Re:purpose Aims to Close Tech Talent Gap with Culture Fit, Curation

The gap between the number of open tech jobs and the number of qualified candidates to fill them is an ongoing challenge in many parts of the country.

In Michigan, that problem is especially acute. Doing a keyword search for IT jobs on Pure Michigan Talent Connect, the state’s employment website, reveals more than 16,000 open positions. Exacerbating the situation is the general inefficiency of online job portals, where it’s hard to separate oneself from the pack or even connect with an actual person.

Lots of companies have tried to alleviate the tech talent gap in recent years, yet the problem persists. A new startup in Detroit called Re:purpose is tackling the issue with an employment website that “matches purpose-driven people and companies,” says founder Ryan Landau. The huge online job portals, he adds, are a bad experience for both employers and job-seekers.

“Our value proposition is different. Anyone can apply, but we’re only sending companies the best candidates. Headhunters charge 15 to 30 percent of the [successful applicant’s] first-year salary and are focused on the C-suite. We’re focused on people with just a few years of experience—typically no more than 15 years. It’s highly curated.”

According to its website, the company’s ultimate mission is to “create a world where everyone pursues their passions and is a part of something greater than themselves.” The inspiration for Re:purpose came when Landau was on a trip to the Patagonia region of South America last year. He says he was struck by an insight—that a person’s purpose, values, and personality mattered just as much as their skills.

“We’re trying to build the applicant profiles much further out than usual and really get to know the person on a deeper level,” Landau says.

The process starts when a job seeker goes to the Re:purpose site and fills out an application. From there, Re:purpose sends the applicant job offers based on culture, compensation, benefits, and location requirements. Applicants can also connect with a personal “talent agent” who can help with interview prep and the salary-negotiation process if a job offer is made. Upon getting the job, Re:purpose sends successful applicants “cash, swag, and a Healthy Living Package.” (Landau declined to offer specifics, saying this feature is still being worked out.)

For employers, the process is invite-only, though they can apply for an invitation. Re:purpose vets the job candidates ahead of time according to likely cultural fit, skills, and compensation. Employers can also access “success consultants” for advice along the way.

Re:purpose is free for applicants, and employers pay a monthly subscription fee. Laundau says there are currently about 60 employers listing jobs on Re:purpose. Eighty percent of the employers on the site are from Michigan, and all have posted local jobs or are looking for local employees.

Laundau has an irrepressible do-gooder streak, and that’s also reflected in Re:purpose. The company has pledged to donate 1 percent of profits to grassroots educational organizations, and will encourage the employers on its platform to do the same. Education is close to Landau’s heart; his first entrepreneurial foray in Detroit was an e-commerce company called Chalkfly, which he co-founded with his brother Andrew, that donated a percentage of profits to local schools. (Chalkfly was reportedly acquired in 2014 by Novi, MI-based Global Office Solutions for an undisclosed amount.)

Re:purpose, with seven employees, is based in the WeWork building downtown. So far, its growth has been funded by revenue, Landau says, although the company may need to seek outside investors as it scales. The plan right now, he says, is to build out the site’s technology for the rest of the year and then begin expanding to cities outside of Southeast Michigan.

Former Michigan natives are key to the Re:purpose strategy. Michigan has a supply and demand problem, Laundau says: There are plenty of young tech professionals graduating from the state’s high schools and universities, but about 40 percent of them move away. Re:purpose hopes to help lure some of those ex-pats back home once they see the job opportunities available to them (and perhaps experience the cost-of-living nightmare on the Coasts).

“We want to facilitate attracting people back to the area,” Landau adds.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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