Mike Grossman has been a software entrepreneur and CEO for more than 20 years. He joined background screening company Inflection in 2018 and has steered their entry into the enterprise space.
We spoke recently about the modernization of the screening business and how the values of his organization are the key component of their success.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Karen Walker: You’ve been a serially successful CEO. What attracted you to Inflection and the background screening space?
Mike Grossman: I joined Inflection because one of the investors introduced me to the founders, Brian and Matthew Monahan. I thought they were great – very smart, very ethical, very socially conscious in a way that we’re not used to seeing often in the business world.
They dropped out of school, moved to Silicon Valley and raised venture funding. When I met them they’d sold a business that was part of Inflection to Ancestry.com, and financially that enabled them to make significant changes in their lives. They bought land in rural New Zealand and built a family compound. They are now spending time in organic farming, cryptocurrency and helping New Zealand set up in the technology sector.
I basically placed a bet that the company would reflect them. I was at a point in my career where I said, “All I care about is who I work with.” It turned out that the business also has tremendous potential.
Walker: How does that ethos play out in the organization?
Grossman: The company has a bit of an idealist quality to it.
We’re a business on the one hand, but collectively we try to think about how to do things in an aspirational way. Very values driven, very focused on genuinely delivering great experiences for customers and trying to function with extremely high integrity and transparency. One of our values is the golden rule. We do the best we can to really live that, not just talk about it.
Walker: You probably have good internal instincts around that now. I like to think that companies can do well by doing good.
Grossman: I really do think our approach is exactly what you just described. Let’s try to do things as well as we can do them. Let’s try to run the company in a way that we can really be proud of.
If you can do that, in a very determined, relentless way, day after day, week after week, month after month, you’ve got a pretty good chance of building a really good company.
Walker: Inflection is in the employee screening business.
Grossman: We are a modern background screening company. Our solution GoodHire, which is the largest part of our business, is focused on helping companies background screen the people that they’re looking to hire and also trying to treat the job candidates fairly.
About 10% of the business is focused on other use cases in background screening. For example, we work with Airbnb and if you go to Airbnb as a host or a guest, you’re getting a background screen behind the scenes.
Walker: How do your values play into your products? How are you “fair” for applicants?
Grossman: One is just the mindset is that we are a two-sided situation. We’re trying to provide a great experience for customers broadly, and that includes the employers on the one hand but it also includes the job candidates. We work towards making things easy to understand and intuitive. We try to be as responsive as possible if a job candidate has questions. We’re very responsive in terms of customer support, but we’re also very cautious as to what information is provided to the employers. We only provide records that are legally reportable for the relevant jurisdiction, and we exclude non-convictions from background check results.
We give job candidates a voice with a tool for them to provide context in the event that something shows up on their background report.
Walker: There was a piece on PBS recently ago about a woman who had an explainable issue in her background. She actually had a job offer, and then didn’t have a chance to explain what had happened with the issue and as a result, she didn’t get the job.
Grossman: It’s a very significant responsibility because we’re playing a role in something that has a direct impact on people’s lives and the lives of their families. Doing that in a really transparent, high-integrity way is critical.
Walker: You must attract clients who share those values.
Grossman: Increasingly employers need to be really thoughtful about how they hire, especially these days with the “great resignation.” The approach we take resonates increasingly with a lot of companies who recognize that when they’re going through the background check process, it’s not just a reflection on us. It’s also a reflection on the employer. In some sense, it’s part of the onboarding experience and they have to think about how to do that in a way that is respectful, has high integrity, is thoughtful and is rigorous.
Walker: Digital transformation has now reached HR. What other trends or patterns are happening in the screening world?
Grossman: We just released our predictions for 2022. Going digital is one of them, things have historically been fairly manual and fairly slow in the industry. Increasingly, processes can be automated and done in a very rapid way.
To some extent, we’re working in a space that time forgot. It’s a very large market segment that has a very big impact on the hiring process, and yet it’s a very competitive and fragmented space.
We are at the vanguard of the effort to apply a modern sensibility to it. Modern in terms of the technology – both the user interface side of the technology, but also how the data is cleansed, enhanced and made accurate. Modern in terms of how candidates are treated, and in the integration of compliance into how people do background screening. It’s every piece of the business system that we think can be improved in this space.
In the future, I suspect that there’ll be less fragmentation and certainly the customer experience will be profoundly better than it has been historically.
Walker: One last question for you – the tagline for my business is “up and to the right” because that’s the spot on the two by two matrix where we all want to be. Was there a moment in your career when you knew that you were moving in that direction?
Grossman: I was heavily influenced by a mentor, Bill Campbell. He was a college football coach for about a decade at Columbia University, then reinvented himself as a business person and pretty quickly emerged as the head of marketing and sales at Apple.
He ultimately became the CEO of Intuit and he came to be known in Silicon Valley as the coach.
Walker: Yes, there’s a book about him, Trillion Dollar Coach.
Grossman: Bill spent a lot of time with some pretty famous people like Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt but he also took some much less famous people under his wing.
I was fortunate to be one of them. I met with him once or twice a week for about a decade. Much of what I have learned and much of what I do as a CEO, I learned from Bill. Our association came at a time in my career where I was really figuring out how to be a CEO and his orientation towards values was something that really resonated with me.
When people think about companies, they tend to talk about or think about what they do or what they make or what they sell. But that’s not what a company is. A company is just a group of people. During some of those sessions with Bill, I realized that I’d never thought about business problems in these terms but running a company this way really resonated with who I am personally.