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Monday, Nov 28, 2022

Hungry Startup Is Targeting the Restaurant and Hospitality Business

Cody Barbo looks uncharacteristically tired as we walk through the coworking space he calls home, settling at a table drenched in afternoon sun. The light casts shadows under his eyes and his hair — normally perfectly coiffed — is ever so slightly mussed.

He and his team just got back from a pitch competition in Los Angeles where their company, Industry Careers Inc., won first place against seven other finalists at Vator Splash (a startup competition judSuch is the life of a startup founder. The tired eyes make sense.

Hard Work Pays Off

In some ways, Barbo is the stereotypical startup CEO: overworked, overextended, and possibly running off a cocktail of adrenaline and ambition. But it’s starting to pay off.

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Industry just announced its first major seed round: a $2.3 million infusion of cash led by a stealthy Silicon Valley investor. Barbo won’t disclose details, but says the money came from a $200 million fund on Sand Hill Road.

The money will go a long way for Industry, and Barbo is practically buzzing with excitement over the news.

“When you pitch multiple times throughout your fundraising process, there’s some satisfaction when you finally land it,” Barbo said, beaming. “It feels good.”

What’s catching investors’ attention is Industry’s technology: a professional network and hiring website for the service and hospitality industry (think LinkedIn for bartenders and chefs).

The company has already landed a slew of high-profile customers with its sleek and modern hiring tool, including the hit TV show “Hell’s Kitchen” which uses the site to cast celebrity chefs. MGM Resorts International and Disneyland also use the site for hiring.

A Missing Link

Barbo co-founded Industry in 2014 with restaurateur Errol Asuncion and Matt Cecil. At the time, Barbo was a 25-year-old on his second venture. He came up with the idea for Industry after college when he was waiting tables for Seasons 52.

“I would ask coworkers at the restaurant if they were on LinkedIn, and they didn’t even know what LinkedIn was,” Barbo said.

It makes sense, after all, as LinkedIn is largely designed for white-collar business professionals. Those working outside the corporate world are often left cold by the popular networking site. As a result, fresh websites have popped up to court niche professional groups (Doximity for medical professionals and RallyPoint for the military).

Bars, restaurants, and hotels (collectively called “the industry” by those working within it) are outside LinkedIn’s territory, but they’re hardly niche industries. In fact, they employ a huge percent of the population.

The restaurant industry alone employed 14.4 million people this year (about one in 10 working Americans), according to the National Restaurant Association.

“It’s a very large market, and one that’s relatively untapped,” said Mike Krenn, president of San Diego Venture Group. Krenn was a judge at TCA’s pitch competition earlier this month, and awarded Industry a high score of 9 points out of 10. “The opportunity is real. He’s on to something that will be very valuable to potential acquirers down the line.”

Current Hiring Process

Right now, restaurants, bars and hotels are largely doing their hiring through Craigslist. They ask applicants to drop off paper applications in person so they can get a feel for how the applicants present themselves (their personality and their looks).

This method can lead to lots of misfires. Businesses get flooded with unqualified applicants popping in at inconvenient times, and in the end the hiring manager must sort through piles of paper applications.

This is where Industry’s website shines. Businesses only get applicants who meet their qualifications. If they need a certified fine-dining bartender, for example, they’re not going to get an application from an aspiring busboy.

From the applicant perspective, users can create profiles that showcase their talents better than paper applications and resumes. Bartenders, for example, can create an image gallery to show off their craftiest beverages. Chefs can upload videos highlighting the preparation of a particularly fussy entrée.

The service is free for users, while businesses pay a fee for every qualified applicant who applies to a job post.

Industry’s website has been a hit with upper echelon restaurateurs seeking talent, including Cohn Restaurant Group in San Diego, which uses the website for hiring. In an email, Cohn’s Operations Manager Jeff Pittrof wrote that Industry had delivered numerous high caliber applicants through the platform.

Getting the Users On Board

The key to Industry’s success so far has much to do with the startup’s smart digital marketing tactics to build its user base.

“A lot of competitors only focus on getting the businesses on board, but what’s more important is actually the users,” Barbo said. “User base is what gives companies like ours market defensibility. Facebook will never be dethroned because they have so many users. No one even comes close.”

Although Barbo did not want to publicly disclose the size of Industry’s user base for competitive reasons, he did share the number privately. And let’s just say the company is having no problem gaining traction.

“Marketplace businesses are very tough to get initial traction in and scale, but Cody has worked hard to understand customer acquisition strategies and costs on both sides of the marketplace,” Krenn said.

Industry has grown from a few guys in 2014 to a 15-person startup that occupies the entire bottom floor of the DowntownWorks’ coworking space.

With Industry’s new round of funding, Barbo said the startup will have a full 18 months to put their “noses to the grindstone” to grow the company. Today, the company is live in nine markets, including San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.

Stay tuned. It will be interesting to see where this startup is headed.

ged by celebrity investor Mark Cuban).

Industry scored a smattering of prizes for taking first, including a new glass trophy to add to the growing pile of giant checks that clutter Barbo’s office.

Yes, it wasn’t Industry’s first pitch event.

Earlier this month, Barbo presented at Tech Coast Angel’s annual Quick Pitch, and — before this article even publishes — Barbo will have taken off to the LA Tech Summit to spread the word about Industry.


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