Matching EHS Professionals With Great Opportunities With Michelle Tinsley
Most industry experts spend a lot of time searching aimlessly for opportunities, which sometimes results in a lot of time wasted. Discovering a desire to help EHS professionals in this matter, Michelle Tinsley found a solution using AI. Sitting down with Chad Burmeister, she shares how a simple conversation with an Uber driver gave birth to the company YellowBird. Serving as its COO, Michelle explains how they connect EHS experts with the best companies to grow and be productive. She dives deep into how they make the most out of AI in simplifying the searching process and opening more possibilities for work diversity.
Listen to the podcast here:
Matching EHS Professionals With Great Opportunities With Michelle Tinsley
I'm here with Michelle Tinsley. She is the Cofounder and COO of a cool company called Yellow Bird. The website is GoYellowBird.com. The story about the founder talking to an Uber driver and coming up with this idea is pretty cool. We're going to dig into that a little bit and talk about how AI is helping companies match employers with the right employees. Michelle, welcome to the show. Thanks for being here.
Thank you. It's great to be here, Chad.
For our audience to get to know you, I like to rewind the tape. Before we get into AI, I like to personalize the show and go back into how did you become who you are? What was your thing when you were a kid? Did you play sports? Where do you live? Share a little bit about your background.
I was born in Chicago. I'm one of four kids and I was always the scrappy kid. I felt like I had to fight for a seat because I started kindergarten at age four. My parents were like, "She was getting into trouble at home. We need to keep her occupied and send her to school to go learn something." I was always trying to keep up with my older brother and older sister. We moved when I was eight to Oregon and finished growing up in Oregon. The nice thing there was I was tapped into a school system that was great. I found lots of challenges there.
I attended the University of Oregon and got my first job at Intel. I essentially worked at Intel for 26 years, 18 years of which was in Finance. That was my primary degree. My secondary degree was in Marketing. I always got the question, "You don't seem like a typical finance person." They always say, "You're the CFO for this business? I thought you were the chief marketing person." I’m like, “No, I can do both,” but I did move over sideways to be the general manager of a business unit in our Internet of Things business at Intel and enjoyed that role. I was globally managing a team around the world that provided technical solutions into retail, healthcare, casino gaming and defense. It was a very broad spectrum but they are taking the standard Intel chips and putting them into very interesting, unique, different use cases.
From there, I became a product line manager and grow a mobile product line in the retail space for Intel. My last assignment was I moved into sales thinking, "If I ever want to run my own company, I got to know how to do sales." I ran the Internet of Things sales team in the United States for six months until there was a corporate reorg. That's when I decided, "25 and a half years is a good one. I'm done." I started my own consulting business. I started serving on the board at QuikTrip, which is a major convenience retailer in the United States. I've also been doing Angel investing for years.
When you're a good safety person, you're probably not the best marketer.
I kept myself busy between those three things. As I got deeper and deeper in my consulting into the startup ecosystem, I realized, "I would love to be a founder at a company and build something of value. Not just passively invest or give advice but making it happen on a day-to-day basis." I'm fueled by that productivity and utility. I met Michael Zalle in the Fall of 2019 and we started Yellow Bird and we kept going. If we made it through a pandemic, we can make it through anything in life.
Tell us about the Uber story. It's interesting. I remember in an Uber, a couple of years ago, I met someone and Bitcoin was becoming a big thing. I think very similarly. I said, "It's interesting. What's your deal? What did you do before this?" He goes, “I was mining Bitcoin and then it got to be too expensive. Now I'm driving an Uber.” This guy was off the charts intelligent. It was a 45-minute drive across town. He gave me the education that I was trying to get on Bitcoin that I couldn't get. I realized, "There's probably some overqualified Uber drivers." I think that's how your business started.
Our founder got into Uber and the first thing he noticed was the car was spotless. He had chilled water waiting for him. He put his bag in the trunk for him. He was like, "Did I order an Uber or did I got a personal driver? This is amazing." He told the guy, "You're fantastic. I want to hear your story. What's your background?" That's Michael. He's very open and personable and loves to meet everybody on a personal level.
The gentleman told him, "I'm an Ex-Colonel in the Chilean Air Force. I moved here to be near my grandkids and I want to still contribute. I don't want to just sit and drink Mai Tais by a pool. I want to contribute and add value. I guess right now what I can do is Uber." Michael let that thought rattle around. He worked with quite a few environmental health and safety folks and said, "These folks entered the industry in the ‘80s when OSHA was created. They're now getting to a point in their career where they want to lightly retire, but they still have so many skills to offer and so much experience to tap into. It just seems a shame."
When you're a good safety person, you're probably not the best marketer. Do you have all the digital tools at your fingertips to go do that marketing on your own? His thought was, “What if we create a two-sided marketplace where we matched together these amazing professionals, tapped into their skillset and exposed them, and on the flip side, reach out to companies that need better safety but they can't afford a full-time employee?”
They can now get exactly the skillset they need when they need it for the job they have at hand. They could get somebody different based on skillset next month or they could keep asking for the same person by name and get them. We do cover our workers with insurance. We do want to be a gig done right. If we're going to get professional people, we need to do this in a way that honors their experience, background and levels of playing field with our skillset of who we have out there.
There are apps like Fiverr and those that will match me with $20 an hour to a $100 an hour worker in another market. Yours is focused on a very niche market.
We are focused on environmental health and safety work. That includes risk management and loss control. I would say about a good third of our volume is just lost control audits for the insurance industry. Folks with a safety and risk background know how to go in and evaluate what is a catastrophic risk for a business versus a nice-to-have. We do focus on that. We do always use a litmus test internally what could have been 200 jobs on the platform but it was no skill. We need a person with a pulse to go do something. We said, “That's not our thing. We need to stick to what we do right and honor the experience that our professionals have."
Talk to me about where does AI play a role, either now or in the future with the matching piece? I understand that's the big part of where AI may play.
What excites us is when done right, AI is trained on a large set of data. We're still building up our large data pool. We have over 500 match-ready professionals and another 1,500 people coming through our pipeline through our onboarding process. Each of those people has 10 to 20 years of experience. We've got a lot of data points around the types of skills they have and the types of certifications. There are very detailed, explicit requirements. For instance, if somebody needs to teach all protection classes, they need to teach the competency level. There's been an OSHA certification that's required to do that.
What AI enables us to do a search through our massive amount of professionals and data and fill out the right people, not just for skillset but location. We try to start with doing jobs within a 30-mile radius of where the people live. We will cast a wider net if it's a very unique skillset. We've had somebody come to ask for radiation safety. We only have three people on the platform that can do that level to go consult at a radiation power plant.
As AI gets trained to make automated processes more accurate, less human intervention will be needed.
It's interesting to me because I wonder what some of the other match criteria look like over time. I think of a friend, Brian Skelton, who does this kind of work and he travels all over tri-state. He does this type of training for people. I'm sure his skillset is niche and he's also not looking for work. I'd be curious what about latent people or is this just for people that are actively looking for work? Who does it serve?
We do consider them in inventory. For instance, we have a woman who only does domestic violence training in the workplace. It's part of the safety curriculum at larger companies. It's very niche but she's the one and only. We're not going to put a big marketing campaign around that, but if somebody came to ask us for that or she found clients in other locations where she doesn't want to worry about taxes and how to do the compliance, she can put the job through Yellow Bird.
We do see in the future that AI will help us match beyond the experience and the certifications. We may have five people come up in a 30-mile radius that can do it. What about the personalities? What we've been already asked by customers is, "I want a safety coach who is very friendly and proactive, who will help guide your employees to a safety culture." We then had a safety cop. Depending on the customer and their circumstances, they may want the cop versus the coach.
We want to put personality the types or personas like that in there and let the professionals self-select of, "Here's the type of behavioral approach I take to safety." That'll let us add more nuance because we look and say, "Maybe 5% of our jobs haven't been a perfect match." It's been soft skills that have been the wrinkle point, not that they didn't know anything or that they weren't qualified.
There are a few technologies. Crystal Knows can go out and read a LinkedIn profile. There's another one called Codebreaker Technologies. They go in and they call it the BANK code, Blueprint, Action, Nurture and Knowledge. They stack rank and they tell you, "This person is a knowledge first and action second," or a blueprint first. My son's an engineer. He's going to school for engineering. He would be a blueprint first. I'm action first and then knowledge second, and then B is the last thing on my list. Knowing those things and get them into the algorithm is not that difficult to do, but very high value.
That's where we've seen also a mix of the types of jobs. Everything is short. Let's say a 1 or 2-hour consult to nine months onsite. It's obviously for the gig staffing where they want somebody more than two weeks or a month on-site that the personalities become more of a play. We've said right now, the human intervention until the AI is ready is, "We'll let you interview the person via Zoom to make sure that you can ask them the cultural questions and see if they're a fit with the team before we do a formal match."
I usually ask the question, what would your product be without AI? I think until you hit that massively large dataset, you could limp through. If AI didn't exist, it could still be a business. Where does that tipping point maybe come in?
It’s the key for our profitability because I go, "We could do things the sweaty and hard way. Just throw a bunch of employees and manually matching these things, hand curate it, but that doesn't scale." We do need to use AI in our platform as a core feature to our engine and get this done in a way initially humans will review the recommendations in AI. As we train it and it gets more and more accurate, it will be more automated and need less human intervention.
I talked to someone that takes an image or a snapshot through helicopters, airplanes, drones of power lines all across the US. It turns out something like 76% of all fires are started by power lines. Humans couldn't ever go look at all of the power lines. This tool creates a second universe and then builds out AI of, "That kind of plant or tree, how fast is it going to grow?" When I asked the question, "What if you didn't have AI?" He was like, "No way. That's why California is spending $7.6 billion to throw people at the problem when they could spend a heck of a lot less to leverage AI and actually get the job done." There are a lot of similarities I see across the industry of the things that you're doing leveraging AI.
For my tech background, there's always been this question of, "Is tech going to replace people? None of us will have jobs in the future." I choose the future where tech is enabling us to do things we've never dreamed of. There will always be jobs and needs for humans because we are so creative. I was driving behind an autonomous vehicle and thought, "There's a lot of machinery on that car trying to replicate what goes on naturally in my brain when I'm half caffeinated on the way to work." It's just a marvel of we will uncover more and more uses for AI, but it will then open up more and more possibilities and more diverse types of work. In this case, what we're doing is exposing a very unique and amazing skillset that professionals have to have businesses and have a level of safety they never thought they could afford. Therefore, their employees will be much safer, which means everybody goes home with ten fingers and toes. That's great.
Talked to a company that's called CommSafe.ai. They monitor all of the communications between employees on Slack, Outlook, Gmail and everything. They flag things that are extreme or sexual harassment. He said it was like a $500 billion problem in the world. The debate is, is that Big Brother or not? You have people that are monitoring it now. The big question is around ethics. As long as it's monitored in a way that's legal and moral, by all means, let's turn the lights on.
Technology must enable people to do things they have never dreamed of.
As a manager, I'd say, "Can I have a very early conversation with an employee?" Bring awareness to them because my guess is half the time, they don't know that an innocent joke or ribbing of a fellow employee is borderline harassment. Once you bring that up, that makes them aware and it doesn't keep going further down the path where you get to a place where you have to fire them.
That was another good use of AI. It's just amazing. I've talked to almost 100 founders and CEOs and the level of AI deployment, most people don't realize that it's going on. You talk to your Alexa or your Siri and you get your chips delivered the same day. I didn't know it was being deployed in my technology like it is at Yellow Bird. It's pretty interesting.
We're a little fearful of that because when we go talk to investors or potential customers, they'll be like, "They just mentioned AI. They're just to be cool or with the fast crowd." It is an ingredient like salt where eventually, it's going to be a foundational building block that helps the businesses of the future scale.
What about the sales motion? I'm assuming you're selling to a pretty small niche group. Maybe it's not that small, it's a bigger market, but it's at least a targeted audience.
We do have a very targeted persona that the market for EHS services and staffing in the United States is over $50 billion. It is quite a large market but if you've typically been in an office environment, you probably aren't aware of how big it is. We want to get in with decision-makers, typically leaders and operations, HR that are making the call on, "Do we do this internally? Do we staff it with a generalist or do we go seek out a specialist or do we use a gig economy?" Right now, we're trying to get into the evoked set or get into consideration because they don't know this model exists. We've been working a lot on awareness building.
Usually, once somebody put their first job through, I would say anywhere from 65% to 85%, depending on the month and where the activities at, our customers are coming back for a second or third gig within 90 days. It's because once they know this model exists, they’re like, "We haven't updated our distracted driving training in five years. There's a lot of stuff we could put in here now." Asking us to update policies, procedures and stuff that current employees aren't that excited to do, we can get it done quickly.
It makes me think I had a full-time dedicated ops person and I was only leveraging 20% to 30% of the time. I went to him and said, “What else do you think would be worthwhile to do?” I didn't have anything for him to do. We couldn't figure out the other 70%. It made sense to say, "Why don't we just move to part-time? You can now work for us part-time and another company part-time, as many as you want." That's what he ended up doing. It worked out perfectly well. I think you’re right. It’s almost EHSaaS, as a service. Where do you think it goes a few years from now, whether in EHS or outside of EHS, talking artificial intelligence in general? Think back to your 25 years in the industry. Where does it go?
I would love to see us be ubiquitous across the US and into other countries. This is a model that's become aware enough that other people start asking, "Why aren't you in XYZ country?" We would have gone international within 3 to 5 years and also looking at their adjacencies to the work we're doing. Obviously, there are loss controls. Do we get into ESG overall, risk assessments for companies, looking at where is enterprise risk coming from?
It may not just be the employee safety and environmental piece. It may be food safety. We do have people with food safety certifications right now. We just haven't marketed that. I look at it and go, "There are a lot more of these skills that we can expose." Hopefully, we raise the level of awareness and competency across industries or some of these more serious issues. Food safety is something that could wreck a brand. It's something that could cause hundreds, if not thousands of people to be sick. If we can start eliminating those incidences, that would be great.
Congratulations on joining the business in 2019 and leveraging the skills that you've been using. Michelle Tinsley, Cofounder and COO of Yellow Bird. It's GoYellowBird.com. Thank you for sharing with our audience.
Thank you so much, Chad.
Thanks for joining the show. We'll catch you on the next one. Cheers.
About Michelle Tinsley
Experienced leader with a demonstrated history of bringing the value of technology to industries. Extensive background in Retail, FinTech and Startups. Board member and Angel Investor. Strong C-suite professional skilled in Management, Business Development, Finance, Manufacturing, and Competitive Analysis. I get the career best out of teams.