I had the pleasure of interviewing Casey Welch the Co-founder and CEO of Tallo, a digital platform and app that’s connecting 900,000+ students and professionals to opportunities offered by colleges, companies, and organizations. Casey comes from an extensive background in technology and education. Before co-founding Tallo in Charleston, South Carolina, Casey started his career as part of Citi’s nationally recognized Technology Leadership Development Program and worked across multiple sectors of the Fortune 50 company including client services, marketing, quality center and finally as a Lead in Global Server-based Computing Group.
Casey grew up in a small town, where he experienced firsthand the challenges companies and colleges face in connecting with talent from rural areas. He was recruited to play football at Purdue University, where he earned his Masters in Engineering/Technology Education, his Bachelor of Science in Technology, and All Big-Ten honors as a scholar-athlete for his accomplishments in the classroom and on the football field. This process got him thinking: what if we recruited for careers the same way we recruit for athletics? While that idea was stewing, Casey was an instructor for various courses at Purdue, and received the Indiana Outstanding Future Educator Award.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania where there weren’t many opportunities. Most of the students I graduated high school with went straight into the workforce, but because I had the very specific talent of being able to kick a football far, I was lucky enough to get recruited to play football at Purdue University. This experience of being recruited as an athlete got me thinking, “what if we could recreate the athletic scouting and recruiting process for everyone, regardless of their talents or career interests?” That’s where the idea for Tallo [think: talent + locator] came from. We created a virtual connection platform that helps talent showcase their interests inside and outside of the classroom — whether that’s taking apart a car engine or programming a robot — and match them with college and career opportunities.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Well, until I founded Tallo in South Carolina, I spent my entire life in the North and Midwest. Let’s just say there was a bit of a culture shock when I moved my family down to Charleston. After living here for seven years, I’ve fallen in love with the South, but there were certainly a few bumps along the way. Like the first time I was in a high-stakes business meeting and learned what “Bless your heart” really means. While it sounds nice, it was actually a signal to move on, shutting down the idea I had just pitched. But learning these lessons and picking up on subtle cultural communications has helped me grow an international platform, and effectively manage employees in states across the country. Now, I try to remember these early moments of intercultural communication before getting worked up over the wording of an email or memo. Just because I interpret something one way doesn’t mean that’s my colleague’s intention. I always tell my employees — before anything escalates, pick up the phone and give the other person a call. Nine times out of ten, having an open and honest phone conversation can clear up any miscommunications before it really takes hold.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I’m currently reading Leadershift, by John Maxwell, and it’s really got me thinking about how I add value to my company as a leader. It’s about identifying the needs of an organization and shifting leadership styles to better serve them, rather than sticking with what you know, and expecting your company culture to adapt around your needs. I believe we can all use a constant reminder to think beyond ourselves and evaluate how we’re contributing to our community, and this book puts that into the context of leadership as well. Things are moving quickly now — the amount of time you used to set aside for a short term goal is now almost too long for a long term goal, and everything that was fast now needs to be faster. Leaders need to constantly adapt and move forward in order to stay on top of all of these changes.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
The vision I had when creating Tallo still guides us today — to live in a world where everyone loves their career, because they followed a path where their passions, opportunities, and most importantly skills align. Tallo was created because I saw a gap between companies looking for their future workforce and talent looking for jobs. I saw an opportunity here, and the question was how to solve for it. By creating a virtual connection platform that’s free for talent, Tallo is able to fill that gap while also leveling the playing field for students and professionals looking for opportunities.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Yes, I do have a guiding principle, and it’s actually pretty simple — I surround myself with people who are smarter than me and I work for them, not the other way around! I believe this idea was drilled into me growing up as an athlete playing team sports. My own ability can only take me so far, and I rely on the rest of my team to really build something great. I know that in a million years, I could never do what my development team, sales team, or marketing team does — and luckily I don’t have to, because I’ve hired the best!
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Navigating this pandemic with two young kids is one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced. My son is five years old. He’s terrified when people wear masks, and doesn’t understand why he can’t play with his friends like he used to. My daughter, just turned three, and this year is such a crucial time for her behavioral development. She should be going to preschool to learn how to share, and stand in a line, and develop feelings of empathy for her friends. My wife and I are concerned about what this pandemic and social distancing will mean for our children’s development, and it’s a challenge to be fully present at home and fully present for my team at work. What has helped me is to set up boundaries — physically and with my time — to separate work life from home life. I’ve created an at-home office (in my backyard shed) and I take as many calls as possible from there. And even though I’m now working from home, I still try to “leave the office” at a reasonable point every night, and I encourage my employees to do the same. With all of the stress and tragedy that this pandemic has brought to my community, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that I have a really special opportunity to spend more time with my children, and serve as their role model. Our company policy is “family first,” and I do my best to lead by example.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you have done to address those challenges?
One of Tallo’s greatest assets is our company culture. Even as we’ve grown into a much larger company, we’ve been able to hold onto that level of excitement, energy, and camaraderie we developed as a small tech start up. I worry that working remotely may diminish some of that vibrancy and unity, so I try to translate that office culture to a virtual setting. Our office manager has organized weekly virtual happy hours, and we have monthly “town hall” meetings, where we take some time to share our teams’ wins, our challenges, and funny stories. While I’m lucky to spend more time than ever with my own family, it’s also challenging for me to not know what’s going on in my employees’ lives. The world is going through a time of mourning, and while the Tallo team is preparing to help our economy rebuild, some of my employees are going through unimaginable hardships right now. That’s where I lean on my leadership team, and rely on them to check in with everyone individually, and communicate with me where I can help.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Only worry about the things you can control. This is easier said than done, but there are enough other things to stress about that I actually can have an impact on, so I try to focus my energy there. I can’t do anything about travel restraints or when things will reopen. I can, however, work with my family and help shape how my kids react to this difficult time. I also think a lot of the world is using this time to explore the spiritual side of themselves. Personally, I’ve relied on my faith to help me cope with the uncertainty of things beyond my control.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the post-COVID economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the post-COVID economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the post-COVID growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the post COVID-19 economy?
This time has shown us how important it is to create and sustain networks, and we’ve seen that with the right technology, many of these connections can happen virtually. We know there has always been a geographic divide that has limited possible career connections, but when events shut down and social distancing became mandatory, we watched that geographic divide get much bigger. Even during the post COVID economy, we’re going to see a greater emphasis on staying online to stay connected. There’s a real opportunity here for virtual connection platforms that can serve different populations, from the displaced worker whose job no longer exists to the college student in need of an internship or basic career guidance.
There’s also going to be an exciting opportunity for talent to rethink what they actually want to do. At Tallo, we believe that a prosperous, sustainable workforce is created when people are able to follow a career path where their passion and lifestyle aligns with economic opportunity. As our economy grows and rebuilds after this crisis, let’s use that time as an opportunity to provide talent with the resources they’ll need to make these major life decisions.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
The COVID-19 pandemic will permanently change the way we do business. As a leader, the stakes have never been higher regarding risk. Should we be sending out employees to huge conferences and networking events that used to be an important part of their professional development? What will the future of sales pitches and board meetings look like if small gestures like handshakes are gone?
On the other hand, we’re already seeing a lot of good to come out of this pandemic as well. This time has increased the mobility of our workforce across the country. Companies are learning that it is possible to thrive with remote workers, which will allow more people to live wherever they want without having to sacrifice their career. I’m personally looking forward to the change because it aligns with Tallo’s vision to live in a world where everyone loves their career, because they followed a path where their passions, skills, and opportunities aligned. Increasing and empowering our remote workforce to live where they want and take the job that they want is an exciting thing to witness.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the post-COVID economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the post-COVID economy?
While we here at Tallo have been fortunate enough to continue working through this COVID crisis, we’re hopeful that our platform will be a resource to companies and colleges looking to rebuild, retool, and restart once the economy starts moving again. This time will radically and permanently change the recruitment process for companies and colleges. Tallo has always been about opening doors for people across the country, regardless of their location or economic status. The power of making education and career connections online is that you’re not limited by where you live or who you know within your own community. We try to remove these limitations and barriers, to give people the ability to really connect with what they’re passionate about. While we’ve seen talent seekers adapt to virtual connection technology, during this COVID-19 crisis we’ve been forced to encounter many shortcomings that remain within this system. Even after social distancing measures are lifted and companies and colleges start to “reboot” their recruitment efforts, Tallo will continue to push the boundaries to make these important connections. When the economy starts moving again, we will use it as an opportunity to find new and innovative ways to build connections virtually, and support workers who are making a career shift.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
While this COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented loss, I am hopeful that it will also spur unprecedented creativity and innovation. I encourage others to use this time to come up with creative solutions to problems they’re facing in their own communities. The technology is already out there to solve many of our problems, and it’s up to us to connect the pieces, and bring the right tool to the right opportunity at the right moment. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and I’m seeing a lot of folks channel their intellect, creativity, and empathy into solutions for our world’s pressing needs.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said “What you do has far greater impact than what you say.” I think this is a more eloquent way of reminding myself to “walk the walk.” As I’ve mentioned, I try to lead my team by example, and while they can tell you that I’m a big fan of pep talks (another habit that’s carried over from my student athlete days) I’ve learned that there’s nothing as effective as letting my actions do the talking for me.
How can our readers follow your work?
Check out tallo.com to learn more, and find us on social media at @AppTallo.