Clint Betts

Dimitri, thank you so much for coming on the show. It means a lot to have you. You have had an incredible career, actually, and it seems to all be around human resources and talent acquisition and getting people jobs. I mean, you co-founded HotJobs.com in 1997 and it went public and you sold it to Yahoo in 2002 for, is it $433 million? Which is a huge exit, particularly back then.

Dimitri Boylan

It was a lot of money back then.

Clint Betts

Oh yeah. It's a lot of money now, but it's funny how we judge things, right?

Dimitri Boylan

Right.

Clint Betts

And then you went on to found Avature, which is all about, again, talent acquisition and that type of stuff. Why has this been such a focus for you?

Dimitri Boylan

I don't know if it was an intentional focus. I became a headhunter. Back in the early nineties, it was a great way to make money and you could find your own product and pitch it to companies. And if you could find great people and you could find companies that wanted them, you could do really well financially. So that's what I was doing when the internet came along. When Netscape came along, I was pitching a young Harvard graduated C++ programmer who was working in a finance company. I tried to explain to him that he should get out of finance and take his tech skills and go do technology because this Netscape browser came out and he said no. And then I said to myself, "Wait a minute, I think I have to do it."

Clint Betts

What was the first version of HotJobs? I mean, I'm fascinated with that whole period because if you founded it in ‘97, you went through the whole internet bubble and you came out alive, which is incredible. That's a kind of like Web 1.0, right?

Dimitri Boylan

Yeah, the 1.0 web experience. I think the most relevant thing about it is that you blinked your eyes and you are seven years older, and that is exciting. But if you ask me off the cuff, what year did we go public? I would say, "I have to look it up. It was a bit of a blur."

Clint Betts

Right. It was 2002. Wait, no, it wasn't. I'm sorry.

Dimitri Boylan

No, no.

Clint Betts

It was 1990.

Dimitri Boylan

It was '99. Yeah. Yeah.

Clint Betts

2002 is when you sold it.

So tell us about Avature and how you went from HotJobs to this and you founded this in 2004, right?

Dimitri Boylan

  1. We created the company in 2005. HotJobs was the second largest employment system in the United States by 2001. And it was also a company that had a software division that was what we called an ASP, which we had started in 1997. This whole idea later became known as SaaS, software as a service, but it was called ASP back then. And we were on the vanguard of that. When we sold to Yahoo, which we didn't do intentionally, by the way. We were public and Yahoo just bought our shares. But at that time, Yahoo didn't want to be in the software business, so they gracefully thought about it and let the software part of HotJobs die away.

I left Yahoo almost immediately. I didn't want to move to California. I'm a New Yorker. To really succeed in Yahoo, you were going to have to go and live in Sunnyvale. I wasn't going to live in Sunnyvale. It's a lovely place, but it's not for me, so I left right away. I was looking at the internet at that time, and if you remember, 2003, 2004, everything was going bust. And I looked around for a while to find companies that I could invest in. I said, "Well, I'm not going to do the work anymore. I'm going to just use money and find young people that want to do things and have some great ideas and put the money behind them." But in 2003, 2004, that was kind of difficult. Most of those companies were in a disastrous straight state. There was really no way that they were going to get through the next two or three years. So they were good ideas, but really didn't have a shot.

So I went to China and got involved with internet companies there. I got on the board, helped turn around a Chinese internet company that later went public. And then 2004, I started building Avature, which began by looking at a challenge that the customers of HotJobs were having. That was not solved. And that challenge was that in the talent acquisition space, you went from an era where there was no information, and a lot of what a headhunter or an agent would do is find people to suddenly have everything all over the internet. Now the problem really shifted from trying to find out who did what to sorting through millions and millions of records of information. We started building a system that would really source the internet in a sort of automated way. Because the haystack had gotten much bigger. It was huge with the internet.

And I also did it because I had seen the ASP business and I recognized that that would fundamentally change the way software was delivered to corporations. The third thing was that I wanted to do something that moved slower. I had a lot of opportunity from various people I knew in the venture community and the private equity community to go help run some new consumer-based internet company because HotJobs was really financially very successful, and I didn't want to get caught in the B2C intensity and have another seven years of my life just go by like that.

Clint Betts

Yeah, that's fascinating. Let's switch focus just a bit on what leadership means to you and how you've evolved as a leader throughout this time from HotJobs to Avature and to the present day.

How has leadership evolved and how has yours evolved?

Dimitri Boylan

Well, I'm not an expert on leadership. I lead 1,600, 1700 people. HotJobs had about 750 people at the peak. But I have a good team and I think that my view of leadership is you've got to start with the right ingredients. If you don't, you really can't get anywhere at all. And I treat people as adults. I always say to my team and to everyone else, "I don't hire kids. I don't expect to turn the people that I hire into full functioning adults. I expect them to be there already when I hire them." So I think the leadership is mostly about giving them the tools they need and setting up the runway for them to take off and then making sure that I'm not in the way when they do it.

Clint Betts

What does a typical day look like for you?

Dimitri Boylan

For me, it's a mixture of things. I get up in the morning and I go off to either play tennis or to ride horses. I compete. I have a coach in both of those things.

Clint Betts

Really?

Dimitri Boylan

Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Clint Betts

That's incredible.

Dimitri Boylan

Yeah. Well, I think that in the technology business, I kind of know too much. When you know so much more than some of the people that you have working for you, obviously not all the people, and you're not learning something yourself, you forget what that experience is like. So I get on the horse and I'm an intermediate level rider and I have to compete and I make mistakes and I get told that I had a bad day. I think that it's humbling.

You have to be careful when you become a CEO and you're the boss all the time because it's a very dangerous situation to be the boss and the leader and to have everybody always treating you like you are the boss and very often gravitating towards, "Well, let's say he's right. Maybe it's good to just agree with him."

Clint Betts

Right. Why horses?

Dimitri Boylan

I've always had horses and I like riding and my kids ride, but I do a lot of things. I play tennis. I surf. I ride. I'm pretty active physically, and that's important because a lot of my job is sitting in front of a computer. When you do a tech job for 30 years, if you don't do other things that are physical, you are in bad shape by the time you get to my age.

Clint Betts

Right. Yeah. I mean, I don't want to keep laboring on this, but I don't even know what competitive horsing is. What do you do?

Dimitri Boylan

Jumping.

Clint Betts

Oh, I see. Okay.

Dimitri Boylan

Yeah, jumping. Yeah. And I've been experimenting a little with polo now.

Clint Betts

Really?

Dimitri Boylan

Yeah.

Clint Betts

Is that kind of dangerous or is it just pure fun? What is polo like?

Dimitri Boylan

It is dangerous.

Clint Betts

Yeah, it seems dangerous.

Dimitri Boylan

Yes. It's a little dangerous. It's true. Yeah. I play tennis. Tennis is not dangerous. Okay.

Clint Betts

You might roll an ankle or pull a hamstring.

Dimitri Boylan

Yeah, exactly. A little bit of danger is good because it sharpens your mind and you've got some stakes in the game.

Clint Betts

How do you decide at work where to spend your time each day? What gets your priority? What gets your focus?

Dimitri Boylan

Well, at different times of the year, different things. It's the end of the year now, and I'm going to have a lot of meetings with senior people over the next month to get an idea of what we want to accomplish next year, to get some consensus going into the year, to give some order to our next year, and to assess what happened this year. We really manage the company on a quarterly cycle. So every three months or so, I get into an intense series of maybe 40 or 50, 60 quarterly reviews. I sit in the quarterly reviews with most of the engineering teams. In Avature, we have about 40 different engineering teams. So I'll review their quarterly roadmaps, what they did the last quarter, and what they're doing the next quarter. So I have that cycle.

And then when I don't have those cycles, I'm either talking to customers or I'm doing a project of my own. I take on projects with various people in the company. We might be doing a positioning project with the positioning team. I might be kicking off some kind of project in commercial services where we're trying to commercialize something new, but the company doesn't need me to operate. It operates without me. And I play a role that probably only a CEO can play, which is I can jump around a lot to different parts of the organization that most other people can't do. I have a little more freedom than everybody else. And then I have certain CEO responsibilities that I have to do, that only I can do. Every CEO has them and they can't be done by somebody else, so you have to do them.

Clint Betts

How are you thinking about artificial intelligence and the rise of that, and how is it affecting your business, your product, your interactions with customers? What do you think about that?

Dimitri Boylan

AI has been moving ahead at a pretty good pace over the last five or six years, especially with the release of TensorFlow and a lot of the stuff from the open source community. Then some of the big tech companies took it, used it, had to open source what they added on top. So that area has been evolving pretty quickly over the last five or six years.

But I think ChatGPT, while it was not something so dramatically new to the AI community, it got everybody else excited about it because now you can log on and get a set of words that mostly made sense on the internet.

Clint Betts

Mostly.

Dimitri Boylan

Yeah, mostly. I mean, it's all the words on the internet based on vectors and the numerical distance between each word on a multi-dimensional vector space, but it can come up with some pretty good things that it has no obligation for those things to be accurate or true. It just happens that since most of the things that it's consumed are sort of relatively accurate, it kind of comes out relatively accurate itself. If you put a whole bunch of garbage into the internet and into text around the world, eventually ChatGPT would produce just the very same garbage, but it is a game changer.

I got involved in the internet when Netscape 1.0 came along the browser, and at a point there in '96, I recognized that that was going to be a game changer. I told that C++ programmer, I said to him, I said, "There's a piece of software probably on your computer where you can balance your checkbook." And he said, "Yeah, I got that." I said, "You know something? Nobody uses that, right?" He says, "Well, I use it." And I said, "Well, yeah, I know, but you're kind of a geek. Okay, so you're sitting there balancing your checkbook, but in a couple of years you're going to be able to make the payment over the PC."

When you make the payment over the PC, it's automatically going to log that transaction in that system that you have today. And when that happens, that's going to be game changing for society. And a trillion lines of code are going to have to be written to accommodate that. Since you are a very smart programmer, you should probably stop trying to work in a finance company and go out and start writing that code. You'll end up richer than the traders who you're supporting in the company you work for now. And as I said, he said, "No." I said, "Well, I'll do it myself. That was a sea change." That killed client server software, by the way. Client server software had really killed the mainframe. Browser based then killed the client server. Then we had a small sea change with Web 2.0. I started building the Avature product in '95. I tore it up in '96 and started it all over again in '96 because I needed it to be Web 2.0. Back then, that was before 2.0 frameworks existed, so you had to actually write the raw 2.0 browser interactions. That was a small sea change.

AI, a big sea change. Bigger than the browser. I would say different and probably fundamentally bigger. But as I point out about the internet, when we were standing around in 1998 and '99, we were some of the people that knew the most about what was going on in technology and knew the most about the internet, and really hardly any of us could see where it would be five, six years later. Nobody at that point in '96 really understood social media.

When social media came out, we still didn't fully understand the impact it was going to have on society until several years later, and we're still figuring out what that impact is. So now you look at AI and you say, "Okay, do we really know what it's going to do yet?" Probably not. It's going to take us another five, six, maybe 10 years to figure out how this is going to impact society.

Clint Betts

What is your take on the AI doomsdayers? I mean, Elon, who is probably the most visible CEO in the world has been like, "Hey, this could kill us all." What are your thoughts on that? And the thing I never hear from that side, and maybe you have some insight here, is how that would happen.

Dimitri Boylan

Well, I think that in terms of killing us all, we've had nuclear weapons around for a long time, and they could kill us all, too. Probably our biggest threat in society right now is not AI. It's probably climate change. So I think we have the AI that can kill us if we get past the problem of climate change. And I'm sure of that. I think as a CEO, you learn to focus on the things that are most important. Quite frankly, climate change is a bigger issue than AI. There's no guarantee that the temperature goes up by two degrees. If you go up by two or three and then go up by another eight. If you studied your thermodynamics in college, if you were lucky enough to be a physics major, you know that it's pretty hard to know what happens if the planet starts getting much warmer.

I don't spend much time thinking about the issue of AI. I think the one thing that we are struggling with today is, what is truth? We know that the internet has sort of upended our fundamental mechanisms that we use to discern what is true and what is not true. I think AI is going to continue to disrupt that. I'm not exactly sure how.

Clint Betts

Yeah. On the subject of climate change real quick, what responsibility and role does business play in that issue?

Dimitri Boylan

Well, I think business leaders have to really push politicians to do the hard things. That's a hard job in itself because politicians don't really want to do hard things. They mostly just want to get reelected. That leaves hard things out, and that gets you to the fundamental aspect of what really is a good leader because there's a bunch of people running down the street to burn the barn down, and you step in front of them and say, "Let's go burn the barn down." That's not a hard thing to do.

Clint Betts

Right.

Dimitri Boylan

That's easy. Anybody can do it. If you want to stand in front of the crowd and try to get them to not burn the barn down and do something else that's better than burning the barn down, that requires leadership.

Clint Betts

You said something earlier about we're kind of struggling with what is true and what is truth? And it's interesting, as you brought up climate change, I'm thinking that's a politicized issue. I think half the country would say it's not an issue. I mean, I don't know if that's true or not, but I mean, it's become this politicized issue where you can run as a politician against climate change and win. That's really interesting.

Dimitri Boylan

Yeah, in America.

Clint Betts

Yeah, in America.

Dimitri Boylan

I live in Europe, and I don't think you can do that in Europe, but you can do it in the United States, yes.

Clint Betts

Interesting. So Europe just fundamentally just accepted it?

Dimitri Boylan

Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Clint Betts

Interesting.

Dimitri Boylan

I think so. Yeah. In the United States, there's been a really strong effort by the vested interests in the oil and gas industry to keep climate change from being a topic. And I think the scientific community has also just done what they do. The scientific community, they're not like business people. Years ago, it was probably reasonable to assume that this was going to be a disaster, but most of the scientific community still wanted to collect the data.

I went to graduate school for science for biophysics at the University of Illinois, and I spent some time around science people, and they're super smart, but they like to have all the facts. Business people don't need all the facts. You learn to work with a limited number of facts and take a little bit of a leap. I think that the scientific community has been too literal and too specific. I mean, they'll prove that the ice caps are going away when they have the data, but that's probably after the fact. You know what I mean? It doesn't have a lot of value. I'm sort of surprised in the United States that the business community has not been more proactive about climate change over the last 15 years.

Clint Betts

And the thing about climate change, too, it's a worldwide problem. If one country does everything needed, or say America does everything it needs to do and Europe does everything it needs to do, and China doesn't, we're kind of just... How do you figure that out?

Dimitri Boylan

Yeah, and that creates —

Clint Betts

Because that matters, too.

Dimitri Boylan

It does, and that creates a fundamental human problem. Because humans, when they don't feel they have control over the outcome, they tend not to participate at the same level. I don't think it's an excuse, and I don't think that... Again, if you want to go back to leadership, you have to lead by example always. So the issue for the United States or for Europe is that if the U.S. isn't making sacrifices, then why would anyone else? I mean, we're the biggest polluter, so if we don't want to make a sacrifice, then nobody else has any interest in doing it, I think.

Clint Betts

Yeah.

Dimitri Boylan

I also think that in the United States over the last decade, a lot of people thought about climate change in the following way. They said, "Oh, it's really going to have a big impact on the people in Bangladesh. What a shame. But me living up here in my community, in my rich country, it's not really going to hit me the same way.” I think if you've seen anything in the last 10 years that's not true. Right?

Clint Betts

Yeah.

Dimitri Boylan

That's not true.

Clint Betts

It's certainly not going to be limited to one part of the earth.

Dimitri Boylan

When the New York subways are underground rivers like during Hurricane Sandy, and when you have the temperatures in the southwest, Texas, Arizona pushing 120 degrees for half the summer, you have to start thinking that it might impact us the same or more.

Clint Betts

For sure. And it kind of comes down to values. And I wonder from your company perspective how you came up with your company's values, maybe what they are, and what values mean in building a company and getting everyone aligned in that area.

Dimitri Boylan

Yeah. I say to people that our company values aren't any different than the values you should have before you got in the company. I expect your values to be a certain set that's reasonable. I think you have to be a fair person. You have to be a helpful person. You have to be willing to share with other people. If you have those basic values, the company doesn't need to enforce any new set of values. I think that what we do look at is if we have people come into the company who don't have those values, they have to go.

Clint Betts

Yeah, that makes sense. Who's a leader or an example of a leader that you admire?

Dimitri Boylan

Oh my God, that's a very tough question. I mean, who am I admiring? I'm not strong on admiration, quite frankly. I'm a bit critical of people.

Clint Betts

Interesting.

Dimitri Boylan

Yeah. I think most of the people that are out there in the world today in the public domain, I've noticed that they seem to be very interested in remaining in the public domain. We've really shifted to an attention based economy where lots of things that people do, they're doing just to get attention. So I'm kind of tuning out a lot of what I see out there. I see people following Elon Musk. I'm not going to follow Elon Musk. I don't need to follow him. I see people following Bill Gates. He's very successful, but I'm not following him. I don't follow anybody. I follow politics. I follow things like the environment. I follow some athletes in the sense that I watch what they do for entertainment, but I don't follow in the social sense at all.

Clint Betts

What are your thoughts on Elon and the way he's leading his myriad of companies?

Dimitri Boylan

Well, I mean, I don't usually opine on other people. He went to the same college as I did, and he majored in physics as well, and he went into the internet space, which is where he got his first success.

Clint Betts

With PayPal.

Dimitri Boylan

Yeah. No, the company that he sold to... It was a directory, like a-

Clint Betts

Oh, right. Yeah, even before PayPal.

Dimitri Boylan

Yeah, it was a directory of local stores. I think he's a person who clearly likes a lot of attention. He obviously brings on a lot of attention for multiple reasons. Not someone like myself. I mean, I don't tweet and I never tweeted. I think I tweeted once. I think I tweeted, "Hello."

Clint Betts

Really? You've only tweeted one time?

Dimitri Boylan

I think I've only tweeted one time.

Clint Betts

That's a badge of honor, my friend. That's awesome.

Dimitri Boylan

I look at it like I have other things to do, so I'm not interested in making short statements, I guess

Clint Betts

That's awesome.

Dimitri Boylan

For me to get into the shoes of somebody like that and think about what they're doing, I just can't. It's too far from my world.

Clint Betts

Oh, sure. Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense.

Dimitri Boylan

And then politics is politics. I don't even know what it is. I think if I was a person who owned shares in his companies, I would probably be critical of his behavior at this point in time because I'd feel like his behavior is potentially diminishing the value of my assets.

Clint Betts

Yeah, that's interesting. What are your thoughts on the current macroeconomic environment for businesses? This whole year we've been preparing for a recession. A recession is coming. A recession is coming. It hasn't come at least in the normal sense of the way we define a recession. There's now predictions that maybe it won't come at all.
What are your thoughts leading into 2024 about just the overall macroeconomic environment?

Dimitri Boylan

Well, I didn't think we were ever going to hit a recession in the United States, but I was pretty sure we were going to hit one in Europe. And I thought the one in Europe would be rather short-lived because I thought the Ukrainian War would last about another year at most. So I was very wrong with the Ukrainian War. It looks like it's going to last a lot longer than that. In the U.S., about 60% of our business is U.S. business, and our customers are almost exclusively very large companies. So moving into 2023, we saw very large companies get hesitant to spend more money in the April, May, June period. But then everybody who was about to spend a large amount of money in April, May, June and didn't turn around and spent it in July and August. Okay? That's just the data we have, okay? So it looked like they were tightening their belt in the second quarter, and then for some reason, loosening their belt in the third quarter.

Now, the thing to remember about our customers is they don't think in terms of six months. If they were small to medium sized businesses, they'd be doing things based on what's going to happen in the next six months. But very large companies that do tech projects that take a year and a half to deploy or maybe two years to deploy, they tend to think over a three year period. The way they deal with employees is changing so dramatically at this point in time that most of them are pretty eager to lean into it regardless. No doubt there was obviously a period of uncertainty there that seems to have subsided. Right now, I see no indications from our customers that they're going to be pulling back on spending in 2024. I don't see any big push to spend a lot more either, though.

Clint Betts

Yeah. So it might just kind of remain stagnant.

Dimitri Boylan

If it remains the same for us, it'll be pretty good. We ended up with about 30% growth in this year in 2023. And for us in enterprise software, large company businesses, large company clients, that's pretty good growth. We're pretty happy about it.

Clint Betts

Yeah, that's incredible. Dimitri, I can't thank you enough for coming on. Seriously, I could talk to you forever about all sorts of things, but we end every interview in the exact same way with this question.
That is at ceo.com, we believe the chances one gives is just as important as the chances one takes. When you hear that, who gave you a chance to get you to where you are today?

Dimitri Boylan

Well, I have to go back to just a few people in my life, mostly when I was young. My uncle answered every question I ever asked him, and I asked an incredible number of questions. I think that probably allowed my curiosity to develop. I think that curiosity is a very important part of what you need to do to be successful and it's something that we look for, for example, in everybody that we hire in Avature. We look for people that are curious, that like to do new things, that like to understand how things work and why they work. So I think my curiosity was developed at a young age from my uncle.

Clint Betts

That's beautiful. Dimitri, thank you so much again for coming on the show. Best of luck with everything and I'm sure we'll see you down the road. Appreciate it.

Dimitri Boylan

Fantastic. Thank you very much.

Clint Betts

Thanks.