Interviews

"Keep running experiments until you’re out of ideas," says recruitment firm founder

7 min read

19 March 2019

Features Editor, Real Business

Aidan Cramer's recruitment community rips up the rulebook on how people are expected to apply for their first job. He explains how 'running experiments' got him to his winning business idea.

When it comes to unusual entrepreneurial tales, you could say that tech-loving Aidan Cramer has a pretty colorful founding story. From building an online human trafficking site at university, (don’t worry, it was to raise awareness about the issue), and nearly getting arrested for it, to finding himself at the tail-end of university and jobless, he co-founded a company that changed everything for him, and for thousands of other young people like him.

The business in question is called JobLab. Founded in 2014, it’s a digital jobs platform that allows candidates to proactively search for tech roles via uploading videos where they sell themselves to employers rather than the other way around.

Real Business, (RB): Where did the spark for starting JobLab come from?

Aidan Cramer, (AC): When I was studying advertising I ran a project to raise awareness about the impact of human trafficking. I actually built an online marketplace selling people as part of that project, with the insight that if we showed how easily people are being bought and sold online, we could reach a much wider audience.

That campaign went semi-viral locally, I got a call from the Metropolitan Police, almost got arrested, had to shut it down – and that showed me the power of online marketplaces to spread a message, and reach new users. But it also gave me the ability to treat transactions online quite simply.

I then graduated and fell into advertising, and quite quickly discovered that it wasn’t the career path I wanted. Then like many graduates, I ended up on the graduate job boards and not knowing what to do next. I wasn’t hearing anything back, and my friends were all in a similar situation. So I decided to try to fix the problem myself by building an online marketplace that gives candidates the ability to get discovered and gives employers the tools to find and hire them.

RB: During the global financial crisis, it was almost impossible for grads (even highly qualified ones), to get jobs. What’s the reality like for grads in 2019?

AC: There are a lot more opportunities for graduates these days, and we’re certainly seeing candidates on our platform having a lot more choice, so they can be a little more selective over the career path they choose. Historically I think graduates would take what they could, but now graduates are looking at different areas of a business – the social aspect, the office space, the location – whereas before people were a lot more long-term career focused.

RB: Tell me about the use of cryptocurrency tokens as an incentivising factor in your business?

AC: There’s a war online to gain people’s attention, and especially when it comes to graduates looking for their first full-time role. You look at any jobseeker’s phone and they’ll be getting hundreds of messages from job boards or recruitment consultants, and it’s hard for them to filter out the noise and let them know what the real opportunities are – the paid opportunities. So in part, it was about proving that the messages they were getting from employers through JobLab were genuine, and making clear that giving time and attention to those opportunities was an important thing to do. It was also the fact that our data was being sold on sites like LinkedIn, and we wanted to give back to our community for the value that they were giving to us, because, ultimately we were part of that community not too long ago.

RB: It sounds like your platform hosts something of a ‘grad community’, is that why you turned to crowdfunding as your method of gaining finance for the business?

AC: Absolutely. We started getting a lot of requests from our community asking how they could get involved in our long-term plan. We wanted our community to be involved in our journey, so we needed a platform to give them the opportunity to invest in and own some of the company. We’re already 85% of the way towards of £200,000 target, and we’re hoping to exceed that in the days ahead.

RB: What’s been your biggest stumbling block to date? How did you get over it?

AC: At the end of 2017, we pivoted the business to focus on a very niche sector and also changed our business model from monthly subscription to success-based pricing. We started to grow revenue rapidly but our clients also started to think of us as recruitment consultants and expected more from us in terms of account management. We found ourselves calling candidates every minute; making sure they were replying to messages, attending interviews and completing profiles. We had a clear path to revenue but not to scale, and it was not the type of business we wanted to build.

So we treated candidate engagement as a constraint and ran a dozen experiments to address it and try to improve engagement without the need for human intervention. It was in that period we tried paying candidates small sums to complete positive actions, and it worked. That’s where JobLab Tokens were born and almost overnight we went from an agency to a scaling tech platform. The real lesson is to never lose sight of the end goal and keep running experiments until you’re out of ideas. Often breakthroughs will happen first.