Photographer Zave Smith has been in the photo business in the City of Brotherly Love for over three decades, starting out working with products and food before evolving to shooting people and lifestyle in 2000. But now, the man who spent his career capturing snapshots in time has changed his tune and entered into the start-up world of sorts—in fact, he’s braving into an all-new world altogether with his company, xBound.
When COVID-19 first hit, Smith was among many photographers who were out of work. When it became a bit safer to venture outside, specifically in the Yellow and Green Phases of reopening, curiosity did begin to circulate in the photographer’s mind. From that curiosity, Smith’s ‘Back to Work’ series was born and led him to snap pictures of his subjects around the area of his home in Media, then to Market East and Market West before hitting more sections and businesses in and around Philly. The ‘Back to Work’ series also captured moments down the shore last summer, and most recently, performers who have had no stage to perform on.
But with reopening fully and safely in the forefront of everyone’s mind, Smith has found another need—and although this idea was accelerated by the pandemic—it came way before COVID-19 even hit.
“It’s been personally a balancing act of taking care of the photo business, and then taking care of launching xBound,” says Smith. “The idea came to me in late fall of 2019 and it bounced around my head.”
This idea of a new company came from three points according to Smith: How hard it is for people who are 50 and above who get laid off to then get back on the career track, the fact that there are 10,000 people a day retiring in the U.S. and just not enough millenials to replace them, and the reality that some friends of his were retiring from a workforce they could no longer be in.
“There are people with tremendous skills and business knowledge and wisdom… and they just couldn’t physically work the 50 hours a week that they’ve been doing for years and years,” he explains. “But if they could find a part-time gig or a project-based gig that was 10-20 hours a week where they work for some company and then take a little time off… they would love that.”
In short, xBound.us is a dual-sided platform dedicated to helping companies and organizations benefit from the valuable expertise and wisdom of late-career and semi-retired talent. But to get to the point of just an idea to an actuality took some time. That’s where quarantine came in handy.
“When COVID hit, I had a lot more time on my hands,” continues Smith. “I started doing some research and I called some recruiters and HR people, and I started sending them a dek about what xBound could be. One of the questions I asked them was: What percentage of your online recruitment budget would you dedicate to a site like xBound that catered to late-career and semi-retired people? I was expecting 1 percent, a half of percent or no I’m not interested, but every single one of them said between 20 to 30 percent.”
He did more research, and found that in 2019, the online recruitment marketplace was a $10 billion industry. It shrunk in 2020 and is expected to be $7 billion industry in 2021.
“I know I’m not going to get 20 to 30 percent of that market…I just don’t believe that. But if I could get 5 percent of that market, that’s a nice little chunk of change. People seemed so generally excited about the idea when I talked about it, that’s what made me go ahead and do it,” says Smith. “Even though I have no background in technology, I have no background in recruitment, I have no background in start-up—I have a lot of big network people who actually do. It was something I knew I could do. This just seemed too good to pass up.”
During the pandemic, there were stories of hope and of people finally sitting down and grinding out that dream they had or bringing an idea to fruition that never would have happened if the globally devastating events had not occurred. Maybe that’s a silver lining, or maybe it’s an accumulation of time finally being so accessible to many. Whatever it was for Smith, it landed him an award for xBound, which is still in its very early stages.
xBound became the first winner of the Science Center’s new OnRamp: Stimulate Your Start-Up pitch competition very recently.
“It really was a huge validation,” says Smith. The photographer turned idealist businessman awards a lot of his early success to people and groups that got him started. “I started talking about this idea, and one of the first things I did was to join a couple of start-up networks.”
Those networks included Startup Bucks Founder’s 30 run by Jon Mercer and Venture Café Philadelphia’s roundtable with Aron Starosta.
“It was really through sharing my ideas with those groups and listening to their advice and doing research and reading that really gave me such help with emotional support and technical support… because I didn’t know what I was doing, I really didn’t,” he continues. “It was really through those kinds of networks and other people I knew and research and reading that allowed me to put this together in such a short period of time.”
For now, xBound is in its beginning stages, but moving forward, xBound.us will also be a source of training and learning. The new site will drive user engagement with a news and forum sections. They will be a source for highly curated information that will help users embrace this new stage of business and career life. xBound is currently free for both people seeking to hire and for talent seeking opportunities and it will always be free for nonprofits seeking volunteers.
“I really see xBound as a real boom for Philly’s start-up community,” finishes Smith. “I think [it] will be able to provide companies with a really smart, mature contrite of talent. Especially with so many companies working virtually, it’s really hard to train and mentor people through a virtual environment….So, why not get someone who has been doing that job for a while and then you can plant them right in?”
“The other area where xBound I think is going to be really useful is in our young entrepreneurial start-up companies. Because, while you might have a great idea for a new way to grow flowers, you might not have any ideas for finance or compliance or human resources and you might not have the resources to go and hire a full-time salaried HR person. But you might be able to find someone who just recently retired and they don’t want to work full time. They’d be able to give you 10 hours a week at a reasonable rate just because they want to remain engaged.”
To learn more information about xBound, visit xbound.us