Hiring & Talent

Scale Your Financial Services Team By Hiring Military Spouses With Instant Teams

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We talked with Erica about:

  • How she used her own experience as a military spouse to find her niche
  • How remote work is helping to revolutionize the job market for military spouses
  • Empowering military spouses to leverage their unique transferable skills across diverse industries
  • Improving overall personal wellness and quality of life by addressing the high rates of unemployment and underemployment among the military demographic

About Erica McMannes:

Over the span of 22 years as a military spouse, Erica McMannes has weathered numerous moves, career shifts, and challenges inherent to military life — and discovered her passion for fostering community and enhancing the quality of life for military families. Frequent relocations and the demands of raising a family posed constant challenges to maintaining a traditional career path. Through it all, she emerged as a trailblazer in connecting military spouses with remote work opportunities. Fast-forward 12 years, and Erica's journey led her to found Instant Teams, a company dedicated to bridging the gap between military spouses and employers through remote work opportunities. Leveraging her expertise in customer experience (CX) and talent sourcing, Instant Teams provides a vital service to companies by matching them with skilled remote workers tailored to their needs. Through Erica’s efforts, Instant Teams is addressing the high rates of unemployment and underemployment prevalent among the military demographic while simultaneously improving military spouses’ overall personal wellness and quality of life. Check out the new Instant Teams website.

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Full Audio Transcript

Lauren (00:05):
All right. Well, Erica, thank you for joining us today. We're glad to have you here.

Erica (00:08):
Thank you. I'm excited. Always a good day for a conversation.

Lauren (00:12):
Oh my gosh. And this is going to be a really fun one. We're going to be talking about Instant Teams that you've created, founded, and it's incredible how it's just blown up. So we're going to get into that a little bit more. I was just on your website taking a look, and it was like the Inc 5000 number was 208 overall. And so just the footprint and the mark you're making is tremendous. So we're excited to get a little bit more into that. And I think just before we do, I also want to make sure to introduce Tiffany here who's on our team and has a number of military connections as well, myself included. So we all share that common thread. But let's just go ahead and dive in. Erica, I'll pass it over to you so you can introduce yourself and share a little bit more.

Erica (00:57):
Yeah, I appreciate that. I also enjoy this conversation as you are both unicorns, being military spouses out there in the world, high-level professionals. So just thank you for having me on today and I'm really excited to get into it. But yeah, my career has taken many twists and turns. I have been a military spouse for the past 22 years. My spouse actually just retired in September.

Lauren (01:20):

Erica (01:21):
We are on that fresh, what does this mean as a transitioning family journey now? But over the course of those 22 years, I took a lot of twists and turns as many spouses do, finding their professional identity. I have skill sets, I have education. How do I actually make this work? So I actually started out working for MWR, which I think a lot of spouses do. They're wherever we do, they're on installations. And for anybody listening in who’s not familiar with MWR, it's the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation departments of military installations where they do the family programming, childcare programming, sports programming — anything kind of fun in military life kind of tends to be there in MWR. I had two degrees in human ecology so I was doing child development work, working with military families on installations and was able to do that off and on for the first 10 years, but then three moves in three years, and two kids later, we found ourselves out in Monterey, California.

And it was kind of like, woe is me. I'm 30, I'm done professionally, never going to have a career, just going to be the trailing spouse. And when you kind of hit that moment, something usually comes, right? There's an opportunity that opens, and Monterey is kind of at the end of Silicon Valley. And so we ended up running into some friends of friends as we do in the military as well. And it was a veteran-owned startup, and he was like, listen, I know you don't have a business degree. You're not in the startup space but I really need somebody who knows the military spouse community and can help us get our apps and help us launch things we're creating. And I was like, as many spouses do, sure, I'll give it a try. This is awesome. And that's really kind of where fast-forward now to 12 years later, that's where I was just exposed to this incredible space of building things and having business ideas and learning how to develop them. And the bonus was with impact, I was able to do those things that also helped spouses I knew along the way by building these little teams and building these pods. And that eventually led us to what is now Instant Teams. I did that enough as a consultant. I was like, you know what? There's a whole business model here. Let me find a business partner, and then we'll go from there.

Lauren (03:34):
I love that you started at the hub of inspiration, right? In Northern California. So yeah.

Tiffany (03:45):
So tell us a little bit more about what Instant Teams does and impact sourcing.

Erica (03:51):
So we are a customer experience or CX for short talent marketplace. So early on our business model, our inspiration was really, we knew all of these organizations and at that time, mostly out in Silicon Valley, that were looking for really great talent. We all know it's a very expensive place to live, kind of its own little ecosystem that you feel like you can only tap. And then our neighbors and our peers as spouses were these highly educated, super passionate, super resilient, adaptable potential employees. And so we saw this opportunity to bridge that. So that's evolved over the past almost eight years now. But we build out customer support, customer experience teams for middle market to enterprise-level organizations. And we do all the heavy lifting. So we source the talent, we match it to each customer's needs from a skill set perspective. We are skill-based hiring. So we don't focus on chronological resumes, gaps in resumes. It's really what skill set is needed, what skill set do you have? Awesome. You're going to be able to make this work. And impact sourcing has evolved as a way where that means a lot to organizations. So the easiest way to define that is intentional sourcing or hiring strategies from untapped talent pools. And that takes on many different forms but we're really excited to be able to be in that niche spot of impact sourcing directly to the military community with how our business model works.

Tiffany (05:20):
So I think we all sort of know the background about why military spouses would historically be unemployed or need an opportunity like this but this is a softball question. Why is it needed? What's the gap there?

Erica (05:39):
Yeah, I think people often hear whether it's national news at certain times or in conversations around military spouses that they are highly unemployed or highly underemployed. And I think that just passes through people's minds. They don't actually grasp the problem.

Lauren (05:53):
What does that mean?

Erica (05:54):
Why is that? Yeah, what does that mean? What is the impact of it? And I think it comes down to two things really. Mostly it's the constant moves, which with COVID and remote work continuing to be adopted and accepted, that has started to change a little bit. But historically, moving every two to three years and changing jobs was not looked at as a benefit. And so it was called job hopping, right? I think we're past the job hopping categorization but it's hard to get into a new organization and work your way up when you just have to start over. And then oftentimes, as you probably both know, it's just location. Right out of college, I was with my spouse in Fort Rucker, Alabama. There is not a lot in Fort Rucker, Alabama. I had two options on the job board. It was clean hotels or take children to court-appointed mental health appointments. And that hasn't changed so much. There are still military installations that are kind of geographically isolated. They need land and they need opportunities to practice and do things. So I think that's usually the two reasons why. It's just the constant moving and that geographic isolation that really causes a challenge.

Tiffany (07:16):
And then so just more about the impact, again, I'm asking a leading question here but can you share a little bit about the impact that causes for military families and the service member and the military in general? I mean, there's layers of the problem that can cause.

Erica (07:35):
Yeah, I think once you really understand what the challenges are and why underemployment and unemployment happen, the kind of next is like, well, what does that actually mean for military spouses? And I think the easiest one is financial. If you can't be employed because of all the challenges, then you're a single-income family. And I don't care where you live or what your rank is nowadays, dual income is a necessity. It's not something nice to have. It really is. Quality of life kind of depends on a dual-income opportunity. And that sets military families back very easily when either there's lapse in employment or there's just constant inability to have employment. And then it kind of turns to the personal wellness piece, personal identity, my own individual purpose in the world, which kind of seems like, oh, a soft side of the conversation. But that is the holistic approach to quality of life. And when an individual feels they have a purpose other than the title they're fulfilling, that leads to even retention of military active duty service members. So it's a really interesting trickle effect of, oh, okay, people are unemployed. I think people can just be real with that sometimes. And you're like, well wait, this is actually a social problem. This is an issue for military families. So kind of that financial impact and then that personal identity piece as well.

Lauren (09:07):
So once you identified this business model and the pain point for individuals and families, the military's big, but it's not that big, but it's big enough. What was your story to get it going and just to be able to help let it catch fire so that, I mean, not only can you catch fire within the military communities but then to businesses that are needing these services as well. What did that look like for your team?

Erica (09:33):
Yeah, it was a challenge. Sometimes I'm like, wow, we really created a lot of difficulties for ourselves here as a marketplace. Not like we're just launching one product to one business outcome. We've got this chicken and egg every single day. It's got to build the pipeline, get the word out to customers about our solutions, build those partnerships. We're very partnership sales driven because our products are people. We're not just handing over something off of a product line. These are individuals, these are teams, these are people. So we pay a lot of attention to that relationship side with our customers. But then, yeah, we have to also get talent pipelines, building and vetting people's skills and building a brand. So we actually started with building the brand to the military spouse community, which might seem opposite for most traditional business approaches but we knew the military spouse community is very protective of itself, and we had to build something the community trusted before we could ever start saying, oh, hey, businesses, we have people we can provide you.

Lauren (10:33):

Erica (10:34):
So the first six months were really around showing we were a part of the community, showing up in different ways to contribute to the community and really building that voice and messaging to like, hey, we're going to do this; if you want to hear about it when we get ready to do a full launch sign up here. So it was just early on marketing strategies to build that. And then once we had enough buy-in and trust and the brand had a little bit of brand integrity, we were able to then start to go after customers.

Lauren (11:06):
I love the piece of it that it is so authentic, just your own stories for how things got going, because it's not like you're sort of trying to force your way in but it is just born out of it, which is really cool. Yeah. Okay. So then you went to the business side of things, and it sounds like that that flourished through just partnerships or what have you, and those relationships once you marketed to the military side. Is that right?

Erica (11:30):
Yeah. And the actual business solution has evolved over the years. We first were working with very, very small companies, solopreneurs, people who were like yes, I heard about so-and-so, or they were personal connections. They were like, yeah, I see what you guys are doing. We'll try you out. But I mean, that's how most businesses start. You have to have a few champions and a few believers. And then about year two, three, we started to invest time in some business accelerators and started to understand the investment space and what it means to be a company that can take on angel investors and venture capital. And so about that timeframe is when your network just naturally starts to open up. And I think that's something, especially as military spouse business founders, that was so beneficial. Like you said, the military community is small and sometimes it's a little insular, kind of in a bubble, and we really needed to break through that to get into the networks and create the relationships and partnerships that would give us those opportunities to continue to prove ourselves and take on a little bit more than we could chew and come through the other end and then repeat that and try it again.

So yeah, over the past eight years, we've gone from working with direct referrals to working with really large enterprise-level organizations and building out teams of anywhere from 10 to our biggest account has 120 people on it.

Lauren (12:54):
Okay. Wow. Yeah. So it's wide and varied, and I'm sure at various stages of businesses, as you alluded to earlier.

Erica (13:01):

Tiffany (13:03):
How was that moment, going outside the bubble, how was it telling the Instant Team story? And we were talking about earlier explaining the problem and how was that received? Did you feel like you were knocking on a lot of doors for a long time?

Erica (13:21):
I mean, both. I think there's always the traditional but trying to do something new and innovative, you're going to have to knock down doors. You're going to have to repeat yourself 5,000 times before people understand it. But this was 2016, so this was pre-COVID, so 100% remote work was not truly a thing yet. Some people got it. Like Silicon Valley, early-stage tech companies, they understood access. And the remote work concept, I'll always remember we were pitching a government entity at one point about remote work, and the poor individual, he just stopped the call. He is like, I don't understand why people want to work on a remote island. He's like, why would we send people? I was like, oh, we're not speaking the same way you would here, right? We say remote, we mean somebody from their home can work for an organization located elsewhere. And from the government perspective, he was thinking of somebody remotely out, stationed somewhere, conducting espionage work. It was just those are the things you had to deal with.

Lauren (14:16):

Tiffany (14:18):
Yeah, that's hilarious.

Erica (14:19):
Always solvable. Those were always conversations where we were learning how to communicate better and how to extend the mission and advocacy of that. But so a lot of those opportunities continued to evolve through COVID, where all of a sudden we had this business model we had been building for four years, and when COVID hit all of a sudden organizations like, oh, remote work. This is a lightbulb moment.

This is an opportunity. We see what you're doing now. So that evolution of just where we've had to be able to be successful, and it has changed. And sometimes they've been very fast changes, and other times they've been kind of gradual.

Lauren (14:58):
Okay. So shifting a little bit here. We have a lot of folks who are in the financial services space, and it's challenging to be able to find talent. It's just been a trend, and it depends, honestly, it's across all levels. So I'd love to hear if someone was interested in your services, what is that process like and what's the time horizon? What do they need to know going into it so they can better see if there's a fit for their needs?

Erica (15:30):
One of the benefits of being a talent marketplace specializing in CX, those customer experience teams, is we can kind of cross different industries. So we build out the same type of teams. We know the skill sets we need, but they can specialize in edtech, healthtech, fintech, and insuretech. And so we do work across all those different industry verticals, and there's been some unique things we've been able to bring to, let's say financial services or insurance organizations, in that military spouses who have a certain line of education can be taught a specific tech platform or tech skills pretty quickly to adopt and adapt. Some good examples of that are in an edtech space, teachers or people who have been volunteer presenters, they're really great at communication. They're really great at understanding step-by-step processes and guiding others through step-by-step crisis situations, or even just general problem-solving.

And so those are always neat opportunities to see the specific things customer accounts are needing done in their customer experience processes and operations. And then having the individuals with the skill sets, soft or hard, to be able to plug those two together. One of my favorite accounts is a cybersecurity firm, and it is a team of all military spouses doing crisis response. So if their customer’s software tells them there's been a breach, this is a team of military spouses getting these very panicked individuals, like, my software is flashing. We've had a cybersecurity breach. These are panicked individuals, and we've got very calm, collected, trained military spouses who can walk people through these times of panic. And so it's just really cool. Also, back to the personal identity, these individuals find, oh, this isn't something I knew was of value to somebody but because of these things I've been through, or even some of the training we receive as military spouses around community support, crisis response, those become very valuable to organizations. So yeah, I think military spouses and fintech or financial services, that orientation to supporting people through a process following compliance and protocol, those are all very ingrained in skill sets that really do transfer well.

Lauren (17:52):
That makes so much sense, and I love how you're able to point out those very real examples and then how that translates to just, you're just through that life that you have as a military spouse.

Tiffany (18:04):
So how do you help military spouses see that in themselves? Right? Those things become very ingrained but they probably don't always know how to translate it. So as you're building the talent pool, how do you get that message out there and help them feel empowered?

Erica (18:23):
Yeah. Having military spouses understand where they can connect in is a challenge. I think there's incredible nonprofits out there who are very career coaching and what is your employment future? And those are always great to tap into to just ask those questions. Where do I actually belong in the world? What is my professional contribution? What does that look like? Sometimes it's just people taking a chance on themself and having that bravery to say, I've been a teacher for 20 years, or I've been a bank teller. I don't know how I could support people from a customer experience as a customer success manager at a financial company. I'm like, listen, that core competency is still there, and the intelligence level is there. You just have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and take an opportunity to find a way where the real professional world can use that and you can continue to grow.

So as a company, we've done that in different ways. Some of that's marketing, some of that's webinar series. We participate a lot throughout the community and do different things to support other opportunities and organizations. So we've even done pilots with the Department of Defense around skill development, and I think that's an easy part. Let's put you through a skill development program with an outcome at the end. It kind of takes you through those steps. So different ways but I think really at the end of the day, it's the individual, right? The individual has to either believe it or be willing to take the chance to just see what is out there and what the opportunity is.

Lauren (19:53):
Oh, good. My goodness. Well, we're wrapping up our time here. This has been really eye opening and also inspiring to hear about your story and the direct links to all that work you're doing within the military community and beyond. So any kind of final things you think would be helpful to share? Things you all have coming up or resources or what have you, for either employers looking to hire or folks who are looking to sign up to look for work opportunities?

Erica (20:19):
Yeah, we have a really great site — www.instantteams.com. It has opportunities to engage as a potential customer or as a military spouse. We also have an entirely separate app for military spouses, specifically called Twelve Million Plus. So we are as a business model taking in career seekers and building teams but we also have a really more quality of life-centric app. The military spouses can get that skill development, build, attend events, just as a kind of opportunity to give back but then also just prepare people for opportunities.

Lauren (20:54):
Holy smokes. I feel like we talked about so much. We didn't even get into Twelve Million Plus. That could be a whole other recording. So it's really cool just because I think what's also cool about that is you, it's evident you've had your ear to the ground listening to what people need and being able to create these additional services and then just be able to show up and shine. So thank you for all the work you do, and also for joining us today and sharing your story. We'll make sure to include links as well.

Erica (21:19):
Okay. Yeah, y'all made this really easy. Thank you.

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