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It’s a wrap…

It’s been more than 12 months since we kicked the idea of a social-based hiring platform and launched CrowdHired. In the months that ensued we got a lot of great feedback and have been featured in a number of startup news-feeds. Big thanks to all those who gave us a try.

Unfortunately, we didn’t crack it. And after giving it some time, we’ve decided to close CrowdHired. We’ll be taking down the site on the 20-May-2014. If you still have any enquiries, connect to us via @crowdhired on Twitter.

Free CrowdHired job ads for YOW Sponsors

This year CrowdHired is sponsoring YOW to help promote the CrowdHired platform through the following:

  • The crowdhired platform now allows advertisers to promote their company through visual images (as well as specific job details); the ability of participants to share ads via tweets, shares, likes, bounties etc. is still provided.
  • These promotional ads posted by YOW sponsors on CrowdHired in the lead-up to YOW will be free
  • Posting an ad for YOW is easy, just send us the position details and images before 29 November and we will put it up for your approval 
  • The CrowdHired platform will be promoted in the lead-up to YOW through official YOW tweets (first one appeared today) which means that Sponsors will be promoted to the YOW audience via the CrowdHired platform.
  • This year YOW will have a platform (developed by CrowdHired) which will allow YOW participants to select their sessions, provide YOW session feedback and view session details. The platform is integrated with twitter and automates the hash tags to make it easier to provide feedback. It’s in “pre-live” testing so you’re welcome to try it out here confui. This (CrowdHired) conference platform will be mentioned/promoted each day in the morning intro. and we reasonably expect most attendees to use this platform during the conference.

Please let us know by an email to info@crowdhired.com if you’d like a free ad, we’d love to have you on board!

A StartUp’s Lesson: How To Handle Multi-Currency Payments Beyond $1000

What’s the best way to collect and pay out bounties to Advocates in 25 countries? How hard can it be given Amazon, eBay and others have been transacting international payments since they launched in 1995, all of 16 years ago?

Well, while everyone talks of the rise and rise of e-Commerce and just about anyone with basic HTML skills can become an online merchant using PayPal, a bit of perspective is required:

  • In 2010, the value PayPal payments worldwide was US$92B (source PayPal)
  • $92B represents around 18% of worldwide e-Commerce of US$500B ($US0.5Trillion) (source PayPal)
  • Total worldwide commerce in 2010 was in the order of US$74Trillion (source World Economy – Wikipedia)

Ecommerce-piecharts

So, worldwide e-Commerce represents less than 1% of worldwide commercial activity and PayPal represent only a small portion of that, albeit both portions are growing strongly. It turns out that making an online purchase with PayPal using your Credit Card is fantastic if you want to go online shopping for that pair of shoes, the latest music download or some nice perfume. This is great for consumers but in the corporate (business to business) world this doesn’t really stack up; especially when the dollar amounts regularly exceed $1,000 attracting a greater level of government and regulatory attention.

The corporate response to the current situation often involves establishing an individual presence in each major jurisdiction in which the entity wants to do business, especially when you want to disburse money in local currencies. This might be great for a large, multinational, billion-dollar Company, but for a start-up trying to go global, this isn’t really feasible in the first instance.

We don’t foresee our CrowdHired Employers remitting payment for US$5,000 bounties via VISA, MasterCard or BitCoin; especially when the latter involves buying BitCoins from Mt. Gox. BitCoin Exchange. It seems we need another solution.

By and large, most corporations use electronic funds transfers (EFT) for payments for services rendered or the purchase of major goods and the trigger for these is typically an approved invoice. Even eBay, with their 16 years of experience in online payments needs to provide a variety of options for business purchases as per ebay payment policies.

For CrowdHired to provide a viable referral-based business service for Employers and professionals across regions we will need to support traditional business payment methods for bounties and payments in each of the major currencies.

We had expected to restrict our Alpha program to Australian Employers and Advocates but we have now received interest from community professionals in 25 separate countries and from employers in the US, UK, Europe and South America. We are therefore looking at our options to bring forward international bounty support. PayPal was an obvious candidate but we expect that many users simply want to transact via a bank transfer (particularly employers). As with all things, plans can change but we’re currently planning to offer the following as part of a Beta release:

  • Support for UK£ and $US Bounties and Referral Payments in the UK and US
  • Support for Bounties from other countries (bounties in $US)
  • Support for Employer Payments in $US or Pounds by International Bank Transfer (SWIFT code etc.)
  • Support for UK£ and $US Referral Payments to nominated Bank Accounts or via PayPal

Betacurrencysupport

This approach would allow UK participants to create and receive bounties in UK£ and those in other countries to create $US bounties. As a first step, all payments would be transacted via our Australian-based bank accounts with CrowdHired remitting referral fees in A$, US$ and UK£ as applicable. E.g. we can pay successful referrers in these currencies although some receiving banks may still charge a fee for receiving a deposit from an overseas (Australian) bank and/or to any applicable local currency (e.g. Euro).

Subject to demand, we will consider extending support to Euro bounties and/or consider the establishment of offices in US, UK and Europe to handle direct payments into UK and US bank accounts.

At this stage we’re looking at the “Beta” option as a practical solution to provide support to international customers to join the platform and will be in email contact with all international sign-ups for your input. Timing for this release is currently being planned as we work through the logistics of this option but we would like to introduce support as close as practicable after the conclusion of Alpha.

In the interim we’d welcome any feedback from our users on the approach proposed.

The Search For Talent Via Referrals

Typesofreferralrecruitment

I was recently asked “what makes CrowdHired so different from say, a typical Employee Referral Programme (ERP)?”. Well, the best way that I thought to explain it is via an Infographic! So here it is.

“I Don’t Know Of Anyone Suitable”

Most referral models only reward the person who directly referred the candidate through to an Employer. And in some cases, the finder’s fee may even be split between the candidate and the referrer. That’s great if you assume that ONLY your Employees know someone who may be interested.

The CrowdHired model is different in that it isn’t based on whether that person directly knows somebody. Rather, the individual just has to know others who may know someone of interest to the Employer. This chain-effectleverages the network of contacts, thereby increasing the reach. At the same time, because we track referrals, we know how to reward individuals who helped out. This goes someway to address the first concern that individuals typically “don’t know of anyone suitable” as a crowd is tapped to find someone rather than a single individual.

“I’m Afraid A Bad Referral Will Reflect Badly On Me”

CrowdHired addresses this concern by promoting that users indicate their online profiles when submitting their interest. This is then used to assess an individual’s suitability for a position making it possible to more easily assess the suitability of the candidate.

“Its Too Much Of A Hassle”

In addition, CrowdHired makes it easy to refer an opportunity along. Just an email address is all that’s needed and we take care of the rest. No need to copy the job details. No need to put anything in an email. We do all of that for you and present it neatly.

Over the coming months, we’re also considering various other features to make it even easier refer an opportunity along, and to reward those that get good at referring.

So if you think this is a great idea, and you think your Employer might be interested, get them to sign-up. If they add you to the Bounty, you will be able to help out to locate your next work college to the benefit of yourself and your professional community.

What Do An ‘80s Drink And Some Job Ads Have In Common?

Earlier this week some approaches from recruitment agencies led to this ruby-developer-jobs post. We received a few comments pointing out that many employers in the Ruby community aren’t relying on jobs boards so much these days and there appear to be some good reasons.

Looking at the ads from the perspective of my nephew (an IT grad and possible job-seeker with 3-years JAVA/Ruby experience) some of them remind me of a popular drink from the ’70s and ‘80s, more on that later. At first glance there were 62 separate positions advertised for “Ruby Developer” in Melbourne, but a quick scan through the ads showed that many are repeated; some on high rotation. Removing identical duplicates, our 62 positions now look to be no more than 25 unique positions (5 employer ads and 20 agency ads) but was every ad a unique vacancy? In fact there may be at least 5 different possible employer-agency scenarios as outlined in the following info-graphic.

Job_vacancy_ad_scenarios

From the perspective of my nephew, the employer ads are straightforward but it was almost impossible to tell which scenario applied for each agency ad. On top of this, what if the employer has already filled the role and not let the agency know? Does the agency even bother taking down the ad if they’re told the role has been filled?

While it’s impossible to tell, I’d be surprised if the 57 agency ads represented vacancies at more than 5 employers on top of the 5 employers clearly listed. The inability of a candidate to know the true situation is a major issue with agency ads on a jobs board. The agency can advertise in good faith but in a competitive market circumstances change and it’s always the prospective employer who has the final say.

It’s no surprise some candidates find themselves attending agency interviews for which no concrete vacancy exists at the time of interview. Every month or so I catch up with my mate John, as he’s a serial contractor the topics normally cover the footy (he’s a Melbourne supporter, I’m Collingwood) and how his next contract’s looking “50% of the time you’re not sure if there is an actual position or if they just want to get you on their books” and “for one role I was in pole position for the role, until I heard from an old colleague on the inside that the decision had already been taken weeks ago to fill the position internally”.

Then there’s the “matching game”. With $15,000 or more available to an agency for being able to “match” an employer need with a suitable candidate there’s plenty of incentive for agents to locate suitable talent and then cold call employers to get a placement. Susan, a close HR Manager friend could be describing my own experience “each time we place an ad on ‘Jobs Board X’ we receive at least 3-4 recruiter calls saying we have someone that fits your description”. As Susan hadn’t engaged these agencies, presumably it’s just another example of the matching game. Our own team members are regularly contacted, more than one agent has dialed our switch after seeing our (employer name) listed in the employee’s public LinkedIn profile.

I have nothing against the agencies or jobs boards involved in these situations, I’m just not sure that the 15% or more of an employee’s annual salary charged by the recruiter to the employer for a placement in these circumstances represents good value, particularly when most employers can be no more than 2 or 3 degrees of (social media) separation from just about every suitable IT candidate in that market. The mere fact that agencies can charge more than $15K to place a candidate implies that they need to spend an awful lot of their own (and probably their candidate’s) time simply to score the occasional perfect match. Presumably if they were placing candidates every second day they wouldn’t have to charge so much.

Specialist employee search services will always have a place. The $1Billion+ Australian Employment Placement Industry won’t be disappearing any time soon but there are already a number of IT employers (Atlassian refer a mate, Google no recruiters thanks, nbn use our process please) exploring options outside of jobs boards and agencies, a trend likely to continue.

The situation could be greatly improved for employers and job-seekers if jobs boards took greater responsibility for ensuring that agency ads were more transparent and/or ensuring that every ad represented at least one single, unique, verifiable, employer vacancy. Personally I’ve never understood why agencies can’t be up-front about who they are recruiting for when they advertise. It’s a public jobs board, why is the name of the employer so often a secret?

As for that ‘80’s drink, some may remember the Claytons non-alcoholic drink packaged to look like Whisky. It was marketed with the advertising tag “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink”. It struck me that from the perspective of my nephew there were plenty of “Clayton’s” jobs mixed in with the real ones, that is ”the jobs you apply for when you’re not really applying for a job”. This isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of “Clayton’s” candidates as well but I guess that’s a topic for another post.

The State of Ruby Developer Jobs Down-under

Rubyjobadsnapshot-australia-20

Late last week, whilst browsing Ruby Jobs on a leading online site, I noticed a very curious thing. As I navigated each page, I was being presented with ad after ad of “Ruby” jobs all seemingly connected to advertisers who themselves were a recruitment agency.

So we did some research and collected some data, and what we got was quite surprising. For one particular job board, for every ad posted by an “Employer”, there were 6.5 other ads that came from recruitment agencies. Are all these ads really connected to genuine job vacancies? What is the real demand for Ruby development skills down under?”

Just yesterday, Alan was “invited” (via LinkedIn) to connect to an agency recruiter he didn’t know or had any prior connection with. Coincidentally, I was contacted half an hour earlier by another recruitment agency with “suitable applicants”. Does this mean that recruiters know of positions that are not advertised at all? Or perhaps they are speculating at the expense of potential candidates and Employers?

 

The CrowdHired Prezi – Even Developers Can Make Cool Presentations!

When we started CrowdHired more than 6 months ago, one of the initial problems that we had was just to get a very basic message out there that CrowdHired is a revolutionary way of recruiting people using the power of social connections to drive the filtering and search process resulting in rewards flowing to the professional community.

Concepts can be difficult to sell. Especially if it’s something new and foreign This makes it harder for individuals to find a reference point they understand so they can compare what is new or different.

Shortly after launching the CrowdHired teaser site, I thought that one way to communicate the CrowdHired concept is via a video. Coincidentally, within the same week, I attended the Social Melbourne meetup on Friday morning and somebody mentioned Prezi.

 

What Is Prezi?

Prezi is cool. Prezi is tool which allows you to create memorable presentations. It gives you a blank canvas, and your presentations are built by moving the “camera” to zoom in or out on various elements of the canvas. This style of presentation lends itself well to narative presentations, wherein the presenter is presenting a story. The dynamic nature of a “camera” helps captivate the audience and to leave them with a memorable message.

It sounded like a good tool to start with. A perfect vehicle for our message. So, where did we start?

 

Start With A Script

One of the first steps we took was to write a decent script. A blow by blow account of what we want to say mixed with what would be seen on screen. This was done in conjuction with the creation of the Prezi itself. In designing the Prezi, we focused on keywords in each of the statements we wanted to say. In trying to adhere to Guy’s 30-20-10 rule, we only put the core text of each point to emphasize key points.

When scripting, we tried to tell a story. A narative which engages your audience so they can empathise with what you are saying. We started with what was broken with recruiting – noting that the experiences we’d faced is something that we’ve seen repeated over and over again.

Scripting a decent narative can be hard. A good book on this topic is Nancy Durante’s Resonate; which goes into some detail about the observed story patterns that great presentations and presenters have used over the years. It’s a good read, and helped me out a lot.

One tip about using Prezi – don’t zoom around too much. Whilst Prezi gives you the ability to do some crazy things, if you zoom around too much, you will give your audience motion sickness. Keep the design simple, and camera movements subtle. Let your audience follow what you are doing.

 

Record It

Next stop, recording the Prezi to a video. We needed to do this in order to be able to include the audio narative. To do this, I used the Prezi software and recorded it like a screencast. I would step through the presentation and pretend like I was giving the presentation in real life. This is necessary so that the recorded video is representative of the timing.

The recording doesn’t have to be prefect, because in the next step, you can trim and cut it up so that it flows to the timing that you want.

To make the screen recording, I used Snap-z Pro by Ambrosia Software. It’s a great little Mac utility that makes it easy to create screen captures and recordings and saves it all down in .mov format. The quality of the recording is second to none with framerates that make it look quite decent.

 

Cut It

Crowdhired-imovie

Once we created the recording, the next step is to cut the recording up. Cutting the recording simply means to select elements of the original recording, and put it together so that the final product is snappy, and polished.

To do this, you need a reasonable video editing tool. It is at this point that PC guys will probably start tearing their hair out. In all the years of using the PC, I have never found a half decent, reasonably priced, video editing tool. There are a few good professional tools to do video editing on the PC, but for the casual market, it’s a mix bag. One of the biggest problems that I faced on Windows is the variety of codecs that may be required, and the hoops you have to go through to transcode the movie file, just so some other tool can manipulate the video content. Video editing on a PC for the average Joe is just poor.

*sigh* – So now that you’re on a Mac, you can fire up the free iMovie consumer video editing tool which comes with all Macs. iMovie has copped some criticism as a toy application that isn’t good enough for video editing. Well, if you do video every day, then possibly. But for what we needed, which is a video every once in a while, it was perfect.

I could import the video, and then cut various sections of the video until I got something which I liked. What’s more, iMove lets you finish the video with video effects to style the video and make it look more polished. 

 

Voice Over

Rodemic

Once we got the video looking right, the next step is to record a voice over naration. Thankfully, iMove has a voice over feature, which allows you to navigate to a point, and start recording audio straight away. To do this part right, it would probably be helpful to invest in a decent microphone. To do our voice overs, we used Rode’s USB Podcasting Microphone which is a directional mic that makes it easy to record a fairly clean sound.

As I was doing the voice over, I tried reading from a script. But when you do that, you tend to sound a little dead. Instead, I had to force myself to be a little more relaxed, and adlib the lines to make the speech sound more natural. Also, don’t try to record the entire voice over across the entire video. Instead, record the voice over as multiple snippets with multiple takes. If you don’t like a segment, you can trim the audio out, and record another in its place. Doing this iteratively gives you a better chance of getting a decent polished recording.

 

Publish It

The last step is to publish the video. iMovie makes it easy to export the video out directly to YouTube so that makes it even easier. In selecting a site to publish to, I chose YouTube because of the tools that it provides. Although YouTube in the past has had the reputation of having poor quality video, it turns out that if you export the video with a good compressor at a decent resolution, playback on YouTube isn’t all that bad.

 

Results…

The video went up, and we’ve had some feedback. One of the things that I have learned is that the video needs to be a whole lot shorter. Not many people will be able to spare too much time watching a long video, no matter how interesting it may be. Even at 6 minutes, I think many individuals just couldn’t wait that long. But other than that, I’m happy with the results and the message that we’re sending, that CrowdHired is a revolutionary way to help Employers find great candidates, and at the same time, reward the community of Professionals that have assisted.

Now go create your own sweet presentations. You could use these techniques for anything, from sales pitches, to 21st parties. What’s more, the tools are all fairly cheep, so it won’t break the bank.

Don’t Talk, Just Watch! Lessons from a CH test drive

Those who have been following our progress will be aware that we’re oh so close to going live with our Alpha trial. From earliest discussions we’ve been aware that User Experience is critical. These days if your system isn’t intuitive then you’re dead in the water.

We’ve had some external help in testing the site and (to be sure) this has provided some useful feedback. We’ve also run a couple of customer walkthroughs which on any measure have gone better than expected. Suitably optimistic, this week we accepted an offer from an industry colleague and potential customer (thanks Paul) to be a guinea pig on an end to end trial of the UX.

This isn’t Paul, we need to take a picture of Paul next time he drops in and replace this one.

The best decision we made beforehand was not to offer Paul any assistance as he walked through the system as an Employer, Referrer and Applicant. Once we got beyond the initial sign-ups, it quickly became apparent that Paul was spending far too much time looking at what to do next. In one case he couldn’t even find a key feature.

For a startup, first impressions are everything and I shudder to think of the users who might be turned off with a bad first experience trying to complete their profile or waiting for a referral to be acknowledged. Fortunately, the UX changes to address the issues were relatively modest and should be in before the end of the week.

If you really want to save your users some grief, make sure you get some of them in front of the system (without help) and just watch! Those interested in a tool to help UX testing may find this useful http://www.epicbagel.com/blog/view/usability-testing-startup.html.  

5 months in a start-up. What I’ve learned

It is 6-months since we agreed to translate our dissatisfaction with the current state of recruitment into a business idea and 4-months since we approved our business plan. Time for some serious reflection and to share a few things we’ve learned:

  • Lesson 1: Read a lot. It’s quicker to learn from other’s mistakes than your own so read and talk widely. You’ll still make mistakes but hopefully not as many. My personal favorite learning is from Guy Kawasaki’s “Art of the Start” http://www.guykawasaki.com/the-art-of-the-start/, “forget mission statements and make mantra instead”. We agreed our Crowdhired mantra in early Feb. and we’ve used it to guide features ever since.
  • Lesson 2: Eat your own dog food. At the start we used Pivotal Tracker for our story backlog but most of our guys on site preach the use of a Card Wall. After prodding from Sean we set up the Crowdhired Card Wall 3-weeks ago. Team comms improved immediately and stakeholders engage as soon as they walk in the office. I’ve had good experiences with distributed teams in the past but for us, the Card Wall is gold.
  • Lesson 3: Learn from your mistakes. Our first attempts at product were to do it from inside a consulting company which just didn’t work. This time around we’ve set up a separate company and hired a couple of outsiders. It’s a much more focused dynamic.
  • Lesson 4: Research the opposition/market (then research it some more). We searched and scanned the web and we undertook market research using http://wufoo.com (really useful) but 2 months in we were still finding competition we should have identified earlier.
  • Lesson 5: Know your customers. We have a customer wall in the office with the names and pictures of (real people) target users of the product and we use it to test product features.
  • Lesson 6: Embrace change. Our initial scope for Alpha was a list of 20 stories which has now grown to just under 40. Most new stories were just elaboration but we identified have a dozen important changes back in April and went with the flow. We’re now launching 4-weeks after target but with a much better product. If we’d dug in I suspect we’d be in strife.
  • Lesson 7: Have some luck. We’re building a new way of referral recruitment right. We can hardly start by using SEEK to hire team members. Most pressing was the need for a second Ruby developer to complement Jason so we went through our contacts, created a prioritized list and away we went. First on the list of Ruby developers was Alan Skorkin who we approached in March and joined us in April.
  • Lesson 8 is still underway: I’m still learning how to sell and market. We’re building a product that we want to use ourselves and we’re excited by the prospect but there’s definitely an art to engaging genuine interest and I’m not there yet.

We’re happy to share our experience as a start-up trying to get a product to market so if you find this interesting, would like to offer your own insights or would like to more about our journey please let us know.