Pinpointing success within the business world
Gwyn Garfield-Bennett met the ebullient Tom Hacquoil, who, along with business partner, Tom Luce, runs recruitment software company Pinpoint.
AS is the case with many digital companies, Tom Hacquoil’s business is a disruptor.
‘Pinpoint is essentially a software to help businesses hire right,’ Tom says, launching into the interview with his characteristic plain-speaking style.
‘We have this belief, as an organisation, that most businesses just get hiring completely wrong. Over the past ten years, the market has shifted, so that the power has moved from the company to the candidate. Recruitment is a selling problem, not a buying problem, and most businesses still treat it like a buying problem. You’re not buying people, you’re selling them on the opportunity to work at your organisation.’
There is no doubt that the global skills shortage has, for many businesses, shifted the hiring paradigm, and Tom believes that solutions for this have been missed because global technology hubs, where the software to solve it could have been developed, do not have the same problems. ‘Most of our competitors are born and bred from Silicon Valley, or New York, or other technology hubs. And the problem that they and their peer group have in terms of business is all selection. Because if you’re in Silicon Valley and you post a developer job or a marketing job you get 300 applicants a day because they’re so talent-dense,’ says Tom.
‘The problem is that the rest of the world – and Jersey being a good example – doesn’t have that problem; we have a sourcing problem because I can’t get five people to apply for my job and nor can any of our clients in the UK etc. So we’ve got a different perspective and we’re leveraging that perspective to address a different problem, and that’s working very well for us.’
Pinpoint helps with selection, but its differentiator is sourcing and part of the premise is that the traditional recruitment agency model is broken.
‘There’s a place for it and we think the place for it is super-high-end recruitment like head hunting [at the] executive level,’ says Tom. ‘Sourcing is all about getting candidates through the door, making them want to work for you. It’s about making it easy for them to apply to you. It’s about making that experience fantastic.’
Pinpoint is aimed particularly at those candidates who are not actively looking but have the right skills. Many businesses do not know how to reach them, but Pinpoint uses targeted advertising on behalf of its clients. It achieves this through digital marketing, which Tom says is not the domain of HR executives – even if the business has that skillset in-house anyway.
‘So you can create a job in the Pinpoint platform, you can press advertise, you give us a budget and then we’ll automate the whole thing. So we’ll do the ad creative for you, we’ll do the targeting for you, we’ll implement the Facebook pixel and the LinkedIn insights tag on your career portal which we’ve built for you. So we are literally like an outsourced engine for candidate flow. And that’s the winning ticket right now. That’s the thing we’re doing that nobody else is doing anywhere to our knowledge.’
Pinpoint is not an overnight project, the two Toms had been developing it as a sideline for a few years. Developing talent pipelines has been Tom Hacquoil’s passion for some time. He has run the Digital Jersey coding course for several years, helping to retrain and train entry-level coders for the burgeoning digital industry. Pinpoint is also quite probably a result of his own history. He set up his first business, a web design and software development company, when he was just 16. He is proud of what he and his team did for their clients, but is the first to admit he was ‘an utterly clueless business person’. Despite that business eventually closing, he has no regrets: ‘I wouldn’t change it for the world, because I think I learnt more doing that than any other thing I could possibly have done.’
That early business had grown quickly and the young and inexperienced Tom made the classic business mistakes of making poor hiring decisions and not having any cash-flow provision, so when a client pulled a big project, they had no cash to weather the lull. Another local business magazine recently interviewed him and incorrectly reported that he had been bankrupted – an error Tom is quick to correct: ‘ I have never been bankrupt, I took on all of the businesses’s debts myself personally and paid them off. I landed on my feet, as Calligo at that time were a client of that business and Julian [Box] and the team there obviously thought highly enough of me to offer me a job, which was very much appreciated.’
The process was an excellent learning curve, albeit a clearly painful one at the time, with 50% of Tom’s paycheck going to pay back creditors and he admits to feeling humbled and a complete failure. Yet the history of almost any successful entrepreneur is littered with one or more business failures and mistakes and the key to being a success is to dust yourself off and learn from the experience. That is exactly what Tom is doing.
He said: ‘There’s no way I could be where I am now, I’m 27, with even half of the experience I have without having gone through that process.’
The incorrect interview, which is currently on an online news site, has not helped him in a small place like Jersey, with its risk-averse culture.
‘I still meet people today and they googled me and the first thing they see is that article about me supposedly being bankrupt, and they judge me because of it,’ he said.
Having carried the debt of his first business for all those years, this clearly rankles him, but he has not let it hold him back. A lot of Pinpoint’s initial business came from outside of Jersey and now accounts for around 80% of their revenue. ‘I think if we just tried to sell to Jersey in that formative year we wouldn’t have done particularly well. I think what’s been really good now is that we have sold externally, and we’ve got client validation. I can go into a room with a client here or anywhere else and say that we’ve got clients in 36 countries paying us good money for this service. It lends a sense of credibility that most in Jersey can’t offer. Now we have enough Jersey clients and we’ve been around long enough.’
With maturity and experience, and backed by the solid presence of his business partner, Tom Luce, Pinpoint is doing well. They both left Calligo around 18 months ago and while it has been hard work, they have a clear eye on the future – not just of their business, but of Jersey’s digital eco-system.
Tom talks about the Index Ventures Rewarding Talent research, which looks at how technology economies in places like San Francisco were built. ‘People who work at those successful businesses are compensated with equity. And when those businesses sell, and they make lots of money, it doesn’t just create really rich people, it creates a team of people who had some liquidity. What happens is some of those people who made money from the big companies selling go on to become founders and angel investors and mentor other people.
‘Jersey’s tiny, and so it means we don’t need that much to happen to effect real change. And so all of our team have equity, and everybody that joins us will have equity. My hope is that at some point in the future, whether it’s five years or ten years, our business will sell and the people who have been here will have a) learned more here than they could have done anywhere else, b) had a great time doing it and c) hopefully got some money of their own. They might use that money to go and start their own business. They might use that money to fund someone else’s business. If even 20 or 30 people in our business ended up with something meaningful, what a difference that could make to the local economy.’
Pinpoint has just had a major rebrand and improved its user experience, spending six figures on employing one of the best agencies in the world, based in the USA. ‘I think especially in our industry, the technology industry, sometimes not enough consideration or value is put into design,’ Tom says before he kicks back on any suggestion he should have gone local: ‘I think the “think twice buy local” [approach] is sometimes damaging. I want you to go out and look at what the rest of the world is doing and bring that quality in. We’re comparing ourselves to the rest of the world.
‘I’d like to see us expand outside of the Island, which might be an unpopular opinion, but Jersey will always be the headquarters of the business. What I’d like to have done is made a difference to Jersey’s technology industry as a result of the success that our business hopefully has. If it’s not exported, it’s not valuable in my opinion, to Jersey Plc at least.’