People don’t end up in debt on purpose. Sometimes, the only thing standing between consumers curing their account with you is unemployment. If you could help your customers get jobs, wouldn’t you? Check out this interview with Chad Silverstein, founder of [re]start, who started a company that does exactly that. Listen to the interview (and demo!) here, or read the full text of the interview below.
[Erin Kerr]: Hi everyone, and thank you for joining me for this session of Executive Q&A. I am here today with Chad Silverstein, and I am Erin Kerr, the Director of Content for Collections and Recovery. Chad, thanks so much for joining me today.
[Chad Silverstein]: Thank you. It's nice to be with you.
[EK]: Absolutely. Why don't you introduce yourself, and explain what your organization is and what it does.
[CS]: My name is Chad Silverstein. I used to work at a company called Choice Recovery. I sold my agency last month. After 25 years of being in the collection industry, I had a healthcare collection agency with roughly over 5,000 clients nationwide. After 25 years, it was time for me to step away.
I'm a serial entrepreneur, so I have other businesses that I run and I felt it was good timing and things worked out. I was able to close on my transaction and I reached out to insideARM because my other company, [re]start, is a career development platform that I integrated and collaborated with my collection agency. This is where my focus is right now, and where our conversation will lead us today to talk about what I did, and how I used it at my collection agency.
[EK]: That's wonderful. I'd love for you to tell us why did you start [re]start? What was the idea behind it?
[CS]: Back in about 2013, there were lots of lawsuits happening in the collection industry. I was starting to get hit with a lot, as every agency does. We wanted to be different. My vision was to change the perception of collections, and I was challenged by my team: what were we doing to change the perception? Because being nice to people just wasn't enough.
We started helping people. We started assisting them, and it led to people in my company willing to do more. We had big personal professional development, leadership path in my company, and I love giving people those opportunities. I'm big into the culture piece, and [to demonstrate that] we launched a career services department to try to help people get jobs.
I took one of my collectors off her desk in 2013. I said: help as many unemployed people who say they can't pay their bills find a new job. She got really good at it. When we started to tell people about this over the phone, they thought it was a little weird. [They said] what do you mean you're a collection agency helping me get a job?
I think the authenticity and the genuine conversations that took place, and the success of [those conversations], it really just took off. It took off in a way that I never thought it would and my whole team rallied behind it. The next thing I knew, [re]start was born, and we've been nonstop ever since. It solved a problem. People can't pay their bills, so it makes sense [that we’re helping them find jobs]. That’s the bottom line answer to that question.
[EK]: Sure, it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement for the collection agency and for the consumer on the other end of the line. I think that's excellent. You mentioned a little bit ago that you started [re]start in your collection agency, and you used it there since it was created to help your collection agency. What are your plans now after selling your company recently?
[CS]: I [sold the company] and got some other clients because it's software. We built the software on a platform called Bubble. It's a no code platform, so it was really easy for me, especially when COVID hit, to really kind of scale it up. My thought was it wasn't about making money as much as it was about really helping people. I wanted to build something that I couldn't find on the internet that was really successful, like helping people navigate through that job search process, which is very difficult for people to do. So I've been focused on just creating an incredible platform and it kind of led into a multi-user platform. I have companies that can come in who use collection agencies, and collection agencies can use it. I have career advisors on the backend who are helping people get the jobs and then I have all the job seekers.
It's a multi-tier platform that really is designed to help people connect and be able to work together so that they can do what most people don't know how to do, which is try to find a job. It’s a tough situation for people, especially now, because so many people are losing their jobs and unemployed, and they don't know how to find a job. The employers have the upper hand 100% of the time, and the job seekers are kind of left fighting and spamming their resume out to companies. It's a tough gig for people I think. It's a lack of resources and the technology on the employer side is really, really stepping up their game, and job seekers really are not. I’m really out for the job seeker, helping them as much as I can. The fact that I get to help companies out who have a big stake in seeing their customers and their debtors [becoming] financially successful, it's a win-win for everybody.
[EK]: Absolutely. I would love for you to show me how it works, if you don't mind.
[EK]: It's a really innovative concept and I'll just comment and say that I think my favorite part about this is that it's curated, right? You're not just getting job offers from it or job advertisements from anywhere. I'll share that my husband was looking for a new job earlier this year. He has a background in sales and he created an Indeed profile and he was getting advertisements for a park ranger right in our area, which is just not him. I think that the fact that the job offers are curated is really important and it’s a real resource for some of these consumers that need it the most.
[CS]: Well it's interesting: these employers now use applicant tracking systems, they've taken human beings out of the process so that if your resume doesn't have certain words that the job description has, they won't match up. The hiring managers get hundreds of resumes from Indeed they don't even see. Our digital resume cuts through that. We can target hiring managers and then send that resume to say: we saw what you're looking for, this person has that. If you think this is someone you want to meet, let us know. When we highlight just the high level stuff, it allows the hiring manager to not have to scan through long resumes that have just a lot of stuff that people don't care about as much.
For me, I just wanted to meet people if I felt like they were a great opportunity for me to have on my team. I tell job seekers, because I'm really into helping the job seekers, I'm really not big into the employer part of it. Because we have all the tools as the employers, the job seekers don't. When I was able to get the technology to curate and when I was able to then put the human touch on it, to have someone review that so I wasn't spamming those jobs to people it just made so much sense. It’s like, oh my gosh, something like this just has to have big wins for people because most people, if they lose their jobs suddenly and they're let go, they don't know where to start. They have no clue.
If you have not been in the industry and you haven't been consuming all the information and being kept up on what’s happening, and recruiting, it's daunting. It’s embarrassing, you know?
I think when you have someone who can support you, it's such a win. People light up. So when we work with someone, we give the sponsor the credit. So if I'm working with a bank for example, or if I'm working with an organization like a school or a nonprofit, they are paying for it, so they're the ones getting the credit. Research just happens to be powered by [re]start. We offer a couple different tiers of it where a company can just refer people and just pay for the fact that they can send out invitations to help.
A lot of companies that we're working with, they love the marketing aspect. They love the co-branded partnership where then all of a sudden you can add the service to your platform that now you can help people get jobs. Yet, we do all the work. Some people like the marketing aspect, some people don't, some people like the more conscious capitalism, philanthropic, purpose of it. Some people really like the financial impact of helping people. And I personally don't care. I'm just excited about collaborating and partnering with people, and I don't tell people how to use it.
I show people how I used it at Choice Recovery. It was such a big win for us. I mean it really put us on the map, and I'm so excited to be able to share it. Now we're with people in the collection industry because I made it so exclusive from my company because I didn't want anyone else to say they had it. But now it's kind of free reign and I'm having a lot of fun, and having a lot of interesting conversations with a lot of people.
[EK]: I think that's excellent Chad. I think that it's super interesting and like I said, very innovative. I do have a couple of questions. What type of reception did your initial offer to assist consumers in finding employment receive? And has it changed at all?
[CS]: It's really funny. A lot of that has to do with the delivery, right? Because when [the woman on my team] started, on the first day, she came to me really upset. She's like, no one wants me to help them. I said just keep going. Just keep trying, you'll find someone. We want to make an impact and be significant. We're not looking for mass numbers here. Then she found someone and she helped them.
I remember when we shared the story with my team. She read the letter from the woman that we helped and there were people in tears. It was incredible. This became one of the biggest recruiting wins. We were the best place to work twice, winning number one best place to work in central Ohio.
[CS]: It was no doubt because [re]start helped our culture. It basically brought everybody in on a shared common purpose. Something bigger than any one individual. At first, a lot of people weren't that interested, but all of a sudden, the team started to rally behind it. Then it was how it was delivered. [Consumers were saying]: I'm not working, I can't pay my bill.
Well, [we’d say] are you looking for a job? Can we help you? And they'd laugh and say, what do you mean?
We’d say: we partner with [re]start and we can help you get a job and we can have you work with a career advisor.
I think [the reaction] is mixed. I didn’t want people to get confused, so I ended up taking it out of my collection agency and creating a separate company. I also didn't want any compliance concerns. That was a big change for us in 2018 when we changed it from a department and I made its own company. We created the separation and then it just snowballed from there.
When you have people who want to share their story that a collection agency called them and helped them land a job, it becomes an incredible media opportunity for people to really promote their services to the public versus trying to tell people how good you are. You have a consumer explain on the news how incredible my collector was.
Bill Bartman did this a long time ago. He used to buy debt, and I called his office years ago and worked with the people who created the department in his office. He did something similar. They used to buy debt. It was a little bit different, but the same concept. It was helping people and it works, it really does work. That's why our tagline is: [re]start works. Because it does work.
I think now we've made this multi-user platform where everybody can collaborate on it. And I'm not beholden to these employers because we can get jobs now from anywhere and we've got all these resources and partnerships with people, it's a really exciting time for us to really start partnering with the right types of partners who really want to help the brand and make a difference in people's lives.
[EK]: Absolutely. I want to go back to something you mentioned just now about compliance issues and setting up your own company as opposed to it being just a department [at your collection company]. At your agency, have you come across any compliance issues or concerns from your clients regarding your collection agency at the time?
[CS]: It's interesting, I had a conversation the other day. The words early-out and pre-collect has been a term thrown around in the collection industry for a very long time. Every company has their own way of doing it. I have a company that wants to use [re]start as their early out. They want to give it to their client to use so they can look like a hero to their client that they've offered this early out system. We’re working on an arrangement with them where invitations can be sent before it even comes to collections. There's a lot of wins here for first and third-party collections. It’s really not a compliance concern because it's completely separated and I had to make sure all of our privacy policies and everything were in order.
I think, for the most part, we've been able to do a really good job making sure that all the information that's provided by the job seeker is kept private. Now granted, they make it public because they have their digital resume, but we're not collecting any information outside of a job that they want to get or their resume, which is something that people are sharing on the internet every day anyway. Outside of that we haven't had any compliance concerns. I never had one attorney in nine years ever contact me about [re]start. Except the plaintiff attorneys who challenged that they didn't believe that we were doing it. We let things speak for themselves, but, thankfully, it's been an incredible endeavor and there have been no compliance concerns. I have to tell you, selling my collection agency and now being in an industry where I haven't had one legal concern has been a very refreshing change compared to the collection industry.
[EK]: Yeah, I was going to comment that it must be a total change of pace for you coming from owning a collection agency where it's just constant compliance concerns every day.
[CS]: It really is. We never give people a reason to sue us. My attorney is an amazing attorney. He worked with me for 25 years and he made a comment to me when we sold what, you know, that we had fewer lawsuits than almost any of his other clients. He just loved the way we did business. We never gave people a reason, and I didn't even call collectors collectors. I called them consultants because I didn't want to have that stereotype in my, in my culture. You know, make no mistake about it, we never hid behind the fact that we were a collection agency. We were proud of it. I think the fact that we were doing something different that no one else was doing, made us a leader in the industry for us and for our clients that were really proud to stand behind that and choose us.
I have to tell you, I can't remember being in a meeting where we didn't share [re]start, and the client said, we'll use you. Everyone wanted to be connected to it. My employees, the best employees, wanted to come work for us because they saw stories on the internet about it. Media opportunities came, we won awards, the clients loved it. At the end of the day, the most important things were the people that we were helping that could come back and pay their bills. It doesn't make sense to try to collect from someone who can't pay because they're not working. When I say it's a win-win for everybody, it really truly is a cool collaborative effort that technology can bring together and get people employed and able to pay their bills and get out of debt.
[EK]: Excellent. Well thank you so much for talking me through all that. We are almost out of time. I'll just ask you for any closing thoughts that you might have for our audience.
[CS]: I think this is an interesting opportunity for me to be able to talk to people in the collection industry. For 25 years I've kept my head down, running my company in Columbus, Ohio. And now that I'm not anymore, I think it's an opportunity for me to partner up and collaborate with a lot of leaders that I never got an opportunity to meet and work with. And I think I've got a nice piece of technology that could be a great addition to a lot of bigger brands that are concerned about where the industry's going and how complaints are increasing, and the way collection agencies are stereotyped in the public. They usually kind of tag us all together. So I'm trying to help the industry. I've been an advocate for the collection industry for quite some time, and even though I'm not working in it anymore as an owner, I'm certainly happy to have conversations with people if they're interested in the technology behind how [re]start can help recovery be successful.
[EK]: Well that's excellent Chad. Thank you so much for spending time with me today and talking with me about [re]start. It's a super cool mission and I think it could be beneficial to a lot of folks in the market. So again, thank you so much and to the audience, thank you for joining us for this session of executive Q&A. Chad, it's been wonderful. I hope you have a great rest of your day and take care.
Learn more about [re]start and Chad's journey on this podcast.