Before Jason Alba started JibberJobber, a web-based career management tool for job seekers, his dream was to be a big-company CIO. And by early January 2006, at age 32, he was on his way to achieving his goal.
Alba possessed many of the traditional requirements for a CIO job: He had a Bachelor's degree in computer information systems and an MBA from Idaho State University. He could code. And in his role at the time, he oversaw product design and development, customer service, sales and a staff of about 22 as the general manager of Nuvek, a software company in Utah. He had been working at Nuvek for six years.
But on January 8, Alba was laid off. Suddenly, nothing in his life was certain except the need to find another job. And fast. He had only six weeks of severance, and his wife, Kaisie, was three-months' pregnant with their fourth child. They had no health insurance to cover the cost of the birth, let alone anything else.
So Alba did what all job seekers do: He polished up his résumé—highlighting the financial impact his accomplishments had on his previous employers' bottom lines—sent it to 30 recruiters, applied for 100 jobs, and he waited.
His phone never rang.
From General Manager to Job Seeker
Alba says going from being the "king of the hill" general manager of a software company, who was treated with respect and responsiveness, to an unemployed job seeker who couldn't get a phone call from an entry-level HR clerk was a tough adjustment.
While he waited for calls and applied for jobs, Alba read the book Multiple Streams of Income and tried to come up with anything he could do on top of a full-time job that would provide him with additional income without requiring much effort. Alba didn't want to rely on a full-time corporate job for 100 percent of his earnings after experiencing how quickly that income can vanish.
One idea for an extra revenue stream struck Alba while he and his wife were reviewing their household budget, shortly after he was laid off. As they considered expenses they could trim or eliminate, Alba's wife wondered how their monthly mortgage payment and their grocery bill compared with other families' spending and budgets. The question gave Alba the idea for a website where people could enter their zip codes, their household income and their various expenses and compare how they stack up financially with others in their area. (A similar website, Wesabe, already existed.)
Alba thought it was a cool idea for a website, but he didn't know how far it would go. So he continued trying to come up with other ideas and applying for corporate IT jobs.
Just as Alba's severance was about to run out six weeks into his job search, the unheard of happened: A recruiter called him. As Alba scrambled to open up the unwieldy 30-page spreadsheet he had created to track jobs to which he had applied and contacts he had made, Alba got the idea for what became JibberJobber.
"Why can't a professional, who as an employee is used to having professional tools like Goldmine for customer relationship management," he says, "have something more than a spreadsheet to track leads on jobs?"
From Job Seeker to Entrepreneur
In late February and March 2006, Alba began to feverishly flesh out his idea for a web-based software application that would make it easy for job seekers to manage their job search activities and contacts. He also wanted the application to be a career management solution that would encourage professionals, through its ease of use, to continue to network and target jobs even while they were employed, so that the software would remain useful to them after they had landed jobs.
Alba put his web programming experience to work and created 20 screen shots that he shared with a programmer with whom he previously worked. He explained to the programmer what the software was supposed to do and how it was supposed to look.
While JibberJobber was under development, Alba began spreading the word about the service he was starting.
"When I started making phone calls to college career centers about JibberJobber, I got attention again," Alba says. "People were paying attention to me and saying about JibberJobber: 'This is brilliant. There's nothing out there like it.'"
The encouraging response convinced Alba to give up his search for a CIO job to devote all of his time to JibberJobber.
"It was easy for me to shift my efforts to JibberJobber, where I was getting positive feedback, as opposed to my job search where I was getting no feedback," he says.
On May 15, 2006, JibberJobber.com went live. A high-school friend of Alba's suggested the name, a play on the JibJab website Alba likes.
"I had money to do development, but I didn't have any marketing money or know-how," says Alba. "It all came down to guerilla stuff: Starting my blog and developing relationship with other bloggers, and that led to bigger things."
Specifically, Alba's JibberJobber blog led to a book deal, and the book brought Alba invitations to speak at conferences. "That helped put me on the map," he says. "Once my book came out, I got to be a thought leader in the career space."
Alba went from dreaming of hitting the big time with a big job and a big title in a big company to a small startup with a small user base.
"I tell people I have tasted the forbidden fruit, which is being an entrepreneur," he says, "and I don't know if I can go back."
JibberJobber hasn't grown as fast as Alba had hoped, but the recession could change that. Alba's biggest challenges include making JibberJobber the household name in career management that Monster.com is, explaining to people what JibberJibber is and helping them understand that it's a tool they need to use long after they've found a new job because, he says, professionals can't afford to let their guards down.
Alba says he's signed up hundreds of subscribers* who pay a monthly or yearly fee to use the software. He also generates revenue from business partners—career coaches who get a discount for signing up their clients to use JibberJobber, but who also pay Alba an annual fee to use the software.
Alba currently has about 50 partners, and he wants to have 100 by the end of 2009. He's even more focused on growing JibberJobber's subscriber base. He's partnering with professional organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG), which are encouraging their members to use JibberJobber.
"I would like to be in a position where more of these bigger organizations are driving people to JibberJobber," he says. "As the subscriber base grows, the household name thing happens."
JibberJobber is starting to get some publicity. Joshua Persky, the investment banker who became the face of the economic recession when the national news media caught him standing on a street corner in NYC wearing a sandwich board that read "Experienced MIT Grad For Hire," has talked about the help he got from Paloma Bowland, a volunteer evangelist for JibberJobber, in some of his many interviews and on his blog, Oracle of NY.
Persky told CIO.com he didn't rely heavily on the JibberJobber software because he didn't have time to manually enter all the contact information from all of his business cards. He says if he had had all of that contact information in an Excel spreadsheet or in Microsoft Outlook, it would have been easy to import to JibberJobber. He says he did find the JibberJobber blog and the other job search and career management resources on the JibberJobber website helpful, but most helpful was Bowland, with whom he sometimes spoke on a daily basis. Persky says Bowland helped him revamp his résumé, develop his professional brand and keep his spirits up.
"She's been so helpful to me," Persky says of Bowland. "I know she highly recommends I use the site and that other people use the site. It's my shortcoming [that I don't], not the site's."
With the economy the way it is, Alba is likely to find more and more job seekers in need of JibberJobber in 2009. The recession, which has been a bane to the 11.1 million people now unemployed, could be JibberJobber's boon.
"My traffic is steadily growing, but I haven't seen an increase with this economy," Alba wrote in an e-mail in November 2008. "I have seen a huge increase (200 to 300 percent) in signups and upgrades, which is great...I think the toolset is well-positions to serve people who really need it."
Editor's Note: This story was updated on February 6, 2008 to correct an error in the last section of the story. CIO.com had reported that Alba had signed up under 50 subscribers to JibberJobber. In fact, he has signed up hundreds of subscribers. He has about 50 business partners. The updated story reflects this correction.