When Mark Zuckerberg locked himself away in his Harvard dorm in 2004, he could not have predicted that he would create an online community of 500 million users.
Nor that he would change the way the world communicates. But he did and we now have Facebook.
A North Clare entrepreneur with more moderate aspirations, (17,000 members by 2014), is hoping to capitalise in a very real way on his own online network.
Adam Coleman founded Interventions Group in 2005. The company began providing a range of human resources services to companies around the country. Later, it began offering online services to its clients, even branching into psychometric profiling. Separately, it began ACIST, which facilitates training courses for businesses with similar upskilling needs.
Interventions Group’s latest venture, execpass.com, is a subscription-based online network for businesses and executives.
“I recognised that there were a lot of executives out there that when they wanted a new job, they didn’t know where to look,” says Adam.
With the idea firmly in his head, Adam conducted a feasibility study, supported by Enterprise Ireland, which targeted executives in Ireland, UK and Canada and a post-graduate course in internet selling.
“The post-grad was the best thing I ever did. There was a mini thesis at the end of this and it was an international sales plan for ExecPass,” Adam recalls.
After completing the feasibility study and the plan, Adam was forced to redefine the product slightly.
He now describes it as “a validated online service that allows companies to get in touch with decision makers in companies very quickly. On the other side, it is a way for employers to identify talent without paying exorbitant recruitment fees”.
What makes it different to professional favourite LinkedIn is that it is exclusive to people in business who have control over budgets or hiring staff and that it is validated. The validation is fairly labour-intensive in terms of high-tech start-ups.
Each validation involves a person researching the credentials of the person or business seeking to join the network and not just on the internet but through phone calls too. While ExecPass may not reach the dizzying heights of 500 million users, Adam insists numbers like that are not his goal.
“People talk about social media but this is business media,” he says.
“The format is similar to LinkedIn but reserved for decision makers in business. We validate everyone who goes in to it.
“Say there are 88 million people in LinkedIn, we can go into it and look at the people in authority and there are only about five million that could be possibly members of ExecPass,” Adam states.
“ExecPass is customer-centric. Every company that comes on board with us gets at least one call from us per year. If we see an executive or a company that joins they might be interested in, we PM (private message) them,” Adam explains.
Of course, with just 250 members currently, the four-man team doesn’t find it too difficult to be “customer centric”.
“As we grow, each person in the company will be responsible for 250 to 300 members. As of January 2014, we want to have 17,000 members.
“If we hit these targets, that would be a turnover of €5.1 million. We are hoping to grow to about 35 people,” Adam reveals.
As well as allowing executives to contact ‘decision makers’ in other businesses, the website also has a jobs board.
“Executives didn’t know where to look for jobs and that is what this jobs board is about.
“It is to help them plan their next career move. It also allows companies to target executives who aren’t actively seeking new positions and to do so at a fraction of the cost of a recruitment company,” he points out.
In Clare, ExecPass is running a pilot programme with Ennis Chamber and the network is open for companies and individuals in the county to join.
“It is important to us that we support local businesses. This will not suit everyone though and if it doesn’t make sense for a company or person, we will tell them,” Adam adds.
The Galway man is adamant that Clare and the West of Ireland are perfectly equipped to attract other high-tech businesses to the county.
“There are huge opportunities for this sort of business to shift to the regions because with broadband there is no reason why it can’t work. In the Clare area, we have a lot to offer but it is about trying to convince the right people to move here, that is the challenge.
“The one thing I would say about people in Clare is that they are open for business,” he adds.
Having a sister who won medals at the Special Olympics, Adam believes in corporate responsibility and decided from an early stage to support that by giving 1% of the profits each year to Special Olympics Ireland.
“It is not worth much to them now but it will be when we hit our targets,” he says.
Adam is already working on a number of projects and revenue-generating initiatives to drive the project forward and to, he hopes, double the company’s manpower from four to eight by the end of the year.