After shutting down his first tech start-up, Cody Barbo needed a job to hold him over until he figured out what to do next. So he began applying at San Diego restaurants.
“I thought it would be easy,” he says. “I could not have been more wrong.”
Though Barbo expected to land a job in a few days, it took nearly two months before Seasons 52 hired him. His search, however, sparked an idea — creating an online professional/hiring network for workers and employers in the hospitality industry.
In 2014, Barbo co-founded Industry, which has launched in nine West Coast cities and recently raised $2.3 million from investors. Customers include MGM International, the Washington Hospitality Association and the San Diego-based Cohn Restaurant Group.
Barbo, 27, and many tech entrepreneurs are a bit like Hollywood script writers. They have a story to sell. Their pitches often draw comparisons to past blockbusters.
While a writer might describe a script as a cross between “The Terminator” and “Mrs. Doubtfire,” Barbo refers to Industry as a hospitality-focused version of LinkedIn, the career-oriented social network valued at about $26 billion.
“The crazy thing is people in services and hospitality don’t use LinkedIn, and many times they don’t know what it is,” he says. “It’s so geared toward corporate America and tech, not service and hospitality.”
Barbo’s start-up provides a platform for hospitality workers to post biographies, career tips, photos and videos in their profiles. When restaurants, bars and hotels need workers, they can tap Industry’s platform for applicants.
Turnover is high in the hospitality industry, and it takes an average of 28 days to fill a position.
Videos in particular are a new wrinkle in the hiring process that could become a game changer.
“This is super beneficial to chefs who want to highlight their food, bartenders their drinks,” says Barbo. “But even for the first-time job seeker, it is a great way to highlight your personality. That is ultimately what got me my first job in the industry. I didn’t have the experience. It was my personality that got me the opportunity.”
At the trendy Downtown Works office space, Barbo oversees a team of 15 people who come to work in T-shirts. He is the prototypical millennial entrepreneur – tech savvy, hyper-articulate, full of energy.
Growing up in Huntington Beach, Barbo caught the entrepreneurial bug while in high school. Before GoPros became popular, he made extra cash making videos of action sports enthusiasts.
When he enrolled at San Diego State University in 2007, Barbo described himself as an introvert. He joined student government in an effort to break out of his shell. During his senior year, he was elected SDSU’s student body president.
“It gave me the confidence to want to be an entrepreneur,” says Barbo.
After earning a degree in communications, Barbo launched his first company, Niche, which sought to create geo-fenced social networks based on location.
“This was in 2011, and our parents were coming onto Facebook,” he recalls. “We didn’t want them to see what we were posting on Facebook. So, what if you could create a private social network just for your fraternity house, and the only way you could access it was if you were physically there?”
Niche was eventually overwhelmed by competitors. But the experience was valuable in laying the foundation for Industry, which Barbo founded with Matt Cecil and Errol Asuncion.
Industry makes money differently from other online hiring platforms. Instead of a monthly subscription fee, Industry charges employers based on the number of qualified applicants it delivers. Workers join for free.
For Industry, the key is building enough value to compel workers and employers to visit the website every day, says Barbo. Industry recently added news and messaging features to its platform.
“There is not a great place online to connect with mentors, people who will inspire you,” says Barbo, who is on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. “We know people want to share the food they are making, the drinks they are making. So we think Industry will really get people connected to move forward in their careers.”