So how did we get here and, more importantly, why are we here at all? It’s a good question, and there’s no short answer. So make yourself a cuppa, grab a chocolate digestive, sit back and read our story. A journey from zero to, well, to now…
Hiring-Hub.com was founded by us, Simon Swan and Sara Jones, two unsuspecting young Manchesterians that are determined to change an industry – a £27 billion industry – that we believe is crying out for a shake up. We founded the business in 2010, launching it with relatively little fanfare in early 2011.
We’re not here to rattle on about what Hiring-Hub.com is, though. That’s not what this is about. There are plenty of other pages on this website where you can learn more about our marketplace, how it works and why we think everyone should use it. Not here though. This is tale of naivety and demented belief. Our personal account of starting a business and challenging the status quo.
You see, we’re on a bit of a mission, and once you fully understand the root of our cause and the ups and downs we went through to get here, it’s much easier to relate. In reading this, I hope it will help you understand why we’ve chosen this route, how passionate we are about our company, and why everyone we surround ourselves with is working towards one common goal: to make recruitment easier.
So why challenge the accepted norm? And how come we’re foolish/arrogant/daft enough to think that we can alter the way that businesses, big businesses, recruit?
It’s worth saying that we are quite unremarkable people that, if and when you meet us, on the surface have strongly apposing personalities. However, while Sara and I appear poles apart, we share many common traits and core values.
Bloody-mindedness is one. Loyalty another. But perhaps most integral to our business relationship is an outright refusal to be restrained by what others think can/should, and can’t/shouldn’t be done.
It’s not that we think we’re anything special. Far from it. It’s just that we don’t give the idea of whether we can or should do something much thought. We just get on with it. And it’s this one, shared character trait/flaw that led us to building Hiring-Hub.com. We simply didn’t stop to consider whether we could do it. We just did it.
Easy. We sold everything we had – cars, motorcycles, jewelry, clothes, furniture, electrical equipment – and pooled the money. We then convinced others (friends/family/fools) that we knew what we were doing, and got them to contribute to our little pot of seed capital, before persuading someone to build the software for a lot less than they probably should have built it for.
We also talked lawyers into proofing our Terms of Business for free, and we kept twisting an accountant’s arm until he agreed to incorporate the company and do our accounts in exchange for a remote controlled helicopter.
Once that was done, we were in business. The fact that we’d spent all the seed capital we’d raised, and that no one outside of our immediate network knew we were in business, didn’t really dawn on us. We’re not that bright. Loyal though, and that developer, lawyer and accountant still work with us today. They always will.
So there we were, with a nice-looking website but no clients, sat around my kitchen table. Armed with a laptop, a mobile phone and a house rabbit called Tino (pretty much the only three items we didn’t sell) we started calling people. Well, Sara and I did, Tino just chewed through our laptop cables.
We called and called. Told our story. Shared our vision. That was 14 February 2011. Valentine’s Day. Two years ago to the day that I’m writing this.
Because Hiring-Hub.com is a marketplace, we had a chicken and egg situation on our hands: we couldn’t get any employers to upload their vacancies as we didn’t have any recruitment agencies to fill them; and we couldn’t get any recruitment agencies to register as we didn’t have any vacancies for them to work on. I know…
So we blagged it. And lied. Or exaggerated the truth, at least. We told employers we had an AWESOME network of BRILLIANT recruitment agencies, and we promised recruitment agencies that we’d get them some jobs to work on in a few weeks if “they would just bear with us.”
We then rang a list of journalists and told them we were going to mess up a £25 billion industry. They didn’t believe us, of course, but our demented ramblings entertained them so they ran the story anyway. Perhaps with a sense of pity. Or fear that we would just keep calling them until they did.
What happened next proves that, simply by having a strong sense of purpose and belief, unremarkable people can do remarkable things. With a little press coverage, thousands of cold calls, a lot of email spamming and relentless 18-hour LinkedIn sessions we started getting interest from recruitment agencies that wanted to sign up. And, sure enough, we persuaded some businesses that we weren’t mental, and that they should upload their vacancies too.
The high street retailer, Schuh, was our very first customer. They needed to fill a Software Developer role in Scotland. We filled their job. It worked. Now we really were in business.
Despite having no capital we continued to make phone calls, to send emails, to network, to attend meetings, to harass HR managers and journalists. The momentum grew. Day by day, week by week, the business got stronger. We moved from my kitchen table to a shared office at Manchester Metropolitan University. It smelt of smoked mackerel and stale urine, but it was cheap, and there was no rabbit with a penchant for power cables.
We were having fun, playfully and quietly nibbling at the recruitment industry’s ankles. We pretended Hiring-Hub.com was a much bigger operation than it was by answering each other’s phones as if they had a PA, putting people on hold while “Sara just finishes briefing the sales team…” and generally just bending the truth. Smoke and mirrors, I believe it’s called.
The pressure was always on to earn some money, but Sara and I didn’t take a salary so that the business had the breathing space it needed to grow. However, when my wife nonchalantly mentioned she was pregnant, the ever-present financial insecurity intensified. At 27, Sara had already made the awkward decision to give-up her plush apartment in Didsbury and make the 60-mile commute from her parent’s house every day. We’d both maxed our credit cards. We were on the edge, personally. Flipping cards to stay afloat. So we stepped it up again. Called more. Emailed more. Hustled more.
The business grew. We signed up the likes of Morrisons PLC and Capita Symonds. Even a premiership football club gave it a whirl. Each day we won business, and celebrated the little victories, while cracking on with sales, marketing, account management, customer service, general admin, bookkeeping, networking, accounting… They were long days. Relentless 18-hour days. Good times though. And the harder we worked, the greater our sense of achievement when things went our way. We were skint. Properly broke. But happy.
Come 2012, we’d done exactly what we’d set out to do: prove that the marketplace model worked, and therefore proving that the recruitment industry was ripe for a shake up. Along the way we’d made friends with some great people, picked up a few awards and earned respect among those that knew what it was like in the trenches as we ducked and weaved to dodge the many bullets that were fired our way.
We’d known all along that our business would need funding. You can’t grow a business like Hiring-Hub.com without it; when you’re only taking a relatively small commission from each transaction you need volume. To get the volume, you need capital. To get the capital, you need investment.
Knowing that from the outset, we’d courted a few banks and venture capital funds. Because we’d networked like mad (Sara and I would go to the opening of an envelope in the early days, and it was our policy never to decline a meeting) we got introduced to a number of wealthy investors. We flirted with a few, but our gut feeling told us none were right.
The process of raising money is long and distracting. You spend days sweating over financial models and Excel spreadsheets. Debating in meetings with awkward accountants what you might, or might not, turnover in three years time. It takes you away from your business for days, sometimes weeks at a time. It is not what we signed up for. Not what we’re good at.
We got an attractive and flattering offer from a VC and wasted months dicking about with the aforementioned spreadsheets and awkward accountants, only to walk out of our solicitor’s office the day we were meant to sign to contract because “it just didn’t feel right.” We did a runner, just in the nick of time, having realised that we didn’t want to take money from an institution like that as the process and people were just too rigid.
After that we spent yet more time with private investors, each of whom had their own idea of how they might grow OUR business. Problem was, their ideas didn’t match our own.
Annoyed that we’d wasted time flashing our eyelashes at the wrong suitors, and knowing that our business had suffered while we were pouring over spreadsheets in flash banker’s boardrooms, we decided enough was enough. We made a pact not to waste anymore time with people we knew, deep down in our gut, we couldn’t work with, however attractive their offices or offers.
We got our heads down again and a few weeks went by until, one evening, we met a journalist in a bar and, after a few too many Jäger bombs, told him what we thought of VCs and the banks. The next morning he published a story describing how two “passionate” (read: p****d) founders were looking for investment. Fortunately he left out most of our alcohol-induced ramblings.
The story caused a stir and ruffled a few feathers. That morning our phones began to ring.
That’s when we met our new partners. They understood our frustrations with investors, and they liked the business model. Better still, they liked us and we liked them. They are unlike any investment vehicle we had ever come across. Unique. This suited us.
We met a few times and, within two or three weeks, had agreed a deal. This is unheard of in funding circles; it usually takes three to six months, minimum. However, these guys don’t mess around. Nor do we.
That was late October 2012. A smidgen over 18 months after we’d launched Hiring-Hub.com. The deal was unlike any other we had pondered. We secured the capital our business needed to breathe and multiply. Better still, we did this without loosing control, so we can now lead the business through its next phase of growth alongside phenomenally supportive, experienced and enthusiastic new partners.
That’s us pretty much up to date. Granted, we’ve missed out a few anecdotes, but we can paint those pictures another day. We’d like to tell you more about the victories, the laughs, the sweat, the blood, the breakdowns and the tears…
Because it hasn’t been easy. Enjoyable, yes. But easy, no. We’ve had some huge highs, some fantastic experiences, but there’s been a good few sleepless nights and blazing rows. We sacrificed our social lives. We didn’t go out. We didn’t see our families. We worked every weekend. Holidays were completely off the agenda (we had no money and we never took a day off). There were moments when we didn’t know how we were going to pay the rent or mortgage. When the balances on credit cards could be shuffled no more. So why are we doing it?
Well, you only need to look at other industries – retail, insurance, accounting, hospitality, property – to see how the Internet has changed the way consumers and businesses buy products and services. Yet the recruitment industry has been completely starved of innovation. Not since the advent of job boards, over a decade ago, has anyone launched anything truly significant and upset the apple cart.
We believe, fundamentally, that recruitment is broken, and that we can fix it. We talk to company owners, directors and HR Managers daily; they all say the same: they hate the cold calls; they don’t feel like they get value for money from recruitment agencies; they think the process of finding candidates takes to long; they don’t trust recruitment agencies because the terms or rebates aren’t transparent; they feel they spend too much time managing recruitment agencies; recruitment agencies are considered a necessary evil…
We’ve addressed that, and we think the way 90% of businesses should recruit in 2013 is online, via a marketplace model like ours. It makes sense. The employers get their job filled three times faster without the hassles associated with using agencies, and at a price they don’t begrudge paying. Meanwhile, recruitment agencies bag a fee that they wouldn’t have had were it not for the wonders of the World Wide Web.
Marry that to the size of the industry and you begin to understand the scale of the opportunity we’re sat on. What’s driving us. £25 billion changes hands within recruitment each year in the UK alone. And it’s growing. 4.4 percent last year.
Our business is still in its infancy. We’re still the underdogs. We’re David, standing toe-to-toe with Goliath. It’s us against the world. But what we do works. We prove that everyday. And if we, just two people, with no money and very few resources, can go from nothing – just an idea – to being named as one of the most exciting, creative and innovative startups in the country, praised by Prime Minister David Cameron no less, then just think what a battalion of troops with a full armoury can achieve. We have that army now. David is getting stronger.
The next chapter in this story, and indeed our business, is all about our people. Our own recruits. Individuals we hired because of their values and character: their ambition, resilience, and their willingness to stand up for their own beliefs. Because we want to build a team that, like us, believes deep down that recruitment is broken, and that by taking it online and continually refining our offering we can make it easier, faster, more efficient, and better value for money.
We have told them our story. We believe they are part of something special. A movement. We can change the industry. Really, we can. And, what’s more, we can have fun while we do it. Together, we can grow a great business and share the rewards and satisfaction that doing something different affords those lucky few that actually get a chance to contribute to something meaningful.
Theodore Roosevelt said (and he’s right): “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again. Because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I hope that, in a couple of years time when we take on our 200th employee, our first few hires will tell them proudly how they were there at the very beginning. In the arena, face marred with blood and sweat, striving valiantly. How they helped us move offices, paint the walls and build the flat-pack furniture. How we all had to share three mobile phones and a dodgy Internet connection for two weeks until we got the place sorted…
For now, that’s it. That’s all you’re getting. That’s our story. Writing this has been therapy of sorts. It’s been an emotional few years, during which we’ve matured quickly, grown in every way. We never stop learning, questioning, looking for opportunities. Our passion hasn’t been diluted by the slog. The mistakes. The failures. The fear. The long hours. The sacrifices.
We just want to build a great company. A disruptive, curious, vibrant, energetic, warm, fun company that challenges the status quo. Challenges how a huge and very traditional industry goes about its business. A company that, above all, is a pleasure to do business with.
We’re on a journey, and we hope you will come along for the ride.
Simon and Sara.
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