Declan Murphy was standing at the upper window of his home in Dublin waiting for his tiger kidnappers to arrive. It was early 2012 and the then finance director of G4 Cash Solutions had received a call a few hours earlier from Brian Sherry, a retired detective inspector.

Sherry was G4’s security advisor and he had sourced intelligence that a criminal gang was coming to kidnap Murphy, his wife, and his two young children. It wasn’t the first attempt by a gang to go after Murphy, a senior executive in the biggest cash transportation company in Ireland.

Two years before, a gang had arrived at Murphy’s old home and tried to break-in. “There was a horrific rattling at the front door,” Murphy recalled. “I jumped up and ran downstairs. We had a locked system with four keys that went into the frame of the door, so I put my shoulder to the thing while my wife rang 999. The next thing the whole frame of the door came off, but I managed to hold it.”

Suddenly the would-be intruders ran off. “In a moment of peak adrenaline, I ran after them. Stupid. But I just wanted to get the reg of their car,” Murphy said,

As Murphy ran into the darkness, he caught up with a black Toyota Rav4 leaving his driveaway. It hit the brakes and its doors opened. “I could see one guy with a baseball bat and another guy with a hammer,” Murphy recalled. Realising the danger Murphy turned and ran back into his home as the car accelerated away into the night. Ten minutes later the Gardai arrived. “Maybe it is your car they wanted,” a Garda suggested.  

Murphy wasn’t convinced as his car was the oldest on the block. He rang Sherry, who had served much of his career in Blanchardstown where he faced gangs like the Westies and a group led by the slain Martin ‘Marlo’ Hyland. “Brian said this was definitely targeted,” Murphy recalled. “They know who you are and what you do.” 

After the first attack, Murphy moved homes and installed electric gates. He had taken Sherry’s advice: he had varied his routine, installed a tracking device in his car and taken other precautions. As two years went by Murphy had gradually relaxed. Then came a phone call on a Saturday evening from Sherry.

“What are you doing?” Sherry asked, quickly adding: “Just to let you know we have got intel they are coming for you tonight.”

In order to catch the gang, they had to be allowed to break down the front door. 

A trap was set, and Murphy and his wife locked themselves in an upstairs room. “Brian said ‘They want to take you and your family but don’t worry. We will be hidden out front. They might have a gun, but we will be on straight away,’” Murphy recalled.

As the hours ticked by Murphy waited. “I will never forget that night, looking out the window waiting to be kidnapped. I remember thinking there must be a better way to earn a buck,” he said.

The gang never arrived. “Brian said: ‘It’s just as well we were there. They were probably on the way but must have got wind of something,’” Murphy recalled. “My wife is tough. She is from the Basque country, but we had two young kids. She said: ‘I think you should look at doing something else.’”

Murphy agreed. It was time for something new – but he didn’t know what yet. It was a turning point. 

Restructuring, rationalisation, and a realisation

Declan Murphy started his career in the National Treasury Management Agency in 1998, having obtained a degree in finance and IT from University College Cork.

“It was a gold-plated experience,” Murphy said. The man sitting to his right was “a cute Kerryman” called Brendan McDonagh, who would go onto lead the National Asset Management Agency after Ireland’s economy crashed in 2008. “Brendan was a really hard working guy,” Murphy recalled.

Liam McLoughlin, his boss in the NTMA, would go on to become head of retail banking in Bank of Ireland before setting up Shipyard Technology Ventures. When McLoughlin left to work in Ulster Bank, Murphy decided to go into the private sector too taking up a position in G4 Cash Solutions.

“I took a leap of faith and decided to try something new,” he said.

The euro was being introduced and Murphy designed and implemented a new ATM cash management database system capable of handling billions of euro. The project was a success and Murphy was rapidly promoted to Head of Treasury. He was hiring lots of people during the last years of the Celtic Tiger, often having to source them from overseas as the Irish economy hit virtual full employment. Murphy became fascinated by digital transformation and found many of G4S’s systems old-fashioned – despite the business being a FTSE-100 company at the time.

The company was led by Nick Buckles, a former postman who struck it rich by acquiring businesses. Buckles described his leadership style as “no excuses” and said his hero was Margaret Thatcher. “He was a real kind of showman,” Murphy recalled.

The music stopped however for G4S when the financial crash came. “The banks started seizing up,” Murphy recalled. “There was a huge tightening of the company.”

In March 2009, Murphy, then 37, was made finance director of the business in Ireland. “We had 1,000 staff but now it was lots of redundancy rounds,” Murphy recalled. “We had to strip out costs by 30 per cent to 40 per cent very quickly.”

Murphy oversaw a headcount shrinking to 400 people in Ireland as the Irish economy lurched from crisis to crisis, before ultimately collapsing into a bailout. Murphy was flat out, and he struggled because the business was paper-based and using old-fashioned systems.

After overseeing the rationalisation, it became time to hire again. “We needed good quality people,” Murphy said. “But every time we put an ad out, we were being bombarded. Say we needed an accountant – we might get 700 or 800 applications.”

Managing recruitment became hugely time-consuming as Murphy and his team tried to sift out the best candidates. “I didn’t have time to look at all the CVs, so I’d get my staff to look at 10 or 20 each and then try to short list them,” Murphy said. “I felt there had to be a better way. It was crazy trying to deal with thousands of CVs in all sorts of formats.”

Murphy also felt that the company wasn’t on top of existing talent within the business. “We had very talented people on our books, but I didn’t have any idea who they were as their records were in a file stuck in a cabinet in the corner of the room,” Murphy said.

“I was saying internally we could save a huge amount if we had a better way of doing things both by finding the best new candidates and promoting better from within.”

Murphy started to research what other companies were doing to manage CVs and found that even big companies were doing things manually.

“I felt in the age of technology we can do this better,” Murphy said. “I was still very committed to my job, but I started to try and design a better way of doing things.”

As Murphy was trying to figure out this challenge, the second tiger kidnap incident occurred. It came at the same time as G4S was facing a huge crisis in Britain as it botched the biggest security contract it was ever given – London’s 2012 Olympics. “There was a bloodbath after the Olympics,” Murphy recalled. “They destroyed their image with the Brits.”

Buckles was hauled over the coals publicly and he resigned in 2013. Murphy was offered a new role and the opportunity to work in the UK or he could take redundancy. “I took the cash because of everything that happened,” Murphy said. “I was nearly 40, it was 2013 and I was heading into a jobs market Armageddon where no-one was hiring.” 

Looking for a better way

“People are applying for jobs and their data is being lost.”

Declan Murphy spent the first few months trying to get fit after leaving G4S. He took up cycling and started to race competitively.

He had an idea for a business from his time hiring and firing in G4S. He believed there had to be a better way of managing CVs and recruitment, so he rang Barry Smyth, a professor of computer science in UCD.

Smyth previously co-founded ChangingWorlds, which was bought by Amdocs for $60 million in 2008. “I told him what I wanted to do with extra data using rapid text cognition,” Murphy said.

Initially his plan was to target the resume or CV market. He also spoke to his sister Dr Orla Murphy, head of digital humanities in UCC and an expert in the field her brother wanted to move into. Smyth put Murphy in contact with Dr Brian Davis who was working in UCG at the time and is now assistant professor of computing in DCU.

Davis, an expert in natural language processing, could see the potential of the problem Murphy was trying to solve and agreed to help. Successful applications for grants and funding from EI, Science Foundation Ireland and Horizon 2020 followed as Murphy began to build his business.

“We were facing a terribly broken market,” Murphy said. “People are applying for jobs and their data is being lost. The existing ways of extracting data were doing a terrible job.”

Prospective hires were applying using Microsoft word documents, Adobe Pdfs, and a range of other methods. This made it hard to extract data. Another problem to solve was applying a level of intelligence to allow machines to differentiate between say working in Java the coffee shop and being familiar with Java the programming language.

“There is a contextual piece that also needs to be understood,” Murphy said. “That has never been done before so I felt let’s do it.”

Murphy got a place in Nova UCD, the research and innovation hub. He still had a family to support so he took a job while working on his side project.

GlaxoSmithKline was divesting its Lucozade and Ribena business, and Murphy worked on the project as a finance transformation lead. “I had to staff up a team of 100 people,” Murphy said.

Again, he was frustrated at the old-fashioned ways recruiters used to manage CVs. “The biggest pain in the neck was reformatting CVs,” Murphy said.

He started to research how multinationals managed hiring, especially in a time of GDPR and concerns about bias in hiring.

GlaxoSmithKline was using an Irish recruitment company to help it hire, but Murphy was frustrated at how low-tech the process was. “I just kept banging on the table that there must be thousands of people available to do this job but we can’t get people,” he said.

Murphy was getting potential hires approaching him directly via LinkedIn, but they weren’t being picked up. It took the business about 100 days to fill the 100 positions – not bad by industry standards but Murphy felt it could have been done much faster if technology had been used to find and short-list the best contracts.

The experience of hiring people for GlaxoSmithKline convinced Murphy there was a business in speeding up resume formatting while keeping all the data collected secure and reducing bias by stripping out factors like gender, home address or what school individuals went to when considering them for jobs. This is what he was working on as a side-project in Nova UCD. But it was hard to take the risk of going full-time running a start-up. 

Pandemic, pivots, progress

Declan Murphy had ploughed his redundancy money into building his idea for a start-up, but it was still his side project. He was good at winning grants and was lucky, via Davis, to be working with talented graduates at the top of their game. One of the grants had led to Kolawole John Adebayo moving from the University of Turin to Galway to help him while researching various projects.

Adebayo, a Nigerian, had two doctorates and was an expert in machine learning to natural processing tasks. “We talked about bias and what we could do about it,” Murphy recalled.

Murphy could see how important this was becoming – not just because companies wanted to do the right thing but also because they were being forced to do so by litigation and regulation. Murphy felt that by tracking litigation and rules in the area of bias he could assist firms in complying with best practice, thereby ensuring they hired more diversely and avoided being sued or fined.

He was now starting to develop add-on ideas to his core one around resumes as he could see how the technology he was developing could be used in many different sectors other than just recruitment and human resources.  

To destress from juggling a job and his start-up idea Murphy cycled intensely in the Dublin mountains, pushing himself hard physically. In 2016, the day before his daughter’s communion, he went for a training ride. It was a third turning point that this time almost cost him his life. Murphy cycled up through the Sally Gap in the Wicklow mountains and then headed home down the steep winding roads. “I was doing a great time… flying down the Enniskerry Road and the next thing I see a lorry on my left-hand side full of timber,” Murphy said. “He saw me, and I saw him – or so I thought.”

Murphy felt it was safe to pass the truck but with 15 metres to go the truck accelerated and pulled out in front of him. In a split-second Murphy had to figure out what to do to avoid being crushed under the tyres of the truck or smashing into its steel side or front windscreen cutting himself to ribbons. “I decided to go for a soft part of the truck at the front,” Murphy said. “The driver hit the brakes and I missed the window. The next thing I woke up with a crowd around me.”

Murphy’s hip had popped out, his tendons were torn, and he was terribly bruised. But he was alive. “The accident gave me a huge clarity of thought,” Murphy said. “I just thought if I get out of this alive then I am going to make it happen.”

Murphy made it to his daughter’s communion, but he was limping, and his hip would later require surgery. “I felt after that I am going to take it and fully embrace it,” Murphy said. He did another year as a consultant but getting another job was off the table. From the start of 2018 on Declan Murphy decided to go all in. He founded the company that would become Allsorter. EI agreed to give Murphy €250,000 if he could privately match it from his own funds and a small group of angels. It was a risk, but Murphy was ready. “In 2018 we launched,” he said. “I was lucky I was in the ecosystem of knowledge transfer Ireland and through Brian Davis was working with his top students.”

EI also gave Allsorter an innovation voucher which allowed him to hire a product designer. Murphy went to the National College of Art and Design and found James Brady who was doing a masters there. Brady had previously worked in recruitment firm Indeed, so he understood the concept. Brady became Allsorter’s head of product and UX. “James was fantastic,” Murphy said. “If your UX (user experience) is not strong then people will jettison you.”

Murphy worked hard on developing his product and by early 2020 was ready to really win sales. “We went to market just before the pandemic,” he said. “We couldn’t keep a hold of demand at first but then it plateaued.”

Murphy had intended to target the 40,000 recruitment companies in the UK. However, with Covid shuttering the economy, it was about survival for these firms so they were less open to new technology. Allsorter decided to pivot and target Australia and New Zealand instead as both economies had closed their borders avoiding lockdowns. Martin Keevers joined his business to help him win sales there. “Martin was in Ardmore, Co Waterford drinking seven or eight cups of coffee working the Ozzie shift,” Murphy said. “Australia became a massive market for us.”

Unable to travel to the Asis-Pacific (APAC) region, Murphy tapped into EI to make introductions, and Allsorter started to make inroads into Japan too. Many big companies in APAC used business process outsourcers in places like the Philippines to deal with CVs. “They were shipping millions of CVs to Manila where people were turning them around manually and shipping them back. A lot of these BPOs were under pressure and going out of business – so what happened to all that data? We offered a better more efficient and less expensive solution,” Murphy said.

Allsorter had earned its first revenue in late 2019 but now it was gaining traction. It has a SaaS model that charges customers on a per seat monthly basis. It was still tough as Allsorter tried to grow.

“You are constantly fighting the cash flow gap,” Murphy said. In 2021 he put the money he earned from his insurance claim while cycling into the business. At the same time, he decided to raise his first seed round.

Funds, finance and the future

“We were running on fumes,” Murphy said. “But we knew we were onto something.”

Declan Murphy wanted to learn more skills, so he decided to do an international business diploma in scaling up in IE Business School in Madrid. The course was being run by Professor Joe Haslam, a contemporary of Murphy when he studied business in UCC. Haslam had co-founded a tech company called Marrakech in the late 1990s which raised $75 million before setting up a last-minute hotel booking app called Hot Hotels. Haslam had known the highs and lows of start-ups and convinced Murphy to do the course. Murphy did some of the course online due to Covid-19, but other parts were in person.

While in Madrid he met Carlos Miragall, the co-founder of Nextail, a company that uses AI to forecast demand for retailers like Versace, Pepe Jeans and Guess. Miragall was thinking about his next start-up and he hit it off with Murphy. He was one of the angel investors in Allsorter’s most recent funding round. “He has massive knowledge about scaling a business,” Murphy said. “I wouldn’t have got to know him if I hadn’t done that course, so it just goes to show when you get people in a room together it is powerful.” 

Allsorter had raised €500,000 from Declan Murphy, angels and EI. After doing the course in Madrid, Murphy felt he needed to raise over €1 million more in a seed round to really get going. “We were running on fumes,” Murphy said. “But we knew we were onto something.” 

Murphy did about 50 pitches to investors during the pandemic. Eventually he met Alan Merriman, the executive chairman of Elkstone. “He was no nonsense,” Murphy recalled. Elkstone agreed to lead the round so Murphy reached out to his network of angel investors as well as EI. A group of ex-Indeed executives agreed to invest as they understood intimately the recruitment problems Allsorter was trying to solve. David Cashman, a former director of sales in the UK and Ireland for Indeed, came in as an angel investor and non-executive director.

Cashman is a senior executive in Tegus, a market intelligence firm in California that raised $90 million in December 2021. “David is really keen on the multi-faceted vertical proposition we have,” Murphy said. “He can see lots of different areas we can move into.”

Dane Groeneveld, chief executive of Huddl3 Group, is another angel investor. Huddl3 is a private equity firm that specialises in investing in the future of work. “Dane has said his firm will lead our series A in the US,” Murphy said. “We are going to become a bias compliance system that pulls in all the bias litigation in the States and advises firms on how to comply with state regulations.”

Earlier this month, Allsorter announced it had raised over €1 million in a round led by Elkstone. “The next thing to do is a series A and really show the value within this business,” Murphy said. 

“We’ve got 170 clients globally. The majority is in Australia and New Zealand. We have one government client – the Basque government which uses us to help their hiring.”

Allsorter employs 22 people and Murphy said it was hiring eight more following the funding round. “We should be up to 50 in 12 to 18 months after we close our series A,” he said. “The growth we are seeing is phenomenal. I am ambitious for the company. We picked the name Allsorter because it is not that dissimilar to Amazon… this is a billion-dollar business that can go all the way.

“We are able to understand text better than a human can and pull it together so machines can deal with it. There are so many applications from financial services to the legal system.”

Allsorter may be starting with human resources and hiring – a huge market – but its ultimate aim is even higher.