How a yearlong sabbatical helped this startup founder recharge his passion and excitement

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James Hu, founder and CEO of Jobscan. (Jobscan Photo)

The notion that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is simple enough. But what if that absence means temporarily walking away from the company that you founded and lead because your passion for the business has waned?

For James Hu it was a risk worth taking, and one that paid off.

In early 2014, Hu launched Jobscan, a platform featuring resume optimization tools to help job searchers tailor their applications to best fit specific job positions they’re pursuing. He created the Seattle-based company after a frustrating job hunt of his own the year before. Jobscan was his second startup — his first being a rideshare company in China.

Hu started Jobscan with a $35 investment to get the site hosted online and over the years built a company with 27 employees and more than 1 million users. But by 2019, his excitement was fizzling. “Some people do feel that steam vaporizes a little bit and sometimes you want to build something else,” he said.

Hu decided to take a yearlong sabbatical and see if he could rekindle the flame.

He approached a friend who had built his own company and asked him to temporarily take over. The friend agreed, the two worked alongside each other to ease the transition, then Hu left in June 2019. He stayed in contact with the business via Slack, putting in a few hours here and there as he traveled to Europe and Alaska.

Hu, far right, on pre-COVID hike with Jobscan engineers. (Jobscan Photo)

He returned to the Northwest in December 2019 to check in.

“I was recharged and came back with much more energy and wanting to continue for another 10 years,” he said. “That was the difference.”

Hu had planned to continue traveling in Asia for a few more months. Then COVID-19 struck. Hu decamped to Taiwan where he has family. As the pandemic closed borders and slowed travel, he opted to stay in Taipei and successfully resumed his CEO role full-time in March 2020.

The time difference — Taipei is 16 hours ahead of Seattle — is manageable, but Hu is considering relocating to a more convenient time zone.

In response to COVID, the Jobscan team has built new tools, including resources for restaurant and retail workers, helping guide them to jobs they could do remotely with skills that they already have.

“We’re pushing hard again,” Hu said, “and building the next level of job search technology.”

Continue reading Hu’s answers to our Working Geek questionnaire.

Current location: Taipei, Taiwan

Computer types: MacBook 12” — the lightest MacBook around

Mobile devices: iPhone 11 Pro

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: Pocket, To-Do, OneNote, Slack, Trello, LifeSum, Gravitus

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? I signed up for a hot desk at a JustCo coworking space. However I like to switch between coffee shops and the office for a change of scenery.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? I believe more in work/life integration over work/life balance. I can work at any time. However, in order to ensure I spend enough time on workouts, family, friends, fun, etc. I schedule them into my calendar and tally up the hours at the end of every week to see if I spent my time in the right areas. Inevitably it’s usually not perfect. But at least this helps me to say, “OK, I need to cut down in these areas so I can allocate my time into the right areas.” It brings me an awareness of where my time went.

Hu and a colleague at a pre-COVID office warming party. (Jobscan Photo)

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? When it comes to social media, I use Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp, and LINE. It depends on what my friends use. On the business/work side, I use Slack and LinkedIn. We are hiring, so if you reach out via LinkedIn, we might just connect.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? Zero, if it’s in the “Primary” folder in Gmail. I finish the important emails every single day. I’ve set up my email very deliberately so I don’t have more than 20 emails a day. The rest are updates, newsletters and promotions categorized in other tabs where I only glance through.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? Right now, I have 14 appointments/meetings slated for this week. That’s mostly due to the time zone difference, and riding out the COVID-19 pandemic in Taiwan. As it stands, I can only get about 3-to-4 hours of meeting overlap time with my team in Seattle. If the time zones allowed, I would definitely prefer being able to connect more with them.

How do you run meetings? I try to let my team lead the majority of meetings. However if it’s a meeting I specifically asked for, I have an agenda ready. I like my meetings short and to the point. The meetings usually result in action items or deliverables, so time is not wasted. I make sure we have the minimum number of people needed in the room, so we’re not wasting others’ time when they can be productive elsewhere.

Everyday work uniform? Honestly, whatever is comfortable that day.

How do you make time for family? I dedicate one day a week to my family. Right now it’s Mondays because it’s still Sunday in the U.S. We typically go out of town to see something new — viewpoints, hikes, waterfalls, attractions. We at least have dinner together if someone is busy during the day time.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? I typically meet with friends. If that’s not an option, I nap. Sleep is my superpower. I’m gone in 60 seconds. A 15-minute nap gives me enough rest and resets my mood. It’s quite effective. Otherwise, I write diaries and let my voices be heard, even if it’s just for myself.

Hu with the Seattle waterfront in the distance. (Jobscan Photo)

What are you listening to? This might surprise you, but right now I’m listening to Bachata, a music genre that originated in the Dominican Republic. I like Latin music. I switch between Latin and dance music during the day. They both get me pumped and excited. But when I need to block outside noise, I listen to classical music or jazz.

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? My daily reads include Business Insider, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and CNN. I also try to watch BBC, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg and news channels in Taiwan for a wider perspective. I also use Feedly and have a curated list of more than 50 news outlets and publications that I follow and read.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? I’m reading from a Kindle, and right now it’s “Principles” by Ray Dalio.

Night owl or early riser? You can say I’m a bit of both. I tend to go to sleep at 11:30 p.m. and wake up by 7 a.m.

Where do you get your best ideas? I try to reflect for at least 10 minutes a day. Sometimes this runs into 30 minutes. This is a time of silence where all I do is think with a notebook and a pen. I turn my phone to sleep mode so there are no distractions. This has proven valuable in helping me reflect on my mistakes, remember things I haven’t done, and guiding the direction of my life and business goals.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? Although there is no one in particular that I emulate, I do find Jeff Bezos’ management style interesting. I have also adopted Bill Gates’ “think week” — an annual stretch of time spent unplugged and without distraction — and have found them to be extremely valuable.

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