Oscar: I’d like to welcome today to the studio, Andy Cohen, CEO of Cutting Edge Recruiting Solutions.
Andy: Thank you.
Oscar: On behalf of EO South Florida, I’d like to congratulate you for earning your ranking on the 2014 Inc fastest growing privately held companies in the United States.
Andy: Thank you.
Oscar: Andy, tell us a little bit about your company and how did you grow it so aggressively?
Andy: Cutting Edge Recruiting Solutions was started in 2009 with a very simple vision in place and that was to change the way things were being done traditionally in the recruiting and staffing business. Traditionally it was if a client has a problem and it has four sides and fits in a normal box then we can do business. Coming off the recession, I think clients really needed a solution that had ten sides or maybe was shaped differently or was a little less traditional. When we were coming to market we wanted to really bring something to the table that was first mover, new technology, cutting edge, but also had real solutions around it. Real recruiting solutions, not just I can fill a vacancy and move forward. With that simple mission in mind we’ve been able to do some amazing things in the last five years.
Oscar: What prompted you to start a recruiting type of company?
Andy: Sure. I grew up in the industry. My family’s been in the business, and I myself had worked for large publicly traded firms. I realized that there was a better way, a different way. When the last recession hit it hit many people very hard and I think clients at that point were really yearning for somebody to do it a little differently, somebody that could provide more flexibility, more unique or custom tailored programs. There was an opportunity to do that. I always say if you’re picturing trying to park in Manhattan, my competitors that were going through the recession and trying to survive through it were trying to park a dump truck and I had a little Smart Car. I was able to invest in the newest tech and the best training programs and provide the best resources for my staff all with the mission of we can make better quality placements faster, and we’ve been able to do that.
Oscar: Fantastic. How did you finance the launch of your business?
Andy: Great question. I went all in. When we were first looking to start the business you look at the banks, but we were on the heels of recession. Many people thought this thing isn’t over in circuit 2009. You go to friends, you go to family, you do the angel raise. We were able to do that, but all of them wanted to know that I was fully invested. In 2009 we believed we had something better and I went all in.
Oscar: Interesting. When you launched or were preparing to launch your business, did you prepare a detailed business plan or did you wing it?
Andy: Absolutely. There was a very specific plan. At one point we were speaking with everything from incubator programs to angel financers to private equity firms and venture capitalists. My background in recruiting had been with private equity groups, so I had a lot of connections on that side. At first we were really thinking, “Hey, let’s go to market with something grand. A $10,000,000 raise, $14,000,000 raise.” We decided that a bootstrapped organization gave us a lot more control. We were able to really control not only the type of technology we used but our own processes, our own programs. In doing that, we built a business plan that we could actually automate the process to the tune of better margins. It gave us a pricing advantage to go to the market as well. It really has helped us be wildly successful.
Oscar: Since your launch has your business plan changed or been modified?
Andy: Of course, right? I jokingly say when we first started we came to market with who we thought we were. Lo and behold multiple years later now we know who we actually are. When we first started we were setting out to be the best recruiting staffing and company that we could be. We were going to compete with better quality and faster delivery and treating people the way we wanted to be treated. What we realized is there’s a huge disconnect in solutions or outcome based programs. Let me explain what I mean by that. If you’re a Fortune 1000 company, you go to the big four consulting firms or even two firms. They say, “We’ll charge you X and we’ll fix your problem and you can sleep at night.” But if you’re an entrepreneur, you’re in a mid-sized market, who do you really turn to? We realized that we had an ability to acquire really great people and help them get back to work, help them launch their consulting business, help them engage with these entrepreneurs, and by doing that we created project teams and outcome based consulting opportunities.
Now we can provide that service to that mid-sized business that was otherwise unaffordable, unattainable. Here we are, we thought we were going to be the best recruiting company and now we’re this sort of two headed vehicle so we have two sides. We have the recruiting and staffing side and then we also have the consulting or outcome based programs. Here today, we are a much different organization that what we were originally.
Oscar: Very, very exciting. What’s your long-term vision for your company?
Andy: Long-term we want to continue to me the mayor of our local market. When I founded this company and we were figuring out who we really are, we decided that we didn’t want to be one of those companies that ended up with a culture. We wanted to take a very conscious effort of figuring out what our culture is and what makes us special. We created ten simple cultural rules, myself and somebody who’s been with us from the beginning, we really kicked around some ideas. These are not crazy, these are very simple revelations. Just be normal. Do the right thing. Always be on time. Documentation rules. Little silly things that we were able to put together, but it has shaped the way we do business. When we speak to a customer I think what a lot of times they’re missing from other folks is that human factor. They don’t want a cliché or a sales pitch or someone ramming product. They want someone to say, how is this going to help me get to my next promotion? How does this help me build the team that I need to drive my career forward?
The way we do business at Cutting Edge is exactly that. If we’re speaking to a candidate it is about what are your career aspirations? What makes you unique? How do I take you to the next level in your career professionally? Conversely, how do I match that up with an organization whose ideals align? Same thing when we speak to a client or a customer on that side. It’s how do I build a team that’s going to fuel your promotion? How do I get you to the next level? How do we get that new product launched on time or ahead of schedule? How do we create an amazing user experience for our customer? That’s a lot of what drives this organization.
Oscar: From your experience what’s more challenging? Finding amazing talent, recruiting that talent, or getting an organization that gives you a work order to fill a position?
Andy: Both. I don’t think there’s an easy answer there. Cutting Edge Recruiting Solutions focuses in twelve different functional practice areas, the largest one being technology. If you’re thinking about national rankings, so unemployment 6.7%. State of Florida a little better at 6.2%. Florida, technical 2.5%, 2.6%. Now you’re talking about a small section of the markets that’s hyper-competitive. We say find me a great candidate, we’ll never be broke, but at the same time you have to find an organization that can benefit from their skills. I don’t think it’s one is over the other equally or difficult, but finding the match is what makes us successful.
Oscar: Sure. What does a typical work day for you look like today versus when you first started?
Andy: I think every entrepreneur will share this same thing in common which is how do I work on the business but not in the business.
Oscar: Of course.
Andy: Obviously when I first opened the organization and for the first couple of years working in the business was absolute, had to happen. We had to build those relationships and refine those processes, create things that we could scale and grow and drive the business with. Today, it’s a little less of the day to day recruiting and interactions. It’s a little more of working with the staff, developing the organization, developing the people, fostering the next generation of leadership, making sure that I have the manpower to open another organization, meaning another location maybe in Tampa or in Atlanta. Customers have asked us to go to Texas and Chicago. Being able to have that leadership that we can push into those positions.
Oscar: Beautiful. What do you think is the most unusual or creative sales tactic that you’ve ever used to acquire a new customer?
Andy: Just be normal.
Oscar: One of your ten basic.
Andy: It really is. So many times customers will have something. We deal with the most unreliable product in the world: free will. I can’t control it. I can’t predict it. I can systematically put processes in place, but I can’t control it. I think what makes us so different, unique sale, is just that we we are just normal. We tell somebody this is what it is, those difficult conversations.
Oscar: Being normal and being an entrepreneur is a little bit of a … Have you ever turned down a client?
Andy: I have.
Andy: In this particular industry of our twelve functional practice areas, nine of them are in hyper-competitive spaces: technology, compliance, marketing, interactive marketing. These are extremely competitive spaces, so we had a client that was in technology who wanted to recruit from some of the most sophisticated tech companies in the world and it was hard but we had to explain to them that no one’s leaving that organization for a pure start-up without an offset of some kind. Unfortunately what they really wanted and what they could attract were very, very different. We say the organization is about finding, attracting, and delivering exceptional people, great people. We had to explain to them that there was a disconnect. We ultimately helped them figure out what was the right alignment for them, but we did have to tell them no.
Oscar: What do you think the toughest decision is that you’ve ever had to make owning your company?
Andy: I think it’s a decision I’m faced with today. We’ve had a tremendous amount of success up to this point and we’re continuing to grow 100% or more year over year. It becomes harder to double. The bigger the number the harder it is, doubling and tripling becomes much more arduous task. The decision now is to we continue to grow a single location servicing South Florida? Do we take on additional square footage and use video conferencing and some of the technology that’s in place to service those outlying areas? Or do we continue our model and open another brick and mortar location and maybe open that Tampa office or open that office in Georgia or Philadelphia or New York or wherever we choose to go? I suppose that’s the most difficult decision that I’m faced with today.
Oscar: Let me help you out and make things more difficult for you.
Andy: Thank you.
Oscar: You have a great business. You’re a dynamic entrepreneur. Let’s assume that I would like to make a $1,000,000 investment into your business.
Oscar: How would you deploy those funds?
Andy: How would I deploy those funds? I think that’s a great question. If there was a $1,000,000 capital injection today, it would entirely be invested towards staff acquisitions. People joke around a mechanic with a broken car, a short staffed staffing firm, a short staffed recruiting firm. Much like some of these competitive industries that we work in, our industry itself is hyper-competitive so it’s a bit of a war for talent. We would build the most dynamic team. We would continue to add exceptional people and develop them and teach them our ways of doing business, continue to refine process. That’s how we would deploy the funds.
Oscar: What one word describes Andy Cohen as an entrepreneur?
Andy: Passionate, committed, dynamic. If I had to pick one word I would say it’s passionate. I’m definitely passionate about helping my employees succeed, my staff succeed, as well as our customers. There is something magical about having the right team in place firing off on all cylinders, and having results. Passion.
Oscar: That’s probably the most common area and your passion is oozing out and it’s palpable.
Andy: Thank you.
Oscar: In your opinion, are entrepreneurs born or are they made?
Andy: I think it’s a little bit of both candidly. I think entrepreneurial zeal is something that’s inherent in someone’s DNA. They yearn for more. They want to succeed. No is not acceptable. I don’t think it’s a person’s resources. Some people are born with tremendous resources and some have none and they’ll succeed in spite of that. I think it’s a little bit of both. I think inherent in your DNA is this desire to succeed, to want more, to achieve, to prove doubters wrong. I think that’s a major quality, but then at some point I think they’re also made in the sense that they need other like-minded entrepreneurs to feed off of. As we run the training for our staff we talk about the power of anticipation.
I had a humble experience of playing a shoot em up game with my nephew. He told me he’d go first, so 45 minutes later I’m waiting for my turn. I died in 2 minutes. I didn’t know there was a guy up on the rafter, behind the door. The reality of it, he knew that and because he knew that he could be much more successful in completing the levels and moving forward. I tell my staff the same thing. To that point, I think entrepreneurs are made because they’re able to learn that anticipation, learn what happens next.
Oscar: What do you think instilled the thirst for learning in you?
Andy: Without a doubt I have to trace back to family. I was epitome of rich dad poor dad. I had a blue collar and a white collar family and I learned great lessons. To value a dollar, to be impatient for profits, to work hard. I think it came from family values for sure. I think it also came from a thirst for more in life. Wanting to be able to do the things that I chose to do, to provide for my family, to deliver my son a different experience. I think definitely family values.
Oscar: Good for you. As a business leader, how do you make a mark in your busness or in your community?
Andy: That’s a great question. In business what we do makes a real difference. We talk about some of the most nervous things people do in life, getting married or buying a home or having a child or changing a career. I think it was more nervous before than it is now. Today it’s a little more common, but I think what we do makes a huge difference in someone’s life and their ability to provide for their family. Professionally helping people succeed is paramount. In the community, one of the reasons that we’ve really taken a local approach servicing South Florida is we do want to be the mayor of our local market. We want folks to know that whether they help us or transition from one career to the next or we just need some advice, if we want to go to the blog and find out what are the best interview tactics? Or how do I write a resume? Or how do I market myself? What should I wear to an interview? Being able to provide that information, provide a place where people can really get answers and then when they’re ready they’ll contact us.
Oscar: What does trust and respect mean to you?
Andy: It’s everything. For someone in our industry to trust that we would find the right talent, often people spend more time with the people they work with or as much time as they do with their friends and family. I think the trust is that we’ll find people to fit in our culture match and that they trust us to help them succeed in business. We don’t want to be the phone call to fill an opening. It’s the real advisory role. “Hey, this is what’s going in my organization. This is the staff related issue that I’m wrestling with.” Every entrepreneur has one. Everyone’s the same. It’s being able to call and say, “Hey, beyond just finding me a person, I don’t want to be held hostage by an under-producer.” Or “Man, if this person would just commit I could change the world.” We want to be able to have those difficult conversations and give some advice. The advice might be you should invest in the person you have, not replace them, but being in that advisory relationship.
Oscar: That’s great. Final question. Hopefully it’s going to be a challenging one for you.
Andy: I hope so, right?
Oscar: Let’s imagine for a moment tomorrow morning you wake up and your company no longer exists.
Oscar: What’s the next venture you’re going to want to launch?
Andy: That’s a great question. Today I have a couple organizations, other companies that service this company. I do have a training organization as well. I think that would be where I’d redirect a lot of my energy. I jokingly say it’s my retirement account or one of them. Being able to teach someone how to succeed in a market that’s ever changing and which is riddled with free will and people that make their own mind up. I would certainly go there, but I’m a huge fan of technology. I love technology. I love working with tech companies, so there may be a small fund that we’d create and maybe we’d do some early stage investments, some incubator programs.
Oscar: Can I invest in that as well?
Andy: Yeah, absolutely.
Oscar: Great. Excellent. Andy, it has been a pleasure having you in the studio today. Your passion, your excitement is inspiring to myself and to all of those out there that will be watching this video. Again on behalf of EO South Florida, congratulations for having such a successful companies and helping to really fuel the entrepreneurial spirit in South Florida. Thank you so much.
Andy: Thank you for having me.
Oscar: Appreciate it.
Andy: Appreciate it.