Scaling in NI: Kairos

The Northern Ireland startup community is thriving, it is the best place to start a business and get it to £1m sales when compared to the rest of the UK. The talent in Northern Ireland is also incredible and this has helped attract large international corporations to set up here. We wanted to see what impact this was having on the local tech startup community and find out how hard they have found scaling in Northern Ireland. So we decided to speak to some founders and hiring experts starting with Gareth Quinn at Kairos.

A little bit about Gareth and Kairos

Gareth Quinn, alongside his co-founder Andrew Trimble, has recently established a sports-tech start-up, Kairos; a business that strives to improve athletic performance, so that athletes can hone their sights on game-day.

Currently, Kairos has three different methods for improving athletic performance:

  • Amalgamated scheduling
  • Peak analytical data
  • Bespoke scheduling for peak performance

Gareth has held several positions in his career leading up to Kairos, starting in the public sector with Belfast City Council and then establishing Digital DNA, with the ambition of providing encouragement and support to those involved in digital technology. Through this, he has accumulated a plethora of experience in many areas.

With this in mind, Gareth is an exemplary individual to question about his experience in recruitment and hiring, so that we may discover how different sectors and companies recruit new staff, the methods they employ and their reasoning behind doing so.

So what is your current hiring process?

Gareth illustrated that Kairos currently advertise their business through recruitment agencies in order to find prospective employees. According to Gareth, this frees up a large amount of time for himself and his co-founder Andrew, leaving them to focus more on their product, an invaluable asset in the start-up world.

From there, Kairos go through a chronological process of informal interviews, starting with Gareth, then his co-founder Andrew and, if necessary, an individual from their highly qualified board.

Gareth found that an informal interview structure makes the candidate much more relaxed, provoking more in-depth conversation with key areas such as character, productivity and ambitions being brought to light.

But this raises a question, how do they minimise bias?

Well, this is the purpose of their chronological interview process. With a diverse panel, who hold a diverse background, a singular bias is removed. This leaves much more potential for Kairos to select the best prospective employee, with the best qualities to suit the position.

What have you learned from your past occupations?

With Gareth’s experience in the public sector, as well as Digital DNA, he has found a gradual evolution to an informal recruitment process.

When considering his experience in the Belfast City Council, he explained how recruitment was previously very black and white and placed much more emphasis on formality. This held limitations, as the candidate is put under significantly more pressure to perform, making it difficult for them to articulate themselves coherently.

Drawing on his past experiences Gareth has been able to make more informed decisions on hiring, not always getting it perfect but helping him build out numerous teams. Constantly applying previous experiences in future projects, especially in regards to recruitment, seems to be a recurring tendency for him.

What have the challenges in finding the ideal candidate been so far?

Kairos has done a significant amount of scaling in their workforce within the last year, with a large proportion of time worrying about who they are going to hire and whether they are the right person for the job. The challenges that Gareth has noticed are the apparent drought of qualified people and a long time to hire.

Many people, especially post-graduates, attempt to find jobs with corporate companies rather than young start-ups. This is likely due to the unpredictability that is common with start-up businesses, which contrasts with most post-grads who would be searching for a stable and secure position after university, especially with the high rate of student debt.

Add to this the time required to find the best suited individual, the challenge is multiplied further. Imagine having to scour the IT sector, looking high and low for a potential candidate who may not even be the right person, whilst also on a deadline to fill the position. It would be a difficult situation.

Gareth claims that by employing a recruitment agency, he is able to delegate part of the workload, saving him time whilst gaining access to a wider talent pool. He can instead begin to look forward to hiring the best person for the job.

If there was a piece of advice that would have been beneficial in the past, what would it have been?

“A thorough understanding of what you want,” is what Gareth states as the best piece of advice in recruitment, especially from a start-up perspective.

But what does that mean?

It means to fully comprehend your current situation, what environment you want to create and why you want to create it. The start-up world is one under constant flux. To be capable of understanding what you want and need is crucial for survival, as it allows you to make executive decisions that will help you survive the crazy world of the modern marketplace.

Kairos has to be under constant vigilance of what could possibly go wrong and what they can do to get ahead of competitors. To be ahead in any shape or form is an irrefutable advantage, which is why a thorough understanding of what you want is crucial.

Why be in-stride with risk of failure, when you can minimise it by being a step ahead?

It’s something that anyone in the start-up sector should learn to integrate.

Key takeaways

There is a lot that has been illuminated in the discussion with Gareth. Most notably, we have learned that scaling your workforce effectively as a start-up is a tough process, with many ups and downs. You must be vigilant, know what you want and implement a sense of informality in your recruitment to uncover a rich vein of resources.

I’d like to say a special thank you to Gareth and Kairos for making this interview possible. Without their help, we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the knowledge and nuances we are now privy to.