Tech entrepreneur John Qualls will leave coding school Eleven Fifty Academy, where he’s been president nearly four years, to focus on a startup that’s trying to fill what he calls a “purpose gap.”
Qualls was the founder of IT-services provider Bluelock but left there to join Eleven Fifty in 2015.
He promised Eleven Fifty co-founder Scott Jones that he would stay at the Fishers-based school for three years. He’s actually stayed one more—he will leave at the end of January—although he took a summer sabbatical to consider his next moves.
Qualls, 49, said he's been working with Jones and the Eleven Fifty team through the transition. "They have been running the show these last six months, touching more students in that time than the eighteen months prior," he said. "There is truly great opportunity for them to take Eleven Fifty Academy to new heights in the years to come."
But Qualls felt a call to try something new.
“I’ve loved my time at the academy and it’s been a tremendous journey,” said Qualls. “I thought I was solving the skills gap but what I really came to enjoy was filling the purpose gap for individuals.”
The challenge, he said, is that less than 20 percent of people are suited to coding. And so he was looking for a “much larger opportunity to help individuals with the purpose gap.”
The result is Purpose.ly, a startup he founded this fall with Brent Shopp, the co-founder of talent acquisition firm Avancos who also served as director of career services at Eleven Fifty Academy.
Purpose.ly has been operating largely under the radar for several months. The goal is to help individuals identify their purpose or what motivates their work and to help companies articulate their purpose and the purpose of the positions they are trying to fill. Then Purpose.ly will try to bring together workers and companies that share a common purpose.
“I think the skills gap is 25 percent of the problem” when employers express frustration about the inability to find or keep good workers, he said. “About 75 percent of the problem is a cultural misalignment or misalignment of purpose.”
That misalignment is particularly relevant to younger workers, he said, many of whom studies have shown would be willing to take a pay cut to work for companies that have goals related to a greater good. But many workers don’t believe their companies have such missions.
Purpose.ly serves both the companies and the individual workers.
Companies can hire Purpose.ly to assess their employees to get a read on the firm’s culture and whether workers are aligned with a company’s overall mission. Depending on the results, Purpose.ly helps companies develop programs to address issues they find and then conducts follow-up assessments to measure progress.
“It’s a data driven process,” Qualls said. “That’s what’s important.”
Individual workers can also use Purpose.ly to assess their own motivations and their cultural employment readiness and then work with agents—or coaches—who will help match them with companies that share their goals.
An individual can pay $19.95 for an assessment and $50 to have the results reviewed and explained. Then, if the individual wants to continue in the process, he or she would pay for time to work with an agent.
And Purpose.ly has quickly found demand for its services—so quickly that the firm is expanding significantly beyond Qualls’ original goals.
Although its website is rudimentary, Purpose.ly has been quietly signing up companies and rolling out its services.
“I’m optimistic,” Qualls said. “We’re already blowing through the raw startup stage.”
So far, Qualls is largely self-funding the company, thanks in part to Bluelock’s sale earlier this year. But he said the expansion is significant enough that he might take on investors soon.