Saturday 21 September 2019

Local Hero: Home from home... the smarter approach in search for talent

Abodoo is marrying recruitment and tech expertise to promote remote working, writes John Cradden

‘Our biggest market is the US, because 35pc of all employees are enabled for smart working,’ says Vanessa Tierney. Photo: Mark Condren
‘Our biggest market is the US, because 35pc of all employees are enabled for smart working,’ says Vanessa Tierney. Photo: Mark Condren

The global online recruitment sector is a multi-billion-euro industry these days, but it's still hit and miss for many of us - with job alerts that are often irrelevant and companies getting CVs that are not suitable. It's hoped that online recruitment can develop better matching capabilities using social media, mobile technology, big data and artificial intelligence.

But one Wexford firm has found what looks to be a lucrative niche in the technology-augmented search for talent by tapping into the demand for remote working. Abodoo is an online recruitment platform that matches workers who want to work remotely - be it at home or in a local hub - with firms which are happy to provide that flexibility.

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Founded nearly two years ago by Vanessa Tierney with husband Ben Wainwright, it has raised €750,000 in seed funding in Ireland, and is about to embark on a Series A funding round in the US this month - despite being a pre-revenue firm.

"It's really fast as we're only live a year, but our biggest market is the United States, because 35pc of all employees are enabled for smart working so it makes sense for us to be there, expand there and also get investment from there," says Tierney from her home in Gorey.

She prefers the term 'smart working' over remote working because the latter implies you are working at home full time, whereas in reality it could be a variation; some days at home, some at the office or else a local hub or co-working space. The idea for Abodoo (a name derived from the words 'abode' and 'do') came to Tierney in 2010 after she went to England for medical treatment for a serious health issue, where she was instructed by her doctors not to return to Dublin until she had fully recovered, so she continued to manage remotely the recruitment agency she ran in Dublin. As well as realising that she could work remotely without any difficulty, Tierney could also see where the wind was blowing in terms of the potential for smart working.

"Having come from a background in recruitment, there is a challenge for embracing diversity and inclusion because women and men have families, people have mobility issues, people get sick but they can still work, and then there's the commuting, congestion issues with longer trip times into the city."

At the same time, Tierney and Wainwright could see that companies were recruiting far more for senior roles that didn't have to be office-based, but if they're not restricted to a location, how do they find the best match? "They could be anywhere," she says. For workers, the benefits of being able to smart work are obvious but in order to meaningfully spread the net for talent as wide as possible for recruiters, they also believe that the playing field need to be levelled.

"You'd like to be able to encourage talent pools, like women, to get back into work. But many of them, if they've been out for five or 10 years, don't want to go into LinkedIn and say they are actively looking. We thought there was the option to create a platform where people could be anonymous and register and get matched on skills, then we could test people's speeds to make sure they had the connectivity level, and meet this growing demand."

What prompted them to make the leap was encouragement from the IDA, a long-time client of Tierney's old firm, saying that there was a lot more interest in foreign companies moving to Ireland and not necessarily having to be located in an office, but who were not able to gauge where the smart working talent was.

Access to this growing database of smart workers looks to be attractive for recruiters, at just €99 a month, although the condition is that they must sign up for three years.

"With the advancement in machine learning technology, recruiters could be saving half the time they would usually spend on searching," says Tierney. "But it so happens to work incredibly well for the rise in smart working."

Abodoo looks like it has gathered the right talent for itself. Alongside Tierney, Wainright, who is CTO, used to work for AT&T and won his entrepreneurial spurs with a music tech startup. The CEO is Sue Marshall, who used to run a division of China HR, the firm owned by businessman Denis O'Brien. They have also secured recruiter Rosaleen Blair - a Dubliner who recently sold her London-based firm Alexander Mann for $1.1bn - as an adviser. While they bootstrapped and self-funded themselves to start with, Dan and Linda Kiely of Voxpro were early investors with an investment of €200,000 in December 2017, and then the firm became an Enterprise Ireland HPSU (high potential startup) client in March.

"And we're just about to announce two new investors which we are really excited about, because one has been using the platform this year - so that's a good validation of it." Further validation has come with the number of professionals who have registered so far - 17,000 - 80pc in Ireland across 10 different industries. Tierney reports that "nine out of 10" employers love the anonymity feature - termed 'fair matching' - because "it ticks the box for them for diversity and inclusion and removes the unconscious bias".

Not being restricted by location means that the world is ultimately their oyster in terms of overseas expansion. Their 15 full-time staff and contractors are based all over the world, including Wexford, Dublin, London, Italy, India and the US.

Abodoo has just 'soft-launched' in the UK, and is now looking at Australia and New Zealand, as well as the US. Tierney realised early on how much time and energy would have to go into fund raising, which is why they decided to appoint Sue Marshall as CEO, who is based in London.

Tierney says, above all, the feel-good factor in helping to build a better landscape for smart working keeps them going.

"Nothing will be like getting a letter or an email from someone who has transformed their life, who's got 10 hours back to spend with their kids or who's been sick and hasn't been able to get a job for a while and now can work."

And presumably they have been able to achieve a decent work-life balance? They work long days, but they start at 5am in order to be able to spend their afternoons with their girls after school. "We have harmony, I think, instead of balance."


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