I got a call today from my new sales rep at Linked-In. Smart lady. Energetic. Young, I bet.
I pay Linked-In a fair amount of money each year as a Pro Plus member -- which means I'm contracted for 150 In-Mails per month. Sadly, I use a fraction of that amount, and if I want to change to a more appropriate program, I will lose the hundreds of unused In-Mails that I have accrued this year. It's like the deal with cellphone roll-over minutes, except that In-Mails aren't cheap, and to lose that much inventory is going to suck.
Anyway, I'm not here to rant about Linked-In's policy. They are a good company run by likable people and I'm sure their pricing will evolve with the needs of the market. I just happen to be one of the recruiters who was an early adopter, and my eyes were bigger than my stomach when I did my deal with them last year.
What this post is about is the future of Linked-In. These guys are getting to be the Monster.com of passive candidates. There was a great story on them in a recent Business 2.0 which claimed that Linked-In has 8 million members. Today my sales rep said that the community is up to 9 million -- an increase of 12.5% in the last 90 days. Annualized, that's a 50% growth rate. At that rate, Linked-In's domestic + international network would break 100 million people in a little more than five years. Man.
Usually a company can't grow at that rate forever. But Linked-In's growth rate might defy traditional growth rates because, like Google, they are solving their market's problems in new and unconventional ways. In other words, you can't imagine what Linked-In's growth rate will be because you can't imagine what they'll evolve into -- and which recruiting platforms they will radically redefine while they do it.
Now, I'm not saying that recruiters are toast. Far from it. But I am saying that anyone who's involved with my industry should be watching Linked-In very carefully. Actually, if you are reading a blog, then I'm preaching to the converted.
Consider Madison Avenue
Google has wrought total hell on traditional interruption advertising models, and the world's most established ad agencies are having to reinvent themselves. Nobody tells this story better than Seth.
Now the blogosphere is buzzing about Google's stock possibly hitting $600 as Google not only disintermediates everyone in the path between buyers and sellers -- but continually reinvents itself in the process. Its management philosophy rewards innovation, agility, and intellect. Sacred cows become hamburger.
It's impossible to predict what Google will look like 10 years from now. You only know it'll be important. It's like Google defines the weather conditions for the recruiting industry, making it impossible to plan for the future.
And now there's Linked-In. Several months ago I heard a podcast of Sequoia Capital's Mark Kvamme ("kwa-may") giving a keynote at Ad:Tech/San Fransisco. This guy was so smart I had to hear the podcast four times just to soak it all up. It was a mind bender, kids.
Mr. Kvamme is on Linked-In's board, along with David Sze of Greylock Partners. Sequoia got a piece of the action on Google and YouTube, and Mr. Kvamme knows how important top-flight software developers are to a Web 2.0 company. Basically, if you can imagine it, you can fund it and develop it. The rest involves getting customers to refine it and buzz about it.
So... What happens if Sequoia crosses Linked-In with YouTube, giving passive candidates the chance to post two-minute videos of themselves? Or what happens if Linked-In joins forces with Google, enabling a mash-up of Adwords' reach and targeting with Linked-In's growing network of active job seekers?
Could candidates simply enter keywords into their Linked-In bios and then enter a spending limit into an Adwords account so that Google could proactively display their bios for targeted searches? For example, a passively-active Linked-In member might enter the names of specific recruiters or hiring managers into a Linked-In "Interests"-type field and every time that hiring manager Google's himself, he'll see Adwords for the candidates who are trying to get in touch with him.
Or perhaps those same Adwords might get served into the hiring manager's personal Gmail account, which now has ~12% of the email market. BTW, Gmail's tagline is "Search, don't sort" -- which should tell you something about where we're headed.
And don't forget that Gmail offers calendering functionality. Is it possible that Gmail and Linked-In could datamine joint users' accounts to advise users when they will be in the same geographic location? (ie, "You are scheduled to attend the National Auto Show in Orlando. Fellow Linked-In members Joe Jones, Mary Brown, and Phil DeGraves will also be there. Click here to see if they would like to meet you for coffee ...") Or, what happens if Linked-In and Expedia form a "social travel site" (like AirTroductions.com or TripMates.com), allowing Linked-In members to meet one another on shared flights -- or in airport clubs like Delta's Crown Room? Dude!
And whither document matching technologies in all of this? Could an HR manager simply feed a job posting into Google Base and wait for it to spit out a list of Linked-In members who match the spec on 100 different job attributes? And is there a pay-per-call play in here somewhere, where candidates and companies can narrowcast voice mails to each other? And at what point will Linked-In knockoff H3's business model?
I have no idea.
What all this means for me is that in the next few months you will start to see me do some very unconventional things on this blog. In 2007, I am going to work very hard to disintermediate myself -- not because I hate my job, but because I want to see if it can be done, and how I can make money at it. Jack Welch mandated a similar initiative at GE called DestroyYourBusiness.com.
I'm going to be stress-testing my little garage recruiting firm to the limit. It's not that I'm scared of Linked-In. I just don't know what else to do besides experiment. Thank God there are no committees of people forcing me to justify I every idea with a business case.