The founder and CEO of recruitment marketplace Hiring Hub says raising investment allowed them to grow up from a “scrappy” startup to fast-growing scaleup.
In 2011, the Manchester-based company set out to create a platform to help companies fill professional jobs faster, by seamlessly connecting them to the best specialist recruitment agencies in the UK.
Eight years and several funding rounds later, chief executive Simon Swan has been at the helm of the business and on a journey that has seen his role and responsibilities change.
Hiring Hub has now raised more than £2 million in funding and has almost doubled the size of its team over the last 18 months. Swan admits that fundraising is “a massive job”.
“It’s an exhaustive exercise and spinning so many plates is, mentally, extremely challenging,” he says. “It is tiring and takes a lot out of you. It can certainly take your eye away from the business. The impact will hopefully be less going forward because I now have people to drive day-to-day operations and activity; in the early days it was just me.”
Swan says they needed the money to continue building out their technology, hire more people and experiment with sales and marketing but stressed that the money also allowed the business to “grow up”.
“We were a scrappy, plucky startup and as with all companies of that mould the business was held together with sellotape and blue tack, whereas now it’s the foundations are deeper – it’s more stable,” he says.
“It does feel like we’re a grown-up business and maturing more and more every day, it’s just a transition that you go through and I’m really excited about the next phase.”
Swan says Hiring Hub continues to enjoy month-on-month growth but is candid about the challenges facing the business.
“We’re still under resourced,” he says. “Given the goal we’re shooting for, we could easily triple the size of our tech team overnight and still not be build the product fast enough. It just takes time. You have to learn to be patient and stop occasionally to acknowledge the progress you have made.”
Swan is looking forward to the next chapter in Hiring Hub’s growth story and says that taking a company from 25 to 50+ people, and building out a management team, is an intellectually “stimulating process”.
“When you grow from 10 to 25 people your role changes massively,” he says. “At 10 you’re still very active in the business, involved in every aspect of operations, but past 20 people you start thinking about how you should start working on the business, not just in it, and delegating responsibilities and ownership.
“What’s driving us? What’s blocking us? I didn’t have the space or capacity to think about those things before. Now I plan time in my diary specifically to ‘get out’ of the business from a day-to-day operations perspective and look at it as a living, breathing thing to figure out, strategically, how do we take it to the next stage.
“When the tendency is to keep running at 100mph and lead every sale, plan every marketing campaign, it’s important to allow yourself that time to sit back and view the company as an entity, like a lego build, that you can add blocks to rather than be so close to, so in it that you cannot see clearly.”
In the driver’s seat
Swan says the best advice he can give to startup founders is to “take time out” and diarise time specifically to plan.
“I used to feel guilty about spending any time not doing tasks that were 100% operational,” he says. “It’s only in the last year or two that I’ve realised you can’t do everything, and a good percentage of my time is better spent asking questions … planning the route from A to B; my role has changed from driving the car to navigating the car. Although I do still enjoy driving occasionally, much to the team’s annoyance!”
He also warns that, by working too hard, entrepreneurs risk setting a dangerous standard for their early employees.
“It’s a paradoxical position where you’re the leader and you’re setting the pace of the organisation and the team and, particularly when there’s fewer than, say, 10 people. I remember I didn’t want them looking at us setting this energy and urgency about the business that this is the standard of which we have to work.
“Because founders by nature tend to be ferociously driven and it’s unfair to ask the team to follow that lead, at least to the extremes that founders do. I’m more conscious of that now and tend not to email them at 2am!”
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