We had an interesting chat with Mr. “John Lidington”, Founder of the NY – United States based startup “HireOwl”
Below is the interview we conducted with him:
1. What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?
HireOwl connects startups to talented university students for internships and project-based/freelance work.
As veteran entrepreneurs ourselves, HireOwl understands the need to find high quality talent at affordable prices in order to increase productivity and drive growth. Startups also need this process to be as fast and easy as possible.
HireOwl provides an on demand connection to quality, affordable talent, plus manages timesheets and processes payments all in one place.
2. When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?
We are in the phase where we’re growing our team to accelerate the company’s growth but doing so at a pace that allows us to maintain our core focus on our customers.
3. What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?
HireOwl’s primary business model is collecting a fee for jobs that are completed. This allows us to keep the service free for students and free for startups to try.
With no fees to post a job or to view applicants, there’s no downside to posting your job with HireOwl!
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
Founders John Lidington and Colin LeStrange met through their wives in 2011 and have been friends and business confidants ever since.
The rest of the team is comprised of former colleagues and classmates as well as recent graduates who did an exceptional job for HireOwl clients.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
We’re free. Free job posts means there’s no downside to trying HireOwl. You don’t pay a dime until your work is complete. No up-front payments, and no commitments if you don’t find the right student for your job.
Furthermore, our high student engagement rates and intuitive UI/UX mean faster connections to talent for startups. This is important for Founders and small teams who are pulled in lots of different directions and (rightfully) have zero tolerance for cumbersome systems.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?
7. Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?
We have a number of peripheral competitors, i.e. ones that are part of the broader on-demand online labor marketplace industry. These include large players like TaskRabbit, UpWork (formerly Elance/ODesk), and Freelancer.com. There are also some smaller competitors in the college student space.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
Initially we had only two full-time employees doing everything from marketing to tech to corporate (e.g. legal, accounting) to business development. It was a huge relief when we built a critical mass in our network of students
because it meant we could not only serve our clients better, but we could start working with our students on our own projects too.
Scaling efficiently is difficult when your team is small, and outsourcing of certain tasks is absolutely critical.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
Many startups don’t have the resources to run a perfect internship program. They don’t always realize that THIS DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN’T HIRE EXTRA SETS OF HANDS TO HELP WITH YOUR WORK.
Students are more flexible than ever and embrace freelance gigs that are shorter-term than traditional internships. Perfect if you don’t want to commit to training someone and coming up with months’ worth of work for him/her.
Students are also tech-savvy and more than willing to work remotely on projects.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
We are going to succeed because we have combined great technology with a sound business model and have the right combination of experience, hunger, and passion on our team.
11. If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
We are laser-focused on the core business right now. We have plenty of wood to chop and a very large total addressable market that we have only barely scratched the surface of, so at this point it would be premature to talk about additional areas we might expand into.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?
Our Founder, John, paid for college by working freelance jobs and helped manage the organization that sourced them. This was a small, local, student-run organization.
John started HireOwl so every student around the U.S. could have the same opportunities that he had as a student to make money and gain work experience on a flexible schedule.
The fact that we are able to simultaneously help startups accelerate their growth is unbelievably rewarding.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
Don’t try to do everything!
Take a scientific approach to everything you do. Relatively small (preferably inexpensive) experiments that you can learn from quickly are key. It’s easy to burn cash if you try everyone’s suggestions or follow other companies’ playbooks, so use experienced advisors to prioritize which experiments to run.
Time and money are both precious resources. Don’t spend a lot of either until you know (based on data) that specific initiatives have real potential.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
Six months from now our biggest challenge will likely be hiring top tier talent to keep pace with our growth vs. simply hiring good talent to fill our needs quickly.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
Since we have two sets of users, the benefits of our service are twofold.
For startups, the primary benefit is a fast, easy, zero-risk connection to high quality talent for affordable prices.
For students, this is a great opportunity to make money, gain work experience, and grow their professional networks, all on a flexible schedule.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
Customers/users find out about HireOwl in a variety of ways, both online and offline.
Online consists primarily of email, social media, and blog content.
Offline includes conferences, mentoring students and other means of connecting with them via universities, and word of mouth.
Above all, however, press – both online and offline – has been our biggest driver of new user growth.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
Startups, particularly early to mid stage ones, are our most frequent customers. Companies that have gotten to the stage of knowing what they need done and just need an extra hand doing it tend to thrive with help from HireOwl.
About 70% of our student users are undergrads and about 30% are working toward graduate degrees. While our students have diverse talents, many of them are social media marketing experts, gifted writers/content creators, and/or promotional video producers.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
Customers/users find out about HireOwl online and offline.
Online: primarily email, social media, blog content, press.
Offline: conferences, mentoring students and connecting with them via universities, word of mouth, press.
Customers try us because there’s literally no risk to doing so, other than the 1-2 minutes it takes to fill out the details of a job (employers) or the 1-2 minutes it takes to fill out a profile with skills and interests (students).
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
Based on the feedback we have received from customers, the reason they like our product is its simplicity and ease of use. Not to mention, our customer-centric focus.
Before our recent redesign, we had a lot of powerful back-end functionality hidden behind a less than intuitive UX (some of the constructive criticism we received for a while). The redesign, however, has gotten great reviews!
20. How are you going to scale?
Scale will be achieved through partnerships, technology, and people.
Partnerships are absolutely critical to growing HireOwl both cost-efficiently and at an appropriately fast pace. It’s very important that our technology continues to meet the needs of current and new partners, and that our team is able to provide elite customer service to our partners.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
The most requested feature is the ability for employers to post unpaid positions, but we don’t have any plans to implement this. While there are many employers that offer amazing experience for students in lieu of money, we have taken the stance that students (or any worker, for that matter) should be paid a fair wage for the hours of hard work that they put in. Thus, HireOwl only accommodates paid positions.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
We plan to expand beyond the U.S. at some point, but we are not in a huge rush to do so. The U.S. has the most universities in the world, including a high percentage of the top tier schools. We also have a thriving startup ecosystem.
These are the two key ingredients for our service to be successful, and we have them in abundance here. Again, we have plenty of room for growth on domestic soil before expanding to other countries that offer these two key ingredients.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
This statement might seem lofty, bold, and perhaps foolish to some: The opportunity we have in front of us is a billion dollar one. Student recruiting has not kept pace with the rapid innovation one has seen in other industries. It is downright inefficient. That’s a problem because the 21 million students we have in the U.S. represent a very large, underutilized pool of talent.
If you’re interested, we’d be happy to share the numbers behind that ambitious $1 billion (plus) figure.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
We are looking to make selective hires at this time. Specifically, we are actively looking for experienced Ruby on Rails developers. Aside from that, sales and customer service are two areas in which we intend to increase headcount.
We tend to hire out of our student talent pool for most positions, but we would be open to fielding resumes from the Ruby on Rails developers in particular.
Applications can be emailed to HireWisely@HireOwl.com.
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
While we are self-sustaining if viewed as a lifestyle business, we intend to achieve true scale; and to do that, we will need both partnerships and external capital from select strategic investors.
Inquiries should be directed to HireWisely@HireOwl.com.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
My biggest advice is focus. You will inevitably have a million things on your to do list, most of which will seem important. However, step back and think about what’s really critical. You absolutely need to focus on the things that actually have the potential to move the needle for your business. Either outsource the rest or don’t worry about those tasks at all.
27. Finally, do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
We are offering free multi-channel marketing to all new startup customers who join HireOwl and post at least one job before July 31.