4 min read

My favorite way of learning – Asking smart people: "How did you do it?"

My favorite way of learning: Find someone who has done what you are planning to do, and ask how they did it and what they learned along the way.

In TalentBee's case, the thing is to build a scalable talent acquisition business combining recruitment and employer branding.

So I tried to find someone who had done that before.

I found a company called The Big Search in Amsterdam. They have grown to 175 people in 7 years. Their Founder is Learco Finck.

I shot a message to him asking for help. Most people would most likely think: "I can't ask for help from this person. They are our competition. There's no way he will share his learnings."

Trust me. They will. Every entrepreneur I've met so far wants to help new entrepreneurs.

Here's the message I sent to Learco on LinkedIn:

"I'm starting the same journey as you started 7 years ago. The Big Search seems to have a super cool story. Open for a short chat to share your learnings from the journey? -Samuli from Finland"

We agreed to have a 30min chat and I learned so much during that time.

Here are the learnings from the discussion:

1) He was motivated by the same factor that I am. Making things better in the recruitment field.

2) They wanted to be data-driven from the beginning & he recommended we invest in proper ATS & CRM from the beginning to start collecting the data. I also learned that in the beginning, it wouldn't make sense to hire a data team 👉 You just don't have enough data & it's easy to burn a lot of cash in this.

3) You should focus on hiring the right people (something everyone highlights). It was interesting to hear that Learco thinks that this is way more important than investing in building processes & tech. I loved these two quotes from Learco:

"Smart people will work smart without processes"
"People start to act stupid when there's a lot of processes."

4) Be ultra-specialized in what you do. He liked our idea of focusing only on helping SaaS companies in Talent Acquisition. But he challenged me whether we should go even deeper, e.g., only commercial roles in SaaS. Worth thinking about for our future growth & opening new international markets.

I believe that, e.g., in the Finnish market, the SaaS focus works because we are the only one, but when expanding to other countries, there are already recruitment agencies working only with SaaS companies.

5) Brand is everything. Something we have luckily realized from the beginning. Here are my favorite notes regarding building a brand from Learco:

"You are only competing with your brand. Not with your processes, or how you do your talent search."
"The brand is built by your people. The people you hire will affect your brand."

6) Finding the right people will be one of the biggest bottlenecks & it's important to build a great workplace.

One of TalentBee's goals is "To be the best possible workplace for Talent Acquisition professionals."

Here are Learco's tips on this:

"Create an environment where people want to join 👉  Focus on Employer Branding, learning & development."
"Hiring wrong people will dilute your culture & brand."

7) Test out different business models & find the best ones. You also need to take into consideration that different customers want different things. My learnings:

  • Most likely, there will be a lot of 6-12 months of projects.
  • Building a model based on retainer & success fee most likely makes sense.
  • Ideas about new services like "Sourcing as a Service."

8) Make sure that people have an opportunity to become owners of the company (at least the key people).

This is something we are planning to do as well (read more about our salary & ownership model)

9) A lot of new ideas on values & cultures.

"Principles & values are super important 👉 Focus on culture and what is the experience we deliver."

Here are TalentBee's 3 values. What do you think?

#1 I have permission to fuck up

We are doing something new in the field of talent and this means that there will be a lot of obstacles along the way. Quite often you will feel like you don’t know what you're doing. You need to be brave to try new things and learn.  If you never fail it means you're not trying enough new things. Failing is part of life and we think it’s the best way to learn. We have a Slack channel for fuck-ups. We share the stories of our fuck-ups in public. We share with customers when we fucked up. We don’t hide our fuck ups but we use them as a way to develop.

#2 I’m taking transparency to another level

Yeah yeah, every company says that “we are transparent.” We took it to another level. We will publish e.g. our salaries & current business situation. We want to build a company where everything is transparent. We talk about the good things & the bad things – whether it’s about internal things or customer work. How do you feel about sharing your own salary with everyone? If good we are most likely a good fit for you. If you feel like no way 👉  We are not the place for you.

#3 I will always have a lunch break

It’s crucial to have lunch breaks, because we humans need to eat. But this value goes beyond lunch breaks - This is about the mindset. There are always things to do in building a start up as well as in our customer work. I need to learn to set boundaries for myself so I don’t burn out. Period.

10) How to exit a business?

I learned so much about this from Learco. The greatest learning from this discussion:

"If you want to do a successful exit you need to build something valuable in addition to your people 👉 What other than your people will the buyer get?"

This hit me and got me thinking of the things we are focusing on:

1) Developing our own technology

2) Strong brand

3) Retainer business model with ongoing customers

4) Talentpool of SaaS experts

If you enjoyed the read, share it on LinkedIn and tag me @Samuli Salonen & @Learco Finck.