In 2012, with the national unemployment rate at around 8 percent, a single online job post from a restaurant — then typically on Craigslist — could yield hundreds of résumés.
It was in this climate that entrepreneurs Kirk Thornby and Peter Bro launched Poached Jobs Inc., a streamlined job board and applicant tracking system designed to bring some method to the restaurant industry’s hiring madness.
“That was the first mission, to save (restaurants from) the craziness of Craigslist,” said Thornby. “This is a profession that deserves its own platform and the industry deserves its own space.”
The Poached job board is now nationwide with 30,000 restaurants creating as many as 5,000 active postings on a typical day. In its six years, Poached has attracted 502,000 registered job seekers.
But now that the nation’s unemployment rate has plummeted to around 4 percent, restaurants are no longer inundated with résumés. As such, Poached is adjusting its menu of resources to help restaurant owners with a new set of needs.
The Portland-based software firm is building on its foundation as a job board to include services for improving job interviews, helping with new employee onboarding and resources to help restaurant owners better communicate with existing staff.
The company’s ultimate goal is to become the standard, do-it-all software platform the restaurant industry needs.
“We have wanted to take it further,” said Thornby. “We have a great customer base and are looking for their pain points. (These are) small- and medium-sized businesses and corporate America skims over them. They can’t afford big software-as-a-service products.”
Prior to starting Poached, Thornby was co-founder of Acme Made, which manufactured designer business bags, laptop cases and totes. He sold that company in 2008 to a Canadian firm, DayMen Photo Marketing LP, the maker of the LowPro brand of bags. Thornby stayed with DayMen until 2011. He found his way into the restaurant software business through his co-founder and friend, Peter Bro, who owns four Nordic restaurants under the Broder brand.
It was watching Bro that got Thornby thinking about the problems of running a restaurant.
“I see him running to and fro trying to run that business with pitiful margins,” Thornby said. “I come from an industry with 40 percent profit margins and restaurants are 4 percent to 5 percent. I fell in love with the industry and I wanted to help.”
Thornby saw technology as the best solution for the problems facing these small business owners. He saw companies such as New York-based networking and job-matching site Culinary Agents focusing on high-end restaurants or software tools focused on hotels and chain restaurants.
With Poached, Thornby saw an opening to serve the broader restaurant community.
The company launched its job board service in 2012 and garnered attention and capital from local groups, such as the Bend Venture Conference, Portland Seed Fund, Cascade Angels and TiE Oregon Angels. In 2016, it raised its first major funding round, securing $2.8 million in a round led by Oregon Venture Fund.
The company generates revenue by charging restaurants and hospitality groups that post jobs. It charges a flat fee of $49 per job, or $35 per job for users who pay a $10 monthly subscription that also provides access to an interview scheduler and other tools.
The company is expecting to log $3 million in revenue this year and is projecting growth of 40 percent to 45 percent. Poached also recently hit profitability, which Thornby said allows it to become more selective when choosing investors for its next funding round.
Greg Murphy, a member of Poached’s board of directors representing the Oregon Venture Fund, said he invested in the company because he saw its software as unique for a market that wasn’t being served. He praised the company’s ability to stay focused on its core business and reach profitability.
Reaching the next stage, he said, will require even more of that focus.
“The challenge for them is really maximizing the opportunity and taking it to the next level and further dominating the restaurant niche,” he said. “The challenge with that is they have scrapped their way to profitability, but it will take significantly more capital to really go after it.”
A restaurant hub
Poached came to be as a way to help restaurants sift through the flood of interested job candidates. Those restaurants are still dealing with talent issues, only now it’s because they’re struggling to find skilled workers.
Thornby said customers tell him of people bypassing hospitality careers to drive for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft or to join the growing cannabis industry. It’s now common to see a Poached listing offer signing bonuses in an effort to draw applicants.
“There have always been pockets, like San Francisco, with a chronic shortage of staff because housing costs (are so high),” Thornby said. “People can open restaurants, but they can’t staff them. That has now become a national issue.”
With this new problem, Thornby’s strategy with Poached is to evolve the company into a broader platform, turning it into a business hub equipped with a broader toolset for running a restaurant.
Everyone building the new product functionality has deep expertise within the hospitality industry and understands the pain points of trying to communicate with restaurant not only across shifts but also across locations, keeping track of compliance and other industry specific needs.
“A lot of people come from software and they build (a product) that is logical to them. But this is a different industry, a different audience,” said Thornby.
Later this year, it hopes to roll out a new series of functions, including a machine learning-based service to match job seekers with open positions and a messaging component for employers to more easily distribute information to employees across locations and shifts. It’s also working on tools to help business owners track compliance for health department certifications or liquor licenses.
“We see the business hub solution as one that can greatly streamline operations and help restaurants and hospitality (groups) create efficiencies via communications, HR, certifications into one place, helping to increase profit margins via the operations side of the business,” he said.