How The Next 36’s Needle HR is Changing the Creative Industry

Within six months of meeting each other, three young entrepreneurs in Toronto’s The Next 36 program had launched a startup. Two days after launching they had their first customer.

Skip ahead to Wednesday night as Michael Cheng, Sean Kim and Christopher Bowal of Needle HR stood on stage as one of seven finalists at the “Student Startup Challenge” by The Founder Project, a Montreal-based student venture capital fund. The trio of creative industry visionaries wowed the crowd, explaining how they aim to make hiring easier in the creative industry.

Every month in the US there are 400,000 creative talent job posts, but the challenge often rests in finding quality. Needle HR is a global talent search engine, scouring the world’s largest creative talent pool of designers, animators, photographers, copywriters, art directors and more from over 200 countries.

“Throughout my career I noticed that hiring creative talent is actually really complicated. One instance I posted on job boards I got 97 applications, none of which fulfilled my requirements (which was extremely frustrating) and looking at LinkedIn I found that less than four percent of their entire user base are actually creative,” said Cheng, 23, who previously lead 10 different companies mostly in the creative space. “So where do you actually find these people?”

In comes the idea for Needle HR, allowing creatives to upload their complete portfolio and employers to search by location. It’s a discovery platform that caters to both contractual and full time work for both small startups and mass-hiring enterprises.

It will likely take five to 10 percent per transaction and a base rate at the enterprise level. For now though they’re not charging anything (startups may wish to take note). Cheng said they’re observing how the platform is being used and studying its potential.

The CEO Cheng was recently named one of Maclean’s “Future Leaders of Canada.” A hyper-driven young Canadian, at 19 he was offered a lecturer’s position in teaching digital design during his first year at Simon Fraser University.

Bowal comes via the University of Calgary research side, where he turned down a six-figure offer from Amazon’s mobile division to join Needle HR. Osprey Labs CEO and current Next 36 mentor Dean Hopkins calls him a “savant in the technology space.” Kim rounds out the group, having already ran a startup as well as an initiative called YeSocializing, which connects aspiring entrepreneurs, startups and mentors.

As an end goal the trio wants to see the site act as an ecommerce platform. “That behavioral switch and getting people used to collecting and making payments in a platform may or may not be our biggest challenge,” said Cheng.

According to their mentor Hopkins, Needle HR is in an enviable position. “These guys have timed it beautifully as well as having great UI, and some really smart application of the technology,”

The challenge going forward will be marketing. The trio said they have access to every job board on the Internet, it’s just a matter of getting their solution to them.

“I think the hardest part of any business is the distribution part of it. Anybody can come up with products but if it doesn’t reach the right customer it doesn’t matter,” said Hopkins. “Their challenge is accelerating the acquisition of customers and that’s going to come from building as many different channels of acquisition as possible, because their customers are all over the world.”

Hopkins may be the group’s biggest cheerleader. He revels at how they’ve juggled a full course load, exceeded the demands of The Next 36, and done it all while in three different cities.

“They’ve really blown me away,” said Hopkins. “They hit a sweet spot in the market, they have a very credible product and I think they’ve got a very fundable team that I think we’ll find over the next few months we’ll have a successful venture backed Canadian success story on our hands.”