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With Scott Orn

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Scott Orn

Scott Orn, CFA

Joyce Zhang Gray talks about how Alariss matches global companies with US talent

Posted on: 11/16/2022

Joyce Zhang Gray

Joyce Zhang Gray

Co-founder and CEO - Alariss

Joyce Zhang Gray of Alariss - Podcast Summary

Joyce Zhang Gray, CEO and Co-Founder of Alariss, talks about how Alariss matches global companies with US talent. Alariss can function as the employer of record to handle payroll and legal compliance to make it easy for global companies to hire in the US.

Joyce Zhang Gray of Alariss - Podcast Transcript

Scott: Welcome to Founders and Friends podcast. Before we get to our guest, special shout out to Kruze Consulting. We do all your startup accounting, startup taxes, and tons of consulting work, kind of whatever comes up, like financial models, budget, actuals, maybe some state registration, sales tax, VC, due diligence support, whatever comes up for your company, we’re there for you. 750 clients strong now. $10 billion in capital raised by our clients. I can’t believe it. $2 billion this year. It’s been a crazy awesome year. So, check us out at kruzeconsulting.com and now onto our guest.
Singer: It’s Kruze Consulting. Founders and Friends with your host, Scotty Orn.
Scott: Welcome to Founders and Friends podcast with Scott Orn at Kruze Consulting. And today my very special guest is Joyce Zhang Gray of Alariss. Welcome, Joyce.
Joyce: Thanks so much Scott. Great to be here.
Scott: Oh my pleasure. This is, I’ve been looking forward to this. So, you are building a super cool company. Maybe you can start off just by retracing your career a little bit and telling everyone how you had the idea for Alariss.
Joyce: Sure. Well I guess the idea for Polaris came even from a really young age growing up as a second generation immigrant in the US, I always wanted to bridge the divide between different countries. So I remember as a kid, I thought one day when I grow up I’ll be a translator because I thought it was really unfortunate that my grandfather was a doctor in China, but in the US because he couldn’t speak English, he couldn’t work. And he would do sort of, as a kid, if we had scrapes and bruises, he would patch us up. But I thought maybe one day I can be a translator so I can help my grandfather open a clinic in the US. So, this is a really, really early, Joyce as a kid, idea. And then later on when I was a little bit older and high school, I wrote my college essays about one day I want to be an international business person, bridging the divide between Asia and the US because these are such huge markets and they really don’t understand each other super well. So, I studied governments and economics at Harvard and I worked for the Fed right after school and was working on a lot of international financial regulatory reform and international treaties. And just this notion of international business and international exchange was so exciting to me. I later took a job, actually in China and then later in Singapore for American tech companies, that were trying to launch overseas. And that was when I started to realize, well number one, the way that businesses are launched and global expansion happens, even for tech companies is completely untech or non-tech, I should say. It’s very manual. First you fly an expat over, which involves getting in line at the embassy or consulate and getting a visa. And then you’re only allowed to work for a limited period of time because you’re on a business visa and you’re not a citizen of the country. But then you go to a country where you don’t necessarily speak the language or know the local culture or the local laws. So, you have to find a bunch of different partners. The Kruze equivalents for some of your accounting, for example. But you don’t even know where to begin. How do you find people who are trustworthy? How do you vet, how do you screen? And then ultimately, most importantly, how do you build your team? Because the expat isn’t supposed to run the office forever, you just build it up and then you leave. But the process of building a team will usually take months if not years, and there’s high turnover. So, it was a really eyeopening experience, but what was even more eyeopening was just talking to all these amazing entrepreneurs. And I also had the opportunity to work in Nairobi, Kenya and to also be in Buenos Aires, Argentina. So, all of these different places where there’re tech hubs, I thought it was so inspiring because they worked so hard. There’s so much talent everywhere in the world. They had great ideas and their products were amazing. They were parallel to what I would see in the US and in Silicon Valley. But the key difference is, they weren’t in Silicon Valley because of their physical location and their country of origin, people didn’t take them seriously and they all had this American dream because they felt like if I can go to America, my company can make it.And so that was actually the really beginning inspiration, where I pulled the pieces together of my own childhood and my own education and started to really think critically about how can I bridge these global business opportunities and create a tech enabled solution that actually makes it possible for someone, no matter where they grew up and what language they spoke, to become a global citizen and become a global business person?
Scott: That’s so amazing. And it’s like the venture capital markets are so deep in the United States. It would be nice to tap that, the big market, maybe I’m skipping ahead a little bit too much, but getting companies into the United States, or getting entrepreneurs into the United States or being able to, at least operate their business, is such an amazing vision. Do you want to talk about what Alariss does before I steal your thunder? And maybe don’t say it absolute [inaudible 00:05:02].
Joyce: Yeah, I probably could’ve led with that. That’s my bad. So Alariss is a tech global expansion marketplace. And why we call it a marketplace is because the most important resource on it would be the go to market talent based in the US. And then we also have payroll and compliance all bundled together. So, companies can really launch their boots on the ground in the US in a matter of days or weeks and start generating revenue and talking to clients immediately, instead of the months or even years it used to take them.
Scott: And such a great, before we turned on the mics, we were talking about comparable companies and you had a couple that were kind of interesting, one of which I worked with back way back in the day. But I don’t want to steer yours under on that either.
Joyce: Yeah. So, in many ways, I’m sure in the future people will just say we are Alariss global. But right now, since we’re a startup, it’s good to benchmark. So, we’re in many ways like an inverse of Upwork or Fiber. Instead of Americans hiring cheap labor abroad, we’re helping international companies hire skilled Americans. So, it’s not about cost arbitrage, it’s about geographic access. And it’s win-win. So, for example, I grew up in Westfield, Michigan and also in Lubbock, Texas. So, places in the US where there’s amazing talent, there’s just not as many opportunities because a lot of jobs, especially in Michigan, have been automated or perhaps have even gone offshore, which has led to a lot of friction and a lot of unemployment. But there are amaing schools there, there is Kalamazoo College, there’s Michigan State, there’s University of Michigan, there’s Wayne State, where my parents teach. And a lot of that talent will have to physically move to Chicago or New York to find good jobs. But now with Alariss, instead of this mantra of offshoring, it’s about re shoring jobs back to the US, in a way that Americans are uniquely capable of handling these jobs because we believe that the future of work is in global and distributed teams, but not for cost arbitrage. It’s really about where are there the greatest capabilities? What is it that is most future proof out of about an American? And a lot of Americans are really great at sales and marketing and interpersonal relationships. And it’s really difficult for a lot of the companies we work, with based in India or China or Japan where it’s just a very different sales culture. They don’t know how to do sales in the US. They have great products, people don’t take them seriously because they’re too humble, they don’t speak the right language or they don’t know the cultural norms and nuances of pitching. And rather than having to change themselves or move to a different country, they could actually just build a team and have their representatives in the US really tell the story about how amazing they are. And it just feels like a really nice win-win where both sides benefit.
Scott: I totally agree. It’s just giving international companies… We see so much business tilting international these days, so many foreign founders. And it’s not just one region and it’s like Latin America, Europe, Asia, Kruze is actually, our client base is reflecting the trends you’re talking about. And then for them to be able to safely and confidently hire a team or a few players in the United States to get their team going, that’s just a gift. That’s why I want to have you on the Pod, was this jumped out at me as I haven’t heard of a company doing what you’re doing at all. And it’s so innovative and I was just really excited about it.
Joyce: Well thank you so much Scott. I really appreciate the kind words. I do sometimes get asked questions like, well how could someone in Latin America or Asia or Europe afford an American because our salaries are so high and the cost of living is so much higher here? And I said, Well actually the average American household income is about $76,000 a year. Maybe in San Francisco. We don’t think that because if, anything below six figures as an individual, you feel like you’re barely able to make it in San Francisco. But it is true that around the US the prices aren’t necessarily as high, and at the same time there’s so much capital that has gone into these markets. So, even American unds like Sequoia Capital just raised a $9 billion fund for China alone. That was announced a few months ago and similar things all over the world. So, there are tectonic shifts happening in the global order. And I think this mantra that talent is universal but opportunity is not, is now eroding as well. Because yes, talent is universal and they still want to come to the United States to do business, but there is greater access and there are greater opportunities for people to collaborate together virtually because of technology.
Scott: Well there’s also something you said, which I really believe, which is it’s not a cost arbitrage, it’s a skill arbitrage. And we see that in our business. We’re always looking for great accountants and we see that with our clients that we work with. People have money, like you said, there’s a lot of capital been raised, you’re talking on the fund level, but in the VC back startup level, there’s billions and billions and billions. I think the Kruze client base has already raised $2 billion this year. That’s a lot of money and a big slice of that money has gone to foreign based companies with foreign founders. So, it’s not like they can’t afford it. What they an’t afford is hiring the wrong person. Or they can’t afford hiring someone who actually doesn’t know how to roll out a sales launch or a marketing launch in the United States, maybe their future biggest market. Because that sets a startup back six to nine months or a year and all of a sudden you’re burning through your cash. So, it’s like when you put that frame that you talked about with, it’s not a cost arbitrage, they just need to hire the right person to get the gears of the company going in the US. It makes so much sense to me. The capital is there, it’s the opportunity cost of hiring the wrong person that’s scary to these companies.
Joyce: Exactly. I should have you do our sales pitch, Scott. You-
Scott: No, I get it. That’s why this was cool.
Joyce: You’re better than I am. I should record… Oh good. It’s being recorded. I’ll share-
Scott: Yeah, [inaudible 00:11:05] the world. You can just forward them the podcast. No, but I really believe that because nothing is more expensive to us, just on a very simple basis, than someone who we thought was going to be a good accountant and was not a good accountant. This is being very simple here and that goes for, it’s magnified if you’re hiring a founding team in a country., I can’t even… It makes my head hurt even just thinking about that. So it’s not a cost thing, it’s finding the person with the skills. Maybe they have the relationships or the knowledge of that industry because it’s like a US based thing or something like that, that’s what’s really valuable. And the United States, we’re still a very big economy in a powerhouse in tech, but there’s a lot of money and a lot of technology companies around the world that have plenty deep pockets who can take advantage of Alariss.
Joyce: Thank you, that’s our hope too. And it’s also beneficial for the American talent because in the US we see the news about the great resignation, about workers strikes, about workers just demanding better standards. And one of the single biggest variables that determine whether or not a worker decides to stay at a company, has become whether or not they feel empowered, have flexible work and if they feel motivated by their job. And that goes hand in hand because if you’re telling someone, hey, you have to physically be in the office so that I can look over your shoulder and make sure you’re not moonlighting for someone else, that’s inherently a little bit of a lack of trust. And for people pat a certain age, I have a young child and I’m lucky that I have daycare, but also just coordinating daycare pickup would be so difficult if I had to physically go to South Bay and then get stuck in-
Scott: Oh my God-
Joyce: On the way back, not be able to make it to daycare pickup or if my husband’s out of town for work. It’s so gratifying and it’s a relief for many of the people who work with us and they’ll give these heartfelt testimonials about how valuable remote work is and flexible work. And on top of that, through the Alariss platform, they usually get paid more than they were at their previous job. On average, 30% more, actually. And they get a better title because they now get to be Head of North America’s sales and they have a lot of autonomy. But we do the har work of making sure to screen and vet and ensure that everyone on our marketplace, whether it’s the clients or the candidates, are high quality, have integrity and have the empathy to be able to make this work. Because if you don’t have the right mindset to do global business, it is really challenging. Just the [inaudible 00:13:38] alone will be frustrating beyond belief.
Scott: So, that’s interesting. Walk me through the features of Alariss, but it sounds like screening and actually developing a candidate pool is one of the things you do for companies that are looking to hire.
Joyce: Exactly. That’s why we think of ourselves as a two-sided marketplace because our products will bring together both sides. It’s a really easy onboarding flow, actually. If you want to sign up as either a candidate or a client or both, just go to Alariss, A-L-A-R-I-S-S.com and you’ll see the links be able to sign up. So, once you sign up, we try to make it as streamlined and easy as possible. People can automatically connect via LinkedIn, so that candidates don’t have to go through that really frustrating, annoying, let me just fill out all of my-
Scott: Yeah, yeah. 10-year worth of work experience.
Joyce: Exactly.
Scott: Yeah.
Joyce: So it’s very seamless. And then we’ll usually make sure what if there is a match from the algorithm with existing opportunities, we actually want to make sure that we do a screening call. We’ll usually have our own screeners. But the screening call is pretty important because we want to establish right now, since this is just such a critical hire, like you said Scott, we don’t want to fully automate all of it. I don’t think that would totally do justice to the platform because we are much more of a managed marketplace where we need to ensure, not just through LinkedIn connections and through the resume and through looking at the social graph or the professional graph of the person, but also just through talking to them directly and getting a feel for their motivations, what makes them tick and why this is something that they’re excited about. And it also leads to a more trusting relationship when we do ultimately make the matches. But the product iself is basically kind of like a greenhouse or lever. It’s an ATS, along with Calendly/Chili Piper type of product. We had to build our own calendar integration because a lot of the clients we work with, Google is blocked in their countries. So, for example, they can’t actually integrate with existing SAS platforms in the US-
Scott: Oh my gosh.
Joyce: We build our own native app that allows us to detect the two different time zones that people are, in to give the hours of overlap for business hours that we would suggest that meetings happen. There’s a asynchronous opt-in and then we send reminders for the meetings and the links as well. So, we try to again, reduce friction because sometimes just coordinating a schedule and a time to meet, is hard. It’s already hard in the US but it’s even harder when you send the times over and the person’s asleep and by the time they wake up and reply to you, you are asleep and by the time you see it, you’re asleep again and the times no longer work. So, we try to reduce that. And then finally ,we also have our payroll and employer record product, if they wanted to use deal or remote, we work with a lot of EORs, so we don’t mind, we try to make it as easy and frictionless as possible, so they can integrate with other platforms. So, they can use ours for just easy onboarding, so they can have benefits and compliance taken care of. Because for many of these companies, they’re just really focused on how can I build my team and how can I execute? They don’t want to learn about US labor law and not just the federal level from the US Department of Labor, but also state laws. They don’t want to figure out accounting and registration. So that’s why we love referring them to great partners like Kruze. Or we can also work with the partners they have already to make it integrate into our platform.
Scott: Hey, it’s Scott Orn at Kruze Consulting, taking a quick pit stop to give some of the groups at Kruze a big shout out. First up is our tax team, amazing. They can do your federal and state income tax returns, R&D tax credits, sales tax help, anything you need for state registrations. They do it all and we’re so grateful for all their awesome work. Also, our inance team is doing amazing work now. They build financial models, budget actuals and help your company navigate the VC due diligence process. I guess our tax team does that too on the tax side. But the finance team is doing great work. And then I think everyone kind of knows our accounting team is pretty awesome, but want to give them a shout out too. Thanks and back to the guest. You’re totally right. There’s a whole education, a compliance education process that happens. Because I do those calls a lot with our client base that’s based in maybe Europe or Latin America and it’s a headache, especially if you’re starting from scratch and it’s in the whole state versus federal thing, it’s a lot of work. So that’s really amazing that you can help them with that. There’s something else you said that was, I thought was really, the managed marketplace approach and how you’re screening and talking to the candidates and making sure there’s a cultural fit. That seems really smart to me. Also, just from a, because you’re kind of selling Alariss, you’re doing this onboard, trust Alariss, trust us. And even that person isn’t perfect for that position they were interviewing for, I’m assuming you can use them for other things or-
Joyce: Exactly.
Scott: So I think that’s a really good investment in, you’re probably must be learning so much in those conversations.
Joyce: Yeah, I was saying to one of our South African clients today, because he was giving me a little bit of a window into South African labor law, when we were teaching him about American labor law. He’s like, oh, it’s so different. And we kind of did this comparison and I said, I feel like I’m nerding out. I’m back in school again taking a comparative politics class. It’s just a lot of fun because I learned so much from our clients and I learned so much from the candidates because we also talk to people based in Kentucky and Maine and Michigan, Ohio, Texas, it’s the full gamut, Hawaii as well. And there are really just incredible people out there in the world and it’s such a miss to only work with people who are within your immediate geography.
Scott: I know. We found at Kruze, we started doing remote probably four years ago and that’s how we felt too. We were, basically, for us it was a little bit of a challenge to build our processes in a way that could scale so that we could be remote. And we finally just took it upon ourselves to do that. But it opened up so many opportunities and we’re very fortunate. We have so many amazing people working here who are in a geography, it doesn’t lend itself to startups, but it is literally exactly what you’re doing. It’s the exact same thing, but they’re great people, super knowledgeable, smart, and do a great job. And so, I’m excited for the rest of the world to experience what we’re experiencing at Kruze in in-hiring across the United States. And also Ithink, I’m sure handling the payroll and making sure benefits and all kind of stuff is done, I’m sure that increases the matching rate or the sell rate or the acceptance rate. I don’t know what exactly you’d call it, but for those people, because they’re probably slightly nervous. They’re like, “Oh, this is a foreign company, are they going to be able to figure this stuff out?” But knowing that Alariss, it’s almost like the stamp of approval from Alariss makes it so the acceptance rate must go way up.
Joyce: Exactly. Well, just like any marketplace, we think that our role is really is enabling and just promoting the best work for the clients and the candidates, who are both customers of ours on the platform. So, the marketplace includes of course, embedded trust, security, branding. So many of these companies, they have tried, they cold outreach someone on LinkedIn, who then gets a random message from, well, LinkedIn by the way is blocked in China. But some people can use VPNs. They might message and someone’s like, “Oh, I got this random message from a Chinese person and the English is not correct. It seems kind of sketchy. I’ve never heard of them before. We have no mutual contacts. Everything about this just seems a little bit off.” And this might be one of the best-known companies in China, but again, you can’t Google them because Google’s also blocked. So, there is inherntly a matter of trust and screening where we say we can vouch for this company, we understand the local market, we’ve worked with their investors. We know that these are top founders and top people and we can vouch for them. And then separately, there’s also on the American side, because many of these companies, this is a huge investment for them. They don’t want to mess up, like you said, the cost is detrimental and it’s also bad for their brand in the US if they hire someone who ruins it. So, we have to provide that trust and security. And of course, the escrow payment and the payroll because it’s a little bit like, okay, I can quit my job, but how do I know I’ll get paid? Or some companies don’t realize how fast things move in the US market. Because in India for example, notice periods are two months.
Scott: Yeah, I know that actually. Yeah.
Joyce: Notice so-
Scott: There is no, yeah. Well also the escrow and making sure they’re go, the people, they know they’re going to get paid. That’s a real value add too. That was actually, like I said, I used to work with Upwork and that escrow was actually one of the major hooks early on with Upwork. It’s amazing that you’ve already built it. Because I actually know how hard that was to construct. So you building that gives the person who’s doing the work a lot of security and they know they’re going to get paid, which is amazing. I think your point about, hey, a person in the US has a hard time researching a company in China or anywhere in Asia or whatever, or maybe Latin America. They don’t speak Spanish. There’re so many opportunities. You’re, that’s a really nice value ad. I can see how these companies would be so thrilled with Alariss.
Joyce: Thank you. Well, we hope so. We have a lot of testimonials of companies that have worked with us. It’s just really gratifying for us to be able to accelerate their ambitions. Because as we look at them and when we go through our process of talking to them and deciding whether or not to accept them onto the platform, one thing that has just always struck me is just how talented these entrepreneurs and founders and executives are and how much I just want to give them the platform that they deserve. And it’s like I said, for the Americans, it’s the same thing. Just because they’re living in suburban Michigan doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be getting a great salary as someone who might be living in San Francisco if they’re doing the same work.
Scott: I totally agree. And when you talk about the entrepreneurs, I feel the same way. Because that’s one of the reasons I love my job is I get to work with amazing entrepreneurs every day. And it’s like you just need to add the right couple people to, I’m almost think of baking or a good drink or something like that. Those right couple ingredients, coupled with the main entrepreneur and magic happens and it’s hard, you can never predict what’s going to, what companies are going to get those right people and the mix is perfect. But it happens all the time. And you’re in this amazing matchmaking business here. But it has huge implications or beneficial implications for the people in the US who are taking these jobs and the companies that can get into United States and hire really, really qualified people and expedite their process as well.
Joyce: Totally. Well thank you for the validation, Scott. It means-
Scott: Yeah, my pleasure. I’m kind of giddy about it. Well, I should respect your time. So maybe you could tell everyone where to find Alariss, how to reach out if they’re interested, whether they’re on the employment side or on the company side, looking to hire maybe, I don’t know if there’s two different approaches, or how do people get in touch?
Joyce: You can just come to our website, alariss.com, A-L-A-R-I-S-S-.com. Alariss is actually a Latin word. It means auxiliary cavalry because we want to support your troops as you enter new markets. And so, if you’re a client or a candidate, you can sign up. You can also reach out to us on Twitter, it’s @alarissglobal. We have a LinkedIn page, we have other social media pages and you could also reach out to me directly. My email is joyce@alariss.com.
Scott: I love it, Joyce, super cool. Thank you for taking the time. I’m very excited about Alariss. And folks, check it out. This is a really good idea. Hopefully you can take advantage of it. All right, Joyce, thank you.
Joyce: Thanks Scott.
Scott: Bye.
Singer: It’s Kruze Consulting. It’s Founders and Friends with your host, Scotty Orn.

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