As a part of our new series, we speak to CEOs, co-founders and team members of successful SAAS companies to find out more about how they work, how they grow, and their own personal lives. For our inaugural interview we spoke to Abodoo’s CEO Sue Marshall. Read the interview below.
Interviewer: Hi Sue! In your own words, tell us about Abodoo.
Sue Marshall: Abodoo is an online career platform that matches employers to smart working professionals globally. Our technology is the conduit for people with the relevant skills to businesses looking for smart workers to reduce costs and capacity requirements without compromising on employee care or quality. The idea of smartworking is all about flexibility. Smart workers are given the opportunity for permanent work from remote locations or external hubs progressing their career path without the need to relocate.
I: What pushed you to create Abodoo?
SM: Our co-founder, Vanessa Tierney had a meeting with the IDA (Edit. note: the agency responsible for the attraction of inward foreign direct investment into Ireland) in Dublin – they were discussing the talent across Ireland. They’ve been talking about the diaspora and talent leaving the country and how that was impacting on rural Ireland. At the time (back in summer 2016) there was a big debate on how to attract businesses and talent into cities, as the lack of office space in Dublin and Cork and the cost of housing were becoming a real problem. The solution seemed to be taking jobs out of cities, as there was lots of talent – just in the wrong place. The IDA felt it would be a fabulous idea to map this talent to encourage inward investment into towns and cities outside of Dublin. Vanessa, an experienced executive recruiter and business owner, immediately saw the commercial value of this, and the idea was born to create a platform dedicated to matching talented professionals with businesses looking to hire based on skills and experience rather than location.
“Over the months, during development, we were offered lots of advice – we listened to it all… however, we were unmovable in our mission”
I: How is Abodoo different from its competitors?
SM: We are different in a number of ways, not least our unique matching algorithms. Candidates complete a profile rather than uploading a CV and this enables us to match exact parameters. Profiles are anonymous until the point of inviting into process, so this wipes out any unconscious bias based on name, gender, etc., making the platform extremely inclusive. We host only smart roles – this means permanent roles – which offer a high degree of flexibility either in hours or location. Many of the roles are fully remote, encouraging parents back into the workplace and giving opportunities to groups such as carers and the disabled community – all of whom offer great pools of talent – but may not be able to commit to lengthy commutes. Our pricing entry model is also very different and all our packages give companies the freedom to post as many roles as they like. The charges are associated with candidate interviews – not advertising
I: How have you grown Abodoo’s presence in the market?
SM: In a variety of ways: standard advertising, PR, word of mouth, speaker events all over Ireland and the UK, collaboration with government and local authorities in regions keen to encourage inward investment and retain talent, online advertising and content.
Additionally we have a sponsorship partner, Vodafone Ireland. They are as passionate about smartworking as Abodoo and the partnership makes perfect sense.
I: How does your team work? Do you use any specific techniques?
SM: We all practice what we preach and work flexibly and remotely. We understand that working from home alone doesn’t work for everyone – and so we also use co-working spaces so that the team can choose where to work – home, hub or hybrid. We make full use of technology too – and as we are all spread out, we rely heavily on video for our daily meetings. We use Slack for messaging and passing information – chats and sharing photos of our weekends, email is for long-term business projects and tends to be for when we include external contacts. All data is stored on Google Drive – so we can still access information quickly and easily. We collaborate more than any office based team I’ve ever worked with.
“Embrace change, for sure – but only if it helps you to get to your ultimate goal.”
I: What are the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome as a company?
SM: Educating companies on the benefits of smartworking is a constant challenge. But once they see the true cost savings, improvements in speed to hire, and increased retention, it becomes a ‘no brainer’. That’s on top of the cost of office space, parking spaces etc. So overheads reduce for sure. Candidates see the benefit in losing the commute, the cost of travel, lunches, wrap around childcare….the list is endless!
I: What’s next for Abodoo? What’s in the nearest future?
SM: We recently launched in the UK – following the launch in Ireland in 2018 – and next we are setting our sites on the US, where ‘telecommuting’ and smartworking is becoming the norm. Countries such as Australia and New Zealand, where people are spread over large areas and broadband speed allows remote working, are also on the radar.
I: Where would you ideally like to see yourself in 5 years?
SM: Abodoo would like to be the number 1 site for smartworking globally.
I: If you had to give one piece of advice to a new entrepreneur, what would it be?
SM: Have clear goals and be realistic. We were absolutely determined to create a smartworking platform. Over the months, during development, we were offered lots of advice – we listened to it all…however, we were unmovable in our mission to be the number 1 site for smartworking. We had a vision and it underlined everything we did and still does. Embrace change for sure – but only if it helps you to get to your ultimate goal.
I: Is there something you believe your team can do better than anyone else? What is your strength?
SM: We really do work well as a team and always have each other’s back. We all have complimentary experience and skills and are constantly learning from each other (especially me when it comes to Digital Marketing). We are definitely a creative and tenacious bunch and have years of experience in our chosen careers to back that up. We genuinely believe in what we’re doing too – and that gives you power.
I: What is the skill you wish you or your team could perfect?
SM: Knowing when to switch off! As a relatively new business we are constantly coming up with ideas and there’s always temptation to message on Slack regardless of the time, is too much of a temptation.
I: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve ever been given?
SM: The best advice, that’s easy. It was from the FD back in 1997: “Turnover is vanity – Profit is King”. I’ve never forgotten that – never take a contract you can’t afford to service, even if the top line looks great, the profit is what matters. The worst advice was from a careers officer, who said I should lower my expectations for a good career unless I went to university (I left school at 16 to start work and went to night school to get qualifications).
I: What is the most ridiculous advice you’ve heard from a colleague?
SM: Don’t tell the client!
I: Do you believe failure can make or break a person?
SM: Both. For me failure really does give the opportunity to learn. I do think it depends upon the context though, and not everyone has the resilience to bounce back. It’s easy advice to give – “pick yourself up and move on”, but hollow words if you’ve really come to the end of your rope. Fortunately, I haven’t suffered any catastrophic failures and have had the ability to learn and then move on quite quickly from mistakes.
“I left school at 16 to start work and went to night school to get qualifications”
I: How do you know when you’ve succeeded?
SM: Now that depends upon how you measure success. Money? Happiness? Achievement of personal or business goals? It’s a very personal thing. I believe I have achieved success many, many times. Winning that client that no-one quite believed I could, winning over a team who really didn’t want me around to begin with, taking a business into profit, seeing my daughter grow up into a really kind and thoughtful young lady…
I: What is the best investment of money, energy and time for someone who’s trying to succeed?
SM: Set clear goals and measure against them. Do not get distracted by tasks or projects that take your eye off the main game. Don’t waste time on ‘what if’, learn quickly from mistakes and don’t make the same ones twice. In terms of money, the best investment (once you have financial stability) is whatever makes you happy. I am a true believer in spending on experiences – making great memories, whether that’s a dream holiday or starting up a business you have a true passion for.
I: Do you have any weird or extraordinary habits? Any guilty pleasures?
SM: No! I am totally without weird habits. I do have a party trick I am rather proud of though… I can still do the splits! Throwback to my dancing days. My not-so-guilty pleasure is really good Chinese tea… a habit I picked up in China.
I: What’s the best decision you’ve made in the last 10 years?
SM: Definitely moving to China. I was offered an opportunity and really wasn’t sure if I was up to it. Not the role – that wasn’t such a challenge at first – but the huge distance and cultural differences. I went because I didn’t want to regret turning it down. It was a real adventure, a huge learning curve and the three years flew by. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
I: What are the top 5 books you would say have influenced your life or your work ethic the most?
SM: One very recent read, Ben Again has re-inspired me. No matter what obstacles life throws at you, you have to push on and push yourself. I met the author Ben Clench and that was very humbling. Other books of note include The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale, which I read many years ago. I am a great believer in looking for the positives in life and business. I read Maslow on Management when I first started on my CIM course in the 90’s and that was a real eye opener. Steve Martin’s biography was a great read – Born Standing Up. Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson was also a recent read. I love to read and really devour books – so recommendations are welcome!
I: What would you say is or has been your worst time-waster both at home and at work? Do you watch TV? If yes, what is your favourite TV show/movie?
SM: My worst time waster at home is definitely computer games and apps. I don’t have an Xbox or a PSP, but I used to waste more than a healthy amount of time on them. At work, it’s probably admin… if I was more organized it would take less time! I’m not really into day to day TV – having spent 3 years in China without it, I never got back into the habit. I do like to binge watch Netflix with my daughter. Something light and entertaining, and not too taxing. Maybe a horror or science fiction movie.
“I am working because I want to. To me that’s harmony.”
I: How do you wind down after a stressful day? How does one achieve that perfect work-life balance?
SM: I tend to go for a walk for an hour if the weather’s not too cold (or hot). This is another habit I picked up in China. Long walks – even if the scenery is just tower blocks and shopping centres – really clear my mind. My life is more about work/life harmony rather than balance. Most people would not think I’ve achieved any kind of balance – joining a startup at 48, after three years in Shanghai and Beijing, and working the hours that I do isn’t most people’s idea of balance at all. However, I am more than happy with work and enjoy being able to work smart. I don’t have a commute, saving hours every day; I am not an early riser either, and I’ve always hated the 6am starts for the train! So, although I can often be found with my head in my laptop well into the evening, I am working because I want to. To me that’s harmony.