CEO Robert Hohman sits at his multiscreen workstation at Glassdoor.com in Sausalito.Glassdoor.com provides a free and anonymous workplace community. It
CEO Robert Hohman sits at his multiscreen workstation at Glassdoor.com in Sausalito. Glassdoor.com provides a free and anonymous workplace community. It profiles companies, providing information for prospective workers. (IJ photo/Frankie Frost)
For the nearly 11,000 people in Marin registered as unemployed and the thousands more looking for jobs, finding any opening can be hard enough. But in an economy like this, finding a well-paying job at a stable company that treats its employees well? Good luck with that.

A fledgling Sausalito startup is hoping to tip the balance of the 2010 job conundrum in favor of the job seeker, using one of the buzzwords of the Obama administration as its calling card: transparency.

Glassdoor.com, founded in June 2008 by alumni from Microsoft's Expedia travel site, intends to do for companies what sites like Expedia and Travelocity did for travel. Those sites took the mountain of information that was once the domain of airlines and travel agents and made it available online for free. Glassdoor wants to do the same for employees and employers, using surveys to compile a massive amount of data about salaries, interview techniques and sample questions and a presidential-style CEO approval rating.

"In this particular time of enormous uncertainty, one of the few things that can really help to alleviate that anxiety is information," said Robert Hohman, Glassdoor.com CEO and co-founder. "Most of us spend more time at work than we do with our families, but if you look around the Web, there is just incredibly poor information to make decisions about jobs."

The concept has taken off, with information about 37,000 companies in more than 100 countries and 600,000 total pieces of content on the site. The site now boasts more than 1 million unique visitors a month despite having only 15 employees in Sausalito and four in Ohio.

"You can type in almost any company and any industry and any job in any part of the country and get data," Hohman said.

Jeremiah Owyang, a Web strategy analyst at Altimeter Group in San Mateo, said the site is an excellent resource, particularly at such a daunting time for job seekers.

"This is a very important tool for anybody that is looking at getting a new job by helping people take a look at the ratings of the prospective companies they want to work for," he said. "This is another example of how the power has shifted to the customers, and in this case the employees."

Glassdoor.com has garnered publicity by compiling data-driven lists like the "50 best places to work" and "the 25 strangest interview questions of 2009." The latter list featured such oddities as, "How many tennis balls are in this room and why?" and "If I put you in a sealed room with a phone that had no dial tone, how would you fix it?"

Once people visit Glassdoor.com, the company's "give to get" model gives them an incentive to fill out a survey on a current or former employer. Visitors can only view three pages for free before being prompted to submit their own opinions.

Owyang said the site needs to continue to grow in order to ensure that its data are not skewed by either disgruntled employees or Web-savvy marketing departments. Hohman agreed, saying that gaining the trust of employers and making sure that employees are required to provide both positive and negative information about employers helps to find that balance.

"If it is not a place where employers can participate, it will ultimately fail," Hohman said. "The world doesn't need another rant site."

Hohman said that companies initially were averse to the idea.

"There was hesitation, because this is a level of transparency that just didn't exist before," he said. "But then they would rapidly move past that, confirm that our salary data was on target and get to the point of, 'OK, how do we use this to our own benefit? They liked the intelligence on their competitors' pay."

While the economic downturn has created a bevy of job seekers looking for a resource like Glassdoor.com, the company has also benefited serendipitously from the Wall Street crash in late 2008. The company landed $6.5 million in venture capital funding in October 2008, just before funding dried up, and there are few direct competitors.

"If you were lucky enough to have money in the bank coming into this downturn it's a great time to be a startup," Hohman said.

Like many 18-month-old startups, Glassdoor.com's business model is still in flux. The company earns revenue by placing targeted job listings from sites like Monster.com on company pages, and hopes to generate more income from advertising once it reaches at least 10 million unique visitors a month.

Hohman said Glassdoor.com's location is central to its success, and although the company is young, it intends to be around.

"Many of us feel like there is a great integration of work and life here that is hard to have in the rest of the Bay Area," he said. "For us, this is a marathon, not a sprint."


Read more Business stories at the IJ's Business section.

Contact Jim Welte via e-mail at jwelte@marinij.com