Ray Bixler – CEO, SkillSurvey

Ray brings over 20 years of leadership and management experience to his role as CEO of SkillSurvey. A seasoned executive, he sets the strategic direction of the company and manages relationships with clients. Previously, Ray served as vice president of Caliper, where he consulted with hundreds of small, mid-size and Fortune 500 businesses to develop better hiring, development, performance management, and succession planning strategies.

How did the concept for SkillSurvey come about?
The company was founded on the premise of dramatically improving four key areas of reference checking: improving the efficiency via an online SaaS solution, improving the quality of feedback from the references by offering them a confidential forum to share their thoughts, improving compliance by building a structured and consistent platform, and improving the opportunity to professionally source the references as future candidates. With regards to two of these areas, quality of feedback and compliance, we added the science of assessments to make the results more reliable and data-driven. Today, SkillSurvey is the only online reference checking solution that has been scientifically-proven to reduce turnover for cause and yield better hiring results.

What was your marketing strategy?
Core to our marketing strategy was focusing the bulk of our early outreach on industries that were already reference checking (some as a requirement) and would be receptive to automating and improving the task. In our case, this led to an early focus on the healthcare market which allowed us to build up a strong client base.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
I started in December of 2006, when the company was still very small. We grew by over 1,100% over the next four years.

How do you define success?
On a business level, we are successful if we’ve accomplished three things: 1) we’ve built a company and culture that our employees appreciate and enjoy and offers them the opportunity to develop and learn. Success has been achieved when we’ve become their “best job ever.” 2) We’ve built a company that offers solutions to our clients that revolutionize their work, provide tremendous value, and make their jobs easier. Success has been achieved when we’ve become their “best vendor ever.” 3) We’ve built a company that provides our investors with an excellent return on their investment.

What is the key to success?
Very simply, by whether we’ve delivered on the value propositions we promised to our clients. Those being improving the efficiency via an online SaaS solution, improving the quality of feedback from the references by offering them a confidential forum to share their thoughts, improving compliance by building a structured and consistent platform, and improving the opportunity to professionally source the references as future candidates. With regards to science and taking the reference checking process to a level it’s never been, we have invested in a team of I/O psychologists, product and engineering experts, and others with deep experience in hiring and talent management. The team aligns technological innovations with market demands and applies psychometric research principles to maintain the integrity of SkillSurvey’s reference methodology and we remain laser-focused on maintaining its rigorous standards for data privacy and compliance. We continually validate that our solution delivers results, and are the only solution to have published peer-reviewed research and have several patents.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
In my role as CEO of a company that has a solution that can be sold to every business, the opportunity looks enormous and very appealing, so staying focused and finding niche markets that are more responsive to our solution was very important to ultimately scale our company.

What are some of your favorite books?
Some of my favorites are Doris Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort, and Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat. The book that taught me to really enjoy reading was Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Q4 of 2008. Due to the severe economic downturn that year, and that we sell a hiring solution to companies when most companies were going to slow down or freeze their hiring decisions for a while, we had to lay off some of our employees to reduce our cash burn. We did it all in one day. This was very painful, letting go of some people who had helped us grow up to that point. Apparently, we explained our situation well enough and handled the circumstances with the right amount of empathy and courtesy, because several of these employees came back to us two years later to continue to help us grow.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The will to win and be successful.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Learn to be resilient and learn from your mistakes. Embrace your mistakes as great opportunities to learn and grow. Be kind to others and create a company culture where people care about each other and have the common good in mind.

This interview was conducted for research purposes by Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.