and they’re not, or they have not ever been able to….

Folwell: Just saying this isn’t sustainable, we have to bring changes.

Russo: And so I think that’s why it’s not sustainable. So I think on the allied side, interestingly enough, if I were in that space, that’s where I would put my focus because there was less gouging. And so as a result, I think people have more willingness to utilize that. And the other change during COVID was that the competition for those level positions has increased dramatically. So you could be a CNA or you could work at Chick-fil-A for the same amount of money.

Folwell: Yeah. Yes. And do you see any trends on…do you work with locums as well? Is that a….

Russo: So not so much with locums. So I don’t know that I could give you any trends there, but what I would tell you on the higher end that is something that I have seen that will impact locums is people’s, healthcare systems’ willingness to use PRN more. I think they got forced into it. And so I think that’s become more normal. I don’t know that, I don’t have enough view to tell you what, but that has been a shift.

Folwell: That’s interesting to hear as well. All right. Well, those are great insights there. And with that, we’re going to jump to the last section of the podcast, which is the personal questions. So what advice do you wish you were given before entering the staffing industry? 

Russo: Wow. That’s a hard question. What advice? What I would say is: I wish I had known how little people that are not in the space really understand about everything in the space. And so what I discovered, that took me a while to figure out, was that folks in the space all know too much and they all use the same language and that language is not the same as the clients use and folks that are not well-versed in the space. And so even in RPO, I’d hear people say, “Oh, we have an RPO.” And come to find out they bought Aperture and they think it’s an RPO. I’m like, well, that’s not what that system actually is, but it’s awesome. I’m glad you did it. And so that’s been something that I never knew that it would’ve been, I probably don’t know that it would’ve changed anything, but I wish I had known how off the language is from what other people use. And I don’t know the fix for it because it continues, but….

Folwell: Yeah, ongoing client education or….

Russo: I wish I had known that maybe I could’ve done a better job of communicating with clients and that kind of stuff. And then the only other thing that would’ve been good for me to know ahead of time, would’ve been that there’s so much change and opportunity in the space. I don’t think I knew that when I joined.

Folwell: It has and it’s picking up speed.

Russo: And it’s not going away because while technology is awesome, and we talked a bit about that, this communicating with people is core to recruitment, never going away.

Folwell: 100%. So next question I’ve got for you is in the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

Russo: In the last five years? Okay, I’m going to give you two. And it has been understanding how important sleep is to my ability to do my best and be my best self. And I know that sounds very trite, and then executing, focusing on it. So that’s been the shift. Knowing it is sort of one thing, hearing that it’s important for you to get to sleep, but literally understanding it extends your life, it improves your productivity on a daily basis. It increases your cognitive capabilities, on and on, and then learning the things to do to execute on it. And then the second one is, goes along with it a little bit, and that is especially as a leader of an organization, you need to take time for yourself so that you can be your best self, but that you can bring everything. Early I tended to just work myself into the ground and I was not being my best self for anyone. And you are better all the way around if you take that and invest in yourself as well, if that makes sense.

Folwell: That makes perfect sense. Sounds like general self-care and I couldn’t agree with you more on that. I’ve gone through the same path of thinking, oh, I only need five min….

Russo: They result in business, and I didn’t used to do the sleep thing, especially I was like, “Whatever, sleep when I’m dead,” right?

Folwell: Same. Yeah. That’s great. So what is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? Could be an investment of money, time, energy, et cetera. Sounds like sleep and self-care might have also fallen into that category. Anything outside of that that you would like to share with the audience?

Russo: It goes with the self-care, but investing in whatever works for you to be able to exercise consistently. So you looked at my LinkedIn profile, so you saw the wishing I could run more. So I like to do activities, but life gets in the way. And so whatever you can do, whatever those things are, if I have to have a treadmill inside, because of weather where I live or whatever those things are, if it’s not a gym, if it’s something else making those investments, because not means you are not going to do, you’re not going to be able to do it because it’s just not sustainable to do things that don’t work for you.

Folwell: Well, I’m going to go on a little bit of a tangent here, because something interesting on your Instagram handle was th —  I’m not sure if I’m going to get the pronunciation — but that you’re a sandan in Goju, could you share a little bit about what that is and how that’s impacted you?

Russo: It took me about 10 years. So it’s a third degree black belt in the style of karate that I study, which is Okinawan style of karate. It’s a hard and soft, that’s probably way too deep, but we fight with our hands and feet. So versus some of the other ones that are more feet based and very rooted in self-defense. So it has been a great journey and I learned a really good lesson there, which is, if you want to learn something, take it. If you want to master it, teach it. And so once you become a second degree or beyond, now you have to teach and you learn significantly more about what you have been studying for six, seven, eight years before, by trying to teach it and explain to someone else and articulate and be able to work through that than I ever learned doing it. I want to say doing it was more fun, I could be a little lazier and just follow, but it was good learning. That saying about master it by teaching, totally true.

Folwell: That’s great. How did you get into that?

Russo: So I was always an athlete and in all the way back to high school, I was wrestling with my boyfriend — my parents would love this — while we were watching a movie at our house. Back when the new days of HBO — that’s going to age me — and he pinned me and I could not get out. And at that moment I decided I was going to learn karate. Because what I realized was there was no way that I was ever going to be as strong as him and physiology would tell, putting gender garbage aside, physiology would tell you that if you and I are exactly the same age, size, I’m going to be 70% of the strength of you just because you’re male and I’m female, nothing. It’s just a fact. So with that, I need some technology to get over that difference. I need speed, technology and so that was really my, I can articulate it better now, but I was like, I need something else to deal with this so that’s what sent me down the path.

Folwell: That’s cool. And so next question I’ve got for you is what is the book or books you’ve given most as a gift and why?

Russo: The one book I have given the most is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and I would still tell you that it’s a book worth giving if someone has not read it. And sorry, there’s not more than one, because that is the number, I’ve given other books, but that one is so far above.

Folwell: I love it.

Russo: And it’s an incredible book if you’ve not read it because it really talks about….people say that, “Oh, they’re lucky because of this,” there is some luck, birth dates and all this stuff and he goes into it, but the outliers in every, and any industry have certain components as to why they are. And so I’m a huge fan of the book. My number-one section from it is The 10,000 Hour Rule, but there’s so many incredible tidbits that really help bring together so many things that have happened in the world and understanding. And I just think it’s an amazing, I would tell you, I still think it’s his best book.

Folwell: I love that book as well. And the 10,000 hour thing resonated with me very strongly, too. Last question on this, then we’ll have a closing comment, but how has a failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?

Russo: So when I acquired the three companies, I got three partners. And they were going to teach me the business because I was the biweekly paycheck, corporate paycheck for the last 20 years prior to that and they were entrepreneurs running a business. They taught me some stuff. So the failure was, there was a lot of bad stuff going on, a lot of bad stuff with each other, but amongst them, two of them, and then just beyond and I failed to, I did everything I knew to do, but I didn’t spend enough time to really understand who I was getting into a partnership with. And so that really was a failure and it probably took three years out of trying to meet the goals and could have bankrupted the company by the way. So luckily, I did have some skills that solved that. So I was lucky from that standpoint, but not understanding if you were going to partner with someone and be literally in business together, you should spend significantly more time than most people spend. It’s not just, “Is it a good deal?”

Folwell: “Who is this person?”

Russo: What do you each bring to the table? And complimentary skills are better than the same skills and then your worst decisions, your worst nightmares, the worst things that could go with the business, where do you guys stand and how are you going to deal with that? And never do a 50%. I didn’t, but never do 50%. Never, never. I don’t know why people ever do it.

Folwell: The 50/50?

Russo: Somebody’s got to drive the bus. Full stop.

Folwell: Absolutely. That’s great.

Russo: So it was a failure that almost cost me everything. Luckily, here we are, but it took three to five years out of what the plan was. So it was a big, big, big fail.

Folwell: So I guess the lesson is: do your due diligence, not just on the business, not on the revenue, not on operations, but on the actual humans and get to make sure that you are aligned….

Russo: And I did all the other very well and I did not do that well at all.

Folwell: Great lesson. I’m glad you’re here doing what you’re doing with Kinetix today. With that, do you have any closing comments or any pieces of advice that you’d like to share with the audience?

Russo: I feel like we’ve covered so much ground. What I would say is I know that there’s lots of ups and downs coming in the market over the next 18 months. We don’t know what’s going to happen, soft landing, hard landing, la la la la la. The business we are in — providing talent — is only going to get stronger. So plan, pull in if you need to, but understand that the value that’s provided is real and it’s not going away. I don’t care what anybody says.

Folwell: Absolutely, agree with that as well. Well, thank you, Shannon, and you’ve been a great guest today. Really enjoyed the conversation. Thanks so much for joining.

Russo: Same here. Thanks, David.