Job website Owltell carves its own niche

  • Focused platform for hotel job hunters
  • Aiming for slow and steady growth

 

Job website Owltell carves its own niche

 

AT A time when there a numerous job search websites out there, launching yet another one may not seem like a good idea. Timothy Kong and Sophia van Huijgevoort (pic), however, have found a niche that works.

Kong and van Huijgevoort are founders of Owltel.com, a job search platform created specifically for jobs in the hotel industry in Malaysia.

The website was launched in September last year, and the founders aim for Owltell to eventually become the go-to job website for everyone in the industry, whether they are university students studying hotel management looking for their first job or people already employed within the industry looking to switch.

The demand for such a specialised segment is there. According to Kong, who is CEO, though a search on a popular general job search platform such as monster.com.my will yield some hotel jobs, the listings are too few for a thorough search. Owltell, on the other hand, lists jobs at every level, from internships to management.

“In just a few months, we have 140 hotel jobs listed on Owltell where big players could not get more than ten in a few years,” says Kong. 

How it works

Owltell works like most other platforms, with hotels listing their job openings. Kong explains that Owltell acts as a centralised job advertising board where, instead of hotels putting up ‘help wanted’ posters on their physical premises, they can post an unlimited amount of them online. Owltell also promotes the jobs on social media via its Facebook page and Linkedin.

Interestingly, Owltell has been more successful when promoting the jobs on Linkedin than on Facebook because Linkedin enables it to specifically target people in the hotel industry. The Facebook audience, while still mostly made up of people in the relevant industry, does contain some anomalies – those not in the industry who randomly like the Facebook page just because their friends have done so.

Getting word out on social media is important not only for more traffic but because job searchers apply directly to the hotels. At this stage, users are unable to upload their resumes to the website, create profiles or receive updates, but Kong says that this is something Owltell is looking into for the future.

Currently, Owltell caters to Malaysian hotels and job applicants. Of course, with the job listings being online, anyone can apply but Kong points out that many of the job openings require Malaysian-only applicants for various reasons.

While Owltell will focus its business in Malaysia first, Kong says that expanding further into Southeast Asia will eventually happen but not any time soon, at least not this year.

“We are always open to do the same hotel job site in other countries such as Singapore or Indonesia, but we are going to focus on Malaysia first. It can be done anywhere as long as the execution is right,” he says.

The market is right and welcoming for a hotel-centric job website in Malaysia and in Southeast Asia because there are none, other than Owltell, currently in existence. According to Kong, there is one based in the Netherlands, where Kong and van Huijgevoort are from, but in all his research he has not found one that caters to the Southeast Asian market.

Everything is possible

Owltell’s target is to double the job listings on the website every three months –it divides the year into semesters to coincide with universities’ academic years both to make the calendar easy to handle, and to cater to the new waves to students looking for internships and graduates looking for jobs. The startup aims for 300 to 400 job listings in the next three months and 5000 to 7000 users.

“We’re looking for a steady growth and to balance everything and control it. We want to attract the right users – that’s the main thing we’re focusing on,” he says.

Owltell is, in fact, focusing on a slow growth, with the founders taking things as they come. One of the main reasons it can do this is the lack of competition in the region; being the only hotel job website in existence in Southeast Asia means that it can take its time and test the waters before it takes actual steps in growth direction.

The startup’s main goal at this stage is getting more hotels on board and maintaining its position in the market - getting the word out. Right now, hotels pay a fee to advertise their jobs but Kong says that the business model can change.

“I believe in the freemium business model but to do that we have to have a lot of jobs online first. Now, it’s about market share, not really about the business itself.”

Kong and van Huijgevoort answer only to themselves; Owltell consists only of the two of them. Funding so far has all been out of pocket; Kong says that Owltell is not focusing on funding at the moment but it is open to it when the time comes.

He believes that Owltell can easily gain enough market traction and interest to attract investors because of its niche premise. “By focusing on a certain market first, you get a lot of jobs in that market. Eventually, if you do that for every market, you’ll have a lot of jobs in every market,” he says.

However, expanding beyond hotel jobs is not Owltell’s ultimate goal – at least not at this point. Kong makes it clear that he and his co-founder are not already thinking of pivoting. Rather, they have a range of possibilities and conceivable futures in mind depending on what happens. “Anything can happen. Everything can change in the future,” says Kong. 

Kong talks about growth in future terms because Owltell is still tiny. But he does see the vast possibilities of the market, going so far as to say that if a big player were to look into a niche industry and think about acquiring a focused website such as Owltell, it would easily snap up a large share of the market.

When it comes to being acquired, Kong says he and van Huijgevoort have not yet decided what they would decide but are open to talking with anyone who comes along with a proposal. As for a partnership with an incumbent, he says that it is possible if it is the right company and the right people.

Start small, end big

Though Kong and van Huijgevoort are both Dutch, they chose Malaysia because of Kong’s experience working in the hotel industry here. He first came here in 2007 on an internship and soon after started a company with van Huijgevoort called Stage in Azië, which is internationally active as Kong International, which brings Dutch students into Malaysia for internships, mostly in tech startups.

With these contacts in hand, Kong and van Huijgevoort felt it the right time bring their idea of a hotel-centric job website to fruition, starting with Malaysia.

Owltell is comfortable in Malaysia, and Kong and van Huijgevoort still able to run the business entirely by themselves. Owltell uses Wordpress to make things easy. Kong and van Huijgevoort both come from tourism management backgrounds and have no previous tech experience but learnt and built the website themselves.

“You just start with one thing, do another thing and another and then you’re building and running a website. And then more ideas come and you add things to your website,” says Kong with a laugh.

When growth eventually does take off, expanding to other countries will mean getting local translators to ensure language needs are met and doing more leg work to get local hotels on board, which will force Owltell to enlarge its team.

“I don’t know what it will end up like,” says Kong, adding that the Dutch hotel job website that seems to be one of the few, if not the only, comparable company, has been running for 10 or 15 years and does not have more than five in its team. “It’s a very small industry. That’s what you have to do – keep it small for big results.”

 

Related stories:

Wobb set to spread its wings regionally

Malaysia’s online hiring decline likely to slow in 2017

The (fast) changing landscape of the Malaysian digital economy

 

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