I had the pleasure of interviewing Fred Goff, the founder and CEO of Jobcase, Inc., the only social media platform dedicated to empowering workers. He has emerged as a leading voice on issues related to the future-of-work, AI impacts on labor, and advocacy for workers.
Fred earned his BS in Economics and MS in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University before embarking on a successful career as a portfolio manager responsible for approximately $1 billion AUM. After earning his MS in Management of Technology from MIT, he launched an AI-based hedge fund in Cambridge, MA. In 2009, Fred led a reorganization of that team’s expertise — pivoting from the financial industry to building products and services that serve and empower workers.
Today, Jobcase ranks as the 3rd largest online career resource in the US by Comscore and is establishing itself as the platform for amplifying the voice of the worker.
Thank you for joining us Fred. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’m a first-generation college grad from Toledo, Ohio who earned my first degrees from Carnegie Mellon University. Upon graduation, I could not get a job relative to my education, so I worked in restaurants and landscaping until I had saved enough money to leave home. I hitchhiked to NYC, pounded the pavement on my job search, and then landed an operations job on Wall Street. I lobbied my way into my first trading job, where I ultimately managed up to $1 billion in emerging markets.
Sparked by the 2008 crisis, I increasingly began to focus on employment. I steered my next company in a mission-driven direction, harnessing machine-learning technology to help workers. In 2015, we reorganized and launched Jobcase, the only social media platform dedicated to empowering workers. We bring together digital tools and a community to help America’s workforce manage the future of work. Jobcase now attracts more than 110 million members and is the third-most-visited online destination in the country for career services, according to ComScore.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Let’s start by saying, I have no shortage of mistakes to draw an example from! One notable mistake in my entrepreneurial journey occurred in Kentucky. I flew out from Boston to Lexington the night before an important client meeting. I left the hotel all prepared, got in a cab and confidently gave the driver the address — whereupon he told me in that, in fact, my destination was in Louisville, not Lexington. I was in the wrong city! After some negotiation, my driver and I then traveled a couple hundred miles by cab back-and-forth between the two cities.
I learned two lessons: First, work the problem, whatever it is. This was the first time the cab driver had carried a single client 160 miles, but it got the job done for both of us. Second, know your weak points and supplement them. It is important for me to surround myself with colleagues who pay close attention to detail so that we can complement each other’s skillsets.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
One person who has deeply impacted me is Clay Christensen. Christensen helped advise my graduate work, and I deeply admire his experience and insights on innovation and building a business. One dimension of his work, which comes through in The Innovator’s Dilemma, is to focus on the “why,” not the “what,”’ in business questions and strategy — and this carries into personal life as well. I also recommend everyone read his book How Will You Measure Your Life? to help frame where you would like to invest your energy for your own journey. One insight people usually arrive at: After pausing to reflect, people rarely value monetary metrics as highly as they thought they would. Life is short. Christensen gives us a framework to pause and look inward.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Our vision was — and still is — to empower the world’s workers.
We believe it important to put people first in our collective march of technological advancement. Since our founding, we have harnessed cutting-edge technology to provide people with tools, resources, and a supportive community to navigate their own work-life. And we advocate for workers’ rights at every turn.
At its core, Jobcase is a platform where people help people. Simple and powerful and effective.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
The golden rule. We operate with core principles and that is our most core belief. Whether Jobcase members, business partners, employees or investors, we always treat others as we would like to be treated.
Thank you for all that. 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?
I’m extremely fortunate. Yes, the strain on a startup that was just starting to breakout is considerable and daunting. And, yes, sheltering in place with a family of six who all must find their own space for work and education can provide its own challenges. But I am blessed. My team at Jobcase not only rolls with the punches but also rises to the challenge. My immediate and extended family have not lost anyone to this disease. And I have a job that allows me to continue working remotely.
Most people in this country don’t have these luxuries. Our Jobcase members struggle with landlords threatening eviction. They worry about whether their jobs will be there for them on the other side. Many struggle with the digital divide, as the majority of Americans can’t simply plug into Zoom and Slack and keep going. We know — through statistics and the stories on Jobcase — that our fellow Americans who already face the most adversity in their paths are bearing the brunt of this crisis.
In the midst of this crisis, my biggest motivating force is to support millions of Americans to find work and regain control of their work-life. We are blessed, and we have an obligation to help those who are facing many more significant challenges in their current situations.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Unemployment has skyrocketed from 3.6% to 20%+ in just a matter of weeks. And as a result, labor markets have been enormously disrupted. Our job listings have been depleted; many employers have stopped hiring; and millions of our members have needed to dramatically shift their approach to work and life as they shelter in place. All of this is existentially threatening for a growing small business.
We responded with a members-first approach. First, we created a new unemployment resource center to help our members navigate this new path that so many millions were thrust onto. Next, we focused on adjusting our own expenses. (Much like on an airplane when they say you have to put your own oxygen mask on first: If we are to help our members, we must first ensure our own viability.) And third, we launched a series of internal initiatives to ensure our own employees are healthy and functioning well in a new remote-only world. We then evolved products for our employer partners — such as launching a virtual hiring event product so that people can safely participate in interviews and screening. All aspects of our business changed on a dime. And we will need to continually adapt as we navigate through.
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?
Paradoxically, the moments when we are most in need of help are the moments we should lean out to help others. There are so many ways to do this, from lending advice to volunteering online. I get strength from reaching out to help others. If you’ve tried this, I bet you feel the same. And if you haven’t, I’d encourage you to give it a shot!
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 economy?
The post-COVID economy will present a huge opportunity for us to choose which type of future we wish to build. Future-of-work trends will accelerate. Employers will have to choose whether to leverage automation to displace jobs wholly, or to replace tasks within jobs. They will need to choose whether to ensure workers have access to living wages, hazard pay, upskilling, and career paths. Fundamentally, we as a society will face a choice: Will we choose a people-first future?
During the last two months of this pandemic, we have seen more empathetic actions by employers than we have in the last decade. Companies have raised wages, extended hazard pay and benefits like sick leave, provided unemployment insurance to hourly and contract workers, upskilled workers in outplacement services, and more. Let’s harness this momentum as the new norm. Let’s continue to lead with empathy after the crisis. Let’s truly embrace stakeholder value over shareholder value and let’s forge a people-first future together. Let’s make this an inflection point where we collectively decide that technology is here to serve people — not the other way around.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
The COVID pandemic accelerates pre-existing trends of all sorts — good and bad, large and small. Take, for example, wealth inequality. We have heard about this for years, but it’s accelerating as I write this. Those already facing the hardest adversity in our country have once again borne a disproportionate share of the burden of the crisis. Women, people of color, and lower income families are much more likely to be on the front lines of this crisis — either because they are the front-line workers in hospitals, grocery stores, and delivery trucks, or because they are the front line of the unemployment and economic crisis. Trends like these can accelerate social and political unrest. And perhaps they can also accelerate opportunity. Can we change our safety nets and workforce norms for the better, permanently? And in so doing, can we increase growth for everyone? That’s what we at Jobcase are seeking to do in this moment.
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?
We plan to strengthen and expand our platform so we can more effectively advocate for working people, especially frontline workers. Internally, we will need to diversify our revenue and support people-first companies. We also need to embrace remote work as the new norm for our employees and establish best practices to support them. And we will continue to value our people, move fast, stay agile, more actively build partnerships with like-minded organizations and companies, and embrace our mission-driven path.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
We encourage other businesses to pause and question how they are putting people first in their decision making, especially when it comes to harnessing technology. Examples of this include allowing employees to co-own their data so that they can carry it among jobs, providing living wage jobs or pathways, and leveraging technology to increase the productivity of jobs, not to displace jobs.
We encourage individuals to demand co-ownership of their employee data, embrace continuous learning, and to volunteer to help others, digitally or in person.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If — ” has always resonated with me. I have navigated many a professional crisis thinking of the lines: “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs.” As we strive to encourage policymakers and companies to put people first, I think of another section of the poem: “If you can dream — and not make dreams your master.” And every entrepreneur should appreciate the poem’s phrase to “risk it on turn of pitch-and-toss.”
How can our readers further follow your work?
Join jobcase.com. If you care about others, know you must drive your own work-life success and believe workers have as much value as shareholders, then you are a Jobcaser, too. Come participate in the community. Help others. Find a supportive community. We look forward to seeing you there.