WhistleTalk: Referral hiring made easy 

The Bangalore-based start-up's Facebook-like online job referral concept leverages the social networks of current employees. 

Inevitably, pursuing a job opportunity is a tedious process for a seeker. And, for a manager, hiring is an expensive affair. "Not any more," say Vinoo Chacko and Ajay Nema, co-founders of Bangalore-based social referral hiring platform WhistleTalk. 

WhistleTalk (www.whistle-talk.com) is a social hiring application that enables employees and hiring managers to find the best talent at the earliest. Users can help friends find their dream jobs and earn a referral bonus. WhistleTalk leverages employees' social networks - it connects with social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus to accelerate employee referrals for job openings.

 "In Facebook, if you go to a friend's page, you can see pictures posted by your friends and those placed by their friends' network. We, at WhistleTalk, replace pictures with jobs. In simple terms, think about WhistleTalk as a Facebook for jobs. You can visit a friend's page and view current openings in your friend's company, as well as jobs reachable through your friends' social networks. In a philosophical manner, WhistleTalk is all about friends helping each other in career progression," says Chacko, chief executive of the company. 

Typically, the social network of an employee includes those who worked with him/her earlier, those who studied with him/her, and those who share common interests. These are ideal candidates for the organisation. "More important, your current employee has an influence over his/her friends," Chacko adds.

 While WhistleTalk makes it easy for employees to win referral bonuses from their respective companies, the question is to win these bonuses, would employees bombard friends with job descriptions in their company? 

No. WhistleTalk has strong anti-spam features. Further, the analytics and the recommendation engine ensures that only relevant job descriptions reach candidates.

 Ajay Nema, chief technology officer of WhistleTalk, says: "WhistleTalk is designed by giving importance to privacy, security and confidentiality of employees' social networks. We believe an employee's social network is his private property. In WhistleTalk, even the human resources department of the organisation wouldn't have access to any employee's social network. Our team has taken every step to protect the confidentiality of applying candidates. In WhistleTalk, it is the job description that goes viral in the social network."

 The beginning

WhistleTalk was co-founded by Vinoo Chacko and Ajay Nema in January 2012. In August, they raised Rs 2 crore from the Hyderabad Angels Network and launched a free-to-employees version on October 2, 2012. Through this, any employee could come on board, share openings at his/her company and get a referral bonus.

 Recently, the company launched an enterprise version, with a 30-day free trail, through which enterprises could use WhistleTalk to manage their referral hiring. "In most companies, there is a huge push to move more recruitment to referrals," says Chacko. Organisations can spend more of their hiring budgets on referral bonuses, instead of paying external hiring agencies, resulting in significant cost savings, he adds.

 Sunil Sundar, human resources manager at Richcore, a Bangalore-based biotechnology company that has deployed the WhistleTalk referral hiring solution, agrees.

 "At Richcore, we value our current employees and want to hire more people like them. On WhistleTalk, our employees share current openings with their network of friends, alumni and past colleagues. The solution was up and running in a few hours and since it is a SaaS (software-as-a-service) offering, no local information technology (IT) resources were required," he says.

 Through WhistleTalk, the company was able to engage employees with rewards and competitions, resulting in a significant increase in participation and quick results, he said.

 Sunil Goel, director of human resources firm GlobalHunt, says, "Companies, especially, in the BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance), telecom and IT domains are heavily dependent on referrals. They save most costs on hiring through this process…. While these portals provide an opportunity to be connected to several people, companies should also conduct their own background checks to ensure the person being recruited is credible."

 The human resource chief of a mid-sized IT company says portals such as WhistleTalk are helpful for companies that don't have an internal referral management system. "While companies have started using it (WhistleTalk), it will take at least three to five years for big companies from India Inc to adopt this model… because the concept is new and Indian companies do not want to take any risk at a time when the job market is slow."

 Revenue model

A senior human resource manager at a large broking firm says the company is able to save 60-65 per cent hiring costs through referrals.

 "Peers in our sector boost referrals by offering rewards and cash incentives to employees. If portals such as WhistleTalk can be integrated with our internal networks, it would be easier for us," he adds.

 Chacko says the company, which would complete a year this August, is at an early stage of money-making.

 Currently, seven companies use WhistleTalk's enterprise version, he adds. This year, WhistleTalk plans rope in 25 companies for its enterprise version; it expects to break even by mid-2014.

 The payment of referral bonus is an arrangement between the employee and a respective organisation; WhistleTalk doesn't play a role in this process. It follows a standard SaaS business model, selling a monthly subscription service to companies; the charges are based on the number of employees the company has, as well as the number of job openings.

 The value proposition for WhistleTalk's enterprise is simple: "If a company recruits a person (for a salary of Rs 10 lakh a year) through a recruitment agency, the company typically pays Rs 85,000-1.5 lakh to the agency. If the same person is hired through the referral route, the company would typically pay the employee about Rs 25,000 as a referral bonus, saving Rs 60,000-1.25 lakh per hire…. More than the savings, organisations are keen on hiring the right candidates faster," says Chacko.

 Globally, recruitment is a $115-billion market, of which 33 per cent is through referrals. Chacko hopes WhistleTalk would be able to capture two to three per cent of the global referral market.

 The company is lining up a mobile version of its web referral recruitment platform and plans to release it soon. This version would be supported by the iOS and Android, says Nema.

 "In 12-18 months, we expect these products to account for about 100 customers. We will also look at closing series-A funding to scale up operations," he says, adding WhistleTalk was sector-agnostic and relevant for all companies that had a referral hiring policy.

 Though many companies across various sectors have such policies in place, they don't have a referral management system that can leverage the social network of its employees. Eventually, WhistleTalk plans to reach out to all these sectors. Initially, however, it would focus on the IT and financial sectors, Nema says.

 He says being a SaaS model, WhistleTalk can address any market in the world.

 "The idea is to prove the technology and the business model in India before expanding abroad. However, early indications are very positive. Market-wise, hiring is a global problem and the technology has been developed for a global audience," Nema adds.

 Investor speak

Serial entrepreneur Raghu Bathina is the lead investor for the first round of funding by Hyderabad Angels Network. Bathina, a member of the WhistleTalk board, is an active advisor to the company.

 Asked what made him invest in WhistleTalk, he says it is the intellectual property Chacko and Nema have built with their viral engines, which is unique. The recruitment market is huge and whenever one talks of referral-based hiring, there is money being transacted. The market WhistleTalk is into is large enough for them to find their way and succeed, he adds.