This article was first published in the April 2016 Ireland edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

Many areas of life have felt the transformative touch of IT and social media but few would argue that recruitment is among them. From the exhaustive rounds of interviews to the financial cost of delays in filling roles, recruitment throws up a host of challenges that the corporate world has largely accepted it must endure. At the core of the problem, argues Paddy Doyle FCCA, CEO of Clinch, is a structural misalignment between goals and process. 

‘Choosing a job is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in your life, but the application process has traditionally been transactional, so there’s a fundamental mismatch between how companies present themselves and how potential candidates actually want to interact with them.’

Meanwhile, the great truism of the corporate value system is that ‘people are our greatest resource’, and companies routinely commit huge resources to developing this core asset. ‘We would argue that they would spend a lot less money moulding people into what they want them to be if they brought in the right people at the start,’ Doyle adds.

Addressing these challenges, and making recruitment an easier and more effective process, is what motivated Doyle and co-founder Damien Glancy to set up Clinch in 2014. Billed as the next generation of talent acquisition software, the company’s flagship product, Clinch Talent, allows companies to create dynamic and engaging webpages for the ‘Careers’ and ‘About us’ sections of their websites, and provides a host of tools to build and better understand their relationships with prospective candidates.

Clinch wasn’t the first recruitment software in the market, but what makes it unique, Doyle says, is the emphasis it puts on attracting and engaging candidates in the first place. ‘It allows prospective candidates to show their interest in working for a company, and become part of its candidate pool, without committing to applying for any particular role.’ 

When a position does open up, the company can then draw from a pool of individuals who have shown a genuine interest in it. ‘Candidate acquisition becomes a more organic, ongoing process and suitably qualified and better prepared candidates can move more quickly through the hiring pipeline.’

The approach gives employers a better chance of placing the right candidate more quickly, Doyle says. ‘“Cultural fit” is an awful phrase, but there is an important question to be asked in terms of how you can tell if a candidate will fit into a particular company. Our view is that, if candidates buy into the values and the culture they see on display, they are probably a good fit.’

Measurement and analytics form an important dimension of Clinch, and Doyle says they allow a company to do anything from figuring out whether a corporate video is actually watched by candidates to setting up application processes so that candidates can only apply if they follow a particular workflow. 

Doyle’s ACCA background comes to the fore when he talks about the value of technology. ‘People will talk a lot about making something more efficient. But making a process more efficient isn’t making it more effective. You can measure effectiveness in the bottom line of a P/L, but you can’t measure efficiency.’

Rural background

From a farming background in Co. Carlow, Doyle gained a degree in commerce at University College Dublin before going into insurance, where he pursued ACCA. ‘I was actively encouraged to take the ACCA route by my older brothers, who had taken on the role of my career advisers. They saw it as a way to open up opportunities. At the time, I didn’t really buy into that, but now I certainly do. I’ve worked in six or seven different types of businesses, and the things I’ve learned through ACCA have always formed the bedrock of my analysis. People in different sectors will tell you theirs is very different from others but, in reality, the same basic propositions apply: Are you making something? Are you looking to sell it to someone at a profit? Then you’re the same as every other business in the world.’

Leaving the insurance sector, Doyle joined Trinergy, a business focused on renewable energy, as its CFO. The company’s assets consisted mainly of wind farms in Germany and Italy. From a standing start in 2004, it grew to become the largest privately owned renewable-energy assets business in the world in just three years, subsequently selling to UK-based International Power. The sale went through on 3 August 2007, Doyle recalls, ‘approximately three days before the world imploded’ with the eruption of the international financial crisis. 

The success of that transaction gave Doyle the opportunity and the leisure to look for something entirely new. ‘The shareholders of Trinergy did well out of the sale and we were able to progress to new projects. We knew that we liked highly geared capital structures that allowed us to do more structuring and extract value using debt as an instrument. The problem is that there has been no debt. We looked at a lot of renewable assets but they typically required huge volumes of debt to get them off the ground, so a lot of those avenues were closed off.’

New directions

As he investigated new opportunities, Doyle gradually found himself veering towards the social media space. With Clinch co-founder Glancy, he first collaborated on Bubil, a mobile app focused on social occasions and activities. ‘We soon realised we didn’t know enough about the area and stopped almost as quickly as we started, but it gave us a good insight into how the sector as a business worked.’ 

The experience of filling roles in the startup, as well as the perennial challenges they had seen in other companies over the years, led them to speculate that social media could offer a better way of hiring and interacting with candidates. In January 2014, just a few months after that initial conversation, Clinch was born. While enthusiastic about its prospects, Doyle didn’t want to scale it up until he really understood where the opportunity was. 

‘We knew we had to drive down into the technology to bring value to the table. We also learned that the bigger the company, the more likely it was to be interested in a truly comprehensive solution from us. As a small company, we don’t have the time or the resources to educate companies on why they should be using our service, so we focus on businesses who know what they need but haven’t yet found the technology to deliver it.’

Finding its first clients in Silicon Valley, Clinch has also gained traction in financial services and among global corporations with diverse business units. ‘The common denominator is companies trying to get some insight and understanding into how the talent acquisition process works, where potential candidates are coming from, and figuring out how to engage them.’ 

The technical strength of Clinch is matched by what Doyle says is an innovative focus on forward planning. ‘Strategy isn’t an abstract concept in hiring. There are measurable business impacts to a company not achieving its recruitment targets. Clinch can help HR teams to understand the needs of their business in the medium to long term, and to have the resources ready to be deployed as and when they are required.’

Though Clinch is centred on social media innovation, Doyle doesn’t dwell on the buzzword ‘disruption’. ‘There will always be a need for recruitment agencies, recruitment websites and jobs advertising, but you need to be able to measure the efficacy of these to know if you are getting a return on investment. Just as the sales and marketing team know they are bringing customers on a journey, HR needs to understand they are bringing candidates on a journey too.’

With a presence in New York since October, offices in London, San Francisco and Sydney are on the cards. Doyle says the potential market extends beyond the white-collar world, citing an Australian mining company that is about to become a client. ‘The issue for this company is that it can spend a huge amount of money onboarding new employees only to find they decide, after the first day of work, that being two miles underground is not for them. Combating that begins with being sure the candidates understand what the job is before they apply for it. Have they looked at all the relevant information on the website? If they haven’t, they are probably not engaged in the business.’ 

Hub of recovery

Clinch moved to the Dogpatch Labs, an incubation space for startups located in the CHQ building in Dublin’s International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) in March last year. A development initially conceived as a high-end retail space, the CHQ stood for years as forlorn testament to Ireland’s doomed flirtation with Celtic Tiger economics, but today has fizzed back to life, in many ways emblematic of Dublin’s rebirth as a social media hub. ‘It’s certainly an interesting location for tech startups, because it sits by the IFSC, which was the paragon of the Celtic Tiger boom, and it can be seen as representing the encroachment of the Silicon Docks into the broader economy,’ Doyle says. ‘The fact is that, in five years, every business in the IFSC will view themselves as a technology business. If they don’t see that now, they’ll be dead by that time.’ 

Excited as he is to be part of this story of recovery, Doyle cautions that Ireland has a way to go if it is to be truly innovation and startup friendly. ‘I’ve raised money in lots of different sectors and jurisdictions over the years and Dublin is a hard market to raise money in, particularly in the technology sector. People expect you to be able to change the world for €50,000 and that simply isn’t realistic. A technology startup in the US could expect to raise four times more in a funding round than is likely here.’ Currently, Clinch is growing on its own revenues and Doyle says, ‘If the opportunity arises to raise funds on terms that we want and if it accelerates our capacity to grow in line with how we see the market developing, we’ll do that.’

So does his career to date make him a serial entrepreneur? Doyle says he sees himself as ‘an accountant who likes to do things. I like to work in different sectors and I like working in small businesses because of the variation. In every business I’ve been part of, it’s always been a collective of committed people with a common goal of delivering value, being sustainable and making money. I completely expect to be doing something totally different in five years, but that’s what keeps it all fun.’ 

Donal Nugent, journalist