Two weeks ago I launched my latest startup (Digital Profile) and over the weekend I’ve finally had a little time to reflect on our journey so far. For the last five years I’ve been starting and building digital businesses so I know that getting your service or product to market is never easy; but as any entrepreneur will tell you, taking an idea and actually making it happen is frantic, exhilarating and eventually, makes all the hard work worthwhile.
I’m incredibly excited to be taking the covers off Digital Profile and showing the world what we’ve been working on — but just for now I wanted to share a bit of my story. I know I am not alone in being frustrated with the service recruitment agencies typically provide to digital companies. It’s not just the cost — which is usually up to 30% of an employee’s salary — but that the quality of service just isn’t there. Without really getting to know your business, job specification or the candidates, I was usually left with a deluge of calls and emails suggesting candidates who did not have the relevant skill set for the role we were recruiting to. I can’t tell you how many times I received a system engineer’s CV for the PHP developer jobs we normally advertised.
Researching the alternative ways of finding people it became clear to me that there was no single solution that addressed all the problems I and many colleagues in other digital companies were experiencing. I became increasingly convinced that there must be a better way — one that serves companies and individuals equally well as well as reducing the costs. So that’s how the idea for Digital Profile was born.
Digital Profile is aiming to overhaul digital recruitment. We don’t accept recruiters on the site, and are replacing the CV (or resume, depending on where you’re reading this!) in the application process with the titular Digital Profile. To help individuals find the right fit, companies also have Profiles showcasing their culture, benefits and projects. Our vision is of a platform that intelligently matches individuals to the right jobs using algorithms based on the skills listed by individuals and companies to pro-actively match site users — even if there’s no active job listing.
But let’s get back to the beginning. We all know that having an idea is the easy bit. Building a successful business is the tricky part. I’m inspired by Mark Twain when he says ‘The secret of getting ahead is getting started’. With those words in mind and several years’ business development under my belt, I got to work. I was fortunate to secure a six figure investment to start building a team. With talented people coming on board we were able to start fleshing out my ideas and building prototypes.
Despite my fairly substantial experience, in the early stages I chased perfection in every aspect of the work we were doing, which I started to find was coming at a high cost, both in terms of time and money.
Our progress stalled in part because perfection looks a little different to everyone. This was a painful lesson and it led to perhaps the biggest compromise I had to make. I needed to accept that we had to abandon our plans to launch the site with all its features in one go, and instead settle on releasing the site as an MVP, adding features as we went along.
I built my team quickly — too quickly. I should have taken a more responsive approach to recruitment by finding the right people as and when the need arose based on how the platform was evolving. Instead I built the team based on the requirements that I believed we would have down the line. Obviously this led to very high staff costs early on but the most important problem was not applying an agile methodology to business development in the way that we were applying it to the development of the code. Looking back, we worked on things which it turned out we didn’t even need or had to substantially change as the platform got closer to release.
In fact, the problems were so severe that late last year I had to put the company into voluntary liquidation. This was devastating but I remained convinced of the need for our product and managed to find new funding to get us moving again. I saved as much of the team as I could but there was a heavy toll on business relationships that included people I’ve worked with for years and consider personal friends. Besides which the vast majority of the almost $250,000 investment was gone. A lot of work had been done but in many cases it was the wrong work, and I honestly felt a very long way away from ever delivering a product to market.
This really taught me the importance of starting small. This approach lets you get something out faster, and crucially to get feedback from early adopters which will inform future development. Looking back, we spent far too long before realising we needed to alter our approach, which took its toll in terms of time and resources. I wonder if this was because running a service business we designed our projects based on clients briefs and their available budget. In a way we were both the client and contractor, and perhaps this is why it became difficult to keep our ideas grounded in what was realistically deliverable.
If you’re a web person, I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘F**k It, Ship It’ (thanks LifeHacker). We came to live by this, because inevitably when building up a big project, you can pick holes in it endlessly and fret over every aspect that doesn’t yet feel quite right. You worry what might happen in this scenario, or in that event, and actually you end up procrastinating. It’s important to remember that done is better than perfect, and that getting into the habit of shipping regularly is vital to maintain your momentum.
Nine months on (and with a live site!) I do finally feel as though we are on the right track. On reflection, I spent too much time working on the wrong things, and wasted time listening to the wrong advice. Still, I’ve learnt a lot, and I think as long as you take something away from those experiences, then they aren’t a complete loss — although the money isn’t coming back!
A week on from our launch, getting feedback from early adopters will be crucial. This first stage of our rollout will also provide us with a great deal of useful data about how our customers use our product, and will also begin to generate some income — which will be welcome!
As difficult as the whole process has been, I don’t think I would want to change it even if I could. The experiences have taught me so much — I feel a much more capable entrepreneur as a result. The process has been quite different from my first business, and I think one of the main reasons we are now making progress has been maintaining a determination to make this work — no matter what it takes. That means sticking with it, and having a steadfast belief in the product and in ourselves.
I’ve been able to maintain that belief because as much as our site is a new competitor in this space, it is also a call for change in an industry that is crying out for a new way of doing things. Our product development roadmap is our manifesto for an overhauled recruitment process that suits the needs of digital professionals. As digital professionals ourselves, we think we are well placed to achieve that.
I hope that if you find yourself in a similar place (or perhaps you are there right now!) that you’ll take some inspiration and hope from my own experience. If you stay the course, keeping a steadfast determination to succeed, you can overcome the obstacles that will inevitably lie in your way.
One final thought: remember to take some time each day to appreciate and learn about the positive things your colleagues are doing. In the middle of the struggles of getting something started it’s easy to lose sight of this. Stay positive, and good luck!
Author: Dan Lewis