Scaling in NI: Pitchbooking

Northern Ireland is currently the best place to start and begin to scale a business in the UK. A mix between incredibly talented founders, great talent and a really supportive startup ecosystem are what makes Northern Ireland unique.

One of the hardest things to do when scaling your business is hiring and we’re continuing our Scaling in NI series by talking to Fearghal Campbell from Pitchbooking to find out first hand what it has been like building their team in Northern Ireland.

A little bit about Fearghal and Pitchbooking

Fearghal Campbell founded Pitchbooking with his two friends Shea O’Hagan and Chris McCann. They created the company due to their own pain of trying to book a football pitch in Northern Ireland. This used to involve ringing around numerous facilities to try and find somewhere that was free, but with over 500 facilities and no centralised calendar or payments system, it was an absolute nightmare.

So the trio created Pitchbooking, which is a scheduling and payment solutions system for sports facilities, through which anything from football to ultimate frisbee can be booked. Simply find, book and pay, all in under 60 seconds. Over the last year, we have seen them scale their team in the Ormeau Baths as more and more sports facilities are signing up and realising the impact that Pitchbooking can have on their business. We thought now was the perfect time to find out what it’s like trying to hire and scale a team in Northern Ireland.

Pitchbooking’s platform is as simple as find, book and pay.

So what is your current hiring process?

Fearghal began by highlighting the importance of advertising when beginning to scale a company. At Pitchbooking, job descriptions and adverts are not just about listing technical needs but are used as an opportunity to promote what they think about work generally and it shows their company’s “tone of voice”. Their job adverts show that it is relaxed, playful, fun but that they are still looking for talented individuals that try to get things done. This concise and personalised approach is great for attracting inbound applicants but Pitchbooking does not rely solely on this method as they make use of recruitment agencies to help attract great talent in Northern Ireland. As a co-founder, managing all aspects of the business, Fearghal stressed that recruitment can take up a lot of time so having great people to interview directly from recruiters can make it a lot easier to find the right people fast.

After an informal phone call, candidates can progress straight to face to face interviews. When asked about the option of tests and challenges before interviews Fearghal mentioned that he was not a fan of setting coding challenges for technical roles: “We’re trying to build a company in the image of what we would like. The idea of asking a candidate to spend 4 or 5 hours over the weekend doing a technical challenge is not something we want to build. It’s unpaid time and unfair. You can find out a lot about their technical skills from interviewing someone.”

It was clear that the Co-founding team at Pitchbooking wanted to meet people face to face as soon as possible who had the right skill set but would also be a good fit for the company. The only thing candidates are asked to do before an interview is to spend 20 minutes taking a look at the Pitchbooking website and product so they can talk about it during the interview with a focus on what works, what they would improve and their general thoughts on the platform.

What does your ideal candidate look like?

The key question Fearghal and the team ask themselves when hiring is: is this person engaged with what we are trying to do at Pitchbooking? They do not need to be super sporty, as long as there is an interest in what they are trying to do as a company. Whether that is their approach to sports tech, being a new marketplace or an interest in their SaaS model, any of these elements form the basis of a great Pitchbooking hire. Fearghal was able to elaborate on this when discussing company fit. If new hires want to enjoy working in the Pitchbooking team they need to be product and customer-focused, be comfortable with responsibility from day one, understand that they would never be micromanaged, enjoy having the flexibility to decide how they want to work and they need to be intrinsically motivated. This gives a clear picture of what is needed to succeed within the company. Above all, the key factor that Fearghal looks for is how candidates will work together with the team. Fearghal stated that there is no point having the most technically gifted person if they are unable to work alongside the rest of the team and work through things together. So the “Gifted jerk” persona would not be a good fit at Pitchbooking.

What do you do to minimise bias when hiring?

Fearghal suggested that few people would say that they’re openly biased, often it’s unconscious bias that can come into the hiring process. This is pertinent to Pitchbooking as a co-founding team, as they are childhood friends, from similar backgrounds, the same age, gender and ethnicity. Fearghal stated that it was at the front of their minds, they did not want to end up hiring clones of themselves as they grew the company, rather they wanted to ensure diversity was part of the fabric of the company. This is shown in practice as neither of the first two hires fit into the same mould of the co-founding team.

To minimise bias the team at Pitchbooking make sure it is not just one person assessing candidates, there is always at least two of the team interviewing. The aim of the team is to pick the most talented individuals, no matter who they are.

What have the challenges in finding great candidates been so far?

A specific hiring challenge for the company is that tech talent can be hard to come by in Northern Ireland, supply versus the level of demand at the moment is skewed. On the demand side of the market, there are a lot of roles being advertised with Fearghal highlighting that searching for React roles on job boards or LinkedIn results in hundreds of roles for a good React developer to choose from. However, in this competitive market, Pitchbooking has still been able to hire some great people. He puts part of this success down to the difference a startup can offer when compared to some of the corporate companies; it can be exciting to be involved with a company that is trying to change the status quo and do something different in an outdated market. The scope and range of work vary from day to day and some people love this way of working. However, Fearghal was clear that some candidates view this as “uncertainty and too much change” and it might not suit them. This is something Pitchbooking cover with every candidate that they meet to make sure they would be happy with the way the company works. Fearghal is focused on hiring generalists over specialists at this stage, Pitchbooking is growing and with it so are people’s roles and the work that they do, which is why they want to hire people who can grow with the company.

What one piece of advice would give a founder who is scaling?

Fearghal left us with two great bits of advice when trying to scale a company in Northern Ireland: “Be clear around the type of company that you are throughout your hiring process. Be transparent and honest with how you work so candidates can judge whether it’s right for them. And expectations work both ways: Tell each potential new hire what you would expect of them and ask for them to tell you what they would expect of you to make sure it can work out.”

And when it comes to hiring always make sure you’re planning ahead: “Plan ahead and don’t wait until the last minute. It can be an 8+ week turnaround to hire, so if you’re signing on new, larger customers as your startup grows make sure you don’t wait until the last minute when you’re completely snowed under, plan ahead as much as possible.”

A bit about Equitas

We help companies make better, less biased hiring decisions with our digital platform for live interviews. Like Fearghal and the Pitchbooking team, we want to ensure companies are able to build diverse teams when growing and hiring at scale and not let bias get in the way when it comes to interviewing.

Visit our website or get in touch to find out more.