From jobs board to professional community
Saturday, July 19, 2008 7:00 AM
A year ago, technology companies needing virtualization specialists posted only about 200 job openings for that new niche on Dice.com, an online jobs board for information technology professionals. As of last week, however, you could find nearly 950 positions by searching for that specialty.
That sort of rapid ramp-up of new applications is typical within the information technology industry, said Scot Melland, chairman, president and CEO of Dice Holdings Inc. To help tech professionals stay ahead of fast-moving industry trends, Dice has gone beyond just providing job postings to offer online discussions among professionals. Each month, nearly 2 million unique visitors log on to Dice.com, and the site's "discussions" pages are among its most popular destinations.
"It's more of a professional community, certainly, than it was a few years ago," Melland said. "It's our belief that to succeed in this business long term, you really have to create a service that helps people succeed in their careers, but also gives them a way of giving them helpful advice and increasing their knowledge about the profession."
The Urbandale-based company, which emerged from bankruptcy five years ago in the wake of the dot-com bust, has since acquired three online professional career site companies: eFinancialCareers, JobsintheMoney.com and Targeted Job Fairs. About 30 percent of Dice's revenues now come from those companies. Over the past three years, the company has nearly doubled its Urbandale staff to 190 people.
Founded in the San Francisco Bay area in 1991, Dice moved its operations to Urbandale in 1994. Five years later, EarthWeb, a publicly traded New York firm, bought Dice and in 2001 changed its name to Dice Inc. In 2005, two New York City private equity firms bought the company under the holding company name Dice Holdings Inc.
Though Melland and his top officers work from a corporate office on Park Avenue in New York, most of the company's staff is located at its 90,000-square-foot building at 4101 N.W. Urbandale Drive. In January 2007, the company expanded to 13,000 square feet of leased space in Aurora Business Park in Urbandale.
"We literally ran out of space (at the Urbandale Drive office)," said Tom Silver, Dice Holdings' senior vice president and chief marketing officer. "(Aurora Business Park) is a large center and certainly it provides opportunities for growth going forward."
Now, one year after its stock was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Dice Holdings is poised for further growth as it capitalizes on the emerging professional talent shortage, Melland said. And with its commitment to staying in Greater Des Moines, that growth will bring further expansion to its Urbandale offices, he said.
"It's been a very action-packed, fun year, a really good year of growth for the company," Melland said. Going public served in some respects as a branding event for Dice, he added.
"We're well known in the technology community and now in the financial services community with eFinancialCareers," he said. "We tend to not be a household name; by becoming a public company, it really raises the exposure that we have. It's also very good for our investors; they have an opportunity for liquidity. It now gives us a baseline from which to grow our company in the future."
Dice, which will release its second-quarter earnings results on Thursday, expects to duplicate its first-quarter performance, with expected revenues of approximately $40 million. The company reported $39.6 million in revenues in the first quarter, a 30 percent increase over first-quarter 2007, and net income of $4.3 million.
"There's no question the U.S. economy has slowed over the past year, and as a result the labor markets have become more difficult," he said. "That has had an impact on our growth in the U.S., and it has impacted our competitors' growth to a great extent. The great thing about recessions is that they don't last forever. As we look at our opportunities, we're pretty confident we can grow this business both here in the U.S. and outside the U.S."
More acquisitions ahead
With three successful acquisitions under its belt, Dice plans to continue to grow through further acquisitions, Melland said, focusing on businesses that target the recruitment of professionals.
"We really like the professional categories," he said. "They tend to be highly paid, so there tends to be a great deal of recruiting dollars put against those people. The recruiting of professionals also tends to be more complex; they tend to have credentials and specific experience. So you can tailor a service to do it better; you can create some functionality to really serve the needs of people in those areas.
"We also like areas or sectors that have natural shortages of skilled people. If you look at the tech sphere, it's about 2 percent unemployment in this country among technology professionals versus about 5.5 percent for the economy as a whole. So it's a very tight labor market, and that tends to be good for our business.
"Lastly, we like categories where people think of themselves as a group. That's very important because then you have a community feel and you can build a brand around that. The tech professionals will talk to the recruiters, so they'll pull customers to us. We get a lot of cross-marketing as a result."
Silver said Dice is investing in marketing to attract high-quality job seekers. A good example, he said, is its recent partnership with the Dilbert comic strip.
"We learned that Dilbert is very relevant to technology professionals, believe it or not," Silver said. "We actually ran a survey a few months ago on the Dice site, asking, 'What do you think of Dilbert? Do you think he's still relevant?' Over 75 percent said they know him, they like him and they can identify with him."
As a result, Dice currently has a number of billboards, or in this case, "Dil-boards," scattered throughout Silicon Valley. It also sponsors a Dilbert "mash-up" on Dilbert's Web site (www.dilbert.com) that enables visitors to create their own ending panel to a Dilbert strip, and then post them for others to review.
On a more serious note, companies will need to be prepared to spend more time and resources on recruiting and retaining professionals as the skilled-labor shortage deepens, Melland said.
"It's going to be more acute in the technical areas because the number of people graduating in the U.S. with math and science degrees is going down every year, even though the demand for those fields requiring those degrees is going up," he said. The "double whammy," he added, has been added restrictions on visas for foreign workers since Sept. 11, 2001.
"We think we sit in the center of two big trends that are happening - one is the shift from offline to online media and from offline to online services. We also sit in the middle of this professional labor market war for talent, and that's happening here in the U.S. and in Europe and Asia. If we can just keep ourselves focused and execute well, we're very excited about the future of our company."