Tech Industry

Broderbund founder returns with funding for start-up

icPlanet gains $8.5 million and expects to launch in the first quarter of next year, helping recruiters and hiring managers find qualified independent contractors.

Where in the world is Douglas Carlston?

The founder and former chief executive of Broderbund Software will re-emerge today with plans for a new company and announce his start-up's first $8.5 million in funding.

Called icPlanet--with ic standing for "independent consultant"--the business will focus on helping recruiters and hiring managers find qualified independent contractors. A launch is expected in the first quarter of next year.

A slew of Web sites are already trying to connect employers with workers, including iniku.com, freeagent.com, eWork.com, eLance.com and others, but Carlston views most of the companies running them as potential business partners rather than rivals--and sees icPlanet's future products as possible enhancements to existing sites.

"There are a lot of people working on various approaches [to workforce management] on the Net," he said. "What we're trying to focus on is building the 'back end'... I think a lot of those companies are potential customers or relationships for us."

For Carlston, icPlanet is a new beginning, following several rocky years at Broderbund, known as the maker of "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?," "Living Books," "The Print Shop" and "Myst" software titles. Despite these successes, the education software firm was bought last year by The Learning Company, following a string of poor financial quarters, layoffs and management turnover.

After Carlston was replaced as Broderbund's CEO in 1996, he spent several years setting up venture funds for Internet companies and serving on a variety of corporate boards.

He maintains his decision to build a start-up around the independent contractor community is driven by marketplace need, arguing that the current system for finding and hiring good people is "one of the most inefficient on the planet." With companies now hiring up to 40 percent of their workers as contractors, he believes it's time to improve the recruiting process.

Don Hirschbein, president of Management Recruiters International, said the move toward contracted employment is the largest trend in recruiting.

"Our conclusion was by the start of 2001, half the Fortune 500 will outsource 50 percent of their employees," he said in a recent interview.

Carlston says that while icPlanet's planned Web site for contractors may seem a far cry from Broderbund's mission, it's really not so big a leap.

"The truth is, my interest has [not just] been in software, but more specifically, how you can use a computer to make tasks more efficient over time," said Carlston, who founded Broderbund in 1980 with three siblings and has recruited ex-employees to his new venture. "The core engineers who came here were familiar with the database gymnastics I had them go through."

So far, the San Rafael, Calif.-based start-up has 30 employees, some who are working to develop back-end tools, such as filters that will enable recruiters or human resource directors to weed out resumes according to many different criteria, ranking those features according to importance. The idea is to quickly winnow the candidates down to a select few, something icPlanet's marketing vice president Joanne Bethlahmy would like to do now.

"We put in an ad for a communications director last week," she said. "I have a stack of resumes a foot high."

So far, the company's executive team includes Carlston as chairman and CEO; Mike Foulger as chief technology officer (having held the same title at Broderbund); and John Eaton, former chief operating officer at Internet professional services company ClearInk, as chief operating officer.