I asked Leung what he would have said if someone had approached him with the idea for Poachable when he was at Harvard Business School, back in the early 2000s. He said he would have been very interested in it as a job candidate:
We were all exploring different opportunities, and the way we did it was pretty traditional—we would send a cover letter that was pretty much a form letter, where we would replace the company name, and maybe tweak a sentence or two. Then we’d send this one-page resume, which we hoped would reflect who we were, laboring over every semicolon and comma and parentheses. And then we’d submit it, and oftentimes we’d never even get a response, or we’d get a form response very long afterward. It just felt like a process that wasn’t that great. So Poachable would have sounded like a pretty attractive idea to me, but nobody had proposed that to me at the time. I might have started the company 10 years ago, had someone done that.
On the other hand, Leung said, the economy was very different at that time:
People were really doing whatever they had to do to get a good job. And as we’re starting Poachable, the economy is going in a very different direction, especially in the tech industry, where it’s not uncommon to have a role open for a year before they can find a candidate that meets the criteria. So it might be that we’re at the right time, in the right place, with Poachable. Maybe back in the post-9/11 recession, Poachable might not have been as compelling of an idea as it seems to be today.
I asked Leung why Poachable is focused strictly on technology professionals, and he explained that’s where they wanted to start:
Our vision is that we think this could reinvent how people find jobs across any industry. But one of the lessons we’ve learned being in startups in the past, is you don’t want to boil the ocean right out of the gate. What you want to do is really nail one industry, and perfect the technology, and expand from there. So being in the tech industry, and personally having hired dozens of tech professionals and been in the job market myself over the years, it felt like a great place to start, with our network and our expertise. But our expectation is that we’ll be rolling out additional markets soon after we get the beachhead established with the tech professionals.
I asked Leung if it’s fair to say he has poached, and he has been poached. “Oh, yeah, for sure,” he said:
The biggest time I was poached was when I was at Google, and I got poached from Google by a different company called Marchex [a mobile and online advertising company], which was not very well known—a very small, publicly traded company. That was a big move for me, and I think it was helpful to Marchex, as well. And when I went to Marchex, I had to hire about 25 people in two years. In order to hire 25, I had to interview a few hundred, after having initial contact with maybe close to 1,000. So I knew the pain of a hiring manager trying to fill a team very well. If you just do job postings and hope that people are going to apply without you tapping them on the shoulder, it’s a hard road. Certain companies can do that—obviously, at Google, people line up to come to them, and their job is just a selection process. But I think most companies are in a different space, where they have to make an effort, and they have to make it easy for people to get their foot in the door and start that conversation. That’s what Poachable does.
So will there always be a place for sites like Monster and CareerBuilder, or is this model going to make that model obsolete? Leung said he thinks there will always be a place for the traditional job sites, particularly for entry-level roles:
But I think as you move up the food chain, and you go mid-career and higher, candidates start to have a lot more power. And their willingness to jump through hoops goes down quite significantly. So services like Poachable, where we try to make it really easy, and we try to make it very incremental and targeted, seem to really appeal to the most sought-after candidates.
Finally, I asked Leung if he was aware of any copycat sites that have popped up to try to replicate this model. He said there are a bunch of startups in the same general area:
If you Google “Tinder for recruiting,” there are probably a bunch of them. But I think there’s going to be one place where passive candidates do this sort of matchmaking, and I believe that’s going to be Poachable—this is going to be a “winner-take-most” market. So everybody’s racing very fast to get that critical mass. And I like our chances.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.