TalentBin Takes On LinkedIn By Targeting Recruiters

By trolling various sites, TalentBin builds a database of people’s hidden talents. Can it reinvent headhunting in the process?

TalentBin Takes On LinkedIn By Targeting Recruiters

TalentBin, as its founder Pete Kazanjy explains, is a LinkedIn competitor. And yet, if the average person with a LinkedIn profile were to click over to TalentBin, he would find no services of use to him. There’s no opportunity to upload a resume, no chance to send special “InMail” or stalk potential employers.


That’s because TalentBin doesn’t compete with the services LinkedIn offers to the average user. Rather, TalentBin competes with the behind-the-scenes services LinkedIn offers a very specific, and lucrative, segment: recruiters.

You may not have known this, but LinkedIn makes the majority of its revenue by serving recruiters who want to scoop up talent for their companies. In the third quarter of 2012, fully 55% of the company’s revenue came from what LinkedIn calls “Talent Solutions.” (Premium subscriptions, by contrast, only make up 20% of revenue.) LinkedIn largely achieves this by digesting resumes into what Kazanjy calls “this master database that recruiters pay a pretty penny to essentially get God rights to.”

When we last spoke with Pete Kazanjy in 2010, he was even then hunting the white whale of LinkedIn. He wanted to position his startup, Honestly, as a LinkedIn competitor. The idea was to create a “Yelp for people,” as he put it, where users could anonymously review colleagues. The only problem? The idea wasn’t gaining traction; people weren’t leaving enough reviews to create enough data for Kazanjy and Co. to monetize.

“We did experiments on how to make the site more fun,” he explains. At one point, they developed a game called “water cooler matchup,” where you’d answer questions like, “Who would you most like to have on your Jeopardy team?” Eventually, says Kazanjy, the team “got to the point where we kind of exhausted our bag of tricks.” They were spending so much time trying to lower the amount of friction to data creation, when they had an epiphany: What if most of this data–about people’s hidden talents–was already out there on the Internet, waiting to be reaped?

That’s when Honestly pivoted into TalentBin. The insight of TalentBin is that you don’t need colleagues to spill the beans about your hidden talents; odds are you’ve already left digital traces of them somewhere. Let’s say you’re a talented Ruby on Rails hacker, for instance. Maybe on your LinkedIn profile, you neglected to specify which languages you’re adept in. But over on GitHub, you might have deposited a bit of code that reveals the fact. Or you might have gabbed about a project you’re working on somewhere on Quora. “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a Ruby engineer,” says Kazanjy.

TalentBin digests data from those sites and many others. For hackers, it stalks sites like GitHub or StackOverflow; for designers, it scans the likes of Dribble and Behance. It even trolls the U.S. Patent Database, looking for inventive types. Most recently, says Kazanjy, the team “indexed the entirety of the PubMed Life Sciences Publication Directory,” some 20 million articles, to glean information about talented medical researchers and their interests. “It starts to show this approach doesn’t just work with software engineers,” he says. “It also works with physicians, researchers, biotech people, and so forth.” That project was just completed in December.


Gradually, TalentBin has built a “search engine for people,” as Kazanjy puts it, one which he charges $6,000 per year for the privilege of accessing (undercutting LinkedIn’s reported price tag, which can climb to $8,000). When I ask if the investors who poured money into Honestly were pleased with the pivot, Kazanjy says, “Certainly. Because this is working now.” Major clients include eBay, Facebook, and Groupon.

Maybe that $6,000 price tag is too steep for you or your recruiters? Fundamentally, says Kazanjy, the insight recruiters should draw is that “If you’re looking to recruit talented people, go where those talented people hang out, so to speak. What that means, now that so much of life is lived online, is looking at places where folks hang out online.”

[Image: Flickr user Tony Newell.]

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.