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Episode 81: Researching Prospective Companies with Jennifer Bewley, Founder of Uncuffed

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Episode Description

In this episode of 3, 2, 1, iRelaunch Carol talks with Jennifer Bewley, Founder of Uncuffed. Uncuffed provides detailed research on companies, far beyond the company website and social media. She shares details on how relaunchers can get information on companies, both public and private, including sources we bet you have never heard of before!

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Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the chair and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host for today.

Today we welcome Jennifer Bewley. Jennifer is the founder of Uncuffed, which provides detailed research on prospective employers to help professionals, ace your interviews, vet companies, and negotiate their deals. I'm very excited about this topic today. Jennifer, welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.

Jennifer Bewley: Thank you so much for having me, Carol. I'm excited to talk to your audience.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So, please first tell us, how did you get into the company research business to begin with?

Jennifer Bewley: Sure. It really goes back to the beginning of my career when I started at a hedge fund and ultimately became the director of research. And so I've always loved research. I love digging for information. I love companies, I love it all. And what happened was, eventually I made a poor career choice. And I was really frustrated with myself because I thought, “My goodness, how did I miss the cultural issues that were going on with this company?”

And so I started thinking about it and of course it wasn't on Glassdoor or anything like that. And so I thought, “Gosh, there has to be a better way.” And so I really started thinking about my finance background and how do you take data that's available, that's publicly available and twist it so that people can understand things like turnover.

And so that's really where it started. And then, I just started adding more and more data to our stream of reports. Then we put it in a report in a package for everyone else and launched Uncuffed about three years ago.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And are your clients individuals, or are they companies?

Jennifer Bewley: Individuals. So we are one of the rare people within the employment space that actually do not take any money from companies.

We do work with recruiters outside recruiters who will provide our reports to their slate of candidates. But for the most part, we work with individuals.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And that means that someone will say, “I would like to get information on company X,” and then you'll research it, or you already have a library and they look through it and find the information?

Jennifer Bewley: So we do already have a library. But what I have certainly learned over the course of three years is that there are many, many, many companies. So there is probably about a 50% chance that we'll have the company already in the library and a 50% chance where we'll start it fresh. And it takes us about two days from the point that you order to be able to deliver a report. And that obviously depends on the depth of research that you hire us for, but we use a lot of technology to make that happen.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And are people getting a subscription? Are they paying outright for a single company or individual company reports?

Jennifer Bewley: Right now we do it by paper report.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. Got it. Helpful. Thank you. So, without divulging any proprietary information, can you give our relauncher audience some general recommendations on how to find out more about the companies that they want to work for?

Jennifer Bewley: Yeah, absolutely. So, obviously the basics are important. Look at the company website, do those kinds of basic things. Look at their social media that everyone does. But what we want to do is kind of take it to the next level. And so we really start with the financials because we believe that financials are the most unbiased information that a company can report. And so I think one of the biggest misnomers about companies is that it's only publicly available companies where financials are available.

And in fact, there's a lot of private company financials that are available too. And so if I can tell you a little bit about where we start and then we can go from there.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. That'd be great.

Jennifer Bewley: So first thing we do is we go to a site that's called OpenCorporates. And it essentially tells you a little bit about where the company has filed and why that's important is if you see a US company and they have an office in London or an office in France or offices other places, even if they're private, the chances are that they have had to file their financials overseas.

And that is available information. So we like to start there because it gives you a breakdown of where the companies have filed corporate papers. And so then you can know where to kind of go to find those financials. That's one of the best sort of first places to start. And I would say if you don't find anything on your company on that site, you're probably not using the right legal name.

So I would look down at the privacy statement or some of the legal language that's on their website to make sure that you're using the proper legal name for a company. And so that's a great place to just start, understand where you can go with your research and understand where there might be information that you haven't thought about.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Got it. Wow. That's super interesting. I didn't even know about that. So you're saying there are public and private companies that will have filed, have information on open corporate.

Jennifer Bewley: Well, that's where you start, but then you'll have to go to the individual countries to find the information. So let's take the US, obviously a lot of people expand first to English speaking countries, Ireland, UK, Australia. And in Ireland and the UK, you actually have to file your financial information, even if you're private. And so there's a great site called CompaniesHouse, which is kind of like the equivalent of the SEC in the US, it's really not, but just to give you sort of some contextualization of it. And if you go to Companies House and you put in the company name and you'll get whatever's happened with that company in the UK, or sometimes they report all of Europe into the UK. So it really depends.

A good example of a story that I can tell related to that, was one of the very first reports that we had done for someone when we just launched our business was on Spotify. Spotify was an incredibly successful startup and they were getting tons of funding.But when we actually went to the UK and pulled their numbers, it really looked like a much more difficult situation. And we were able to say, “Listen, these are the risks. We don't think they're going to have enough money.” And over time, the candidate that we were working with decided ultimately not to take that job, even though it checked all of her boxes.

And about six months later, they did in fact have a massive layoff. And so, that's one of those cases where she was just thinking about it from the US, but when we went to the UK and looked at their financials, it looked a lot more dire than you would have thought from reading their press coverage.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And that's a company that's based, I think in Sweden.

Jennifer Bewley: Right. Well, I think they started in Sweden. They have offices in Berlin that their actual corporate domicile is in the UK. And so that's one of those places where you wouldn't have necessarily known that, but you go to Open Corporates and you see, oh, there's Spotify, UK, there's Spotify Dub, you know, and all these other different places.

And so that's a good example of one of those private companies that you would not have expected what we didn't expect what we found when we found it.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Right. Super interesting. Okay. So tell us more, so Open Corporates and then Companies House, and similar depending on the country. So you go into these and you see filings. And then what happens?

Jennifer Bewley: Then this is where we really sort of take over in terms of analysis, right? And I always tell people like, I'm not selling data. You can go and get the data yourself. What we're really selling is that analysis. And so what you think about what we think about is, it depends on what's available and it does vary.

So it could be, you could have the entire income statement. You could look at it over time. You have a balance sheet, you can look at it over time in terms of how much assets they have. So there's a financial health of the company that we provide in our reports that kind of helps you start to assess.

There's a couple of other spots in those particular filings. That is interesting. So they now do it in the US but in the UK, they made people say, are you a going concern? And this is a story that we weren't involved in, but it was interesting from the perspective that I was speaking with an individual professional in the biotech world who had, we were doing a reference check on his previous employer. And we do that through our customer service.

And he had said to me this company had actually gone out of business in about four months after he joined. And I was trying to understand what happened and he was telling me about it and he had moved his family from the South of England to Cambridge and made a really big life choice.

And what I realized is he was telling me his timeline was what he didn't know was that company had already filed. And so that they were not a going concern. And so going concern just means, yeah. And so he had made this huge life decision, moved his family.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wait, wait, hold on. Define going concern just for some of our audience members.

Jennifer Bewley: Sure, so going concern just means, is this a company that typically has enough money to last for another 12 months essentially. And in this case, the biotechnology company, he had been told through the interview process that they had the money for their next round. There was really, honestly, no reason to doubt that, except for this one line in that filing. And so I remember talking to him about it and I just felt like, “Oh God, I wish I would have been able to help him earlier.”

So there's other little pieces of information in those filings and they're not long, you know, they're four or five, 10 pages that you can really sort of zero in on things. Some of them will have things like, these are their priorities for the year, which is great to have as an interviewer.You understand, you know, where the company's going and how you can kind of lead the conversation and show that you've done your research. So there's just lots of little information in there that even as a nonfinancial person, you'll be able to sort of make sense of it, if you are not a financial person.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And how does this compare to, we can talk later about 10Ks and 10Qs, filings that need to be made in the United States. And there's always risk factors that are put on there, but sometimes the legal and compliance you have to put on risk factors that could have low probability or just feel like a reach and might actually keep you from joining an employer, a company that would be a really interesting experience. So how do you sort those out the real risks from the less real risks?

Jennifer Bewley: It's a really good question. And it's funny. It takes me back to my time at the hedge fund when I sat down and my portfolio manager told me a few things, when I started, he said, “First of all, if you read the risk factors, you'll never buy any.” Right? Any stock. Because they're all there. So usually what's more interesting to me about the risk factors is what has changed.

I would say, look at it over time and see what has changed, what they've added, what they've taken away. So that's usually the more interesting part. Honestly, that's usually the more interesting part of research, generally speaking. And so when I think about risk and one thing that I've learned over the three years is that everyone's tolerance is different and everyone's tolerance is categorically different. Someone may be willing to take a financial risk and that's one aspect.

Somebody may be able to want to take a cultural risk and that's another aspect. And so I would just say, really define what your risk tolerance is and for what category. One of the absolute, most devastating reports I ever wrote about a company, the person took the job and I was shocked. I was shocked.

And I said to her, “Why in the world did you take this job?” And she said, “Because they paid me to take the risk.”

So, if you think about risk reward, as it relates to jobs, usually when you're taking bigger risks, whether it's a startup or what not, you're actually going to be paid less, when you're in the more stable sort of safer companies, you're probably going to be paid more.

And so you're actually not being paid to take the risks that you're taking. So I always tell people, really think about the risks that you're willing to take.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. So I want to hear more and get back to these recommendations for how people find out more information about companies.

But one just aside I want to say is one of the experts that we've interviewed on interviewing, Michael Neece, tells people to look at the 10K or the 10Q risk factors and pick one, and then use that as interview material. Like, I was looking at the risk factors in your 10Q and one of them was X.

And, and so it gives a signal to the employer that, wow, this person really dug in to some of our financials even though they're pulling out something like that. So I thought it was a good thing to do for that reason also. But of course the ultimate reason is that you're uncovering information. That's going to be relevant to whether you would want to take the job if offered it.

Jennifer Bewley:Yes, absolutely. And Michael gives some tremendous advice around that. There's always one, that's always interesting to me where they usually will have a cultural risk factor, particularly technology companies will have a cultural risk factor.

And so I always say to them, why is that a risk factor for you? And so that really, really comes from their, from their filings where you can say, “I noticed that culture was a risk. How's it changing? What's the problem?” And that's usually a good way for people to think, “Oh, she paid attention.” So I absolutely agree with Michael on that front.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's great, okay. Tell us some more ways that people can find information, please. This is super fascinating.

Jennifer Bewley: Well, I think the most important thing and the place where I see people make mistakes is they don't contextualize the information. So why, why I say that is well, let's take Glassdoor for an example. So I love Glassdoor. Everybody should be using Glassdoor. I do something that's very different, but they will have their 3.2 stars or what not in terms of their rating, but what you don't actually know is what their average rating is. And so you see that 3.2 as data, as a piece of data, but there's no context around it.

So what I always tell people is I think the average on Glassdoor, the last time I looked at, it was actually 3.2. And so when you're looking at someone who looks above average to you, because they're above two and a half on their five point scale, it's not. And so really kind of understand the context around data. And so that's important to what we do as well.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Ah, so it's still a little bit almost like being graded on a curve.

Jennifer Bewley: Absolutely. Absolutely. And so if you think about, as we think about turnover a lot, we have various different ways that we look at it and I'm going to share some. Now, if it's a public company, and this is the insight that I actually missed in my own research, was if it's a public company, they have to disclose once a year, how many people have forfeited their stock awards? And so you can forfeit your stock awards because of the stock price. But for the most part, if you're looking at restricted stock, that always has value. So let's look at that and how much of that was given back in any given year and look at it over time.

So what you'll start to see is where they've started to have turnover issues or not. And if they're explained, sometimes companies are going through restructurings or not. And so you can really start to think about, well, from a turnover perspective, how high is it? Is it high for the industry? What's the average? Look at a couple of different companies. And it's one of the most interesting places to find what I call hidden gems.

There was a company that we worked on in the professional services space called IPAM, which I have never heard of before. They compete with the Accentures and Cognizance and those folks of the world. And their's was just so much lower than everyone else's in the industry. I got really fascinated by it, their turnover, those forfeited stock was just so much lower than everybody else. And it was funny because the recruiter who was actually working with them to find someone said, “Oh yeah, it's the only place I can never pull anyone out of.”

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow.

Jennifer Bewley: And I'd never heard of it. Right? And so, that kind of data just really adds that context to like, who's really great in this industry at this? And you know all the brand names, but have you ever heard of IPAM? I hadn't. And so that's one of those great places to find little hidden gems within the industries.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Can you just repeat, where do you find forfeited stock award data?

Jennifer Bewley: Yep. That is in there. And it is filed every year. So it's a little bit, sometimes it can be a little bit dated, but it's still worth having that conversation about.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Got it. Interesting. And how do people find 10K, and 10K is the annual report, just so people know 10Q is the quarterly. How do people find these filings? Do you just Google it?

Jennifer Bewley: So that is in the SEC database. If you just Google SEC, I think it's officially called Edgar, which I have no idea why. But you can look up by company name or by ticker. And we're going to talk about a second part of that database that a lot of people don't know in a second, and you go into the individual company and then you can sort by the type of filing. And so you want 10K and that's it, like you said, their annual fund.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Got it. For those of you who just tuned in you're listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch. This is your host, Carol Fishman Cohen. And I'm speaking with Jennifer Bewley, who is the founder of Uncuffed about tips for researching companies and for prospective employers.

So Jennifer, you were just about to give some more detail about 10Ks and 10Qs or some other piece.

Jennifer Bewley: So let's talk about what I want to cover, turnover for private companies as well, because I think that's super important. And then we're going to go back to the SEC. So turnover for private companies, and you can actually do this for public companies too, but this is how this was our insight into private companies where companies have to file what's called ERISA data around their 401k plan. And as part of that, they have to tell you how many people left before they were vested in that year. And so if you look at that time in context with how many people are participating, right? You can get an idea of how many people are leaving before vesting.

Sometimes it's three years, sometimes it's five years, but then as you look at the change over time, you can start to see turnover patterns. And so that's another way to use data to your advantage and look at the turnover for private companies. And that comes from their 401k data.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And you can get this by Googling the name of the company an ERISA and 401k. Or do you have to ever pay some sort of fee to have access to these types of files?

Jennifer Bewley: I'm only going to talk about free resources today, that is completely free and it's a government database that's called EFAST, from the Department of Labor. And I think it's called a Form 5,500 is what you're looking for.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Thank you. Sorry. Keep going.

Jennifer Bewley: No, no. That's okay. So, we love that kind of turnover data, and it really helps us start to think about the company culturally and kind of fill that out. So I always say the one thing you do is look at turnover. Do those two sources. That should be at least the thing you do before you take the job.

So that's that. And oh, I want to tell you a little part of the SEC database that is less well-known so they have something that's called full-text search. And what it essentially does is allows you to just put in, let's say you're interviewing with, I don't know, let's say you're interviewing with IPAM systems.

Now they're a public company, but let's say I pick a private company. Oh, give me one, Carol. What's a good private company?

Carol Fishman Cohen: How about Mars, the candy company?

Jennifer Bewley: Great. Yeah, absolutely. So Mars is obviously not a public company. It's a little bit tougher to get information on them. So if you go to the full text search part of the sec database, you can just put in Mars and put in 10K, so fill the 10K in because that's the annual report. So that's the most robust, and any company that has mentioned Mars in their filings will come up. It's a great place to get competitive data, to get industry data in a really quick and seamless kind of fashion.

That's one way that you can use that full tech search to your advantage. And then another way to use it. If you don't select the form, you may see things in there, like what technologies the company is using, who are their biggest customers, you know, there's a variety of different facts. Who are their biggest suppliers that come out of that data that comes out of filings from other companies that might be there about your company that you're researching. And so I always say like, definitely use the full tech search as well as just the company search.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. So you go in... how do you get to this again? You would look up, is it the SEC and then full tech search? And then you put in the name of the company and it will come up, even if it's a private company in the discussion of public companies, when they're talking about their competitors or some other information like that?

Jennifer Bewley: Exactly. And so if you just do full tech search, I'm just checking it right now, but if you do full tech search and SEC, it will come up.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Excellent. Wow. I'm learning. I didn't know any of this. And it's really, really interesting. So especially on these private companies, cause that was one of my questions.

How, how do you get information on private companies? Tell us about, sometimes when you look up the name of a company, the first thing that pops up is the Wiki on that company. What's your opinion on information that shows up, um, on the Wiki databases?

Jennifer Bewley: You know, I think it can be really valuable information. I haven't, obviously there are things that can be misleading within there.You can usually tell though by how robust the reference points are. So obviously companies can add to their Wikis. And so you always have to be careful on anything that is potentially a commercial. I always look for how robust the references are.

It looks like how many people have contributed to it. And so I think it can be a really good page.

What I have found that's always off, and I mean off by a lot, is the financials. People really have no clue. It's fast, it's easy. You can find it in other places. They just haven't always connected the dots.

So I always just say, be careful around just the financial aspects of it. But otherwise, because they typically are using news stories. And, while I think reporters do an amazing job trying to vet things, there are times when they just take companies at their word and, and that's fine, but companies don't always tell the truth.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Right. You know, it's pretty interesting though, because you can get a very quick summary of who the main officers are, the history. Usually it gives you some sense of what the revenues of the company are. You can get them ticker of their public, and then you could go to, based on the ticker, you can go in and get a hold of, by the way, the ticker symbol for people who don't know is the symbol.

If it's a public company, wherever it's traded, that's the abbreviation for the company on whatever exchange it's on. But then you can go and, based on that and get financial information from a whole range of other sources just by doing a Google search.

Jennifer Bewley: Absolutely.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. So, people are always curious about salary information and the best sources of information about that. If you have any recommendations and you mentioned Glassdoor, if there are any other sites that you are particularly helpful, if you could maybe tell our listeners about those.

Jennifer Bewley: Sure. I think that from a salary perspective, I always say first I would go back to the SEC database.

So there's a lot of information that companies, if it's a public company, that they sort of disclose about their pay philosophy. You can get a lot of information there. So you should know if you're looking at salaries or bonuses, you can see sometimes where they have negotiated. There's an example on our side globally, which is another professional services company.

And they will say something like, and I don't remember the exact words, but it will say, “Most of our stock options are five years, but we've negotiated others.” And so, you know from just that one line that's in there that, maybe that's an area where you can negotiate a shorter vesting period, for example. That's one place to start. And then typically within there, at the very executive level, all of those employment agreements are filed. And a lot of the companies, depending on size will file their standard employment agreements too, that you would be subject to. So that gives you a lot of information around, not necessarily salary level, but terms, which sometimes are just as important.

So I would say, I always start there when we start to work on salary information, and then we really, from our perspective, because we're typically looking for very pinpointed pieces of information, we will actually do that through an interview.

So I'm not sure I'm a great source for where there's a particularly awesome database.I mean, obviously there's stuff on Glassdoor, there's stuff on Indeed. There's other places. It really just depends on what kind of position, if it's really robust enough to illustrate yours. What I do tell people though, is if you've been in a company for more than three years, you are probably under priced to the market, depending on what market you're in.

You should absolutely go and try to find as much as you can. We do it through interviews. So we'll literally call a variety of different people who are in that role either at the company, if it's big enough, or at competitive companies and really kind of understand what the pay is, what the pay practices are and go from there.

So you have a really solid number.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. That is the best way we tell people, ask people who are in the field, “What is the range?” You're not asking them, like you, Jennifer, are able to ask specifically, what do you make? And then, that's part of your range of data points.

Relaunchers could talk to friends of theirs or other people in the field and say, “Just tell me what the range is.” So you're not actually asking another person how much, but you can get a ballpark.

Jennifer Bewley: And I would just say one of the things that I learned a long time ago when I was doing research into companies for Wall Street, but people are so generous with the help that they will provide you even complete strangers.

So do not be afraid to reach out. We do it a lot through LinkedIn, and then have phone conversations with people, but do not be afraid to reach out. I'm always amazed at the generosity of our fellow professionals.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Right. I agree with you there, for sure. What's your opinion on sell side research?

So these are research reports that are put out by some of the large brokerage companies, where they have analysts who reside and whose function is to report on a specific industry and companies within those industries. And has that changed a lot over the years?

Jennifer Bewley: It really has. I mean, that's probably one of the saddest parts to me about Wall Street is that just it's gotten so transactional from a research perspective that there's not a lot of really in-depth work that people are able to do anymore.

There are pockets of that, and so my perspective is read everything you can. You should still read it. One of the subtleties I would say is it's important to remember that analysts are picking stocks and you are picking a company, and those are two different things.

So there can be bad companies that can be great stocks, and there can be great stocks that can be bad companies. And so I would just remember that subtlety in there and go from there. But from the perspective of understanding industry trends, I think those are still in the reports in a pretty robust way.

It's just, now you're probably reading one or two paragraphs, whereas before you could read 10 pages on a particular issue. So for me, just because I'm a nerd like that, I miss the in-depth research. But there's still valuable information that can be found. So my perspective is read everything and use it to make your best decision.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Got it. Now, before we wrap up, can you talk at all about some of the proprietary analytical tools that Uncuffed uses when you produce the reports? I mean, not of course, to reveal anything that that's confidential, but is there any comment that you can make on that?

Jennifer Bewley: I would just say the most important thing, and this goes back to sort of our earlier conversation, is that we contextualize everything. So we contextualize it from a timeline perspective. We will contextualize it from a competitive perspective and industry perspective, a geographic perspective. Sometimes you want to know, is this a good company in Columbus, Ohio, or is this a good company?

So you have to kind of think about it from those different perspectives. I would say most of what we work hard on is how do you put in that human sort of ability to contextualize the data, because data is just data. That's really what we work hard on.

I would say that even for people who are doing their own searches on Google, start three years back. Start and see, what did the CEO say three years ago? And what do they say next to the next year and the next year? And you'll start to see the differences.

And so those are really important markers for what you should be paying attention to in your interviews, and actually asking about as well.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's a great tip. All right, we're out of time. I wish we keep talking about this for much longer, but thank you for cramming so much really important information into our short conversation. I do want to close Jennifer by asking you the question we ask all of our podcast guests, and that is what is your best piece of advice for our relauncher audience, even if it's something that we've already talked about today.

Jennifer Bewley: I would just say that, remember that the decision that you're making about your job is your biggest financial decision of your life. It's not your house, it's not your car and make sure that you're just doing enough research and be honest about that. Are you really taking the time to research the company before you make this decision? And if not, okay, but understand that risk. And so I would just say, remember that this is an incredibly important financial decision and take the time to do it right. Companies will wait if they want you.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Excellent. Excellent advice. Thank you. Jennifer, thanks for joining us today. Can you tell people how to find out more information about Uncuffed?

Jennifer Bewley: Sure. So our URL is getuncuffed.com and that is G E T U N C U F F E D.com. And what I would say is just go to order the report page or pricing page, and there are samples there of what we do. And so you can read some reports and it'll also hopefully spark some ideas for research for the audience.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Excellent. Thanks for joining us today.

Jennifer Bewley: Thank you, Carol.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Thanks for listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break.

I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the chair and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. For more information on our iRelaunch go to iRelaunch.com. And if you liked this podcast, be sure to rate it on iTunes and your favorite podcast platform, and be sure to share this podcast with a friend. On Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

Thanks for joining us.


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