Are you on the job hunt but trying to avoid small talk and networking events? Or does your company have a referral program you would like to benefit from more?

If so, you might want to check out Jobalaya.

“Because of the way companies recruit people today, it’s very easy to have a skewed workforce that is mostly extroverts or promotes people who are extroverts,” says Ellie Chang, CEO and founder of Jobalaya. “But to many people’s surprise, introverts can actually be good leaders.”

Great thinkers and leaders like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Steven Spielberg are known to be introverts, says Chang, and the list goes on.

Noticing the problem in most recruitment processes today, the 33-year-old and her two colleagues created Jobalaya, a job referral platform that focuses on looking for great talents and is introvert-friendly. This year, it was selected as one of the startups showcasing in TechCrunch Disrupt NY.

The News Lens spoke with Chang to learn more about the Taiwan-based startup.

The News Lens: What inspired you to start Jobalaya?

Ellie Chang: Before working with startups, I was in corporate America. During that time, I was heavily involved in recruiting, not as a recruiter but as a hiring manager. One thing that jumped out was how education and talent management go hand in hand.

I have always been interested in education, and that was what I wanted to do when I first started thinking about launching a startup. I was looking for ideas and realized that by changing talent management and how recruiters look at talent you can influence education.

That’s when I started exploring ideas in this area and developed the concept of Jobalaya.

So I left the States in 2014 and first joined a couple of startups in Taiwan to familiarize myself with the startup culture and to get to know people. Eventually, I started Jobalaya in 2016.

TNL: How does Jobalaya work?

Chang: Jobalaya is an introvert-friendly recruitment platform. A problem we see in today’s recruiting process is that it favors extroverts, because it focuses on salesmanship which tends to favor extroverts. This means that if the next Mark Zuckerberg was standing in front of you, assuming you are a recruiter or the person in charge of hiring, and said he wanted a job you would probably reject him because he doesn’t appear to be extroverted enough. This is a shame because a lot of companies need both types of people. It’s like how they need both genders and people of all races. But because of the way companies recruit people today, it’s very easy to have a skewed workforce that are mostly extroverts or to promote people who are extroverts. So we can build a lot of products around this notion.

Our first product is employee referrals. Right now, Jobalaya is a platform that gets people to get job referrals without having to do any networking. This is our attempt to make something useful for both introverts and extroverts. But think of it as introvert compatible, so if you’re an introvert you have an alternative to the conventional recruitment approaches.

We’re taking out all the “can I talk to you for 20 minutes,” “can we build some sort of relationship that doesn’t really exist” before you dare to ask “could you refer me?” We’re taking it out because from talking to other people those phone conversations don’t really matter that much. If anything it hurts you. I might not want to refer you after talking to you. But if I don’t know you and my company has a referral program, I actually might not mind referring you.

So with Jobalaya, job seekers can spend time on people you know will convert to referral leads, rather than mass emailing everyone you can find on LinkedIn.

TNL: The beta version of Jobalaya launched in November 2016. How many users have registered since then? What market are you targeting?

Chang: It was a closed beta to begin with and is now an open beta. So far we have close to 200 job seekers and referrers, and nearly 70 percent of conversion from request to actually getting referred, so it’s a pretty high number.

We are currently strictly targeting the U.S. market. Referral programs in Taiwan are not as popular and we are also targeting big companies, so it’s a very U.S. kind of thing.

TNL: So why did you decide to launch in Taiwan and not the States?

Chang: I’m Taiwanese and also it wasn’t planned for. If I knew this was the idea I was going for, I would probably have thought otherwise. But I came back to Taiwan knowing I wanted to do a startup and that’s when I started searching for ideas. But I don’t think this idea would have happened if I had stayed in the U.S. because the States is known to be a very extroverted culture. Asian Americans are okay with the concept of introverts but Americans are very reluctant to admit they are introverts. There’s this negative connotation towards it.

All three of us on the team identify ourselves as introverts so this problem resonates with us.


Photo Credit: Jobalaya

TNL: What are the main challenges you have seen so far?

Chang: The first thing is, the concept of introverts and building a platform around them is very different. Being an introvert is something hidden inside and it’s very difficult to build a product around them if you don’t know who your target audience is.

You get two extreme reactions; one is, “I don’t get it. What do you mean for introverts? Aren’t introverts like everyone else who just need to work to get people to like them?” The other is, “Oh my god. I love it.”

Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re anti-social or you don’t know how to talk to people. It’s just you prefer not to talk to people if they have that choice, and we want to give people that option.

Second is traction. You can’t go on to Facebook and say, “I want to target introverts.” That’s another challenge that’s unique to our business.

TNL: How do you plan to make revenue?

Chang: We will be charging recruiters in the future. Recruiters now pay headhunters a percentage of their annual salary which is really expensive. We want a percentage of their referral bonus which is going to be a lot lower. So we will charge them but they will save money. That’s the model we are going for.

TNL: Competitors?

Chang: Usually LinkedIn is the first that comes to mind. But we don’t think it is our biggest competitor because LinkedIn is built entirely on the concept of extroverts; so you build connections, the more you build the better. For introverts, more doesn’t mean the better; the deeper means the better. That’s the first difference. Jobalaya is not encouraging people to build another connection.

Second, we not trying to build another social media site. LinkedIn, as it is now, is basically another social media site for professional purposes. Jobalaya doesn’t do that. Our purpose is to get referrals, so you only get on Jobalaya when you need a referral.

TNL: How are you currently funding Jobalaya?

Chang: All three of us put in some capital to sustain this but we are looking for angel investors who appreciate our concept. There are a lot of recruitment solutions out there, and a lot of startups are building something that solves recruitment problems, so we don’t want to find someone who just wants to get into the recruitment space. We want to find someone who understands what we’re doing and appreciates the value of introverts. We’re not ruling anybody but they have to also know the U.S. market for this to work.

TNL: Is looking for angel investors part of the team’s expectations for TechCrunch Disrupt NY?

Chang: Absolutely. One of the other goals would be to test out this introvert concept and see how Americans react to it. We looking forward to these people giving us the reality of how the U.S. market might react to Jobalaya outside of our own bubble.

Another goal would be for business development purposes. We are looking for pilot customers to work with and see if our new employee referral model can help them in a sense that it’s not a “it’s nice to have” kind of thing but something customers can really use.

TNL: What are some other features you hope to add in the future?

Chang: For this trip, we have added and edited some features. For example, we have created a Chrome extension. We don’t want to be another job listing service because we’re not. This extension will allow users to open any webpage they want and if they see a job listing they are interested in, they can use the extension to see if there are any referrers on Jobalaya.

In the future, what we really want to do is create a profile to help introverts or anybody to represent things that are missing on resumes. Resumes have been the main recruiting tool for a very long time. They include very useful information but they also miss a lot of important things, which is probably why false hires occur more than people would like. We’re hoping to close the gap by having a profile that shows things that are not apparent from job titles or school names.

TNL: So you probably know the U.S. startup environment and have worked in the Taiwan startup scene for a few years now. What differences do you see?

Chang: When I was working in the U.S., I was mostly working in corporates so I don’t want to make assumptions about the startup culture there. But from my limited experience talking to investors and startups in both countries there are certainly major differences. I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone. It just validates what people are talking about. In Taiwan, the market isn’t small, it’s just not as big as the U.S., so people care about different things such as cost saving, how long you can survive and burn rate. But in the U.S., you get people telling you not to worry about making revenue yet and focus on building a good product. The default assumption in the U.S. is you can sustain; in Taiwan, it seems to be like you could die tomorrow.

It also has to do with the investment environment in both places. There isn’t as much money flowing around in Taiwan compared to the U.S.

TNL: What do you think the Taiwan government could do more to help local startups?

Chang: I know the government is doing a lot right now compared to when I was working for StorySense (a Taiwanese startup) in 2013. But if it really wants to help, the government needs to revamp itself. Taiwan Startup Stadium (TSS) is doing a great job, but when it comes to funding, money, red tape, you still need to make sure it complies with government requirements. If there are a lot of hoops to jump through, then it’s almost impossible for anybody to use the resources as effectively as we could. Especially for startups, time is everything. It’s not even money, it’s time. So given how time-consuming it is to deal with government, if it could just realize that, I think that would have the most impact. If that is not possible, then I would say fund TSS more.

The News Lens was sponsored by Taiwan Startup Stadium to attend TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017.

Editor: Edward White