Tech start-up of the week:

3 May 2014

Nuala Lonergan, Ciara Garvan and Georgina Naughton at Accenture's International Women's Day event on 8 March at the RDS in Dublin

Our tech start-up of the week is Workjuggle, which focuses on providing resources and opportunities to knowledge workers who would rather work flexibly than endure the 9-5 grind. is the brainchild of Ciara Garvan, Nuala Lonergan and Georgina Naughton. The start-up aims to provide people with information they need about businesses that are open to flexible and contract working.

“Information on companies which support flexible and contract working is like gold dust, difficult to find but incredibly satisfying when you do,” said Garvan.

“It is a real problem for prospective job-seekers and one we are trying to solve. The day of working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks of the year, 40 years of your life and receiving a nice defined benefits pension at the end of it are gone.

“A new model of flexible working and short–term contracts are replacing it. This suits many people, not least of whom are highly skilled working parents who are trying to juggle childcare costs and those with other caring responsibilities.”

Garvan said it is not just about those with caring responsibilities. In the UK alone, for example, there are 17m baby boomers marching toward retirement, which they may not be able to afford.

“Many of them may no longer want to work a full week but can’t afford to retire entirely.”

The market is a peer-oriented review site on companies that support flexible working.

Users can submit an anonymous review about a company, which is moderated prior to potential publication. The site only publishes positive reviews.

“We want to build a community in this space for both job-seekers and employers alike,” Garvan said.

“We are targeting job-seekers, but not all of them, just a specific cohort. Not everyone has an interest in flexible working, fully paid maternity leave or shorter hours, but for those that do this information is incredibly valuable.

“It is not just about low-skill, part-time jobs, there are many highly skilled, frustrated job-seekers out there.

“Our research has shown that if a juicy job is advertised as flexible it draws three times as many skilled candidates. In the UK, there are 650,000 people who work fewer than five days a week and earn more then stg£40,000 a year. That is the market we want to tap into.

“The belief that bums on seats equals profitability is as hopelessly ill adapted to computerised, knowledge-based industries as horses were to warfare in the age of the tank and employers are beginning to realise this and adjust accordingly.”

The founders

Although Garvan has a bachelor of commerce degree from University College Dublin, she soon decided the tech world was for her and she studied for an MSc in applied computing from Dublin Institute of Technology at night.

“I worked as a business analyst in Symantec, then Meteor, graduating to project management, eventually heading up a team of project managers on the IT and business side,” she said.

“In the last couple of years I worked in change management before taking redundancy on the birth of my third child. I wanted to go back to work shortly after this but only on a flexible basis. The lack of information on this area inspired me to launch the website. I met the other founders while studying at the UCD Innovation Academy.”

Lonergan is a scientist with international experience in the pharmaceutical industry, and Naughton has a business and marketing background.

“We are a really diverse team with very different backgrounds and experiences and we think that makes us more dynamic.”

The world of work is changing

Garvan believes the world of work is changing dramatically.

“We want to be at the forefront of that change, supporting people and empowering them to make the right decisions for their careers. We have a larger agenda that we can’t shy away from and that is enabling those who don’t fit the rigid structure of 40 hours a week in an office from 9-5 that can still make a valuable contribution.

“This is a bigger issue then just supporting working parents, single parents and those with caring responsibilities, it benefits everyone. In October, the World Economic Forum released its latest global gender gap report, showing that countries with the strongest economies are those that have found ways to further women’s careers, close the gender pay gap, and keep women – who in most nations are now better educated than men – tethered to the workforce after they become mothers.”

The challenges

Garvan admits that in the start-up scene, Workjuggle is a bit of an anomaly.

“We don’t have new technology we are showcasing, for example. Also we think the growth of peer-to-peer review sites is only in its infancy and we are still explaining the concept to people.

“We also have a very strong social conscience but are not strictly social entrepreneurs either, so we are in a very interesting space and sometimes that means you don’t fit into a ready-made category.

“On the business side, for any website starting up, building trust is a key issue. Why should people give you their details if they have never heard of you before? Overcoming those fears and showing that we are a reputable site is our No 1 challenge.

“Recently, we were sponsored by Accenture to exhibit a stand at International Women’s Day in the RDS (in Dublin). We found when we met people in person, those fears melted away and people were very excited about the concept.”

Navigating the start-up scene

Garvan said there is a good vibe in the Irish start-up scene, where everyone is supportive.

“We have found people to be tremendously helpful and welcoming. I can’t think of one person we have contacted who has not helped us in some way.

“There is a perception that you have to be male and 18 to run a tech start-up but of course that is not true.

“The internet is changing everyone’s lives and our experiences means we bring a different perspective to the table.

“We have had marvellous mentorship from Dr Lisbeth Goodman, the chair of Creative Technology Innovation in UCD’s Smart Lab, and of course our tutors in the Innovation Academy itself, Alan O’Dea and Eileen Diskin.”

Every start-up journey has its shares of ups and downs, but Garvan said the important thing is just getting started.

“It is a cliché but true, you just to have go out there and do it.

“We have been on an incredible journey which has led us to meet so many amazing people. Their personal perspectives and insights have been invaluable.

“Nothing beats actually going out, meeting people and telling them your story.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years