The personal and professional rethink behind McKinnon's new CMO job

Former Bank of Queensland, Intuit / Quickbooks marketing leader shares why he's become the first CMO for Aussie AI startup, PredictiveHire

A desire to work for a fast-growth business with the potential to reshape people hiring processes for the better has led Toby McKinnon to sign-up as inaugural chief marketing officer at PredictiveHire.  

The Australian technology startup has developed an artificial intelligence (AI) platform that aims to remove bias from the people hiring process while automating recruitment steps for HR teams. Already, 1 million candidates across 47 countries have been interviewed by the platform, known as ‘Phai’, or a rate of one individual every 30 seconds.  

Stepping into a startup is a very different move for McKinnon, whose last two marketing leadership roles were with Intuit / Quickbooks Australia and Bank of Queensland. But as McKinnon put it to CMO, the lure of growth potential, strong leadership and positive culture, along with a personal recalibration thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, made the opportunity too good to miss.  

McKinnon stepped down from his director of marketing role at Inuit / Quickbooks Australia in February after two-and-a-half years in order to take be a full-time Dad for a while. It’s a sidestep he’d always thought of taking in his career but recognised was appropriate this year as his wife returned to full-time work. 

Toby McKinnonCredit: Toby McKinnon
Toby McKinnon

Having gained additional skills in the technology area while working for an inspirational country leader, Mckinnon also had the opportunity to be more present thanks to a Sydney base. Then Covid hit.  

“I realised it was the right time to take a break. Covid hit many hard and during such a tumultuous time, and it wasn’t a decision I regretted. There were so many benefits of being a present father. The impact on me personally and on us as a family was significant,” he says.  

This experience gave McKinnon fresh perspective on what his next professional endeavour would be. On the one hand, the CMO post at PredictiveHire solidly answered three questions Mckinnon employs when exploring any opportunity. These are: What is the growth opportunity for the business; what’s the leadership team and its potential; and is the culture a good fit?  

“I was inspired by the CEO, Barbara Hyman, her energy and drive and what she wanted to drive in the business,” he tells CMO. “Already, we’re driving positive ARR, expanding operations locally plus in the UK and US, and have customers such as Qantas, Afterpay and Bunnings.”  

Positive culture and a desire to do something constructive for the HR industry was also compelling.  

“In speaking with the leadership team and broader business, it was clear everyone wants to do something positive in the world. It sounds esoteric, but the idea of joining a business which is aligned behind doing something positive for people in some way, shape or form is strong. This can change outcomes and the HR world: The product itself is so strong and has the potential to do that,” he says. “It’s not until you meet people and talk to them about their role and what their motivators are that you know. I felt people genuinely wanted to be there and make a difference to the outcome.”  

But having taken the time to be a full-time Dad, McKinnon says he’s also coming to the post with new grounding and priorities in terms of where and how he wants to operate.  

“I want to work for a business not only doing something positive but is understanding of people and culture and has a work from anywhere mentality,” he said. “We have a flexible environment as we’re operating teams in Portugal plus the UK. There’s no expectation this is a 9am-5om job. It’s a great culture and there are many positives to it.  

“Combine these personal motivators and professional inputs and it just felt right to me.”    

The startup CMO priority list  

It’s nonetheless a big change to come into a startup environment, as Mckinnon acknowledges. The pros are everyone is generally engaged in business growth. The cons including having to wear multiple hats.  

“But you can put your stamp on it and create the way you want to operate,” he says. “I’ve come from Intuit, a multi-billion dollar, highly matrixed business. This is so different from that. But I have the mentality that you should never want for more, you need to be able to drive outcomes with what you are given. In this environment, we don’t have the ability to just tap into the war chest to pull out more funds, we have to be efficient in what we do.  

“Every win the business gets has a huge impact here, from new prospect to hire, process, system and client – the whole business is crazily energised. It’s an amazing environment to be in. It’s not without risk but it feels right for where I am in my career and the value I can bring and add.”  

The big shift McKinnon is tasked with is taking a product-led business, focused on getting product market fit, to a slick demand and marketing-led one.  

“Now we’re starting to build out marketing capability, my CEO said she wished she’d invested in marketing capability first. But the product had to be right and it went through its ebbs and flows to ensure that,” he says. “I came in with a clean slate and a remit to build this the way I believe it needs to be in order to drive the right outcomes. And as we scale and grow, budgets and resources will scale and grow.”  

Just prior to McKinnon joining, PredictiveHire recruited a performance marketer for digital acquisition. Outside of that, marketing and brand has been reliant on freelancers and contractors. McKinnon is now working to build capability based on business needs.  

“For example, with 100 per cent retention, churn isn’t an issue at this point. But it’d be crazy to think that lasts forever and we will need to build a customer marketing function, but we don’t need it right now,” he says by way of example.  

It’s also vital to get the martech and technology platform right. PredictiveHire currently uses Hubspot as a digital marketing orchestration platform.  

“But it was clear that from a sales and marketing perspective, there’s no sales structure and process there. We have to get that right,” he continues. “We have been product and sales-led with hunters, not farmers. We have to build that lead generation engine. Different geographies will be different. We have a level of brand awareness in the Australian market for example; as we expand into the UK and US, it’s a clean slate.”  

McKinnon is also looking at the organisational structure and whether PredictiveHire’s current brand and naming convention is fit for purpose to align to its growth plans moving forward. To help, he’s looking for a head of brand and content.  

“The content side is key in terms of our external market-facing presence,” he comments. “Our target audience, the HR industry, are not necessarily aware of AI in this space. And if they are, there may be a level of cynicism and concern about AI depending on the role you play. You may think it’s going to remove your jobs. We have an education role to play.  

“Where we are seeing a lot of credibility is with partners we have got. That opens the door to other businesses. We have those foundation clients who are seeing the benefits. Then our performance side can start generating the leads as we expand our sales force to be both hunters and farmers.”  

While they’re very different sectors, McKinnon says the market education perspective is not dissimilar from what he contended with around the Intuit product suite.  

“We did come across concerns from accountants and bookkeepers that we were doing them out of a job, as it was automating outputs and tasks,” he says. “But if you looked at what it meant for them, the platform took away a lot of admin and manual tasks and work they didn’t like doing that didn’t have a lot of margin. They could focus on the things they want to be doing.  

“In the same way, HR departments face a similar challenge: taking volume and saving a lot of time getting thousands of people through over a short space of time. The old mentality right now is to do an ATS, look at CVs, meet them, make appointments, etc. It’s lengthy. There are HR teams that can add more value outside of just processing applications. Once you start talking to prospects and how it can positively impact their roles, their interest is piqued.  

“Then you have the candidate side, where we can remove bias at the top of the funnel. For many businesses moving forward, that’s very important. We should be able to give every person a fair go in terms of applying for a role. So it is timely from that perspective.”  

As an AI-based offering, the wealth of data available to the PredictiveHire is another key element in achieving growth and an indicator of where the product roadmap can go.  

“The opportunity to be involved in organisational strategy, work with CEO and board to say this is where we are going to take the business and this is why, is pretty exciting,” McKinnon adds.  

As well as its first CMO, PredictiveHire has recently recruited employees across HR, EMEA growth, US growth, product and finance.  

“We have spent the last few years obsessed with building an AI product that people can trust. Now that we've achieved that we're ready to take it to the world,” Hyman said in a statement. “We’re on a mission to get as many companies using PredictiveHire as possible so we can create a world that is fairer when it comes to hiring. One where people are judged and elevated by their ability to do a job, and not because of their past experience, ethnicity, gender or sexuality.”  

Hyman said it was important the company first focused on building the product and attracting recognised brand names as clients first to validate its AI proposition.  

“When you are transforming the recruitment process of giants like Qantas Group, Virgin Media, O2, Spark NZ and AfterPay then you can say you have truly proven your technology can be trusted and it’s time to grow,” she said.  

Hiring McKinnon as CMO is a key part of the growth strategy as the company looks to enter the UK and the US, she added. 

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