CEO INTERVIEW ASTRONAUT
Exclusive Interviews by HR Digital Today with market leading HR Tech pioneers.
Nigel Hembrow, Founder and CEO
When a serial entrepreneur identifies a problem for business and sets out to solve it, then many benefit from the results. In this case the founder of Astronaut, while working for a previous company overseas, had to handle a major recruitment problem in double quick time. There were horrendous timescales, the need for very rapid candidate short listing, then face to face interviews, all interspersed with multiple international flights. With many people using videos on mobiles, he soon thought...why not send interview questions to candidates and get them to record a video with their answers? The idea for "Astronaut" was born.
Astronaut provides a unique service offering video-selfies for recruitment, available as a stand-alone platform and also easily integrated via API to jobs boards and ATS platforms. It has already changed, for the better, the recruitment processes for many candidates and companies. Due to his experience in the recruitment industry in Asia the Founder and CEO Nigel Hembrow quickly realised he had to focus on creating a video-selfie job application, interview and screening platform.
The corporate mission for Astronaut is "to help companies make real and significant transformations to the way they get to know candidates, and the way candidates get to know them. Nigel says “getting to know one another should be very fast, fun and engaging - with Astronaut it is very fast".
From ensuring on boarding consistency to improving workplace culture, HR tech start-ups are continuing to expand their disruption ripple across HR departments. We went to the Astronaut HQ to learn more about Astronaut.
Please tell us how this idea developed.
In the past I was a civil engineer managing multi disciplinary teams, taking projects from design stage to completion. I was always involved in leading teams to build things. I then moved into developing early stage and conceptual stage business and product development projects. The pivot in my career was going to business school in Melbourne and Shanghai.
I had a done a bunch of different things, worked with a number of founders, and in a recruitment agency role that I also found very interesting. I benefited from heavy networking and I really learnt the tricks of the recruitment trade. Most importantly, recognising the low barrier to entry that now exists in recruitment, as now we have many open databases listing candidates.
This evolution was coupled with the recruitment challenges that I met when running a software company in India. I needed to build a team really rapidly, flying back and forth from Singapore. I could not wait for lots of scheduled face to face meetings. And I did not have a HR department. I was the sole hiring manager, trying to do all the hiring myself. (Note: This “hiring manager controlled” team building trend, is emerging quite quickly now in many companies). This is the context that I was immersed in, hunting for candidates on angel lists and on LinkedIn and in all cases asking them to WhatsApp me.
I would screen candidates by chatting with them in WhatsApp and realised I could introduce recorded video. As a serial entrepreneur I am always interested in other emerging solutions and I noticed there were a few businesses around the world using recorded video for recruitment. I realised if I sent candidates the questions via WhatsApp they can send me their video answers also via WhatsApp! Of course I couldn’t fully “test” them as they knew the questions in advance (i.e. it wasn’t spontaneous), but I could see how they respond, and I could learn about their ambitions. It worked very well as a “hacked” solution.
I experimented with using this approach in different countries to compare how the different cultures responded to the request to “send a video”. Over a period of six months I learnt how candidate’s responses differed in various countries. I have seen candidates from the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, the USA and Singapore. These observations have helped us design the features of Astronaut.
Human communication behaviour is changing very rapidly in the area of mobile videos. Almost everyone now has a camera connected to the Internet and we can reach people through open databases. So using fast asynchronous video communications was the logical route to take for the next wave of recruitment innovation. Recruitment is a "get to know you process" so it is crazy not to use these modern tools. So now, recruiters do not have the traditional problem of booking time in advance for an interview or even a Skype call. After all, you can only do so many of these in one day - with Astronaut I can have hundreds on file very quickly.
What is the basic flow, the candidate and the company experience when using Astronaut?
A company that is recruiting ,particularly if using job boards, will have a long applicant list and is then faced with the challenge of candidate screening.
Normally, companies screen candidates with CVs
supplemented with phone screening. That is the first pain point we eliminate.
Recruiters add the names and email addresses of the applicants and then they choose which candidates they would like to interview and which questions they will see. The invite system pushes out emails with a unique code (and a link).
Candidates can respond by either the Astronaut mobile app or they can answer via their browser. If our recruiting client needs to conduct a lot of deep questioning and also when they want to minimise candidate research time, they need a very reliable and time controlled solution. The app provides a smooth process at all times.
What does the candidate see on their mobile during their reply process?
Candidates access the questions by entering the code. Recruiters can also control how many attempts are allowed so if the recruiter wishes, the candidate can have a few attempts, so they can record again. The most brutal setting is only 1 attempt. This is how we can replicate a face to face interview. The candidate cannot confer or research the question that is put in front of them, they have to answer.
We suggest companies do not have more than ten questions. It is like any question process, people do not like answering long lists of questions. We encourage our recruiting clients to really think about the questions they need to ask. The candidate will spend from 2 to 10 minutes in this video process.
What happens if the candidate is in a bad Internet reception area?
Our app uploads the videos in a very controlled and reliable way. If the Internet is intermittent the candidate experience will be entirely uninterrupted and smooth.
Can you offer other question formats?
Do you have any limits to number of candidates or jobs?
No. The company can also complete as many cycles as they want. A key stage is the point of highest pain (as a product developer would call it). This is in the screening process, at the top of the recruitment process funnel, after they have received the candidate list - when they are trying to create a short list from a long list of applicants. It is no surprise that the typical user company for our product is one seeking graduates and young professionals. We have though also worked with many companies from across the board, recruiting for different roles with candidate lists of 200 and more.
What does the candidate see?
The app immediately turns on the front facing camera on the mobile, facing the candidate. The candidate can therefore see their own image, just as if they are taking a selfie picture.
As I mentioned, if the recruiter allows them to record a retake, the app plays back their answer- they can submit it or record another attempt. We do not allow them to choose between the different attempts. As I mentioned, currently the maximum number is three attempts, but the candidate is only allowed to submit one for each question.
Have the candidates found it easy to use?
Yes indeed, people have found it easy. Interestingly, even though we provide guidance (i.e. choose a quiet location and their faces should be well lit) they tell us they do not need advice on how to make selfies.
Do you have a need to offer the service on a PC or a MAC? And how are you hosted?
We already have this feature as it forms part of our web flow service, so candidates can respond via their browser and using the web cam. We use Amazon web services and are part of the AWS Activate Program. AWS like what we are doing and they wanted us in their programme. They have all the functionality we need, and we can dial it up if there are times when we are expecting a higher load.
Do you offer an archive data service?
To date, all our customers are still with us, however if they were unsubscribing for some reason, we would talk to them first before we did anything with their data, such as purging files. Data protection and data access are very important for clients together with our ability to offer solutions that work both for “candidate databasing”. Having the entire record of all videos quickly easily accessible is possible, but it does incur a slightly higher price. That being said, we can archive them for retrieval as and when they are required. I expect this is the way we will handle huge volumes of files.
Is the pricing model based on the number of candidates videos or a standing monthly fee?
We base our pricing on the number of “candidate slots” the company have in their account. I mean by this that if they buy an account with 2000 candidate slots they cannot have more than 500 candidates in their system at any one point in time. For example, if they have 1900 candidates currently in their Astronaut account and the needed to add 500 more they would need to delete some candidates to make space, or upgrade.
With this pricing we reward companies that use us a lot. They can have an affordable price point. It is a per month subscription however companies are wanting to pay for three or six month packages.
What are some of the most exciting recruiter features?
This month we launched the Astronaut Recruiter mobile app, giving recruiters access to all the candidate video answers whilst on the move, whenever they want. One feature that is really cool is that recruiters can “pre-approve” certain jobs for which that want the video answers to automatically load into the app (as long as they’re connected to WiFi) – thus avoiding any buffering later when they wish to watch, and giving control to how much phone memory they wish to use.
There is also the ability to generate reports, which we customise based on customer feedback. We continue to evolve and pride ourselves on our innovation. We lead with changes or we respond to client feature requests and incorporate further improvements into the product as quickly as possible.
What types of companies are using Astronaut?
Many time we have been asked "where do we focus our sales, in which sectors and in which roles do we see trends emerging with some areas showing a greater need".
We find that organisations that typically use jobs board and/or have a strong employer brand are very interested in what we do. This includes companies that get a lot of applicants from university students and are very active with campus recruitment. It’s no surprise that retail banks, FMCG companies and fast growing tech companies are the organisations in these categories. It is these types of organisations where the balance of supply and demand of candidates is very clear; with more candidates than available roles. Recruiters want to be accurate and as fast as possible in the short listing process.
Who is your competition? Do you have any?
It is true, of course, people are not 100%present to each other if via video. It’s important to note that we’re not aiming to replicate face-to-face but instead allowing companies, the recruiters, to get as much information as quickly as possible, which candidates also appreciate.
The speed and the ease of using Astronaut make is well liked. How many Skype calls can you do in one day? And Astronaut removes this need for scheduling or sequential calls or face to face interviews. We provide a lot of compression at the top of the recruitment funnel. Recruiters can then meet or complete a Skype call with final shortlisted candidate. We are not trying to eliminate completely either Skype calls or face to face interviews.
How do you package Astronaut’s offering for the different stages of the recruitment funnel?
The top level is Attract and Know, the middle level is Assess and Select, and the final offer stage is Meet and Shake, i.e. the meeting and shaking of hands. Obviously a very important part as people are going to be working together. They should meet face to face before they start. However, even sometimes (due to the high volumes of applicants) companies are happy to offer internship opportunities without the need of a face to face meeting.
How do you see the future for Astronaut?
A large part of our focus is on integration to existing recruitment platforms. Job boards are under pressure and looking for better ways to serve their clients' needs, as job listings become more of a commodity. And Applicant tracking systems are wanting to make sure they are the central dashboard with all the features necessary to complete recruitment tasks as fast as possible.
Astronaut is a not an applicant tracking system. We are not a job board, but Astronaut is attractive to applicant tracking systems and job boards. They can provide more and more value to their customers. So we are very excited about integration work we are doing with both job boards and applicant tracking systems here in S.E. Asia. Owners of job boards can use our video features to draw additional revenue from their customers, thanks to our product features. Recruitersare paying for this added value because they are getting to know the candidates much faster.
Do you propose to offer the service in other languages & regions?
At present our interface is in English but we are ready to moving into different countries especially due to integration with job boards. Here in S.E. Asia most corporate roles are asking for English speaking candidates but we can tailor our entire user experience to another language with a lead time of just two weeks.
The USA and Europe markets can open up very quickly for us and we will seek partmers in those markets – the regions closer to us are easier for us to to service. That being said, we welcome client feedback for new feature requests and we are happy to answer any client requirements, anywhere in the world. We are planning for a global service by the end of 2018.