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Interview with Paul Jacobs on the launch of TribeHQ

Posted By: Thomas Shaw, 1:16pm Friday 06 February 2009    Print Article

Paul Jacobs and Tim de Jardine launched TribeHQ (we have covered TribeHQ previously) last month and I was keen to find out more about Paul and TribeHQ. For those of you who don’t know who he is have a look at his company as well as the Recruitment 2.0 community site You could say that Paul is the “go to” person and a leader in Online Recruitment and Employer Branding in New Zealand.

What is TribeHQ?

To a recruiter audience, TribeHQ is a next generation job board.  It brings social networking to job seeking.  Employers list a vacancy and directly target professionals in a specific occupational “tribe” (e.g. IT professionals, engineers, nurses, embalmers).  Tribe members are automatically presented with specific job vacancies, based on their career wishes, and can engage in conversation directly with employers.

Tell me about you, and your previous experience in the marketplace?

I studied Organisational Psychology which took me into a human resources career, working within a range of organisations and consultancies over the past 16 years.  I set up a talent sourcing business, Engage, three years ago. We work with employers and recruitment agencies on their branding and talent sourcing strategies, helping them to build talent communities and target active and passive jobseekers.  The internet has become a big part of our business and we see the value of emerging technologies and social media to attract, connect and engage with the jobseeker audience.

I became interested in recruitment technology after seeing the recruitment strategist Kevin Wheeler speak at an RCSA function eight or so years ago.  Kevin highlighted that it is better for an employer to be in the recruitment technology game and learn and adapt as they go, rather than to watch from the sidelines.  After that session I rang the e-recruitment vendor SnapHire and subsequently became a reseller and implementation partner.  This was a great experience, working with many of New Zealand’s leading employers, not only on the technical recruitment side but on the employer branding side too.  Last year I made the decision to become vendor-independent in the applicant tracking system space and develop a suite of social media recruitment-related products. 

Some of your readers may know me from NZ Recruitment 2.0 (now called Recruitment 2.0 Asia Pacific).  I established this community a couple of years ago for professionals interested in the evolution of recruitment.  It has been a great experience for me to grow a community of professionals and I hope it has added value to the membership base. We currently have about 320 members and welcome new members.

How did the idea come about?

I have always been a firm believer that just because we do things one way, it is not necessarily the best way of doing things.  There are infinite possibilities in nature and business.  This applies just as equally to the recruitment industry, where there has really been little questioning of approaches and methodologies – there needs to be more counter-intuitive thinking.  I‘ve talked with a lot of clients and industry associations about employer branding and they want to connect better with their members and/or jobseekers.  They use the term “conversation” frequently.  About a year ago I had a coffee with fellow rebel Tim de Jardine and we got talking about the concept of occupational tribalism and mashing this with recruitment.  We decided to build a social networking platform for different occupational groups, where members could connect, share ideas and learn from each other.  We explored a range of off-the-shelf and open source social networking options and found it hard to customise these to deliver the platform that we envisaged.  As a result, we decided to develop our own technology and not be restricted by someone else’s format and design.

What makes TribeHQ different in the marketplace?

TribeHQ brings cluster theory to recruitment.  The platform enables an employer to target a specific occupational group and engage with them.  It brings interactivity to recruitment advertising.  It is a major shift away from the directory-board approach, and reduces the noise and clutter inherent in existing job advertising.

What technology/web2.0 tools have you used in building TribeHQ?

We built the platform from scratch.  Last year we examined a number of open source social networking providers, but once we started using and customising their products we felt constrained, so realised the need to totally develop our own code.  This was a good realisation, as it made us develop something that was not limited by somebody else’s technology. 

Technology specifications:
  • Ruby on Rails
  • MySQL db backend
  • SSL security-enabled
  • Prototype JavaScript framework
  • Agile methodologies

What have been the biggest challenges in creating TribeHQ so far?

We have grand visions for TribeHQ, way beyond the beta version we have released.  It has not been easy at times to scale things back and choose simplicity over complexity.  We are conscious that we are introducing employers and recruiters to technology and processes that they may not be familiar with.  However, a lot of tribe members and jobseekers are already familiar with these social media features and we hope over time this gap will close.

Is the "global financial crisis" affecting your business?

No.  It doesn’t change the fundamentals of our offer.  In fact, many employers will be more focused on cost and return on their investment and we believe that’s where TribeHQ comes in.  We also believe that many tribe members will see the value of connecting with other tribe members and feeling a sense of kinship and support in this current economic climate.  Unlike many technology start-ups we have a clear commercial model in place.

What is the most important lesson in business you have learnt so far?
  • Trust yourself, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.
  • Don’t listen to the doubters – pursue your own goals and vision.
  • Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you in the areas that aren’t your standout strengths.
  • Be open to changing direction or revising plans.

Plans for the next 12 months?
  • Keep developing the platform.  We will listen to the needs of our users and use their input to enhance their experience.
  • Attract tribe members and employers.
  • Expand the concept of TribeHQ into directions we had in mind from the get go.  We are keeping these under wraps at the moment, but the market will see these being rolled out during 2009 and beyond.  Our end goal is to provide bleeding edge and value adding services for employers.

If you were offered $100,000 by an investor, how would the money be spent?

We would invest the money in rolling out our other related projects more quickly.  We are open to hearing from investors.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
  • Understand your industry and your audiences.  Know your points of difference.
  • Protect your ideas and intellectual property.
  • Be tenacious.
  • Be prepared to take risks, but try to minimise the risks through sound business planning.
  • Determine how you will make money.
  • A great idea is nothing, until you actually deliver on it.
  • Stay positive.
  • Make full use of free support services that are set up to help businesses.  In our journey we found some of these were a lot better than the professional services firms that charged hefty fees.  Never be afraid to ask for and seek out help.

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