HR Locker surfs corporate world in Lahinch

22 Apr 2014

The competition for tech talent is fierce. In Silicon Valley, California, some of the biggest employers – including Google, Apple and Intel – allegedly had an arrangement where they agreed not to poach employees from one another and, consequently, suppressed the wages of in-demand developers.

Seven companies involved in the wage-fixing agreement are now facing trial in the US after a group of 64,600 engineers, quality analysts, system administrators and other highly skilled workers filed a class-action lawsuit.

It seems even Silicon Valley’s finest are running out of ideas on how to attract and retain employees with skills that could take them anywhere, resorting instead to underhand tactics. For Adam Coleman, CEO of HR services company The Interventions Group, his strategy involves a unique proposition.

HR consultancy to tech start-up

With years of human resources (HR) experience behind him, Coleman has turned his attention to tech products that can deliver these services. The Interventions Group was involved in the development of HR Locker, a cloud-based HR system developed by Cork software company Assembly Point, in terms of providing HR expertise and business analysis.

Coleman’s company later began reselling HR Locker to clients and, in 2012, took over operation and support from a systems and HR perspective. By November 2013, the decision was made to buy HR Locker and take it over completely, and so Coleman’s business pivoted from a HR consultancy to a tech start-up.

Now, as a product-led company with Coleman at the helm, HR Locker has had to build a technical team capable of developing this service to its full global potential.

There are now 12 people working at HR Locker, with plans to add 10 more by September 2015 – “investment, support and success pending,” said Coleman.

Continued growth looks promising, though, as HR Locker’s customer base increased from a core of 25 to 30 clients to more than 100 in the space of a year. “We’re definitely doing something right, we just need to do more of it right,” said Coleman.

Living the dream

To get more business and more clients, HR Locker requires more staff. That’s easier said than done when the talent you need is in short supply globally and your headquarters are in Lahinch, Co Clare. Yet, to Coleman, this location offers his company a distinct advantage.

“This is all part of the strategy and the retention of employees,” he said. “It’s fundamental to what we’re about.”

Coleman’s own career started in consulting and technical recruitment at HRM. He was then hired as the fifth employee of Esat Digifone in 1996 and, in 2002, relocated to the UK as head of HR for O2 UK’s commercial business.

However, family circumstances prompted a return to Ireland in 2004 and, while he could have settled in Dublin, Coleman put lifestyle first and headed for Lahinch.

“People thought we were very brave at the time, and it’s been tough to get it to this point, but now we’re beginning to believe the dream,” he said.

Ireland’s coastal towns are heavily promoted as tourist destinations, yet Coleman spies a missed opportunity in highlighting such stunning locations as a place to do business. These days, when we have technology to work from anywhere, why not Lahinch?

Coleman knows a city-based office will be essential as HR Locker expands globally, yet the headquarters will remain in Lahinch and, he believes, continue to draw in key talent. “We will use whatever metropolitan area we put our next office in as a source to get really good candidates, then they can also buy into the dream as time goes on,” he said.

HR Locker

Adam Coleman, CEO of HR Locker (centre), and the team at a HR Locker ‘board’ meeting

Surf’s up

Coleman has a hobby well suited to an office that’s a three-minute walk from one of the best surfing spots in Ireland. HR Locker allows employees to take a few hours of ‘surf-time’ and even equips them with surfboards and wetsuits.

“Google might have all their games and whatever; we have the outdoor activities,” said Coleman, noting how tech giants often offer perks such as games rooms and snack bars to attract staff.

“Don’t get me wrong – it’s not as if we’re all laid-back hippies or anything like that,” he added. “We’re very focused.”

Coleman’s plan is to merge a healthy, easygoing lifestyle with the corporate world and, thus far, the draw of the waves has proved effective in building a team.

In a tongue-in-cheek move when posting an ad for a critical role, Coleman added the closing line: “Ability to surf preferable – and I don’t mean the web.”

That’s exactly what enticed Paul Joyce, HR Locker’s senior developer, from a job in Galway, and this small company in Co Clare has also attracted talent from Dublin, Limerick, England and South Africa.

A version of this article was published in The Sunday Times on 20 April

Surfing in Lahinch image via Shutterstock

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.