In just 12 months, Bazaarvoice has increased its Belfast workforce by 50%, acquired a company, and continued to hire talented people throughout the crisis while growing its roots here deeper each day. Ulster Business speaks to site lead and vice-president of R&D, Seamus Cushley and talent partner Laura Lunn, about putting people at the centre of what they do. Bazaarvoice is doing things slightly differently to the competition
For Bazaarvoice, the last year has been something of a whirlwind in cementing its position in both Northern Ireland and the global marketplace.
The business will mark the end of 12 months of growth, reaching around 100 staff and continuing to develop technology products, and working with some of the world’s biggest brands, all while continuing to put its people at the centre of everything it does – Bazaarvoice is consciously embedding its roots deeper in Northern Ireland.
Bazaarvoice’s extensive global retail and social network, product-passionate community, and enterprise-level technology provide the tools brands and retailers need to create smarter shopper experiences across the entire customer journey.
“I took the opportunity to join this company, which was about to expand internationally, because of the potential it had to scale up and to make the Belfast operation core to that expansion.”
The company, which is headquartered in the US, works with an impressive roster of well-known brands and retailers, in fact they work with more than 11,500 brands, of which 1,750 are retailers.
And its flourishing Belfast operation is key to that success. But its Northern Ireland office has its own identity, a high-level of autonomy and a unique character within its workforce.
“The challenge we faced was deciding to take a people-led change,” Seamus says. “We made a big investment in what type of people we wanted to hire, grow, and develop. We’ve redesigned how we attract the best people, how we hire them, and how we interview them."
Seamus says it’s about building a team like no other in the tech sector here – requiring problem-solving, emotional intelligence and the adaptability to work with some of the world’s biggest brands while maintaining a scale and sense of a business very much anchored in Belfast.
There is a demand and thirst for more information, from the buyer, to understand why they’re purchasing something.”
“What we have found that over the last few months – with more people moving online – there has been a real interest in how people make decisions when purchasing. That includes customer trends moving from online retail for clothes and consumer goods towards essential items, such as groceries. The shift caused by the global coronavirus pandemic means people are now regularly checking out reviews for cleaning products. It’s the depth and richness this data can provide to a brand which has been key to Bazaarvoice’s success.”
The business now has almost 80 people in Belfast, and the plan is to raise that number to 100 people by early 2021. They have continued to hire throughout the coronavirus pandemic – bringing in 39 people across all levels since the end of May.
“We are small in terms of being a global business, but the scope and reach of what we do is incredible,” Laura says.
“That’s something unique to us, particularly in the Belfast tech market. From the areas in which people will work on to the challenges which they are presented with – it’s not a match to any other business.”
The Belfast team is far from a small remote arm of the US firm. It operates with its own identity, experience, and expertise – the team deals with clients from start to finish.
“We made a decision to change our identity from being an American-based company to a company based in Belfast with deep roots in the city. Our people are part of our story,” Seamus says.
“Other organisations in Belfast don’t offer the same level of freedom for staff to go and own their client problem. That’s something we’re focusing on and investing in further.”
As for the types of people Bazaarvoice wants to attract, they want to hire people who are hungry to succeed and have an appetite to work in a challenging and rewarding team environment.
“The deal is, you will come here, and we will challenge you like you’ve probably never been challenged before. We expect you to challenge us, equally,” Seamus says.
The firm employs a wide range of talented people – from software engineering to product ownership, design, and key operational staff.
“We have a range of clients with different needs and problems which we’re trying to solve, and we’re seeing a surge in demand for Bazaarvoice’s services,” he says.
“We have teams of people who go above and byond to solve those problems – that’s key to the ethos of the company. We encourage autonomy – and our people are empowered to lead from the bottom up.
“Bazaarvoice Belfast is one of three global innovation centres focusing on product development, we’re at the gateway to Europe, and we support our offices in London. Fortunately, I’m one of the three vice presidents that set the direction on how we build things.
“We have a direct and open line into the executive team as to where we’re going – the Belfast operation is very much central to the future growth of the company."
In fact, the Belfast operation has helped Bazaarvoice company as a whole achieve its engineering and company goals.
Bazaarvoice moved to remote-working seamlessly at the start of the pandemic. But Seamus says the company’s initial few weeks after this move focused on communicating directly with its staff to establish how the situation was impacting them – in both a personal and professional capacity.
“Our team members are now the face of our brand. They are advocates for what we do here. We purposely didn’t go with a big branding exercise, up until recently, because it was about identity – our people are part of our story.
“We are not a back-office typing pool. We provide key value to the overall company and that has been reinforced many times.”
Laura says it’s not simply about turning up and writing lines of code each day. Staff are connected and work throughout various arms of the business.
“We want you to have a broader brief and rich career. We have a full life-cycle of roles that are needed to build our products,” she says.
Reflecting that richer experience, the way the firm attracts and hires its people is not centred around how well you performed in your undergraduate degree, but instead, seeks those from a wide range of backgrounds and pathways.
“We want people who think differently,” Seamus says. “They can come from any background, any walk of life or pathway to get here. We have apprentices straight out of school, placement students, graduates, people coming back home from the US and Canada. It’s about the mindset and skillset.”
Bazaarvoice sees itself firmly as a learning organisation and one which can adapt to anything that comes its way.
“For us, it’s about selling Bazaarvoice, selling Belfast and Northern Ireland as a place to do high-quality business,” Seamus says. “It’s about making sure our clients matter and are at the core of everything we do.”