Pat Whelan of Paddle HR on solving the career mobility problem and why you shouldn’t stick to one thing

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Pat Whelan is the Cofounder and CEO of Paddle HR, a career mobility analytics and software platform that leverages machine learning to match an organization’s current employees with exciting new opportunities within the same company. Pat is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario’s management and computer science program whose experience spans public service, politics and technology entrepreneurship. He is a lover of James Bond movies, board games and all things on the east coast of Canada.

Looking back five/ ten years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career? How did you get here?

Five years ago I wouldn’t say that I had a crystal clear plan for the way my career would play out but I knew I wasn’t headed for the traditional path or something like Law school or Med school. I was more so focused on whatever seemed important that moment, which at that time was getting involved in politics and thinking about what it meant to be entrepreneurial through all of the extracurricular projects I was doing outside of the classroom. After leaving school, I ended up working in politics for a while but decided that I wanted to go start a company to tackle the problems associated with switching careers. It became clear to me that because of what is going on with technology and how that is changing the workforce, more and more people will need to change careers whether that be by choice or not. This was the macro problem that led to the founding of Paddle HR.

Was there an “ah-ha” moment that ultimately got you to start the company?  

When you are in school, you are told that you need to find the single thing that you should be doing as your career. That kind of linear thinking didn’t resonate with me because I’m someone who has wanted to do a lot of different things. There wasn’t a big ah ha moment that got things going for us. I became interested in starting Paddle HR after having pints and coffees with other young people and listening to how much they are struggling when it comes to navigating what it means to have a career today. We are passionate about the problem we are solving because it is one that we struggled with ourselves.  

So how is Paddle HR helping to solve this problem?

Paddle HR is about helping companies match their current employees with new opportunities within their organization. We know that the number one reason why employees leave their company is due to a perceived lack of career growth and we are trying to change that. We want to help employers keep their people while at the same time, give employees better line of sight to how their careers can grow within the organization that they are already in.

Paddle HR does this through leveraging the public resume data of over 330 million people to train an AI model that predicts where a given individual’s career could be headed, while also using other public datasets to organize and classify jobs. We then pair that output with our client’s internal HR data to give employees within their company a better look at the various kinds of career paths which exist within their current organization and the skills required for those jobs. We also provide HR leaders with an analytics platform which enables them to see how people move throughout the organization and where the centres of mobility are.  We are opening up the black box of internal organizational talent flows and blockages.

What have been some important business lessons that you had to learn the hard way thus far? How have they made you more successful?

One mistake that I’ve seen a number of first time founders make is spending a lot of time building the product without taking enough time to examine the market first or talk to customers. We started Paddle HR as an education focused business that was targeted at universities but the product-market – fit wasn’t there. That was an expensive lesson that we had to learn the hard way.

When we pivoted to serving the Enterprise market, we did the complete opposite and spent more time speaking with potential customers than we did building the product. We were actually selling products that weren’t much more than an MVP but we were working with a true partner who has pushed us to continuously improve on what we offer.

The second lesson was around the value of the team. A good team can compensate for a lot and being able to recruit that team is something that can’t be undervalued. Venture Capitalists often talk about how they predominantly invest in the team, not the product when it comes to early stage ventures and I can see why that is the case. If a team member can already do something, already knows someone or something, it is one less thing you need to hire for later.

What is the one piece of advice that you would give someone in the workforce today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?

We live in a time where lots of people are starting to think about their careers differently because just doing one thing, at a time or over the span of a career, can seem mundane or unfulfilling. I would say that taking a “portfolio approach” (not my term, but a good one) to your career, where you are working on a few different projects at once can often lead to greater fulfillment. It is easier to find your spark of energy when you are doing a bunch of different things because it keeps your work fresh and when things get mundane in one area, you will have something else to keep your work interesting and broaden your skills elsewhere.

The second thing I would say is trying to build real, authentic and personal relationships across your network is something that everyone should be thinking about. If you look at the people who have had the most broad and exciting careers, they are often the folks who have the most diverse networks. No matter who you are, invest in and nurture your relationships. Keep in contact with the people who you went to school with and the professionals who you meet that you connect with. Knowing lots of people in your industry is helpful but that won’t always pave the way for a career that is varied, exciting or off the beaten path.

Aubrey Chapnick