Asia Tech Podcast recorded an interesting conversation with Jonathan Tanner, CEO of MitchelLake Group. MitchelLake Group is a global, specialist provider of executive search, board & advisory solutions for ventures and innovation, from startups to global brands.
Some of the topics Jonathan covered in this conversation:
- The future of AI and running alongside human performance
- The importance of being absolutely present and positive in the market
- Playing the long game and staying curious
- Doing a lot with very little
Some other titles we considered for this episode:
- If We Really Want to Succeed, We Have to Succeed Together
- Good People Attract Good Things
This episode was produced by Stephanie Ng.
Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):
Michael Waitze 0:03
Hi, this is Michael Waitze. And welcome back to the Asia Tech Podcast. Today we’re joined by Jonathan Tanner, the CEO of MitchelLake Group. Jon, it is great to have you on the show. The pre show was good. Let’s keep it going. How
Jonathan Tanner 0:15
are ya? I’m very well, thank you very much got so much to talk about, and so many things to say. It’s easy to get into rabbit holes, but
Michael Waitze 0:24
it is we almost did. Yeah, we did. We did
Jonathan Tanner 0:26
that. But it’s it’s a good sign.
Michael Waitze 0:28
Yeah, let’s do this. Let’s do this. First of the listeners, just so they know who you are. Let’s get a little bit of your background for some context, then we can jump into some other stuff.
Jonathan Tanner 0:36
Yeah, sure. As you said, I run MitchelLake Group. It’s a company we founded in Australia, I had a co founder at that time, 21 years ago, this year. So we’ve been around for a while we grew into Melbourne, and San Francisco with clients that we grew in to Sydney, Singapore, then London. We sort of you know, we’re intentionally distributed. We’ve had our ups and downs around different economic challenges in the world and geopolitical challenges and like everyone else, so. But we’ve always worked with ventures and startups, and I guess, around the innovation sector, so very much on technology and new technology.
Michael Waitze 1:08
So why I mean, 21 years ago, if you had said you were working with startups, people would have just asked you what that was like, Why did you do that? What was the thing there? Yeah, it
Jonathan Tanner 1:16
was interesting well was for poured into it via another firm we’re working for at the time in Australia, which was really the one of the the earliest firmer and Internet technology talent. Now that firm rode the boom and bust cycle pretty hard. And they were, you know, great bunch of people. But, you know, we like to say that we were sort of forged in the, in the, you know, credit in the boom, but forged in the bust is one of the lines we use, but it’s like, you know, we let the good, the good and the bad of startups and ventures and new things and technology come into market too quickly. And it’s actually reminiscent of what I think we’re seeing with blockchain and crypto and web three at the moment, it’s like a cycle that’s boomed really quickly, and hasn’t yet found its its full utility layer. But, you know, it’s still very exciting to us for the same reasons as we’re excited about the internet. And at that time, you know, we didn’t want to give out the firmware in before imploded on the back of, you know, rapid expansion, and then the market turning too quickly for the handle, you know, fading IMO co founder, we were in a situation where we just thought, you know, we can go join a big firm and suck it up, this cycle is probably not going to be good for a while. And although we can try it out on our own.
Michael Waitze 2:22
So we did, there’s so much to unpack here, too, like, I want to talk about this first created in the boom, but forged in the bust. You know, I was going over this with somebody earlier today, actually. And I want to give you my example of this. I thought about buying an apartment in New York in 1997, literally just before like a financial crisis. And I was like, Oh, God, 300 grand, can I really part with it? This is a true story. That apartments probably worth 10 million bucks. Now, I did not buy it. I like talking about what I didn’t do. But can you talk about how important it is to build stuff through hard times, because we’re going through what we went through in the last couple of years as well. It’s so much harder, but you come out in a different way, right.
Jonathan Tanner 3:00
But it’s interesting, it’s a bit like, you know, when times are really good, and everyone’s on fire, that the tide is up, like high on the beach, and everyone’s feeling good, and all sudden, the tide goes out, and no one’s are coming and what’s left on the beach of note, things of substance, right, that are heavy enough that have enough, stick around, they’re not washed away. And I think you’ve just got to have a good core. And I think when you’re in a business like ours, which is a services and people, especially because it’s not like you know, decisions are difficult, and you’ve got to try and keep your team and your culture and your motivation together. And but if you’ve got a really good proposition, and and you really are bound to that sort of mission as a team, and you look after each other, and it’s really it’s not about us looking after our team, it’s about everyone looking after each other. And I’ve heard a few people in the last sort of five years talk about we are mutually responsible for each other’s success. It’s not anyone’s responsibility. But if we really want to succeed, we got to succeed together. As a company like ours, that’s really important.
Michael Waitze 3:58
Yeah, I mean, I often say no one succeeds alone. I want to get back to this idea as well about building for the long term, right. And this thing that you said earlier, where you said, we tried to make this decision, should we go back and work for somebody else? Or should we just keep working for ourselves? I would submit to you that you’re unemployable. Know what I mean, as smart as you are? It’s not that you know what I mean, right? Yeah, well, I look,
Jonathan Tanner 4:22
I think, I think that changes over time, too. I think for a good chunk of the middle, I would have been completely unemployable because it then couldn’t imagine working someone else right, fair now, I think would be patient, we can see both sides of each coin. And, you know, there are circumstances in the future where I can imagine that I could work for someone else, probably not. In reality, I’m probably more excited about, you know, working less in an operational role and working more in you know, like many people in advisory or investment roles, and I’ve started sort of building you know, as many people have done in recent times a bit of a portfolio around startup investments as well. So, I’d also like to write a book, there are many things I’d like to do
Michael Waitze 5:00
Enter. Do you invest as well? Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So do you invest as part of the company? Or do you invest as part of John?
Jonathan Tanner 5:08
We’ve done both. So we have the company invested in start a programme in Sydney many years ago, which actually became the founding sort of crew behind are involved in Blackbird and Blackbird. VCs, a very successful business, or venture fund in Australia, through that we sort of got a little bit more interested in and as we start to make a little bit more income personally, which took some time, we started playing with the idea of, you know, we invested in Blackbird one and Blackbird to fund LPs. And then we started, you know, on the side, investing in people really, that we, because our angle is always people. And our feeling is always that if you if you know, someone’s got great potential and capability, and they’ve also got some muscle memory, around how to scale things and build value and build teams and create markets and build sales, traction and, you know, have a product strategy that’s, you know, in tune with all those things, like, there’s a lot but you know, good people attract good things. So that’s the main thesis is, you know, we invest in people that we know really well typically, or that we’ve had interaction with before.
Michael Waitze 6:07
So do you invest in your own clients? And do you invest outside of Australia as well? Because you said you have offices all over the world, right? So you seen deal flow coming in? You know what I mean? Like from different places?
Jonathan Tanner 6:18
Yeah, well, it’s obviously we have invested in Singapore and in Australia, and in Africa, actually, there’s a great startup called Quilly. In Africa, who I’ve had very, I will admit, I have a very small interesting with one of my sort of venture sort of amigos from Singapore, Jason San. And we basically were, we’re doing some discussion with stuff, bootcamp, Africa. And we’ve been introduced by an old colleague, who’s a fantastic lady from Unity gaming, and she runs into the education so she knew what we were interested in and thought, maybe, maybe you guys can lean into this sort of cohort, and see what you think and kick the tires. And we were actually at that time, we’re thinking, you know, in those sort of markets, as we’ve seen in China with full stack, mobile, and then in Indonesia, we’ve go Jek and those types of things, they start solving problems in different ways. Because unencumbered by many of the things that, you know, more mature markets are encumbered by whether that’s infrastructure ageing, or debt technology, debt, and other things and consumer behaviours, which have been baked in, like in the States, using cheques is an uncomfortable reality for me. So yeah, is that still true? Is
Michael Waitze 7:23
that still true in the United States? Do people still write checks? And I haven’t been there in 12 years? I haven’t lived there in 30 something years, so people still running checks? As I understand
Jonathan Tanner 7:31
it, 100% True, yeah, less, I would think much less, but it’s still a feature of the economy, especially with small business. So we’re still evicting checks turn up during COVID Waiting for checks turn up the office boss depot in San Francisco. Not that he was in the office, but yeah, Quilly. So we got introduced these guys and quilter, these amazing, young, smart entrepreneurs out of Cape Town, you know, technical and commercial co founders had been in university together. And they’ve effectively they were looking at landing low cost handsets into the African market, you know, the startup boom, guys are described charges, like 50 actually came out of Africa originally, right? So that was a problem solved in Africa and migrated to the US as a model. And we’re thinking, well, maybe this is opportunity, if they’re solving these problems in Africa, there’s a lot of similar dynamics to Southeast Asia and Asia, more broadly into the unbanked and you know, people not having credit cards, or digital identities or credit scores, maybe there’s something there. And we met these guys were amazing about learning low cost assets into that market, like 30 bucks smartphones, right. And they didn’t realise it, because people didn’t have digital identities, they needed to sort of almost model that into their own operating system for the phone so that it actually helped them create an email because they couldn’t sign up to many of the things that they wanted to access, social media in, and E commerce and things so they did that piece. And they got, you know, a run of these handsets into the market. And they sold like in a couple of hours, like a few 100. Then they did a I think 1000 And then they’ve they’re such smart guys, they actually started looking at the data and the feedback that was coming from the US and they realised it wasn’t consumed us. An agent per village, like per community was doing things on behalf of other people. And then all of a sudden, it just spiralled, and they’ve raised again, and they’re doing great, but just a long, long way of telling you that we also do things in Africa very occasionally, but but we were not geographically bound.
Michael Waitze 9:25
But do you see this in your own business as well, this idea that like you start with this, this thing, we want to do this one thing? We want to be in this business, but as you’re in business, you think, Wait a second, because at the core, right, every business has their own operating system. And you have to add things into it. This was the perfect metaphor, I think, for what you were just talking about, right? They wanted to bring smart, cheap headphones in, but then they realised that people couldn’t sign up for stuff. They have to build that into the operating system. And then they have all these little learnings along the way so that the original business that they were trying to do is very different than the business that they’re doing today. Do you see the same thing in Mitchell Lake Because well,
Jonathan Tanner 10:00
yeah, I look, it’s about the pivot. Sometimes it’s about insight. For us, we, I think we grew too wide and too broadly in our service model, you know, that, too. We started as a reasonably high end tech contingent firm, which is you get paid on success. And then we started doing more executive work, and we start doing retained executive works, we had an executive practice. And then we also saw this opportunity to sort of provide talent services embedded in startups. In San Francisco, as it turns out, because we went there with a client that we’d worked with, you know, years in Australia, and that was sold to MSN or not MSN, it’s called in Australia. Great guys. And we still work with some of them in different different firms. This is 20 years ago, but guys, then called fifth finger, and they were like one of the early mobile SMS solutions, companies that were building sort of a platform that had a platform where they could enable SMS competitions for marketing, for example, like on pack promotions, like you know, some very famous ones in Australia. Interestingly, when they got to the states, SMS wasn’t a big thing. Yeah, so it’s like, because there were disintermediation between telcos that time around messaging and all sorts of weird things that were dynamics of that market. But when they got there, they weren’t doing on pack promotion, like McDonald’s had have like, on pack promotion on we log into an email join a contest, for example, in Australia was you should see it, you just hit the number on the SMS in your logic application. So they were able to do 10s of millions of applications within Australia with it’s hardly that many people out here it’s 20 30 million people at the time between the two. But they did really well with like different brand campaigns and cross brand campaigns. They went to the States, but the the numbers have been deployed were enormous in the states in terms of impact, but they didn’t have the solution. So they did well sort of facilitated that. We went with them. And they raised capital again, but launching to the states that we placed everyone in their business just about they were sold a Merkel eventually, but great guys, still entrepreneurs still doing amazing things around the market as as leaders and investors themselves.
Michael Waitze 12:07
So what does embedded services mean for a talent business? Do you know what I mean? I’m just trying to figure out like what else that would be? Because I think what a lot of people out, but a lot of people think about headhunters so it’s I hate this term, right. But that’s what other people are going to understand. They just think about, there’s a job opening available there. You have a network and connectivity over here, you can apply some technology to it and then hire that guy and gal for that role. What else like what are these other embedded servers? I can think of a tonne of them. But I’m curious what they are.
Jonathan Tanner 12:34
Yeah, it got fairly complex. So we ended up with quite a lot of people in San Francisco. And we’re doing things like, you know, building in technology platforms for recruitment services, like your ATS and your you know, your HRMS sometimes,
Michael Waitze 12:48
can you do it for building? I don’t know. Can you just say what those acronyms are?
Jonathan Tanner 12:51
ATS applicant tracking system? Thank you. Human Resource Management System HRMS. Those sorts of things much like a CRM, but just for talent, more or less, and then
Michael Waitze 13:01
do it ATS is a really complex, right, because there’s so many moving pieces, so many moving parts, so many emails going back and forth. So many messages, some stuff happening in text and in chat, like just cumulating, all that stuff together and building and making it reasonable. It’s cool. Yeah.
Jonathan Tanner 13:17
Well, they’re much more sophisticated than they were and our, you know, content strategies like data, tracking relationships, reminding you not to stuff, seeing things out, basically, but putting hygiene around process and making sure the right stakeholders are involved in the right decisions. And everyone’s sharing the right information. That’s, that’s part of the process of recruitment. But there’s also, you know, San Francisco between, you know, when were there between 2009 10 and 2020 21, was we had that business going for, you know, several years, we stopped doing that business in San Francisco, about seven years ago, eight years ago, and we just focused on executive search from then. But I was probably long winded way of describing we got too broad in our services, yeah, to geographically spread and became a very complex business to manage, and to make profitable and, and what we realised in San Francisco, so we’re building employer brand as well, right. So it’s not just having a great process. Internally, it’s building a great place for people to land and wanting to build an aspirational brand for people to come to. And when you’re dealing with startups that don’t have a brand yet, even if they’re really well funded, they might have, you know, Sequoia Excel Andreessen or Greylock or someone backing them in which they borrow their brand Halo once that funding is made, right, but they’ve still got to fight against, you know, even 10 years ago, there was something like 16,000 Post series a funded companies just in the Bay Area, there’s probably like, triple that now. So it’s sort of, you know, it got really crazy and then at the top of the market, you’d have companies like Facebook and Uber who are really hyper growth at the time who were trading blows with Google and the packages are crazy and you know, they just turn around Airbnb will also busy then and then turn around and say, oh, we need 2000 engineers in the Bay Area and next year, you know, and we’d go, well, we probably can’t help you with it. that you can take a piece of that, you know, we can lean into that all those companies ended up building really significant in house talent stacks for themselves. And a lot of our friends, a lot of, you know, a lot of our colleagues and people have left mutual aid Lakers over time have gone into those roles. Unfortunately, in San Francisco, where we couldn’t make it work is because all those companies will take people off their hands, they just offer them things. We’ve got an offer right at a scale we couldn’t. They, they’ve all ended up at Uber and Facebook and Google and you know, all sorts of other interesting firms and Fitbit, GoPro, you name it. They’re alumni of ours there, but they’re all great people. And some of those times that brought us in as well.
Michael Waitze 15:37
Is there a way to automate and digitalize this process? In a way that’s different from what’s been done already? I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, actually, I’ll tell you why. Without naming them, there are these big gigantic platforms out there, right, where you can hire this person, hire that person, a lot of it’s noise, a lot of it’s phishing, whatever, at the executive level, it’s very different as well. But is there a way to build essentially, like an operating system for talent acquisition, that’s so powerful, and that’s less noisy, so that then it just becomes easier for you to do this at scale?
Jonathan Tanner 16:09
Not yet. I’d say that everything commoditize this from the bottom up. So what we do see is automation of certain processes. So processes are things that should probably be automated anyway, because they don’t necessarily take a lot of thought. But if there are rules, then you can create a process. If it’s a process, you can automate it, I think, what is an opportunity, and it’s probably your last best model, we really content where you’re, it’s not about finding people like LinkedIn, Skype, it’s not about having the best database, LinkedIn has got nearly a billion people on it. Yeah, the quality of data varies from person to person in terms of what you can find. And the ability to find those people. So depends on who’s looking and what they know about the 50 different role types that someone might have, or the different jurisdictions which might be deeper for talent than other jurisdictions and all those things. For us an executive, it’s not necessarily about finding people, because many of them are hiding in plain sight. It’s about engaging them, why would they speak to you? What is the, you know, they get hit up literally dozens of times a week off, and all sorts of money, all sorts of deals, they haven’t even got time to check their email, let alone worry about the social channels half the time. So it’s sort of, if you are going to reach out, you want to make sure that it’s it’s an interesting proposition, you’re presenting it in the right way in a compelling way. And that you probably personalising it as much as you can. But the other thing is, you need to do build a credible brand around your ecosystem so that if you reach out, people know a little bit about you, or they respect and respect that you might have something interesting to say it might be not just a job, it could be an advisory board role, or it could be an investment opportunity. Or it might be a introduction to another client for that person, or, you know, not for profit, there are many things we do to sort of try and add value and pay for it in our sort of sectors of interests. But yeah, you know, it’s very holistic, you can’t really use AI to do that yet. But I will say I did come across an AI in San Francisco a little while ago, called recruit bot, which was a shout out to those guys, I hope that they’re still going but they built something which you could ingest, you know, you could basically run it across your database, and it would follow the behaviours and search behaviours of your best consultants, you can tune it up or down, you have following everyone or just the people you want to follow. And it would learn what they were looking for and how they were looking within your own database. And then it would you know, when you had a new search Come on, or a new project, you would do some searches, and then it would go, I suggest you also look at these two profiles, because you seem to miss them based on what you’re usually looking for. Right? So it’s like, and I think that’s the future of AI in the near term, is really enhancing human performance and running alongside rather than replacing it.
Michael Waitze 18:41
I’m going to double down on this. And I’m going to say not even in the short term, I think in the long term artificial intelligence because I’ve seen this over time in the financial services industry where I used to work I won’t say that we used artificial intelligence, but we used a lot of machine learning a lot of intelligence and really what it did was it made us smarter, but but the clients was still wanting to deal with us, like you’re never gonna go away, because they’re gonna be like, I need to talk to John. Regardless, right? No matter how much AI you apply to it, I want to ask you this, though, in a world where it takes like a lifetime to build a reputation, good, bad or indifferent and a moment to lose it. What’s the strategy for smaller companies? And it’s different for everyone, but like, at its core, what’s the strategy for small companies to build that brand reputation so then they can start attracting the best talent? Yeah,
Jonathan Tanner 19:25
well, for us, it was very much about paying it forward. As I said, it was like you’ve got to add value to the people that you’re engaging with before you have a reputation or your you know, your brand of note or you have enough relationships or scale to meaningful to the market. You know, so how we did that we started running events, fade my old business partner does that full time now he has probably the biggest angel investment network in Australia in innovation Bay, which is his and garden, his business partner in that that’s been their sort of passion hustle for about 18 years probably won’t be longer. But they’ve they’ve done you know, Cap realising that was a part of his like, they’d be breakfast for discovery of journeys of entrepreneurs, there’d be small format dinners where it was like Chatham House rules where you found out things from amazing people, they’d never tell anyone. And their journeys, you know, their challenges. And then they started doing these investment dinners, for example, but we’ve always done you know, and they’ve raised a lot like almost like a shark tank, but they started doing this 10 years ago. And it was like, you know, they raised millions of dollars for dozens of startups at very early stage and had good stories. And they still do that. And they do that and more. But we always found that if you could go into a conversation and not sell, like not try and sell your process and the fact that you do X or Y, but you left the conversation, dropping something like a recommendation for a book or an event, someone should go to or introduce into a client, when they really hustling for their first couple of sales, or, you know, maybe a potential investor or an advisor, even if it wasn’t a commercial return for us, we had to invest a lot of time doing that. And I feel in services, we probably invested a good 1520 years to get to the point where we had a sustainable brand in a small ecosystem. It’s not, you know, we’re not a big brand that’s well known outside of our core networks and circles. But we’re endeavouring to tell more of the story, obviously. And this is obviously a platform that, you know, is super for that. And I think content and content strategy is now at the front of businesses. So it’s great that you do all these wonderful things for the ecosystem. But who else knows who writes? So, you know, it’s sort of you how do you amplify that reputation is probably the next step.
Michael Waitze 21:25
So how do you do that? I mean, because that’s what I do, right? I mean, that’s the basis of everything that I’ve thought about. And the reason why I asked you earlier about, you know, how do you progress? What was your original idea? And what is the existing idea? Because so many of these things are relevant for me, if you sat me down five years ago, and said, Okay, you’re going to build this thing? What is it going to be? If I told you back then, and what I’m doing today, they’re not unrelated, they may rhyme with each other, or kind of resemble each other. But it’s not the same thing at all. But I do believe that this idea of storytelling is super, super important.
Jonathan Tanner 21:56
I actually think that storytelling has been at the core of our whole proposition from day dot. And it’s really important. Now more than ever a bear reality is our job is to tell the stories of companies that don’t yet have brands, because it startups or ventures or to a market, we then need to tell that candidate story back to the brand. And we need to tell our story, both of them and demonstrate why we’re relevant to help them. So, you know, storytelling is key. But I think now more than ever, and I think, you know, when we talked to a couple weeks ago, you know, I said, I fully believe that marketing is a new sales, I don’t think that people want to be directly pestered by things nowhere, you know, in terms of calls or emails or contacts, in a cold sense, I think what they want to do is discover things at the right time for the right reasons, right. Like, you know, and for companies, that’s about, okay, understand who you serve, and then be relevant, and be present be top of mind, especially during these times. And I think, coming back to that sort of conversation around what do you do during during tough times? So economic crisis, you know, COVID crisis, geopolitical crisis, whatever it might be, that’s tightening the market and putting pressure on your business, or maybe you just have some customers that have gone bust, and you’re too narrow in that market. You know, fundamentally, you’ve got to stay well, in state, you know, I’ve almost lost my train of thought there. But you’ve got to, you’ve got to be in a in a, in a mode where you can recover that energy and engagement with the market and it sort of like, it’ll come to me to say, we might have to move,
Michael Waitze 23:23
I don’t know, it’s okay. It’s okay, because I want to jump in here. Because I completely believe in this. I like to say like, I’m terrible at sales, like I really am. But when I was at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, I hated getting on the phone and selling something that somebody, I wanted them to believe in the product. But if I didn’t believe in it completely, it was hard for me to convince them to do it, right. In other words, if if it’s hard to explain the word like, if I don’t like this pasta, I’m never going to take you to that restaurant, because I don’t want you to eat it as well and just go, why would he serve me this thing? Right, which could go so wrong. But I believe and you said this, like, marketing is the new sales, but sell it not selling I think is also the new sales. And I think that if marketing is the new sales, and I think conversations is the new marketing, right? And then remember your train of thought, because I’m sure, because I know this has happened to me even even 10 years ago, or 15 years ago, when I’m sitting at my desk at at Morgan Stanley. And I hear somebody go, God, I just stayed at the andare in Bali. That place was amazing. It’s all I heard. I don’t know how to spell Amon. I don’t know how to spell Dari. But I know, I went back to my desk, and looked it up. And I was like, that’s where I’m going on vacation. Do you know what I mean? So I think that I’m trying to replicate sorry, go ahead.
Jonathan Tanner 24:37
Yeah, no, and I just wanted to close and thought that I was trying to find before escaping, let, you know, cold addled brain. What I was saying is you got to be top of mind, especially during these tough times. So I actually think that now is the time when you’re going through COVID or other things, you know, and these swings and roundabouts to the cycle and your businesses under pressure. Everyone’s inclined to go their shells and go, let’s go Come down, we’ll cut costs, we’ll do this, we’ll do that. And you absolutely should be prudent and cut any costs you can that are not essential to any business. And it’s just prudent management. But at the same time, what you don’t want to do is disappear from the market. So you want to be absolutely present absolutely positive, you know, holding it out there even doing things like paying it forward. Intentionally, because, you know, people are under stress. We did a bit of that during COVID. Yep, we built huge loyalty out of that, which was great for us, and I think good for the market and good for our team. But it’s a real, you know, it’s it’s counterintuitive, to lean into trouble. But it’s, it’s kind of way to do
Michael Waitze 25:36
it. It’s counterintuitive to lean into trouble. How do you as a team, right? Because you have to hire your own people to you want to hire people to go out and like create connections build, you know, build the marketplace, all this stuff? How do you convince like newer staff who haven’t been through multiple cycles? Like what’s the story you tell without sounding like, you know, someone’s dad or granddad? That there’s a long term view here. And that like the meticulous building, slowly but surely over time is going to win over someone who’s just trying to get like quick wins, like, the long game is more important. How do you convince somebody that’s what’s the story? You tell him?
Jonathan Tanner 26:10
Yeah, it’s, well, I tell some of the stories we’ve told today, like in terms of tennis, because you’ve got to be patient. And I think what we learn as you get older, and you work more in business, regardless of what you do, I think is you understand that being frantic, and, and jumping, or being reactive is never sustainable as a model. So you’ve got to be resilient, you’ve got to plan long term, and you get to play the long game, because there’s no such thing as a quick buck. That’s it’s repeatable, or even worthwhile most of the time. So it’s sort of you know, you’ve got to want to do what you’re doing. We always, you know, our values are, you know, Curiosity has been one of our key values. And it’s like, if you’re not curious, in our business, you fall off the back of the market really fast the market in technology and venturing and entrepreneurialism and invention and transformation changes so quickly, that you know, there’s there’s literally no point you have a relevant, you’ll be relevant for a year or two. And then you just become a process junkie, right? Yeah, and run a good process. That’s great. But you want to create anything new, or I’ll stick with the market. And I think, for us, we tell those stories of companies that we’ve worked with for 10 or 15 years, and people we’ve worked with for 20 years in all sorts of contexts. Now, like, you know, we’ve had people who’ve been clients and candidates, they’re co investors, we run jayvees, we’ve done all sorts of things within because they’re great people. And I think ultimately, you know, the people you’re trying to hire a people who see the world in a similar way, she values are excited about the potential of what they can do, and we can do together. And I think they love stories, and we tell them the stories, and hopefully that engages them. We also like get very Simon Sinek, we talked about the why we like Dan Pink drive, like there are things that are really useful tools and books and things to absorbing content, but fundamentally, gotta be curious and mindful, and you gotta partner,
Michael Waitze 27:50
have you ever had an opportunity where you think, because you have so much information, right, so many connections, so many conversations, and you’re thinking, there’s a market gap there that somebody needs to fill, this is outside of the idea of talent acquisition, and just thinking, that lady, that guy, and that junior person, if we put them all together, could actually solve this problem at scale in a way that’s different than what they’re currently doing. Have, you hadn’t had a chance to just go, the three of you should work together to build this thing, you know, what I mean, and then maybe invest in, you know,
Jonathan Tanner 28:19
all the all the time. And actually, I’ve got a live example of that, where we’re bringing autonomous security robots from Silicon Valley into Australia. And initially, we thought, you know, maybe just do sales for that, you know, and we looked at drones and all these things. And we realised, you know, there’s an opportunity for transformation in the industry. So we’re building this sort of trusted partner network with manpower, security businesses. Again, it’s not about replacing people with these robots, but it’s about enhancing the security service, we’re not reliant on, you know, maybe four people. But maybe it’s three people plus a robot to gain all the sense of value. And at the moment, in places like Australia, because of COVID, we’re about a million people shot in many of these jobs, people don’t want to either do the jobs because there’s more money in mining or other things that are high value tasks that we do all this interesting, sort of, you know, experiments of modelling and, and that spiralled out of control. We brought all these amazing people together from the industry and technology and, and that’s now a play that we’re looking to roll out more aggressively in Australia, and then potentially, we’re also talking to some larger organisations here, and then maybe back into the states as well. But it’s about how can you transform an industry by bringing together the right people the right technology and the right proposition with a capital model. But, you know, we’re early days in that very excited, but have
Michael Waitze 29:33
you met Alex Pacheco, the guy who runs sunflower labs, the drone business that does personal and business security, it just sounded like something you were talking about. So it’s super interesting.
Jonathan Tanner 29:42
Yeah, no, I haven’t. I’ve heard of sunflower but yeah, you know,
Michael Waitze 29:46
how do you use your own content strategy and how is it changing over time to create a place for you to be top of mind for people? I mean, you know what I do? I’m curious how you incorporate that into what you do.
Jonathan Tanner 30:00
Well, our challenge is to try and do a lot with very little because we’re all pretty much deployed into working in live projects almost all the time, we became quite a skinny business when we focus just on the executives to about seven years ago, and let the other practices go. We’re skinny it up as a business. And obviously, we’ve stayed that way. Because I’ve been really good, less to manage this complexity done really awesome work. But we don’t get to tell those stories enough. So to be honest, we don’t do nearly nearly enough at the moment. But we have been leaning into things like research. So it’s like one of the things that our team do all the time, their research base, right, like a big chunk of our team, just do research and approach and generate insights all the time. So we start with that. So during COVID, for example, we looked at, you know, we created this thing called Talent without borders. And we looked at how talent internationally had to change and react and models for talent. And companies had to react to that challenge of pandemic and border closure the actor had on ways of working and ways of living and collaborating and all those things. And for us, we just went out to our top sort of 40, you know, entrepreneur, investor executive, like all sorts of the market all sorts of geographies, us, Asia, Australia, Europe, and we just asked him the same set of questions, which is the sort of thing our guys do all the time, like, we’re interviewing people were having conversations. And so I’m like, I just had to convince my team, like, we just need to track those insights. If you ask enough people the same question, and they share their perspectives, you’ll come to a common truth or an insight that’s really useful. It’s not just an opinion, once you have enough of it, engineers start to form the core of a truth. And that’s really valuable information. And out of that we produce this sort of report, which we shared out, which was, which was successful. It’s almost like, you know, how much you’re going to travel after COVID? You know, we travel the same amount, will you be in the office the same amount and the consistency? The answers were that will travel about half as much in for work, we will be in the office about half as much for work? We will Yeah. And I think some of that is borne out. I think there’s a there’s been a crazy comeback of travel. But I think it is less for business, travel, less business travel much more for people just getting back to see family and do social things. And that’ll settle. But it’ll be interesting to see where all lands in terms of the new normal.
Michael Waitze 32:06
Yeah, I mean, I was on the phone with somebody yesterday, who was telling me for something that we were planning on doing with them, that non essential travel for them is going to be driven by their carbon emission targets and less their sort of work from home and other things like that, right, the firm itself at scale globally, has said, we want to lower our carbon emissions, we’ve got a budget to do that. And if it’s not essential travel, we’re just not going to do it. And I think that’s actually quite interesting. I think that’s going to change the way. Again, to get back to this stuff. We tell stories. I’m super interested in this. Because you have the facility to do research, right. And the content, you just said this earlier, there’s so much stuff out there, I’m going to be a little bit pedestrian for a second. But like anybody can vomit anything onto the internet that they want. It doesn’t mean that anybody has to pay attention to it, right? But if you have good research, and then you can have good conversations around that research. And we’ve tested this actually, it gets a lot of attention, because people really want to listen and learn and see and learn as well. But definitely listen and learn. Yeah.
Jonathan Tanner 33:01
And he has stories. Yeah. But if you can wrap insights and stories together, right? useful data into a story format, people remember it and retell it. Yep. And it’s sort of like, you can have a list of features and functions of this is what people are going to do, which is interesting data, but hearing it in context in a story. Yeah, from someone who’s a serious investor a seriously I like, we placed two CEOs during that time who didn’t meet their teams for over a year, right, because they’re in other countries, they hadn’t met one of their employees, because one was a USC, you know, that were placed in in Charlotte. And then And then his team, like the founders, and the rest of the team were in Melbourne, and he didn’t get to go there for years. And they’ve been really successful. And, you know, great venture. And so I think, you know, we’ve seen that, obviously, that’s an extreme version of, but people tend to sort of rise to the challenge, right? They’ll solve a problem. And then what do you keep out of that experience? Like, during that period? Hopefully, we don’t go through something like that ever again. You know, what did we learn and take forward from it that was positive, because it wasn’t all negative. There are plenty of negative things. And they’re easy to reference. But you know, some of them are positive, and what can we keep out of it that is useful to go forward, our team became closer than it ever been before. I think there’s a really strong core and they work together across borders more than they’ve ever done before, is a good outcome for us. In that sense.
Michael Waitze 34:18
Do you think that based on your own experience that the extreme version of and I’ll stop there just gets normalised over time? Right? Do you really mean like if everything gets dropped into this funnel at the top that the extreme versions kind of dripped down and then just become normal? If they work really well, if that makes sense?
Jonathan Tanner 34:36
Yeah, they’re not seen as extreme because they’ve become pedestrian. Yeah, I think they’re just adopted, right? Like, I think now, like, we’re on, you know, Zoom calls quite regularly with with people who probably hadn’t actually used a, an online video conferencing tool prior to COVID. You know, like, if they didn’t have to, though. You know, we’ve got clients who just use phone, you dial into a phone line. Yeah, right. And these are global clients who Hundreds of 1000s of people, some of them. Now, it’s absolutely standard for them to do video as a. And then there’s also the protocols around using video, right? Like, I had some SEO client, I get a CEO, he’s a great guy, powerful character, he would just couldn’t cope with anyone not having video or on a call. He’s like, just drop off the call, I just need to see Vinny on your drop off. You know, he was he didn’t quite say it quite that politely but you know, there are people who have you know, we’ve developed protocols of, you know, meeting at the right time raising analysts, any some companies are really baked in that those features into the way they interact, which were a bit more organic, because we’re small, but you can see they have to manage those things, right? Different ways of interacting that weren’t there before.
Michael Waitze 35:49
I love this idea of protocols like, you can’t tell. I mean, maybe you can, because you’re experienced with this, but like, I’ve got my finger on a mute button. And every now and then I just don’t want to be breathing into the microphone or saying something into the microphone. And it’s so powerful, right? Because you don’t know the difference necessarily. You do because you’re experienced, but most people don’t. Yeah.
Jonathan Tanner 36:07
Well, I would assume you might be. That’s a skill that only you would like, you gotta be a professional to be doing any of the things like you’ve got a problem. For example, I do have a little mic here, like a boom mic. But it’s sort of you know, that’s as far as I’ve gone. And you know, it’s interesting, we’ve all gotten a little bit better at doing it, I hope. And also realise that you can also create fatigue by doing things like too much video, people would back meetings, like for 10 1214 hours a day, without proper breaks, and people just because you didn’t have to travel and all these things. Oh, yeah, I can, I can back to back and back and back that I can do it late at night. So I think probably the other thing that we’ve noticed is that people worked really hard, ultimately, out of the press, it was hard time to work. But you also work hard. And we’re, we do work really successful. And we worked with amazing people and companies and everyone did really well. But then this year, when the market fell away from you know, crypto blockchain, the equities market in big tech. It’s been this year just fatigued people in a way that I haven’t seen for a while. How do you
Michael Waitze 37:11
create emotional connection? This is something you talked about earlier, when things are done remotely like this, you know what I mean? Like how do you convince somebody you know you’re a good guy, or that you’re funny or that like they should emotionally connect with you. Because in person, it’s so much easier, right? Like, I can get up and hold the door for you. Or I can call the waiter over and order your next. You know, coffee is the summit so many ways to do this. But how do you do it here?
Jonathan Tanner 37:37
Yeah, look, I think the chemistry is hard to replicate without being face to face. You think Google was Google and Stanford did some research into unconscious bias. And they did an experiment where people were sort of like a double blind experiment, but they were looking at an interview taking place, but they weren’t allowed to hear what was going on. And basically, they were observing an interview. And then from that interview, they had to draw out, you know, a series of conclusions that a positive review was well received. Do they like each other? Did they didn’t get the job, or she gets the job? We just a whole bunch of little questions that you think it’d be difficult. But, you know, pause, what, just by watching body language and those things, right? And so they felt with about 90% accuracy, they can give the answers to all these questions. And they’ll that’s interesting, how do we then move the needle on this experiment to sort of get further go further, so they started reducing the amount of time people had to make those assumptions. And I think they got it down to less than 10 seconds of interaction, oh, I can make all those assumptions, most of those questions with some accuracy. Because there’s a there is a chemistry and a, an unconscious bias. And unconscious bias is something you gotta be aware of, especially if you’re, you know, as someone who’s trying to hire someone who’s trying to interview because you don’t miss something, or, you know, many companies need to stop groupthink and have diversity and create diversity of thinking, and why is it working and all sorts of things, and they might miss something really valuable if they just let the click where happen, right? Like, it’s sort of, and we don’t have that. But there’s a lot to be said, for, you know, you get on with someone or not. And whether the people are likeable, and you’re more likely to find a good conversation happens more quickly, where you do have some sort of simpatico to start with, right, like, meeting of minds. You know, maybe it’s family, maybe it’s a book, maybe it’s A Current Affair, maybe it’s a sport, it could be anything. And it’s like, you know, if you fall naturally into that, you know, I think that’s a good start.
Michael Waitze 39:32
I think so too. What role does DNI play in all this stuff? Just because you mentioned diversity, right?
Jonathan Tanner 39:37
Yeah. Well, it’s really interesting because people have been talking about, you know, diversity inclusion for 20 years and working on, you know, strategies for gender, cultural, neurodiversity, all sorts of things. I think they talked about, you know, we should do this, but they haven’t necessarily connected it to what we think is real commercial imperative, which is If you don’t want to become irrelevant, no to the greater Well, the greater market your organisation, and if you have the same pretty cliche view of board, right, like, you know, in a western economy, UK, Australia, US an enormous percentage of boards of any scale are dominated by white men of a certain age. But if not just White Men of a Certain Age of a certain age of a certain background, lawyers, bankers, sometimes engineers and mining companies, but those accountants and you sort of go well, how are they seeing what’s coming around the corner? That’s going to be you know, cybersecurity is a great example. Right? So you don’t just need cultural diversity and gender diversity, you need, you know, cognitive diversity to go look, we can all think the same way and then see what’s changing around us with any confidence like and we saw this happen, the cycle after cycle like in publishing and retail in telco like, everyone knew what was coming, it’s the Amazon coming, he could see online media County, he didn’t see all these changes to the market happening really quickly, radio music, like, and everyone could see it coming. But none of the board’s really reacted to it in fast enough to stop the erosion of enormous amounts of value from their traditional business models. And that’s just exam. But I think having a mix of generational diversity, gender diversity, cultural diversity, reflect the actual market that you’re operating in the organisation that you’re running is really critical.
Michael Waitze 41:23
If we can see what’s coming. And maybe I let you leave after this. I feel like we can keep going on because I get so much love. I
Jonathan Tanner 41:28
want to know your job again. No, no, yeah, we
Michael Waitze 41:31
can do this, again, if we can see stuff coming because I used to say this about 10 years ago in Southeast Asia that we if we look at the West, we can look at what’s going to come here and it doesn’t just mean copycatting, it’s just like that thing, that idea could work here, it’s gonna be different here. But it’ll look the same. What about Africa, another continent with 1.4 billion people pretty much untouched. So far, you’ve got venture capital ism, starting in Egypt, and then in the middle of the country, as well, right, and all of this stuff happening. But some of those countries have a median age of like 19, or 20, or 21 years old, 51 countries, all them slightly different. But if we can see the future, we know what’s going to happen there are you committing as well, because I know I am to building a big part of your business there, like you see a lot of your own resources moving in that direction as well
Jonathan Tanner 42:20
been doing work in Africa, North Africa and other parts of Africa a little bit, but only just touching. Small opportunities are really coming to us. We haven’t been really intentional about it. And I think with the investment community that we’ve been able to connect with, that may change because ironically, just before this call, someone sent an email out to Vianney from startup bootcamp to refer one of his cohort to us to talk about nice to talk about some help. And even if we’re not, they’re probably not in a position to be frank, they’re not in a position to engage us commercially, most likely yet. They may be in a position yet. Absolutely, yeah. But they are probably a position where we can share some insights from, you know, other sectors and talent models of venture models. And, you know, we talk about things like you know, concentration of capital on your, your shareholder registry and other risks of family and friends money or strategic corporate interest. And you gotta balance all these things. We don’t know the answer to those, but we will tell them to ask the questions and go and seek good advice before they get down certain paths. In the same way, we’ll we’ll talk about what their intent to hire is and who their first hire is going to be and what the balance of their team and skills is. And so there are lots of things we can share. And hopefully, in the same way that they’re doing things that we don’t know how yet to do here, because we haven’t had to write and we can learn from that. Hopefully, they can learn from experience and, and what not to do, in many cases, from a more mature market, we can give that perspective, I think for us, we can definitely say no. And don’t get me wrong, there are some hyper funded businesses down there for sure. Amazon, Microsoft, Google, everyone is busy down there supporting that ecosystem in from any because it’s in their interest in an infrastructure sense in a capital since obviously, China is very active building infrastructure everywhere, but everyone can see what’s coming long term, right? And if you take a long view, which is you know, which is what some of those cohorts do, then there is going to be an enormous and exciting sort of reality down there sooner than everyone thinks, in my opinion, like, I can see the energy.
Michael Waitze 44:12
Yeah. I mean, I look at Africa. And I think, How can I start telling those stories? Right, I want to consistently be in a position where I’m telling those stories before anybody else is in a way that similar to what you’re talking about. I want to front run the growth that I know is going to happen. I saw what happened in Southeast Asia actually, to be fair, we started investing personally in China. 25 years ago, we were way too early. Yeah, too early.
Jonathan Tanner 44:35
Yeah. Sometimes you can be too early. Yeah, I think we were operating for 10 years before our market particularly got really hot. You know, we felt like we sent out invitations to the party and non tech time and you know, 15 years later, there’s a line outside the door, but it’s sort of like, there is that that getting that timing right, right. Doing what you can and leaning in and building those relationships and trying to learn about the market and what might occur. ahead of time is a great investment. Yeah, I think so too. Okay. Look, why
Michael Waitze 45:04
don’t we leave it at that this was amazing. You have to come back. We have to tell more of these stories together. And there’s got to be a way we can tell stories of some of the people that you’re helping try to tell stories, as well. Anyway,
Jonathan Tanner 45:14
I’ll bring some in love. Yeah, we should speak to the Crilley. Guys, for example, they will love do.
Michael Waitze 45:18
Yeah, I would love to do. Okay. Jonathan Tanner, the CEO of MitchelLake Group. Thank you so much for doing this. Thanks, Michael. Take care
Follow Michael Waitze and the Asia Tech Podcast here:
Facebook – Michael Waitze
Facebook – Asia Tech Podcast
LinkedIn – Michael Waitze
Twitter – Michael Waitze