Innovation Heroes: Dale Clareburt, Weirdly

In May, five of New Zealand’s most innovative people are travelling the country to share their stories. Introducing Dale Clareburt, co-founder and CCO of Weirdly.

Stephen Henry (Kode Biotech), Dale Clareburt (Weirdly), Lisa King (Eat My Lunch), Glenn Martin (founder and inventor of Martin Jet Pack) and Toni Moves (8i) will share their successes and failures for the benefit of us all, live and in person in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. 

Today we talk to Dale Clareburt, co-founder and CCO of Weirdly, a recruitment tool connecting companies with potential employees who are a ‘better fit’ for their organization.

Innovation Heroes, hear their story - Dale Clareburt from NZ Innovation Council on Vimeo.

What is the driving force behind Weirdly?

It’s a piece of HR technology and the whole purpose, and where it comes from, is the belief that we should recruit people based on culture and values alignment.

The inspiration behind it all is that we go into businesses and businesses say: ‘When we get the wrong person, it has such an impact on our business’. If you get someone who doesn’t align with the business purpose, ethics and values, then it’s not a great experience for that person and it’s not a great experience for the business.

How was that idea then translated into Weirdly?

Two of our founders are very recruitment-centric and have strong recruitment backgrounds and the other two are from a digital innovation agency originally and they took us through a design-thinking process. It’s an interesting process where you talk about everything except for the solutions, like ‘what are the problems’ and ‘what’s happening in the industry’. Then we went through a step-by-step process.

We came in with an idea thinking ‘somethings not right and we feel it could be done better’ and after a series of meetings and processes they were able to deliver to us and say, ‘this is a web app, this is a data base, the way to solve the problem is by doing this and here’s how we think you should build it’. And we built it.

Before we built the minimum viable product, we went out to the industry networks that we had and said: ‘Hey, we heard that you have got this challenge and problem, we believe in it too, and we’ve got this solution for that, would you be willing to test it before we start going to market?’. We had two really good clients, who were strong brands in New Zealand, that wanted to trial it and it was really successful for them and delivered on the promise we’d made. Then we launched the business and we did that within four months.

The thing to understand is, we were out selling it before it was perfect and we’ve had multiple iterations since then over the last two years. The sooner you get out there, the more validation you get and you know how to add on features and you know what people are actually demanding, rather than trying to build the perfect thing before you go to market.

What were the challenges you faced when starting Weirdly?

One of the hardest things we didn’t think about too much, but that quickly became an issue, was we didn’t realise we were educating the market. We are doing something that’s really different, and although it makes sense to people, they’d never seen it delivered the way we were delivering it.

We’re dealing with recruiters and HR in the recruitment process and we are saying: ‘Here’s a tool that’s going to help make it easier for you to deliver on values and cultural alignment and it’s going to make the process faster and save you time and money’.

From the very get go, we’ve been marketing and having to create our own content because the content doesn’t exist out there. We’ve had to leverage off every network we have and we’ve said ‘yes’ to absolutely every event that we were ever invited to so we could continually practice our pitch and get market information about what people thought of our idea.

The other challenge we had was funding. Building a start-up in New Zealand is never easy with the funding that’s available. It’s pretty small in New Zealand but at Weirdly we’ve have an exception with our investors, they’ve been very supportive.

How did you overcome these challenges?

When we were looking at the challenge of people not knowing who we are, and what we do, creating our own content was quite labour intensive because we have hardly any competitors in the New Zealand market. We’ve got a few over in the US and this is a blessing and a curse.

Having no competitors is good because you are first to market, but it’s bad because no one has anything to compare you with and so that content marketing was really important. We were really lucky that one of our founders was a brand strategist and was clever with our brand in protecting it by putting out things about what Weirdly does but also providing content and the tools that we are actually delivering to people and then also talking about the trends that are happening while not just talking about ourselves all the time.

One of the great things in New Zealand is that everyone wants to help you and we really leveraged that hard. We met the people who were high profile to speak to them and get their opinion. Whether it was speaking to a group of 20 people, or to an accounting firm, whether it was getting people to trial the products for free and have a look at it, we just did everything that we could.

As far as the funding goes, the thing with New Zealand, and what’s happening with start-ups, is you get really clever around how you use your money and how long you can make it last.

You learn so rapidly the right way and the wrong way because you are learning by making mistakes because you are doing something that hasn’t really been done before. We’ve listened to the advice that we’ve been given and we have learned that we need to start conversations with potential investors before we need it. We are starting those conversations now, even though we may not need the money for 12 months.

Would you say these lessons you’ve had are a testament to Weirdly being an innovative business?

Absolutely, that’s been reinforced by the challenges we’ve had. It’s innovative in that no one has done it.

What does innovation mean to you?

I think the word ‘innovation’ is overused and sometimes ceases to have meaning.

We think that innovation is where invention meets impact. What we mean by that is, Weirdly invented a new, novel approach to the culture of screening applicants, and with that we’ve had a significant impact on a huge number of people around the world. We have our customers and then we have every applicant that has gone through our process and because of the impact we are having, we are innovative. But without the impact, and without the volume of people being affected by this, it would just be an invention.

It’s got to be about the application and the activation of the idea and then that spreading and having an impact on a really grand scale.

What do you think makes someone innovative?

They’ve got an openness to hearing views that are not their own, that’s certainly been a learning that I’ve had. I think differently to the people that are in the founder team and it has been great because I am learning and I am open to hearing that I am wrong or ‘yeah that way is great but there is this better way’. I believe that you need to have that openness to objection and I think through that you really stretch the way that you think.

Also curiosity is an important trait to have. You need to be somebody that when you see a new idea or something new come out you immediately think: ‘how could this be bigger?’, ‘how could this be better?’ or ‘what impact is this going to have on an industry that is in no way related?’. It’s not just about the narrow product itself, it’s about the implications around that.

You are a doer and an executer, or at least be open to have people around you who can do that because otherwise it is just an idea that never gets anywhere.

Also have the ability to evolve and learn yourself. You never stop learning and someone who is innovative is always putting themselves out of their comfort zone and wanting to get uncomfortable to see how far an idea can really stretch.

Is there anyone or anything that has influenced you?

The people that influence me the most are the people that believe so much in their ideas but who may have already failed. What I mean by that is people who have the courage of their conviction. They take risks because they believe in what it is, that there’s something that they want to put their name on or leave their mark on.

How important to you think innovation is to New Zealand compared to the rest of the world?

Super important. We need to be seen as something more than just a milk shop. We are not just a supermarket for the rest of the world. I think New Zealanders naturally have that innovation and it’s that number eight wire mentality, which is a little bit over used but it’s actually real.

I’m sitting in a co-working space where I’m surrounded by businesses who are all innovative and doing really cool stuff and I’m thinking ‘how on earth are these guys going to get themselves overseas’ and they do it by themselves. We share our stories with each other and learn shortcuts from each other. Like ‘I just did this, so you should do it this way’ and ‘if you want to go to the government and get some funding do it this way’ so through networks we are going to get there. But I do believe that New Zealand could be innovative in the way that they help businesses. It’s still a very traditional process you have to go through to get funding. Imagine if there was a more innovative way of doing that.

Where New Zealand could be more innovative is in the business models we support here, at the moment we are still basing a successful business on profit only. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we were basing our successes on things that weren’t just pure profit, like social impact? There are these ways that businesses could be measured that I think could lead to a more innovative environment. Imagine if we could be world leaders in the way businesses are measured, wouldn’t that be cool.

What would you tell New Zealanders who have big ideas to do?

You’ve got to absolutely 100 percent believe in your idea and then you’ve got to continuously reinforce that idea and validate it by talking about to people about it all the time. You almost need to me mildly evangelical about it to make it happened and really believe. People will buy your passion and they buy your enthusiasm and at the end of the day they will buy you and your belief and follow you on that journey.

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Innovation Heroes is brought to you by the NZ Innovation Council.