It’s March of 2001. I’m in a Midtown Manhattan office on my “bat phone” convincing an unsuspecting recruiter that I’m a 40-year-old Java programming expert, while in fact, I’m actually an 18-year-old kid who had posted a fake “perfect” resume on Monster.com as bait. You see, I was also a recruiter and instead of working hard to find companies that were looking to fill a job, I was trying to fleece my fellow recruiters of that intel and then swoop in myself. It worked like a charm. This was my eighth month on the job. I had observed by then that results were the only thing that mattered. Ethics weren’t on the radar. For my ingenuity, I was taken to dinner by my Team Leader and the CEO, given a raise in my commission payout and put in charge of what we would come to call the “Black Ops” department. What a town.
I promise this piece is intended to explain what we do and why we do it here at Tidestreet. But, it would be incomplete without acknowledging my bumpy ride from morally questionable headhunter to someone who’s consumed with the desire to help high performing professionals make the best possible career moves.
I started recruiting on July 10, 2000. I had just moved to NYC the week before from the suburbs of San Diego, 2 weeks after my high school graduation. Before my interview, I thought a recruiter was someone you went to see if you wanted to enlist in the military, I had no idea it was an entire industry. It turned out to be an aggressive sales culture with high turnover, which is likely why they hired an 18-year-old kid whose only jobs had been bagging groceries and driving a pedicab.
I got assigned to work for a middle-aged Greek guy who was in the middle of a second act (he had spent his earlier years as a florist). He was also considered a dinosaur because he had been there for over 10 years. He was one of the few people in the office at the time to only work with big brick and mortar institutions. He was very bearish on start-ups and dot-coms (More to come on that). There was zero training. On my first day he said that he expected me to have five people send me their resumes by the end of the day and threw me a Bear Stearns internal directory (which I later discovered was acquired for a hundred bucks through a black market in which disgruntled employees would sell their company directories to someone who would then turn around and sell them to recruiting companies). I started dialing for dollars. Every time someone answered, in a hushed voice I would say, "I'm a recruiter, can you speak with me?" (as if I was trying to recruit assets for the CIA) No one sent me their resume.
A few months in, most of my colleagues were killing it doing fast deals with dot-coms while my “sensei” had me doing the recruiting equivalent of waxing cars and painting fences by only focusing on boring brick and mortar banks and Big 5 management consulting (Yes, 5. RIP Arthur Andersen). I vividly remember a charity happy hour one of the fellas treated me to, at which he said, “You got screwed getting stuck with that old loon.”
Less than a year later that “old loon” got the last laugh. The dot-com bubble had burst and the recruiting industry in NYC had shrunk by 75%. Our office went from 32 recruiters to 8 of us.
2 years in, I was in an odd place mentally. I started to really hate the work. I was terrified of becoming a career recruiter. I wanted to go to school and have the whole college experience, figure out what I want to be when I grew up and then go do that. The problem was that I was making too much money. If I was smart, I would’ve worked and saved really hard for a year so that I could quit, pay for school and figure out what I really wanted to do. However I wasn’t smart, I was 20. New York City is not an easy place to learn the value of savings when you’re a 20 year old with a little cash in his pocket.
A couple of more years went by and something had to give. I decided that maybe I was just homesick, so I moved back to San Diego.
After toying with the idea of going into something else, I ended up going to work for a successful banking recruiter with a great reputation named Eric Armstrong. He was a solopreneur looking to expand his business. He had no interest in employing any of the gimmicks I had learned in New York. In hindsight, I can say he’s responsible for my evolution as a recruiter by demonstrating what it meant to work with integrity and a desire to do great work for people.
4 years in we had grown the company from the 2 of us to 13 people. I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t doing what I was meant to. Eventually, I gave in to the notion that I knew everything about this business and if I was going to stay in recruiting, I should be working for myself. So at 27, I started my first business, Jacob Capital Group in 2009. When I look back on that I always think, "That was cute." (Every time I talk to Eric now, we have a good laugh at how easy I thought his job was.)
I’ll curb the suspense. Being my own boss wasn’t the answer. I discovered quickly that the built-in structure and accountability that comes with being an employee was a blind spot that I hadn’t considered. When you don’t love what you do, doing it on your own really sucks. In the early days, it was a constant struggle to generate motivation and mostly I just missed being with the people in the office.
3 years in I was barely hitting a stride when my girlfriend Winnie informed me that we had a big surprise heading our way in the form of my oldest son, Jackson (now 2). The silver lining of my struggles as a CEO was that it successfully chopped my arrogance down to size and I was appropriately scared to death of my impending fatherhood.
One way or another my business was gonna have to work. I started to look inward at what I disliked about recruiting that would often sap my motivation and have me daydream about other kinds of work.
It hit me like a thunderbolt one day that I actually hated selling.
Discovering that you hate to sell is bad news for a headhunter. (It's kind of like a kindergarten teacher finding out they hate kids.)
I was on a call with a recruit who was in the final stages of accepting a job with a company I was representing when she asked me what the difference was between them and her current employer. I launched into some canned spiel about their technology and culture, she cut me off and said, “C’mon Josh, that’s bull****. We have all of that here too. The truth is I’m going because they’re writing me a big check to move but the two are practically the same.”
She was absolutely right. Her making this move wasn’t going to change her life much. It was just a payday for us both. I was finally able to distinguish what I hated about my job: I made little contribution. I was just a middleman who had beat the others like me to her.
An inquiry into how I could become more than just a necessary evil is what led to the creation of Tidestreet. Coming from wanting to utilize my recruiting background while also providing value to people, I discovered an opportunity to flip the traditional recruiting model on its head, at least in one area, top performers.
People who perform at the top of their industry are always in high demand. However, there were no great options for people of that caliber to leverage the position they were in. They were typically not going to reach out to other companies looking for a job and risk coming across as just another applicant. Therefore, they were somewhat at the mercy of whoever was trying to recruit them at any given moment.
This was it! In most other areas of life now, consumers have been empowered by choice and information. Think about how we buy things online or decide which restaurant we want to eat at next. But, it’s not how people change jobs. These people were at the top of their craft with no real streamlined way to take advantage of the fact that most companies would want them.
There are talent agents for athletes and movie stars. Why not for other professionals who are good enough at what they do that most companies in their industry would consider them a privilege to hire?
I had spent so much time trying to squeeze people into companies. Why not help people fit the right company around them?
Welcome to Tidestreet.