Exactly 6 years ago, Andreea Wade tweeted that she wanted to go on a hike. Three hours later, that tweet turned into an idea and then into a branded event with 40 sign-ups.
The group StartUp Hiking is a small line item on the list of Wade’s many accomplishments, each one greatly different from the next. The common thread in all those projects is Wade’s hunger for solving problems.
“I’ve always been curious and I’m the type of person that starts many things and I don’t think too much about a plan, I just start,” Wade says. “I like problems because you have something to figure out and then it always leads to something else.”
And the problems Wade has taken on over the year have always led to something else. As a teenager, she started coding and working as a journalist. She created and promoted outdoor music festivals and then began working in the tech start-up world.
Wade founded the Ireland-based data science company Opening.io, which was recently acquired by recruitment software provider iCIMS in May 2020. Before the acquisition, though, Wade’s experience as a frustrated job seeker helped pave the way for her start-up venture.
Where It All Began
Opening.io was a problem to solve for Wade and her founding team member, Adrian Mihai, as both a candidate and a hiring manager. She watched Mihai, her peer and friend, help build a start-up from the ground up (from 3 people to 70) and successfully sell it to WeddingWire in New York City. Mihai was ready for the next big thing, so he freshened up his résumé and sent it off. Complete silence. After 6 months, he was rediscovered by an external recruiter.
“Imagine sending your CV (résumé) and it is living in some inbox somewhere, and then the company pays another company to discover you,” Wade recalls. “The process is broken.”
Wade saw this flaw as an opportunity to redesign the candidate experience (CX) by way of empowering the recruiter. The team began building their talent recommendation engine in 2015 using deep learning and natural language processing to match relevant talent with open roles. Candidates wouldn’t feel stuck in an applicant tracking system (ATS) black hole, and recruiters could double the size of relevant talent pools. Opening.io, her fourth business venture, was born.
Time to Reject the Rejection Industry
The Opening.io team immersed themselves into the state of talent acquisition to fully understand what recruiters were up against. According to Wade, jumping into the industry as an outsider was difficult, but she felt it helped them look at things differently.
At one of their first talent acquisition conferences, Wade was confused by the fact that not one speaker spoke to the frustration that her and Mihai had felt as candidates. Wade says she raised her hand during a panel Q&A and asked why no one was talking about CX.
“[The industry] had to move away from this idea of a system of record that has been built and designed for compliance purposes—it does not enable recruiters to do their work,” says Wade. “And then you start listening to the recruiters, you hear their pain, and we realized we had to reimagine these things for everyone involved.”
The team stayed close to the recruiters, their end users, especially as those recruiters showed apprehension that artificial intelligence (AI) was only there to replace them. It was a challenge but one that was common in the AI world at the time.
Bloomberg declared 2015 as “a landmark year” for AI when voice recognition and self-driving cars became a reality. The more users experienced AI for themselves in their personal and professional lives, the more they realized its transformative value.
Fast-forward to 2018, and Microsoft spots Opening.io as a leading AI company through its “Make your Wish” campaign and approached the start-up to be its job-matching partner. That same year, the company was named one of Europe’s 20 super AI, software-as-a-service (SaaS), and enterprise start-ups and was mentioned by Forbes in a feature titled “How Ireland Is Fast Becoming the AI Island.”
Opening.io’s success was entirely on inbound interest—so much so that the team didn’t need to hire a head of client sales until 2019. One of those clients was Jibe, a New York City-based company that was known for delivering CX solutions to big brands such as Johnson & Johnson and Siemans. Jibe was then acquired by iCIMS in June 2019.
Jibe was the second road leading Opening.io to iCIMS, the first one being Microsoft. Wade saw that the two companies held a shared vision for AI’s place in recruiting, and after numerous conversations at industry conferences and iCIMS’s New Jersey-based headquarters, things fell into place.
“What we saw was a company that had focused on building, not just a bunch of algorithms, but a platform,” says Al Smith, Chief Technology Officer at iCIMS, in a recent episode of The Chad & Cheese podcast. “And a platform that actually strove to deliver the explainability and the transparency around the decisions. And that’s some of the stuff that got us really excited thinking about the future.”
A Model Built with Diversity in Mind
Smith was right—what made Opening.io different was the way the technology was built. It was made possible by a group of talented people who were passionate about the impact that technology could have on the world. As a woman in tech who was based out of Ireland, Wade understands firsthand the importance of diversity.
“My favorite saying is ‘speak softly, but carry a big stick,’” Wade says, speaking of the West African proverb that was later used by Theodore Roosevelt to describe his foreign policy style. Wade is well known as a start-up mentor and is passionate about carving out safe spaces for female founders who faced discrimination.
The team was driven to think deeply about how they would build and market their models, pointing to previous stories of algorithmic bias, such as the automatic soap dispenser that was unable to detect a black customer’s hand.
“It was important from the get-go to make sure that we do not build something where outcome is either an inclusion or a discriminatory practice,” explains Wade. “The core of what we build is the models and how based on your experience and skills it matches you to opportunities so there are a few things we would never train the data on regardless, like gender, sexual orientation, and address.”
That also includes avoiding certain data sources, such as Facebook and Twitter, to prevent the models from making assumptions about someone based on social media activity (here, you can find Wade’s RECex presentation on algorithmic bias).
Wade then describes a recent e-mail she read from a peer who asked if these conscious decisions in their product development process would “solve” diversity recruiting. Her answer was a clear because true change happens with people, not technology.
“Technology will not solve everything, and frankly we don’t want it to either,” says Wade. “We have to make sure we continue to talk about it, and we call it out and inspire our clients and partners to be aware of bias.”
The Now of Work
It is undoubtedly a moment of transformation for employers, with the pandemic being one of the many catalysts for needed change.
“We’re not going back to the same world, we’re just not,” Wade suggests. “Companies will have to adapt, and we need to rethink our tools.”
We know that agile, diverse organizations win. “Smart companies have always understood when change was coming,” says Wade. “You have to move fast and adapt for the world that’s around the corner.”
Christine Rochelle is currently a content strategist at iCIMS. She has over a decade of experience in content marketing, primarily in the tech space, though she’s passionate about telling the stories of the people behind the tech. She spends her free time scrolling through Twitter.