The former CEO of Orka Technology Group has broken his silence about the collapse of the Manchester-based hiring platform.

Earlier this week BusinessCloud revealed how Tom Pickersgill had bought one part of the business – Orka Check – out of administration and rebranded it as Deploi.

The 36-year-old entrepreneur has said very little publicly about the collapse but has spoken out now to apologise to investors, ‘own’ his mistakes and set the record straight.

Pickersgill launched Orka, formerly known as Broadstone, in 2016 alongside James Doyle and Nick Groves to fix the traditional recruitment and staffing agency model.

Over the years Orka launched a series of tech solutions – Orka Works, Orka Pay and Orka Check – that appealed to an increasingly tech-enabled workforce seeking a flexible work life.

However, a series of partnerships never materialised and when talks with potential investors collapsed, administrators Lisa Moxon and Chris Barrett, of Dow Schofield Watts Business Recovery, were appointed on March 15th, 2024.

It was widely reported – including in BusinessCloud – that Orka raised £29m in 2021 but Pickersgill said the correct figure was £7m with the bulk of the rest being a debt facility.

In a wide-ranging interview with BusinessCloud, Pickersgill said he can’t change what happened but is determined to take the learnings into his new startup Deploi.

Ex-Orka Technology Group CEO unveils new business venture

He said Orka peaked in 2021/22 after raising £3m in Series A funding from Praetura Ventures and securing the sizeble debt facility.

The company moved into the ABC Building on Manchester’s Quay Street and approached an ARR of £1m and turnover of £8m before things began to unravel.

“We went to market with a solid story but what killed us was we didn’t have the level of growth that investors wanted,” he said.

“Some of the partnerships didn’t happen. We probably had 40 conversations with potential investors. People seemed to like the business but we didn’t get the traction needed.”

Pickersgill said the investment market had ‘turned upside down’ as investors moved from chasing growth to looking for profitability but admitted to making mistakes himself.

“We should have stuck with one product,” he said. “Orka Works, Orka Pay and Orka Check could have been three separate companies.

“We bit off more than we could chew. That’s on me. We agreed it as a board. We were reliant on partnerships that didn’t happen.”

He said a slow start to 2024 meant the decision was taken in February for Orka Technology Group to go into administration.

“We tried to do all the right things,” said Pickersgill. “We made sure all the (23) staff were paid and all but one has found new employment.

“I spoke to all the investors and apologised.  It ended amicably. I felt incredibly guilty but you have to own it and take that learning on.

“I was the CEO and I lost the money. That doesn’t change.

“It’s been a mental two-three month period. It’s been pretty dark. I couldn’t sleep. The pressure is awful.”

Pickersgill, a former professional footballer, was successful after submitting a ‘blind bid’ to buy Orka Check out of administration.

The bid size has not been revealed and the former CEO said he believes other people have submitted successful bids for Orka Works and Orka Pay.

“In this scenario we had customers so we had to pull a team together quickly,” he said. “It’s been all hands to the pump.

“Five staff and me came over (from Orka). I felt a rebrand  to Deploi was the right thing to do and you have to do that as part of the purchase.

“We’re laser focussed on what we’re doing. It’s bootstrapped. Our aim is to get to profitability and we’re close to that already.

“I’m sure we will raise cash at the right time but right now that would be a distraction.”

Pickersgill also had this message to other struggling founders. “You can come out the other side,” he said. “Life does get brighter.”

Orka Technology Group – the rise and fall