The Key to Discovering Hidden Boardroom Opportunities, with Joe Meyer
Unveiling the place where unlisted positions are found.
The recruiting process for executive-level positions may seem shrouded in mystery, as many are not posted publicly. We’re delving in to Joe Meyer’s solution to discovering job opportunities in the boardroom.
Joe is Founder & CEO of ExecThread, a VC-backed crowdsourcing platform and premium job-sharing network that enables professionals to access the “hidden job market”. ExecThread is the largest global aggregator of unpublished executive-level job opportunities.
Joe has been a successful start-up CEO and operating executive at high-growth tech companies including HopStop (acquired by Apple), Quigo (acquired by AOL) and eBay (EBAY) with a strong track record of recruiting teams, launching new products, raising venture capital, growing traffic, eliciting engagement, scaling revenue and achieving liquidity.
Joe was named Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012 by Crain’s New York Business, and was #9 on Business Insider’s 2013 “Silicon Alley 100” list (as one of the Top 100 tech executives in NYC). Joe is a Board Member of the Hoyas Unlimited Board of Governors Company for Georgetown University, was previously on the Board of Directors of Kalexo (acquired by Autodesk) and Belief Networks (acquired by Benefit Focus), and on the Board of Advisors of Adtuitive (acquired by Etsy), Spongecell (acquired by Flashtalking, Inc.) and Snooth (wine discovery platform).
In today’s episode, Joe reflects on his impressive experience and how it shaped his perspective of boardroom recruiting, leading him to create a platform to give candidates an edge. You won’t want to miss this episode of Boardroom Bound!
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Boardroom bound episode 121. The key to discovering hidden boardroom opportunities with Joe Meyer.
Hello, and welcome to this episode of boardroom bound. My name is Alexander Lowry, and this is the podcast dedicated to intentional leadership in the boardroom. My goal is to give aspiring existing directors, the tips, tactics, and strategies necessary to transform your confidence and build a successful career as a board director, quick reminder, and get all of today’s show firstname.lastname@example.org. And in today’s episode, we’re speaking with Joe Meyer. Joe is the founder and CEO of exact thread, and this is a premium peer-to-peer job sourcing network with 65,000 plus high caliber business leaders. And what they’re doing is together finding the hidden, the covered job opportunities. Think board opportunities that you’re going to want to know about this can be delivered for you at the last Tuesday of every month, shows up your inbox as an email, seeing all of these opportunities, and you might never have found otherwise free. If I haven’t mentioned that already great opportunity, you’re going to want to hear all about it. Joe’s going to tell you how the organization came about what his experience was like as a board member, which helped define why he went through building this tool. Great resource, which I highly recommend. Let’s jump into the show.
Joe Meyer. Welcome to the boardroom bound podcast.
Thanks for having me on board. Appreciate it.
It’s always great fun. The Wharton alumni network of which are both parts is a hundred thousand plus strong, but it is a small world after all. So always excited to hear about fascinating Wharton alumni, doing great stuff. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. You have a fantastic organization that you started really excited because this is a free tool, which adds a huge amount of value to all of our listeners. So I know they’re all gonna want to sign up as soon as they hear this episode, but I get ahead of myself. So let me step back here, because you didn’t just invent this overnight. You had to have a lot of experience to be able to build it also experience in the boardroom and advisory roles, probably that helped inform some of this. So let’s take a step back and let’s talk a bit about your career story that set up this opportunity that you’re in today that you’re going to share with us.
Yeah. So I’ll start with the name of the company. I’m the founder and CEO of a company called thread. I’m sure I’ll get a chance to articulate the value proposition of executive here in a few minutes, but when you take a step back and give my background in a snapshot, in addition to being the founder and CEO of exact thread I’m also a husband and a father of one adorable children career wise I’ve spent the vast majority of my career in the high-tech space, usually at startups early in my career. I was a one of the early employees at eBay pre IPO through the IPO. I then parlayed that into a executive in residence. I’m sorry, an entrepreneur in residence role at a venture capital fund in Silicon Valley. I moved cross country to New York to run revenue for a, what was then a small contextual ed network called we go, we are within two years, we scaled it from a few million in revenue up to a hundred million in revenue and then was acquired for close to 400 million by AOL where I spent a year or two post-acquisition as a, as an ethnic year.
And then acquisition by AOL. I was recruited by the founder of Corrigo just invested in a small startup called the HopStop, which was in the pedestrian navigation and transit mapping space to become their CEO. And I became their CTO and within four years we scaled that company from being facilitating mapping and navigation in two or three markets up to around a thousand markets and were subsequently acquired by Apple and then spent two and a half years at Apple post acquisition, which is where I conceived and brainstormed protectorate concept, which is what I’ve been doing ever since for the past five years.
And so we’re going to, we’re going to dive into exact thread, but even before we do that, let’s take another step back because there’s more than just the executive part of your CV that we’ve discussed. Let’s also talk about your experience in the board space of both advisory board and being on board. So I think that will help color some of the conversation today.
Yeah. So actually in advance of this call, it kind of just took a quick note taking exercise of the boards I’ve been on. So the thread it looks like is my fourth board. So my first two board of director roles were before I ever became a CEO actually. So coming off of the Quito acquisition by AOL, I was an executive at AOL and I joined two startup boards, one startup called collect. So, which was in the enterprise software space, stolen collaboration tools for engineering and construction companies. And that company was acquired while I was a board member by Autodesk, which is a public company. And then I also joined a startup board, a tech startup by the name of belief networks, which was kind of an early AI company focused on the healthcare space. And they were subsequently acquired by Benefitfocus, which is also another public company.
And I’ve also been on the board of advisors of a company, another ad tech, another ad tech startup called [inaudible], which was acquired by yet another public company called Etsy. So I’m sure you’ve heard of all three of those board opportunities where before I ever became a CEO and then I became a CEO for the first time I took over HopStop and obviously was on that board for CEO. And now I’m on the board of exec of the CEO and founder. So I just, I’ve been on a total of five boards and four out of the five so far were acquired by a public company. So just a pretty good batting average.
And, and this is really helpful before we dive into execs read, I’m sure audiences, and I want to save executive for a second, cause it’s going to change the answer to the story. But apart from the way where you were the CEO of a couple of organizations, you’re on their board for some of the other three, how did those come about? Like people generally think I have to network in order to land a board role. What was that like for you, Joe getting those?
Yeah, so it’s interesting because I haven’t thought about this in awhile. So I’ll tell you exactly how so two, a bit three came about. Well actually, no, they all came about in three different ways. So add to it, it came about because I was networking with VCs who were trying to get me to become CEO of portfolio companies, that there is an opportunity to materialize or board opportunity at one of their portfolio companies materialized. And I had domain knowledge in the ad tech space and that was an intuitive collect. So I was actually a co-founder of collect so early on, but I decided not to move forward with it. Instead, I decided to pursue another opportunity. I joined the board as one of the original co-founders and stayed on the board through acquisition. And then belief networks was through an angel investor who was asking me to do diligence on the opportunity, help him think through the investment opportunity. And as a result of that exercise it’s like Wade into a board role. So I guess you could all say all three were through networking. But one was through juicy relationship and another one was through an angel investor relationship. And another one was through my professional network. Yeah, I’ll try to materialize, you know, in slightly different, but similar ways.
And in, in, in many ways that’s sort of what exact thread I would say is to putting on its head is I’ll call this like the traditional networking type stuff for startup type companies, the way we’ve sort of described it here. It’s like that work, that network, your position, your authority that led to those. So now I’d love if you’d sort of share with exec thread because it really changes the game, not just for startups, for so many different sorts of opportunities.
Yeah. You know, to be quite honest it is quite dependent upon networking, but we depend on networking in terms of our members connect started a member network of over 65,000 high caliber professionals at the executive level on a bug through board role level type professionals, highly curated and very community. And we source opportunities directly from our network. So if you think about it, you know, if you have a, if you have one or two peers that you’re comparing notes with, and maybe one or two peers mentioned, mentioned to you that he or she has heard about an opportunity, whether it be a board opportunity or not, and then you find out about it via word of mouth now compound that by 65,000 professionals. And that’s what we do at Excel. We leverage the wisdom of the crowd and we leverage that kind of a pay it forward sort of mentality.
And you found out about an opportunity that you might not be the best fit for yourself. You share it with exec thread and we take that information. We share it with the rest of the executive community anonymously. And at this point we’ve, crowd-sourced older with just actually this week, we surpassed 20,000 confidential career opportunities that we’ve crowdsourced over the past few years. And the vast majority of those are C-suite roles that are being worked on by retained search firms, such as Korn ferry and Russell Reynolds, Heidrick and struggles. And then the likes. And very recently we’ve started crowdsourcing and directly sourcing more and more board roles. As I was mentioning to you before, before the call started the last Tuesday of every month, we put out a newsletter of the most recently crowd source, directly short Gordon little opportunities that we’ve sourced from our network.
And at this point we’re, we’re sourcing several dozen board opportunities a month. Both public and private companies, both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. And several weeks I tried members have, you know, gotten on the interview slates for those or they’ll opportunities. If you have actually secured formal opportunities from it, and several hundred executive members have secured their next clear that thing operating each week role for executives. So we really leverage the fact that everyone has all these strong networks to get access to that knowledge of where the opportunities are. And then we created a platform called exec Trek to amplify that if that makes sense,
It does. And in, in some ways this is kind of the Vall hall off. People just want to know, like, I need to find the right opportunity for me. I, I hear sorts of two different types of requests from people that want a board seat. They say, you know, can I get a board? Can you help me get a board seat? How do I get an, a board? How do I get started? Which to me is very high level. It’s like saying help me get a job. Like, I don’t know what to do with that. It’s so big. As opposed to someone who’s much more of like, this is exactly who I am. This is my brand. This is my position of authority. I’m looking for exactly this square peg for, for me to be slotted into. And I think that is what you’re talking about.
The, of this where it’s like, well, no, these are the right. Maybe there are two or three. These are exactly what I should be focused on. I’m laser focused, as opposed to someone who has more of a shotgun approach, incredibly valuable for them. And if I could step back, Joe, if you put your hat back on, it could be any of the five boards you’re on. Now with your CEO ones. The other ones we talked about when you were trying to find a board member before exec thread existed, obviously you can pay a fair bit of money to use an executive recruiter to do that sort of stuff. Traditionally people have always had in their mind. Well, you have to know someone to really be in there to really have a good chance, because it’s all about the network, people who are going to vouch for you. They bring people that they already know and like, and trust. I would already that one of the powers of exact thread is the fact that you have all of these opportunities being sourced. And I imagine many people who are generally underrepresented, let’s say in the board space now know about an opportunity, which could be a great fit for them. Talk us through what, what that feels like for someone who’s on the board, where you’re just trying to find the right candidate to fill the role.
Yeah. So I guess a couple of thoughts. So one of the first things you said, I’ll just kind of respond to, which is, you know, kind of, you know, how did, how did I go about finding, you know, proactively finding board roles and to be quite honest, and I say this in all sincerity all the boards I was on, all the board opportunities, I’ve been a part of found me. I I’ve never actually proactively tried to find a board opportunity. Now that’s not to say that I won’t, at some point in my career proactively go try to identify board opportunities. But coincidentally, you know, all, all my board opportunities found me at a time when I wasn’t proactively looking for board opportunities. And maybe there’s something to be said about that in the sense that maybe the, you know, the less hard you try, the more, you know, fortuitous you’ll be.
Do you know what I mean? But to, to touch on some of your other points. So yeah, I mean, at the end of the day executor, it’s all about providing efficient, scalable access to otherwise inaccessible and confidential career opportunities. Both full-time operating roles, as well as board roles. And traditionally you would need to network like hell and be very good at what you do to get access to those. Whereas if you were an executor, I member, you can very quick efficient, scalable access to those opportunities as well as surgical access to them. And as you can imagine that value proposition of providing more access to otherwise inaccessible career opportunities, especially board roles really disproportionately benefits, underrepresented professionals, who to date have been, you know, largely you know kept out of the boardroom due to access challenges and while that’s changing today.
And I’m glad that it is, you know, having access to a tool like exec Trek, which gives you very quick, very efficient very scalable access to amazing confidential career opportunities. You know, that really resonates with underrepresented professionals so much. So that are close to 50% of the executive network are underrepresented executives, women, and or people of color or LBGTQ plus. And if you compare that to national averages where around 20% of executives are underrepresented, you know, we’re, over-indexing on underrepresented by a good two to three X, which has happened organically. We have not tried to make that happen. We have not marketed our service at all, let alone to certain demographics. It’s all been word of mouth and referral based. And the executive network has organically grown into a highly underrepresented you know, audience.
And let’s just also highlight the word you used before was there’s a free monthly newsletter that summarizes the board opportunities that come out. I think that word free is probably going to catch some people off guard because generally you think, okay, an executive recruiter charges a fair bit of money to find the right person, depending on whether you’re public or private company there are other sites that you can sign up to, to pay, to have access to things like this. Your model sounds very different.
Well, yeah, I mean, for the first few years of executor, I had, we kept it a hundred percent free for candidates. We have a point system that governs execs, right? Where when you contribute opportunities to the platform I E crowdsourced, when you helped us crowdsource them, or when you refer peers of yours to execs red we give you points. We award you with points and with those points you could uncover or uncapped the confidential information of each of these opportunities. To this day executor, it is free to join free, to sign up for defining free to search browse and filter and free to receive all of these newsletters and job listings. And I’ve mentioned, we only recently within the past several months implemented a freemium revenue model, which means that the vast majority of our user experience is still free to this date.
But in order to uncover the most confidential information such as the name of the employer or the name and contact information of the recruiter working on that search information is behind a paywall, which is a very modest paywall. But the nice thing is that we still have our point economy where he could still earn points by contributing jobs and referring peers, and then you can trade or redeem those points in to lower the cost of that full access membership model. So a lot of executive members earn as many points as it takes to continue using the platform for free because they’re so actively engaged. So you could still use it for free if you want completely, if you are on those points, but the vast majority of the user experience remains for you to this day, good incentivization
To just pour back in and pay it forward for others. Absolutely. And Joe, when you think about where exact thread is going to go from here, it sounds like in some ways you’re almost scratching the surface of the power of what this can provide.
I mean, you know, that’s one of the things that makes executor, it’s so exciting, but yet so challenging, and this is the fence. So we are doing some very unique very clever and very scalable things. And it could lead us in a number of different directions. You know, that being said, I’ve learned, you know, from my years of running and operating a lot of startups, that focus is key. So, you know, we need to continue executing even better against the core value proposition of providing our members with access to otherwise inaccessible opportunities for doing that and even margin numbers. And we’ve been doing to date. And if we continue doing that, I think, you know, good things will continue to, to play out for us,
So help our listeners imagine this. So they sign up, start receiving your monthly newsletters, find ones I think are a great fit for them. And they proceed forward in your experience, what you’ve seen so far, you’ve talked about a couple of success stories you’ve had that have people gone through, gotten the interviews few that have landed the jobs, and it’s so hard to stand out. Even finding the opportunities of course, is the first part, because then only then can you apply? I imagine part of the service in the future going forward will probably be helping people prepare themselves for those opportunities.
Yeah. You know, we’re already starting to get into that business. We are in the resume review and resume writing business, as we speak through our partnership with pop resume, which is a large resume writing platform. Several thousand of our members have gotten their resumes reviewed and critiqued and rewritten as a result of that relationship. We also partnered with a third party network called InTouch networks to help our members craft board ready resumes. And that was very specific to board role opportunities. And we are actively exploring getting into the career coaching space, as well, as you can imagine, these are services that will better prepare you for those opportunities, not only in terms of making you more attractive for them, but making you more successful, you know when you’re in those roles.
And when you think about someone going through and finding the right opportunity what are you, what is your guidance either that you shared directly in the platform or your own personal experience of having been someone who’s sitting in the board space and thinking about how do we evaluate potential candidates that someone should should say, okay, now I’ve found the right opportunity. How do I make myself stand out from the crowd?
Yeah. So to be quite honest I’m a big fan of, of networking and you know, even though the executor platform provides greater efficiency and scale, and really amplifies your networking efforts, right. You know, we provide you the access to thousands of career opportunities that you would never have access to. Otherwise, if you were only reliant upon networking, but the big difference between exec tread and let’s just call it a job board is we don’t consider ourselves a job board is that job boards provide you with a apply experience, right? You apply on the job boards, right? I think we all know that’s somewhat of a black hole. We don’t provide that apply experience as much as we provide the actionable information that you need to take action on and leverage your shared connections from, to separate yourself from the pack.
So instead of an apply experience, we have a reveal experience and it says, Hey, if you want to find out the name of the hiring company, the hiring manager, contact information for the hiring manager, the name of the executive recruiters, working on this search, their contact information, the firm that worked for click reveal. And once you get that information, then we highly advise you to leverage shared connections, to get your foot in the door and to separate yourself from the pack so that once you have your foot in the door, then you can go to work after you really differentiating yourself. But as it relates and leveraging and talking about your career experiences and what you bring to the table, but the hardest part is getting your foot in the door. And we provide you the information to do that. Because at the end of the day, it’s shared connections that you’re going to leverage to really, you know, go to bat for you and to vouch for you. And you can’t get that from an apply experience, but you can get that if you know who the decision maker I E, the hiring managers, and if you know who the key influencers are, I E the internal and external executive recruiters working on that search.
And Joe, I’d love to take us if you could take us back in time, maybe into your own mindset, where this came from, some of your Apple post acquisition and this sort of passion project came up, how did it come about what led you to it?
Great question. So I was at Apple, not even really thinking about starting a company. And I was starting to get approached by executive recruiters more and more, you know, it’s not surprising if you’re the CEO of a startup that gets acquired by Apple. You know, you’re gonna be approached by recruiters. And, you know, I found the business of executive recruiting, quite interesting, not because I wanted to become an executive recruiter, but I found it interesting that I was getting approached by people that didn’t even know me. I could have recruiters with career opportunities that they thought would be a great fit for me. We had at the end of the day, I know what’s a great fit for me more than they do, right. Or at least I should. And I thought to myself, Hey, like, I don’t want to be reliant upon third parties to recruiters, to surface opportunities to me.
And more importantly, to, to not, to not surface opportunities for me instead, I want to be in control. I want to have access to all these potential opportunities. And then I want to self select from ones that I care about most. And I feel like that’s good for, and I, and the more I realize that doesn’t exist, you know, everything’s behind a walled garden, everything’s broken dagger, everything’s confidential. And the only way you find out about these opportunities is if you’re approached or someone in your network tells you about them, both of which are occurrences that don’t happen every day. I said, you know what? I want to solve that problem. And, you know, it’s a problem that’s ever been called before. And the white phone went off me when I said, you know what? You never get every single candidate that’s approached by an executive recruiter for either a board role here for a C-suite operating role, knows about all the confidential opportunities and aggregate.
So what happens if I formed a community of those executives who are getting approached by executive recruiters and presented them with the value proposition of, Hey, if you share with us the information, you know, about opportunities that are otherwise going to Constable we’ll return the favor and kind and tell you about all the opportunities that everyone else in the community is finding out about. And I just had a hunch that, that value proposition that give to get nature that gives you that model would resonate had definitely has 65,000 members at this point, completely regarded to date over 20,000 confidential searches, crowdsourced today’s well on our way to scaling those numbers even further.
Well, we’re glad to see that because at the end of the day, many of the people listening to this show are just thinking, I need to find opportunities to help them understand how I can add value to them. And I would love to, I don’t know if you have any stats on this or any thoughts to sort of the success stories from your organization. I imagine one of our listeners perhaps getting that monthly newsletter, it says here all the board opportunities, they think great. I might just want to put myself forward for all of these. That probably gives me the best chance my reaction would be. No, no, no, no, no. Just put yourself ones that are the right fit for you. You’re better off doing a sort of a laser-focused it’s fewer and far between really doing a deep dive, showing you how your exact fit, any thoughts for our audience in terms of guidance of using the information you’re going to be sharing with them.
I don’t, I’m not a big fan of the the shotgun approach either. You know, I think more targeted in the more focused and the more surgical you are, where you can really hone in on those opportunities, whether they be full-time operating roles and or board roles or both where you can, you know, bring direct pertinent and specific and concrete experience to the table. That’s highly related to the opportunity highly related to the requirements for that role the higher, the likelihood you’re going to be considered. You know, I don’t think you’re ever going to convince someone that you’re qualified for an opportunity in spite of you finding out about it through execs, right. If you’re not qualified for the opportunity. So, you know, I think, you know, we solve half the problem, which is how do I get access to these opportunities? I think the onus is upon the candidate to stop the other half, which is, you know, being self-aware enough to know which opportunities to pursue and which ones more importantly not to pursue.
Right. And John invite you to look into your crystal ball a bit here, because I imagine some of my listeners are going now, Oh, I, can I get this as a there’s a little bit like LinkedIn here in the sense of LinkedIn tries to connect the world. We know that there are jobs posted on LinkedIn and generally they’re real jobs because it’s expensive to post jobs on LinkedIn. Clearly this is not the same thing it’s different. But when you think about the future, like LinkedIn, maybe the 800 pound gorilla, that’s out there for part of what you’re doing. There are there pieces of the industry you can see might change and grow and shape as a result of this sort of information coming out there, being publicly accessible. When you look down the road, I don’t know, what’s five or 10 years you picture, like, where do you think exact Fred will be in that far down the line in terms of the offerings that might bring and how it’ll be adding value to even more people.
Great question. You know, I will say this so that at the end of the day, we’re in the data business underneath the hood of a pretty compelling front end user experience is a kind of structured data. Because if you think about it, if we’ve crowdsourced 20,000 retained searches at this point you know, think about how many executive recruiters are attached to those 20,000 searches. How many search firms, how many hiring companies, how many hiring managers, how many internal recruiters you know, all of that structured data is all matrix and all correlated and all structured underneath the hood, et cetera. So I would not be surprised if we got into the database even more and became a business intelligence platform for professionals who are interested in accessing and benefiting from that proprietary data that we have access to.
Well, Joe, it’s amazing when you think it’s probably just been about five and a half years from where exec said threads started, perhaps it’s just a dream in your mind and now it’s coming together and you’re see are actually making a tremendous difference for a lot of people. And thank you for pulling back the curtain on what is an often opaque market. And we’re delighted to share what you’re doing at exact thread today and what a tremendous resource it can be for everybody to go and sign up, start getting that monthly newsletter brought directly to you of board opportunities to find the ones that you’re a fit for. So thank you for sharing your insights, Joe, and helping all of us to be.
Yeah, well, again, I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to not only tell my story, but more importantly, the exact right story. And for any of your listeners who are interested in joining Execunet again, it’s free to join. And all you would need to do is go to exec thread.com forward slash join. I’m going say this, which is, you know to do network for high caliber professionals. So if you’re not at that stage in your career, it probably won’t be as helpful to you. So, you know, I would say self select into it wisely because, you know, you want to be able to benefit from the tool and hence be at the stage of your career where you can remember to park online.
That’s it for this episode of boardroom bound, I really enjoyed chatting with Joe Meyer. It was great to hear about the organization he started with exec thread and how that is really changing the game in terms of bringing the opportunities for you. Opportunities probably not accessible otherwise they were hidden. Certainly we think about how underrepresented people on boards often are in the networks of the people, looking to the boards and suddenly the opportunities you would want to find, show up in your inbox for free once a month on the last Tuesday, what a great opportunity, highly recommend everybody go sign email@example.com. And remember, if you head over to podcast of gordon.edu, you will find links to all of today’s resources, and please know that the boardroom bound team and I are so proud to be your go-to podcast, for all things that connect, prepare, and empower you to land a board seat. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast, if you miss any of the high quality content or bringing to every Wednesday. Thanks for joining me today. I can’t wait to share more stories and strategies from brilliant business minds with you again, next week. Remember to keep tuning in, to be boardroom bell.