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Aug. 6, 2014 1:00 pm

CareerBuilder founder Rob McGovern on Cobrain, recovery

At Startup Grind Baltimore, the entrepreneur gave a candid talk about CareerBuilder's early days, his new venture, Cobrain, and his recovery from a near-fatal car crash in 2009.

Rob McGovern, founder of CareerBuilder and Cobrain.

(Photo by Tyler Waldman)

Beating the odds is par for the course for Rob McGovern.

When McGovern was pitching CareerBuilder to venture capitalists, 41 said no. The 42nd said yes, and he launched one of the first job-seeking websites.

When he was critically injured in a car accident, the Glasgow Coma Scale said he probably wouldn’t survive in anything other than a vegetative state. A year later, he walked out of a Washington rehabilitation hospital.

“My code name at the hospital was Miracle,” he said. “Nobody with a Glasgow three [the lowest score] has ever walked out of that hospital.”

McGovern spoke to a packed house at Startup Grind Baltimore Tuesday at the Living Classrooms Foundation in Fells Point about his recovery, CareerBuilder and his current venture, Cobrain, a brainchild — so to speak — of his recovery.

CareerBuilder began in the mid-90s, when the Internet was in its infancy and human resources professionals didn’t even have email addresses.

“You only gave email addresses to important people,” McGovern said.

So he set up 12 fax machines in the startup’s office, where the first iteration of CareerBuilder ran off a rented computer running i386.

In 2000, McGovern sold CareerBuilder for $200 million to publishers Knight Ridder and the Tribune Company. (Gannett now owns one third of the company as well.) CareerBuilder now hauls in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year.

While in rehab at the MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital, he asked a doctor about memory loss caused by his traumatic brain injury. Before the wreck, he would go to Christmas parties and remember everybody’s name. But in rehab, the nurses had name badges, but McGovern couldn’t remember their names. The doctor burst out laughing.

“You’re just as brain damaged as the rest of us,” McGovern recalled him saying.

That got McGovern thinking.

“There are these things they use in there that are called compensation skills,” he said. “Maybe everyone is injured and maybe everyone needs compensation.”

So he did what any recovering brain injury patient would do. He wrote an algorithm. Yes, in the hospital.

That was the beginning of Cobrain. The service uses data from 400 retailers and shoppers’ Facebook accounts to recommend products based on what people they’re connected to are interested in.

“The idea is to figure out who your cohorts are, what they are doing and recommend products to you based on what they are doing,” McGovern said. “You’re leveraging brain power of lots of people, but it’s all completely anonymous.”

Proceeds from Tuesday’s event benefited the Living Classrooms Foundation. Startup Grind’s September guest has not yet been finalized, organizer Leo Khin said.

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Tyler Waldman

Tyler Waldman is lead reporter for Technical.ly Baltimore. A Towson University graduate and former local editor for Patch.com, Tyler has also written and photographed for publications including the Baltimore Brew, Howard County Times and Towson Times. He lives in Charles Village.

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