Cut & Polish

An Interview with Gem’s CEO, Steve Bartel, at SourceCon Digital 2020

At last month’s SourceCon Digital 2020 conference, Gem’s CEO Steve Bartel sat down with Mark Tortorici to talk about Gem. Here's the transcript.

At last month’s SourceCon Digital 2020 conference, Gem’s co-founder and CEO Steve Bartel sat down with Mark Tortorici, editor, curator, and conference organizer at SourceCon. Mark wanted to dig into the details of Gem—from our product features for sourcing and gathering top-of-funnel and bottom-of-funnel metrics, to how Gem supports diversity hiring efforts, to how Gem can support remote work in our current work-from-home era, to how we’ve addressed GDPR and the California Privacy Notice. If you’d like to hear Steve’s entire interview with Mark, you can find it here. But if you prefer reading to watching, here’s the text of that discussion.

Steve, before we dive into Gem, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?

Before Gem, I came up through the technical side of the house. I was an Engineering Manager at Dropbox, and I spent a lot of my time recruiting there. We grew the company from 25 to 1500 people over the course of four and a half years. Back then, basically everybody at Dropbox was on the recruiting team; but I leaned in more than most folks did. And I did everything across the board. I went to tons of campuses; I conducted close to 1,000 interviews; I helped close about 150 engineering candidates; I revamped our referrals program; I even dabbled in M&A, acquiring a few companies from the lens of talent acquisition.

But one of the things that I really leaned in on was sourcing. I spent a lot of time sourcing my network, sourcing for second- and third-degree connections, especially when we were hiring our first few data scientists where I was basically my own full-cycle recruiter, end-to-end. So that was a lot of the inspiration for starting Gem; and I’m really excited to be here today to talk to you about it.

Since this is a conference about sourcing, maybe you can tell me a bit about the outreach aspects of Gem—how you address email tracking; how you address the fact that outreach on LinkedIn can be a pain to track because it’s a contained ecosystem. How does Gem simplify outreach?

So there are two big areas to our product. The first is our sourcing automation product, and the second is our talent CRM; but let’s start by talking about the sourcing automation product. In a nutshell, the sourcing product automates a bunch of the manual, tedious work that goes into sourcing and reaching out to new talent cold, primarily alongside the places recruiters are already sourcing—such as LinkedIn. Part of that is just about integrating your entire stack, so you don't have to jump between LinkedIn, your email, your ATS, a bunch of other email finders, a spreadsheet, and Boomerang for following-up. Gem ties that all together in one solution, so you’re not jumping between six or seven tools that don’t talk to each other.

Another big part of the platform is automated sequences. Sequences are how you automate your follow-ups in Gem—where stages two, three, four, or however many follow-ups you set up only go out if there’s no response. Our data shows that by sending a four-stage email sequence, sourcers can more-than-double their conversion to phone screens versus sending a single cold InMail.

And there are other outreach pain points Gem solves. You mentioned the pain of InMails. But Gem can automatically track InMails if you’re sending them from the recruiter’s profile. So now you can have all your email activity and all your InMail activity in one place—that complete history of every touchpoint you’ve had with someone. That’s helpful for having the full context on that relationship; but also it factors into your analytics. So for the first time ever, you can see how your InMails perform side-by-side with your emails, along with additional visibility into all your outreach efforts.

Do you have any data on the effectiveness of email versus InMail?

So typically we see higher response rates from email—especially when you factor in those automated follow-ups, which are impossible to set up on LinkedIn. So we’re seeing about double the conversion rates to getting somebody on the phone. And this makes sense especially for technical talent, since 40% of technical talent have their LinkedIn notifications turned off; so those InMail messages are essentially going into a black hole.

Now, for other roles—like sales or recruiting for recruiters—we see InMail is a perfectly fine way to engage with talent. Recruiters and salespeople are on LinkedIn anyway, since that’s how they’re engaging with candidates and prospects. So LinkedIn ends up being an okay channel for some roles... but even then, there are certain advantages to email, like those automated follow-ups. Another advantage is send-on-behalf-of (SOBO), which allows you to be much more high-touch with your engagement. In fact, with Gem, you can even send-on-behalf-of multiple teammates in the same sequence. So stages 1 and 2 could come from the recruiter; stage 3 could come from the hiring manager; and stage 4 could come from the Director of Engineering. And now I’ve got this really high-touch engagement strategy from multiple people; we can even reference a conversation that we had about this person in those messages and make it feel extra personal.

That’s not something you can do on LinkedIn. And it sees some really cool results.

You said earlier that Gem lets recruiters dispense with the need for email finders?

Yeah. Gem surfaces up email addresses and social media, very similar to a lot of other aggregators out there. The email piece is probably the most critical, given that our platform helps automate engagement there. It’s an area we’ve invested a lot in, and we continue to invest a lot in. And we do a lot of things to make sure the emails are as good as they can be. We even have safeguards, like running them through NeverBounce to make sure that the emails you send will actually be delivered.

So I’m assuming Gem has some relationships with ATS vendors? What about solutions like Workday that don’t have such great search functionality?

One interesting use case for Gem is the ability to search and mine your ATS for profiles. Gem actually sits alongside the ATS in the same way it sits alongside LinkedIn when you source somebody net new—the extension shows up right there so that when you run across someone in your ATS you’d like to reach out to, you can fire off a sequence from that tab without leaving. In addition, if you were to use Greenhouse search, for example, you can put together your own custom Greenhouse search query, and import all of those folks directly into Gem to streamline that workflow.

We integrate pretty deeply with Workday as well. We haven’t built out our own version of search on top of Workday; but that’s something we’re exploring in general for our ATS partners. I think the ATS search was designed for a slightly different use case than the nurture-and-engagement use case. So we’re definitely seeing some opportunities to improve that workflow. But we do integrate with just about every ATS out there, and Workday is one of the deeper integrations we’ve built out.

What are you doing to help recruiting teams or staffing leaders measure top-of-funnel and bottom-of-funnel metrics?

You’ve hit on a big one! I’m a data person. I actually started the data analytics and data science departments at Dropbox; so this is an area I love. It’s also an area that is core to Gem’s mission. So at the top of the funnel, our sourcing platform gives a lot of great insights into sourcing and outreach efforts. We see teams looking at open rates to test different subject lines, looking at click rates to see what links are resonating best with prospects, and looking at response rates and interested rates to discover the overall success of their messaging. Recruiting managers and talent ops take these learnings and spread best practices around the team. You can even come up with a repository for your team of some of the best-performing sequences, so when you’re onboarding new hires they don’t start from scratch; nobody has to reinvent the wheel.

But what a lot of talent teams are realizing is that response rates aren’t enough; they don’t paint the complete picture. So our CRM product takes metrics a step further, and ties together all the top-of-funnel stages—sent, open, replied—with the downstream ATS stages: converted into process, phone screen, onsite, offer out, and offer accept. For the first time, teams have a complete view of the funnel, from reach out all the way to offer-out. And that’s pretty incredible because now teams can answer questions that they weren’t able to before. How many reachouts does it take to get to one offer? How does that vary by role and department and geo? How many recruiters and sourcers do we need to hire onto our team to capacity-plan and hit our headcount goals?

You can set up and track goals for your team for the first time, because you know how many activities are happening at every step of the funnel. You can also have conversion rate goals at any stage of the funnel. One of the areas I’m most excited about is the ability to forecast. Based on the health of our pipeline and how many candidates are in each stage, how many hires are we expected to make? Sales teams have had this visibility for a long time; my sales lead lives and dies by his revenue forecast. So it’s crazy that we haven’t had this same level of technology and sophistication on the recruiting side.

One of our goals with Gem is to provide these out-of-the-box analytics to enable data-driven recruiting. You can actually see which sequences are leading to onsites. We’ve actually been able to use our customers’ aggregate data to write about best practices for email outreach and to crate a benchmarking report, so recruiting teams can see where they stack up, and what parts of their hiring funnel need attention.

With laws and regulations like GDPR and the California Privacy Act, what is Gem doing to address privacy and what responsibility does your company take? How do you work with customers who are concerned about data privacy?

First off, Gem is GDPR compliant. We have a standard data privacy processing agreement; and a lot of our customers—especially our largest customers—use Gem globally across the U.S., Europe, and Asia-Pacific. It’s important to note that it’s up to each team’s legal department to land on their own interpretation of GDPR and the CCPA. Organizations need to interpret the law in the way they think is right for their business given the risk tolerance that they’re okay to take.

With that said, Gem has a bunch of controls around data privacy for every level of risk tolerance and interpretation of the law, including a “do not contact” list built directly into the product that recruiters can opt people into manually, unsubscribe links for email reachouts that some of our customers include when engaging with European candidates, and data retention controls. Within Gem, you can specify a data retention policy and that automatically scrubs any personally identifiable information from a person’s record… while keeping your metrics intact. [To learn more about Gem and GDPR compliance, visit]

What would you say to a talent leader that doesn’t believe in candidate pipelining, and just wants to work reqs as they come. How would you convince them that they need Gem?

So there’s two parts to Gem’s product. There’s the CRM part, which helps engage with talent over longer periods of time. But then there’s also the sourcing automation part. And for a staffing company that believes in ramping up a new search every time, Gem adds a tremendous amount of value there. Because you’re gonna be reaching out to a lot of net new people for every open role. So often times as companies are getting started with Gem, they’re beginning with that sourcing automation piece, which automates initial reachouts.

The CRM is a natural extension of that, because it takes over once that initial outreach is finished, and allows teams to engage with folks over a longer period of time. So what I would say to a talent leader who doesn’t believe in pipelining is: get started with the sourcing automation product. It will add a ton of value... and maybe over time you check out the CRM portion of the product.

What is Gem doing to help recruiting teams work better together in this moment?

First of all, it’s incredible that you’re hosting this event digitally. I’m so glad you were able to respond so quickly and have SourceCon available to everyone this year. There’s so much important stuff that gets discussed at this event; so I’m grateful that you were able to do this.Working remotely is something that’s top-of-mind for a lot of our customers. The two areas where I think Gem helps are around collaboration and visibility. Whereas before, recruiters could solve a lot of problems by getting together—with hiring managers, for example—in a weekly sync or just looking over each other’s shoulders, they’re now using Gem to go through those workflows remotely.

For example, we’ve got a hiring manager review process where you can source 50 people, queue them up for review, and the hiring manager can go into Gem and thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and leave notes. We’re finding a lot of folks using that to run their calibration sessions. Another example is shared talent pools. The ability to at-mention, leave notes, set due dates... all of those features we’re seeing a lot more usage out of now that folks are working remote.

The other bucket of things that Gem helps with entails better visibility for leadership and managers. Now that we’re all working remotely, it’s more important than ever to have visibility into the work that’s happening. Those organic, live touchpoints in the office kitchen just aren’t happening anymore. With Gem, sourcers and recruiters can share reports around the volume of outreach they’re doing and how much pipeline it’s generating. It helps build trust: I’m still putting in the good work; here are the results I’m seeing.

Analytics and collaboration in the platform are two areas of Gem’s 2020 strategy. They were already two of our primary areas of focus for this year; so I’m really glad we’re able to continue focusing on those things and adding value to talent acquisition teams in this new remote environment.If this conversation between Steve and Mark piqued your interest about Gem, feel free to reach out to us at to request a product demo. We hope this finds you all healthy and well, and finding some ease in this moment.

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Content Strategist
April 14, 2020
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