Entrepreneur Brett O'Donnell, founder of staff sourcing software firm Workable, talks creating a business to solve problems within his software business and how he was motivated to launch the business sooner on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic.
What does your business do?
Workable is an application that allows businesses to share staff between each other in the same way that Airbnb allows me to share my house with somebody, or Uber allows me to share my vehicle with somebody. What we wanted to do was create a marketplace which allows businesses which, particularly if they are going through tough times with Covid or they are looking to try and expand, then they can basically create a fluid workforce. I run a software business alongside Workable and we often borrow developers and other staff members off other businesses in Christchurch, but that is done on an informal basis.
We're based in Christchurch and have a few thousand users. We launched the business launched at the start of this month. We're playing around with a few ideas, particularly around IT and painting and construction - those are the industries that we are focusing on.
What was the motivation for starting it?
The idea came about with me running my software business. We do it all the time, but it is quite adhoc and often it will take three or four phone calls to actually find someone to help. At the same time, Peter Dalman who is the other shareholder, runs a painting business and they share staff almost daily and often what they will use is paint suppliers, so the concept for Workable came about through the want to make it easier to source additional help.
The idea came about this time last year pre-Covid, but when Covid started happening we saw a real need for it, and we accelerated the development of it as we knew businesses were struggling and we wanted to offset the need for firms to have to make staff redundant.
How big is your team?
It's Peter and I, Olivia, she is permanent, and our sales and marketing manager, and we've also now got two students helping us for the next 10 weeks over the university break.
How has Covid ramped up the need for Workable?
It helps people that are between jobs and looking for their next. In the painting industry, for example, we do have a lot of self-employed contractors that put themselves on the app. It's not just about one large business lending to another large business, self-employed contractors can make themselves available to other businesses.
The app is free at the moment and it will remain like that in the short to medium term. It's not about making money out of people that are struggling with running businesses, so that's why we have made it free. However, we will start looking to charge businesses that want to list their staff as available, the same way you pay to list an item on TradeMe. We're looking at a really simple model which allows us to charge a business per day for everyday they make their staff available on the app.
What are your long term plans?
We would like to help out other industries as well - there's no limits on industries we can expand into. For example, we know that nursing and teaching, they have a manual phone-based system of ringing up to find resources. My mother-in-law is a relief teacher and she gets phoned 7am in the morning sometimes with 'hey, look Sally has phoned in sick today, can you please come in', and sometimes she'll have to explain that it is her rostered day off. Schools phone around quite a few teachers before they land on someone they can use, whereas this app can take care of that.
In five to 10 years time, we'd like to be well and truly international by then. Christchurch is a very small market - it's a nice market for us to launch and test ideas in, but we will launch to the rest of New Zealand over 2021. We expect to be in every industry and location within New Zealand next year, and then beyond that we will launch into Australia and beyond. We're in the process of developing a multi-lingual platform that will allow us to offer different languages and reach wider customers.
What advice do you give to others who want to start their own business?
New Zealand is a very safe place to try ideas - and to experiment with concepts. My advice is to give your idea a go, make sure that it is valuable and validates a need in the market.