Interviews

Tom Hacquoil talks IoD, Lessons and Inspirations.

Tom Hacquoil

CEO of Pinpoint and Jersey & Uk IoD award winner for start-up category 2019

Give us a synopsis of your career journey so far?

I was the nerdy kid who asked for books for Christmas and started doing freelance programming jobs when I was in my early teens. I didn’t get on all that well at school and left at 16 to setup my first business – a software development company called Infuse Internet. It went great for a couple of years, but whilst I was a good programmer, I was a terrible business person and ultimately the company failed miserably, I ate an unhealthy amount of humble pie and ended up with about £250k in personal debt – a great place to be at 21!

I was very fortunate that one of the clients of that business didn’t think I was a complete idiot and offered me a good opportunity, so I went and ‘got a real job’ for 4 years, spent more than half my income on debt repayments and worked myself out of a big hole, and then as soon as it wasn’t completely financially irresponsible, I left to setup Pinpoint with the smartest people I know.

If you’re trying to build a business, pace and momentum are incredibly important. You have to out-innovate/out-compete/out-work everyone else if you want to win

Describe your current business and what makes it unique?

We (Pinpoint) build recruitment and talent acquisition software and sell it to companies all over the world (49 countries and counting).

We believe that most organisations don’t hire particularly well and haven’t adapted to underlying changes to the market (i.e. a shift in power from company to candidate). We split the world of recruitment into two halves – Sourcing (attracting, engaging and converting talent) and Selection (choosing who to hire from a pool of talent).

Most recruitment software just focuses on selection, whereas Pinpoint does both – automatically getting our client’s employer brand and job opportunities in front of relevant, engaged talent, offering them a great candidate experience and reducing their cost and time to hire.

From a non-technical standpoint, we’re also unique in that we believe that you can’t just throw technology at problems and hope it fixes things – we believe we need to educate, guide and support our clients at every step of the journey as they modernise the way they hire, so we have a dedicated ‘Customer Success’ team to do just that.

Why did you decide to enter the IoD Awards in 2019?

What we do and how we do it is a little different to the norm (especially here in Jersey), and as we sell to clients all over the world we’re not particularly well known on-island. I entered the Jersey awards hoping we’d increase our profile a little on-island, but also in an effort to try and bring a bit of recognition to the team.

Following a (somewhat surprising) victory in Jersey, I was then put forward for the UK awards and was obviously thrilled at that opportunity, so it was a bit of a no-brainer to continue with the process.

Whilst it’s a privilege to have people that want to be helpful, industries, technologies and markets are changing faster than ever, and what worked well for them may work terribly for you. Don’t be afraid to chart your own course and try things

What was it like to attend the national IoD Awards? And also, to win?

It was great – the event itself was great and it was a real pleasure to meet so many other business leaders and nominees (we sat on a mixed table rather than having our own). Many of the nominees / winners were extremely inspiring and have built businesses far larger than ours, so it was a great privilege (and a genuine surprise) to be given the award and to be included amongst such an impressive group of men and women. A quick selfie with Trevor McDonald didn’t hurt either!

What lessons have you learnt in business that will always stay with you?

People are the most important part of any business, irrelevant of size, sector, etc. As a stereotypical geeky programmer, it took me a little while to realise that almost all of the preventable failures from my first business were due to my poor people management skills and hiring the wrong people in the first place.

My view now is that hiring the right people is the most important thing to get right in any organisation, but also that the type of people you need will change as your business evolves. Your first sales hire is probably not the right person to become your Head of Sales, and your Head of Marketing at 10 people is also not likely to be the right person to be Chief Marketing Officer when you’re 200 – that’s all fine, but being aware of that (and managing expectations on both sides!) is extremely valuable strategically in my opinion.

Have you had any great mentors or inspiration?

Yes, books! Whilst I’m fortunate (now) to have access to lots of very smart, inspirational people that could act as mentors – that wasn’t necessarily true when I was just starting out. I don’t think that mattered in the slightest though, as I just read huge volumes of books (and more recently have started listening to podcasts, watching videos, etc.).

From my perspective, I think you can learn huge amounts from the experience of others, so for the past ~10 years I’ve just read everything I can find from / about the great businesses / business leaders of the past and present, and the context that’s given me when I have to make tough or complex decisions is literally invaluable.

We’re still very early in our journey and our growth (across all metrics) continues to accelerate, so my long-term plan right now is just to continue focusing on expanding Pinpoint across the world

How do you personally tackle the work/life/wellness balance?

Not particularly well! On the work side, I’m fortunate to be one of those people that gets to do what they love for a living and I enjoy coming into work every day, so I don’t struggle with the long hours / stress / travel.

On the life side, I’m ‘husband’ to Rosie and ‘daddy’ to George (4), and work hard to carve out time in the week to do preschool drop-offs, bed time stories and bike rides etc, but it’s a hard balance to strike and I’m the first to admit I could do more there, but it’s sometimes the harsh reality of trying to build a high-growth business – sacrifices have to be made and I’m very lucky that I have a family that understands and supports that!

Speaking of sacrifices, I used to take my health / wellness pretty seriously, but work and family life haven’t left room for much else and I’ve now assumed full ‘dadbod’. A definite focus area for 2020!

What are your plans and aspirations for the future?

Keep building / growing. I’m still very young (28) and realise I’ve (hopefully) got a long career ahead of me, but I’m keen to ensure I don’t waste any of that time. Albert Einstein is claimed to have said “compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe” – and I strongly get behind this view. Most people think of the phrase above in financial terms, but I think of it predominantly from a development standpoint – i.e. the more I can learn / the more experience I can accumulate now, the better I’ll do, thereby unlocking access to even better educational / experiential opportunities in the future.

I (perhaps unsurprisingly) believe that the leader of an organisation hasn’t the biggest impact on it’s potential success or failure, so my plan (both short and long term) is just to do whatever it takes to become the best leader I can be.

From a business perspective, I’d like to continue building Pinpoint for a long time to come – we’re still very early in our journey and our growth (across all metrics) continues to accelerate, so my long-term plan right now is just to continue focusing on expanding Pinpoint across the world.

What advice would you give to young directors/entrepreneurs of the future?

1. Learn how to learn.

If you’re trying to build a business, pace and momentum are incredibly important. You have to out-innovate / out-compete / out-work everyone else if you want to win – the pace of change is increasing across basically every industry right now, so from my perspective if you can learn faster / adapt more swiftly, you have a real advantage. On that basis, go and learn how to learn – i.e. find what works for you (some like books, some like podcasts, some like videos, etc) and find the top sources of knowledge in your industry (there are always unknown blogs, influential people, books etc that successful people in your space consume – don’t be afraid to ask them where they go to learn). Once you’ve found both, invest a bit of time every day in learning so you stay ahead.

2. Learn what / who to ignore.

Somewhat contradictory to the above (and not intended to offend anyone) – learn what / who to ignore. You may well be surrounded by educated, respected, successful people, many of whom will want to be helpful / add value / provide opinions on your plans, your new business idea, etc.

This is great, but whilst it’s a privilege to have people that want to be helpful, industries, technologies and markets are changing faster than ever, and what worked well for them may work terribly for you. Don’t be afraid to chart your own course and try things. If I listened to everyone’s advice when I was starting out I wouldn’t have ever done anything – sometimes a lack of preconceived notions of how things are ‘supposed to be done’ and a bit of naivety are healthy – I would know!