Season 1, Episode 6
Talent marketplaces and the future of work with Sophie Adelman (WhiteHat/ex-Hired)
About this episode
The future of work is a hot topic for online entrepreneurs – and an area with loads of opportunities for marketplaces in particular. This week’s Two-sided episode offers some real gems of wisdom around marketplaces and the future of work. Sjoerd is joined by Sophie Adelman, the co-founder of the apprenticeships marketplace WhiteHat who previously led the expansion of the tech recruitment platform Hired.com from the US to the UK. In the podcast, you’ll learn Sophie’s battle-tested lessons on building liquidity in a talent marketplace. She also discusses the importance of educating your marketplace users and embracing the managed marketplace approach in the early days.
Resources mentioned in this episode
Sophie Adelman: [00:00:00] But I think people forget that all of these companies started off with humans going out into the streets and making that business work.
Speaker 2: [00:00:12] [music playing] Welcome to Two-Sided, the marketplace podcast, brought to you by Sharetribe.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:00:24] Hi, I'm Sjoerd, CMO at Sharetribe, and I am your host. In today's episode, I speak to Sophie Adelman about talent marketplaces. Sophie has a lot of experiences with that. She was the first international hire at hired.com, a tech recruitment marketplace. There she led the expansion of Hired from the US into the UK, and after that, Sophie founded WhiteHat, which matches ambitious people with an apprenticeship at employers. We discuss how liquidity works in marketplaces like this, how all marketplaces basically start off as a managed marketplace, how important can be to educate one side of your marketplace, and the general importance of data; a terrific talk altogether, and again, filled with some real gems. Uh, a quick note on the audio quality, so, Sophie sounds fantastic, but it turned out after the recording that there had been a small, uh, buzz on my side. Our amazing producer, Nemanja, was able to reduce it significantly, but at times, you might hear a strange light buzz when I'm talking. So, no worries, there's nothing wrong with your audio setup, and I apologize for any auditory inconveniences, but this just happens sometimes. Now, enough said, let's listen to Sophie discuss talent marketplaces. Enjoy. [music playing] Hi, Sophie, uh, welcome to the podcast.
Sophie Adelman: [00:01:47] Thank you for having me.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:01:49] Hey, before we, uh, dive straight into all the marketplaces, maybe you can tell the people at home a little bit about your background, sort of, kind of up until Hired, because that's where I want to straight dive into a couple more questions.
Sophie Adelman: [00:02:00] Sure. So, I grew up in the UK, British born and bred, and I, I, I started my career, actually in conference production. I was a conference producer, was my first job, and which is a very entrepreneurial role. I did that for about a year, and then I went and worked in investment banking at Goldman for about 18 months. I have to be honest, I didn't really love that experience. It was in 2007/2008, so the financial crisis was a terrifying time to be starting your career, and lots of different ways, and I don't think it was the kind of opportunity that was the right fit for me and my skill set, but it was a great learning experience. And then from there, I went and worked at Egen Zehnder, which is an executive search firm, uh, doing so, searches, management appraisals, really understanding how companies are built, and how people think about talent and talent assessments, which has obviously been a thread throughout my career, and something that I, I feel very passionately about. And then went off and did a, an MBA at Stanford. I can very happy to talk about my experience of an MBA. I think it's a very personal choice why people go and do that, but I, I had an amazing time, and I feel the lessons I learned from that are now coming into play, 10 years later. And then, before Hired, I actually worked in finance. So, I worked in investing for a family office/investment trust. So, quite an eclectic career in that regard.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:03:21] Yeah. And then now, actually, with the addition of the MBA, I think somehow I missed that, because I was kind of surprised because I was doing some background research on you, and then, how did you get into hired, and I was checking and I said, "Well, that's quite a entrepreneurial position for someone who comes seemingly out of mostly investment banking, that's not a ..." It's usually the other way around that a entrepreneur goes somehow on the capital side, uh, rather than... So, maybe y- you could tell us a little bit more, like, how did you get across that opportunity?
Sophie Adelman: [00:03:50] Well, I think the Hired opportunity came from two fronts; one was, as you said, I was out in California for two years. I have a lot of friends who finished their MBA and went and worked at some of the most highly successful startups and scale ups that we've known over the last decade, so, the Ubers, these Lyfts of the world, and I saw them working in these very fast paced environments and just thought that sounds amazing, that sounds super cool. They're building companies. And that's what I've always wanted to do. I've wanted to build a company, I've always had that desire to be leading and developing people and building businesses. And, when I was at the investment trust that I was part of, I was actually helping build businesses within the business. So, I launched a headphone seeding business, I was involved in starting new businesses for the funds. And so, I got to scratch that itch a little bit, but not fully. And then, the actual opportunity came about, because, before I went to Stanford, I actually did a summer internship for an organization called Atomico, which is a VC fund. Right back at the beginning, before Atomico was a really well known fund, there was, uh, five of us in a room, and, you know, got to, to see how startups worked, and both internally in a VC fund, but also in their portfolio companies. And so, when I was thinking about what I wanted to do next, I knew I wanted to build businesses, work in a high growth environment. I reached out to th- the Atomico team, and they told me about the Hired opportunity, and it just felt like it fitted perfectly with both my aspirations, and my experience having worked in the talent space. And so, I wrote a cover letter. I didn't know anyone at the company, I wrote a cover letter, say, "These are the three reasons why I understand the problem you're trying to solve, and these are the three reasons why I think I'm the person to do it." And I got a call within a couple of hours from the CEO, and the rest is history.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:05:37] Oh, wow. Yeah, that's amazing. So, so you got that chance, and you were the first international hire. Well, okay, now we know a little bit, possibly some of the market, or some of the businesses that you interacted with during the earlier ones had some kind of marketplace component, but I was watching, uh, one of your talks at the B2B Rocks in Paris from 2016. Okay, the topic of that talk was slightly about different things, but you said something sort of besides that I would be very interested in, the saying like, "Oh, well, we could have done a lot better on some things," and some of those things you mentioned were like, particularly the things that I'm interested in, i- into marketplace businesses.
Sophie Adelman: [00:06:10] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:06:11] So, how did that start? Like, did you go UK only, did it go Europe-wide straight?
Sophie Adelman: [00:06:16] No. So, UK only. And I think that's one of the important things with a marketplace business, that you need to be really focused. Building a marketplace is, is difficult. I think a lot of people think that, um, once you build a marketplace, it just sort of works, drives itself, and that's not the case at all. You have to drive that marketplace, and be looking at the supply/demand dynamics very closely all the time. So when I first started, I'd actually started as a client executive. So, I was running the UK market, but really, I was just boots on the ground. I was, you know, I was just hustling. I would be in Ubers all over London, I called it my mobile office. So, I'd get in an Uber, tethered my laptop to my phone, be doing my emails and calls in the back of an Uber going from meeting to meeting, and just hustling to get companies to start using this platform that nobody had ever heard of. So what was exciting to me was, when you look at my background, you can see I've got all these credentials for these brands, so it always worked for organizations where you said, "I worked at Goldman," and it kind of opened the door. When I went to work for Hired, I had to build brands. I had to build the brands of Hired, but I also had to build the Sophie brands, you know, Sophie Adelman brand, I had to have credibility myself, because people were buying into me as much as they were into the offering. Because at that point, Hired was very early, and the platform was not fully, you know ... It wasn't fully built, and people didn't really understand how it worked. So, lots of what we were doing was educating people; educating them on why this was a problem for them, how this could solve the problem, how this is a better solution. And that's what I was doing. So, to start with, it was very UK focused, in fact, very London focused, and I was primarily focusing on the client side, and I had somebody in my team who was focusing more on the talent side, and we can talk a bit more about those dynamics.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:07:58] Yeah. I just now realize, actually, while you're saying this, that we haven't even properly introduced what is Hired. I know it,...
Sophie Adelman: [00:08:05] [laughs]
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:08:05] ...you know it. So, because my next questions are going to be, indeed, all about demand and supply side, but maybe you could, in a couple of sentences, say, actually, what kind of marketplace, what kind of platform is Hired?
Sophie Adelman: [00:08:14] Yeah. So, Hired is a talent marketplace for technical talent, primarily software engineers, but also data scientists, UX designers, product managers. And it flips the normal recruitment model on its head. So, normally, when you're applying for a job, you apply for individual roles, and the, the company will then decide whether or not to interview you. With Hired, you actually go through a kind of vetting curation process up front. You apply to the platform, then they curate the top five to 10% of talent, and then companies go on and make interview requests to the candidate. So it puts the candidate back in the driving seat. It gives them the choice about which organizations they want to interview for. Now, that works because developers, and designers, and, and data scientists are kind of the ... They are in low supply, you know, the best people are in demand, and so, companies would make interview requests to them. And it facilitates the engagement between those people are looking for a new opportunity, and those companies that are looking to hire top talent.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:09:13] Yeah. And so, you mentioned that you went around all over London. So, you were trying to get, in this case, the demand side, and because of, for the purpose of this discussion, we would say that supply side is all of the workforce, or the, whatever that is, new candidates, and on the demand side, in this case, is the company. So you went first to the demand side, was the supply side already fixed, because I ... My experience with recruiting, especially developers that ... That is actually where there's a constraint of some kind, but in your case, it was different.
Sophie Adelman: [00:09:43] That is really i- important. So this is really important point as people are thinking about building marketplaces; you need to really quickly understand whether you're a supply constraint or demand constraint. And, with Hired, what we found because of the US market is, once you turned on marketing, actually finding good candidates was not difficult. Candidates really appreciate the value proposition which was, they don't have to apply to lots of different roles, they get to be in control, they got this talent advocate who was almost their careers coach who was supporting them through the process. They felt it was an opportunity for them to really showcase what they were good at, but also allowed them to define what they wanted to do, rather than being peppered the whole time by recruiters telling them, "Hey, I've got a Python job," when I actually want to go into, you know, Ruby development. So, it was an opportunity for the candidates to get back into control. So, once we started turning marketing on, supply just came, and we didn't have a problem finding supply in general. And, I'm, I'm talking in general, because I will i- later on talk a bit more about the nuances of supply/demand, and, and so, of the nuances of different liquidities within marketplaces, but, as a general rule, we will supply rich and demand constrained. So, actually getting companies who were going to pay the fee to, uh, recruit candidates, was the constraint in our world.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:11:01] Yeah. And, did you know this already when you took the job, or was it something that you sort of learned while sitting in an Uber?
Sophie Adelman: [00:11:09] Yeah, so, I, I mean, I had the advantage that the business had about 45 people, they've been going for about 18 months, two years by the time I joined, and it was operating in two markets by that point, so, New York and San Francisco. So, they had seen that experience of turning supply on through marketing, and then focusing on the demand side. However, you didn't know whether or not that was going to be exactly the same in the UK market. So, the key thing for us was, let's go and get companies to buy into the idea, get that demand in place, switch on supply, and hope that the supply would come. And, luckily it did.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:11:46] Yeah. And, um, when you say like, uh, marketing to get the supply on board, what kind of channels did you do to get the candidates on board?
Sophie Adelman: [00:11:54] So, it was a lot of sa- performance marketing, lots of marketing on Facebook, and LinkedIn. Once we had candidates in place, there was a lot of referral based marketing, so, candidates would refer other candidates, and, and if those candidates got hired, they would get a cash incentive. We have large email databases, so we had a ways to segment those candidate pools, and actually email them once we knew that candidates have maybe taken a new job, and two years out, we could actually email them again and say, "Hey, are you thinking about your next opportunity?" So there were lots of ways for us to continue to nurture that candidate pool once we'd built it, but, initially, it was all through marketing.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:12:34] Yeah. You mentioned earlier that you would like to go in a little bit about the different kind of liquidities, um...
Sophie Adelman: [00:12:39] Mmh.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:12:39] ...within the marketplace. I would love that as well, because this is the kind of deep dive that we're in for here. So, how do you see this?
Sophie Adelman: [00:12:46] So when you think about supply and demand constraints in marketplaces, once you've defined that your businesses maybe demand constrained or supply constrained, you know where to focus most of your energy, but normally, in a marketplace, you don't just have one product, right? So, you know, yeah, when eBay started, they have those like little furry animal things, and that's all they sold, and so, it was like these furry things, and people who want to buy these furry things. I can't remember what they're called, like Beanie Babies. Beanie Babies, that's what they're called. And then they expanded, right? So, they went from Beanie Babies to some other kind of collectible item.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:13:18] Yeah. So would you say that, like, it's often talked about, you have like geologically constrained, you have the size constraint, and this is like the category constraints? Yeah.
Sophie Adelman: [00:13:25] Right. So, the way I would think about it is, so you have products and geos, right? So ... And each, when you're thinking about the products, and the geos, each one of those squares within that matrix is actually its own little marketplace. So you can think about supply and demand between candidates and opportunities, and in different geos. Actually, it's three sided in many ways that regard, but, but each one will have a k- liquidity ratio between supply and demand. So you need to think about that when you're building it out, and sometimes that will mean making decisions about not moving into new geos, because that will create more complexity, sometimes that will mean cutting the number of products that you offer, in our case, you know, we offered software engineers, data scientists and designers, but ... And, uh, product managers. We found that software engineers had high liquidity, whereas UX designers didn't, but actually, when you broke it down by different geos, you might find that central London had high liquidity, but East London did not. And so, you just need to be really sensitive to these things, and think about the constraints that will affect your product being delivered to the market. And in our case, when you think about talent marketplaces, you have the issue that people only travel a certain distance to a job. So you need to be very conscious of what those constraints are within your marketplace.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:14:44] Yeah. And so what you're trying to say, for example, coming quickly back to the beginning of what you just said, when you talk about these squares that you have, geo on one side and products on the other side, and you have those liquidity ratio within those particular squares, is for example, UX designers in Hempstead or something like that.
Sophie Adelman: [00:15:02] Right. And you'd be looking at the supply/demand dynamics between that. So, how many roles do you have within, uh, full product designers within the Hempstead, and how many candidates do you have, and what's the ratio between them? And then you'd rack rate, so red, amber, green, whether or not you had high or low supply, and then make decisions about whether to invest more in an area or not, or remove that area, geo or product.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:15:24] And how did you measure that? Did you have a data scientist on board, or ... Because it sounds incredibly complex.
Sophie Adelman: [00:15:30] There's no such thing, very complex, because you just ... As long as you've got the data ... So, the key thing when you're building out a marketplace is to be tracking, you know, having good audit trails of what people do, but also be, early on, building the infrastructure to be able to collect the data on the supply and demand and the different characteristics, so then you can use a business intelligence tool, a Tableau, a Looker, to be able to, you know, cut and dice the data. Now, actually, these ratios are quite simple to calculate obviously, once you have that data in place, but I think this is one of the things that people need to get more and more comfortable with, and we were very comfortable with at Hired, is everyone in the team had the ability to cut and dice the data using Looker. And we all got very good about manipulating the tool. And so, I would look at, you know, the jobs that we had on the platform, and I'd be able to look at the supply, and I'd be able to then call up my colleague in San Francisco, and say, "Hey, we're really light on Python developers. Hey, can you do a campaign about Python developers [inaudible 00:16:27] lot's o' jobs." And so, it allowed you to pull those levers. And I think one lesson that I've learned from now working in two marketplace businesses, is, you need somebody who's always thinking about that supply/demand dynamic, and you're always constantly adjusting between the supply and the demand. It's a fine balancing act, which is what makes it fun, because you're not just bashing one thing, you need lots of different tools the whole time.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:16:47] Yeah. Like, I always like to quote, um, Simon Rothman, who says that, like, liquidity isn't the most important metric, it's the only metric, like for a marketplace.
Sophie Adelman: [00:16:55] Yes.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:16:56] Uh, we see that come back like again and again at Sharetribe, especially with ... That's one of the sort of earliest advice we try to give that ... And they try to make that square as small as possible, and fix it within those constraints, and then go out. So, I'm always happy to hear that that is actual advice that people have got. All right. So, cool. Like that was your Hired adventure. I think we went really nicely deep down the marketplace rabbit hole, which is fantastic. Nowadays, you're doing something else. Could you tell us about that?
Sophie Adelman: [00:17:22] Yeah. So, I left Hired at the end of 2016, and joined by co-founder Euan, to build WhiteHat. WhiteHat is on a mission to build an outstanding alternative to university in order to s- democratize access to the best careers, build a diverse group of future leaders. So, it's another talent marketplace, but it also has the element of [da-ji 00:17:46] training people to become future leaders through an apprenticeship model. So, we do three things at WhiteHat; we have our marketplace, which is how did you connect the high potential talent to companies for these apprenticeship opportunities, and I can talk more about that, but just to explain the second, the third part, the second part is, we then actually deliver the training in partnership with the employers to help people to become software engineers, digital marketers, data scientists, you know, business people within an organization, right at the beginning of their career and throughout. So they do these long duration apprenticeships, really innovative, very applied learning based, really what we all need in order to continue to develop ourselves through our careers. And the third piece is community, because if you're going to build an outstanding alternative to university, you need something that gives the university experience that people get, of building friendships, building social capital, building professional networks, the opportunity to develop a growth mindset and build confidence. And so, our apprenticeship offering also incorporates a community offering where we do talks, we have inspiring talks, we have social events, we have sports teams, it's a very active community. So these are three things we do, but I know we're in primarily focusing on the first part, but if you think of that as being part of the facilitation of how do you get diverse talents, and by diverse talent, I mean, people from all backgrounds, including, particularly socio-economic diversity, I think that's the biggest, you know, blocker for many people to be their best self to realize their potential, and we connect those people to great companies to start apprenticeship opportunities.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:19:22] Wow, that sounds amazing. I mean, I can totally ... I can see that specifically in the UK. Of course, there is class difference in many countries, especially across Western Europe, but my experience of, with the UK, that is where you have the private school system, and the public one is actually the private one, and then there's the state one, which is the public one.
Sophie Adelman: [00:19:40] That's correct. So, public means Eton, Harrow, these kind of, you know, elite schools, and then, yeah.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:19:46] Yeah. How did this idea get started?
Sophie Adelman: [00:19:48] So my co-founder, Euan, came up with the idea of how do we reinvent apprenticeships? And when we got together, we sort of re-invented that into the idea of how do we build an outstanding alternative to university with apprenticeships as a mechanism to do that, but not the only solution? So the ambition is bigger than that, the ambition is given university doesn't provide either employers, or young people, or people throughout their career with the skills they need to be successful in their careers today, and in the future as the future of work changes, how do we build an alternative model, an alternative pathway that's equally as prestigious to the best universities, and actually give people better alternative path? So that's where the idea kind of came from.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:20:31] Yeah. So WhiteHat is building the new future for work, so how does WhiteHat see that future?
Sophie Adelman: [00:20:36] We see people doing very different jobs in 10 years time from the ones they do today, and therefore, as a workforce, we need to be constantly up-skilling and investing in our people, so that their skill sets match the needs of employers. And I think the onus now goes on to companies to actually continue to invest in people's development. Historically, it was a responsibility of the individual to train themselves, that actually what they were going through with academic training, and then once they hit the desk, on their first job, they actually had to learn how to do the job. So, in many ways, we all did an apprenticeship, it just wasn't structured and such, and there was huge variability in terms of the amount of training and support that we received. Now, in the future, and actually, I'd say the future is today, people are now starting to require that ongoing training development. It's just something that Gen Zed, and millennials really care about, which is, how are you going to develop me? How are you going to set me up for success for the future? And companies recognize that by investing in the skills, not only do they close that gap in terms of skill set that they need, and the availability of talent, they create retention opportunities for their staff, they're really investing in the future productivity of their teams, and it will allow them to actually be much more innovative in the future. So, for us, future work is all about skills and training and development, because we expect that, you know, in 10 years time, 80% of the jobs that exist, don't exist today.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:21:59] Yeah, I can relate to a lot of the things that you're saying. I mean, I studied, actually, English language and culture, then cultural analysis, so full on liberal arts or humanities degree, ad now I'm like marketing. So, it ... There's a connection somewhere, but yeah, I did not get trained for this job through institutional education in that way. That's really interesting, because, I saw last year a presentation f- on the marketplace conference, by ... She's called Florence Aretz, works for Adevinta Ventures, and she actually said kind of two things that now resonate with what you're saying. So, first of all, she's saying that the linear career path, it's gone.
Sophie Adelman: [00:22:34] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:22:34] Uh, so people like, just because of the way the job market is progressing, like becoming more and more flexible, people will very likely, and especially in the, the younger generation will very likely start one, two or three careers, not just one. And then also indeed, because of this works becoming more and more flexible, but are, actually, the candidates or the workforce likes that or not, it just forced, basically, t- training on people of like basically comes from both sides. It's not just that the generation wants, but also to sort of ... I can't recall the numbers, but like the average career that someone has with the company has like, I don't know, like, gone down by 80% over the last 10 years or something like that. Yeah.
Sophie Adelman: [00:23:12] I think it's something that most people stay, on an average, two to three years at a company. I think it's the idea that you will stay in the same company for your whole career is basically disappeared. And even if you do stay in a company for a very long time, your job changes. So, I think one of the reasons that people stay at companies like Google and Unilever is because every 18 months, their job completely changes, and they have to relearn. They have to develop new skills, and that's exciting and engaging. So, we've got to continue to be investing in people's skill sets.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:23:41] Yeah, no, I can relate to that. I mean, my dad's retired from the same factory where he has worked for 50 years, like literally,...
Sophie Adelman: [00:23:47] Wow.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:23:48] ...which is ... I mean, but this has happened in like one generation, and I can see that, indeed, like institutional education did definitely not catch up with that development for that particular aspect. So, how is WhiteHat constrained, coming back to the Hired situation? Are you supply constrained, or supply, in this case, meaning the candidates, are you demand constrained in terms of the employers? What's the situation with WhiteHat?
Sophie Adelman: [00:24:09] So we are demand constrained. Again, similar thing as, uh, with Hired, that is about getting companies to start engaging with apprenticeships, and trying to hire this young talent, because, it's something that they haven't really done before in the past. So, a lot of what we did early on was education, you know, what is an apprenticeship? Why do you need to build a pipeline of talent? How does this help improve your diversity metrics? You know, how do you assess for high potential when somebody doesn't have a degree? Because most companies just use a degree as a checkbox to say, "Oh, this person is going to be good enough to join my company." Well, we all know that academic success and professional success are not correlated. You do ... I think, Ernst & Young did a big study where they actually looked at their apprentice group and their graduate group, and they looked at their performance during their accounting exams, and they found the apprentices actually outperformed the graduates. They also tend to stay longer. So, I think we can so quite happily point to the fallacy that somehow, if you are academically smart, you're going to be good within a role in the business. And I think most people would agree that most of the things they learnt were not from their academic environment. So, w- we are definitely more demand constrained in that regard.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:25:28] And how do you, how do you go about solving that currently?
Sophie Adelman: [00:25:30] As I said, it's, it's a lot of education. So, we have a large and, uh, growing sales team. We're really focused on how to help companies understand, not just the value of what we offer, but the need that they have as an organization to invest in their future workforce, invest in their current workforce, because apprenticeships are not just for young people, y- you know, leaving school, but also for people throughout their career. So, how can they use that concept to develop their people? And so, it's the piece of, "Let me understand the problems you're trying to solve as a business, and let me show you how we as an organization can support you in achieving those goals," whether that be, you know, ha- building a more diverse team, whether that be closing the skills gap, whether that be training their managers, there are ways to solve that problem through an apprenticeship approach.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:26:18] So, in Hired, coming back to Hired, you basically had a platform that you could sort of pick up and take to the UK and get started, with WhiteHat, you founded that company, so I'm very interested, obviously, also, because of the background of the company who was bringing this podcast to everybody, what was your first version of, of WhiteHat?
Sophie Adelman: [00:26:36] Very manual. So, one of the things I was going to say about marketplaces earlier on is that, all marketplaces, when they start to facilitate it, they got l- ... A lot of people think that they just work, but actually, behind the scenes, you've got people who are doing this matching, because, i- in, in a marketplace, it's all about getting the supply matched to the demand, with the demand matched to the supply, and helping them find each other, and make that connection and for the transaction, whatever the transaction is to occur. So, when we first started, we didn't have a platform. We had a very basic website with a form that people could fill in, both for candidates and for employers, but people still actually just called us up. So we had an e- ... You know, phone number on the website, and people would just call up and say, "Hey, I want to do an apprenticeship." Very limited inbound from employers, so, again, that was how do we go out and generate that demand? But on the supply side, it was either young people calling, or their parents calling, and then we'd take them through our vetting and curation process. Now, if they filled out the form online, at the beginning, it was incredibly manual, it was, what had they done previously, what do they want to do, what their competencies do they display? Have they had any work experience? Have they had, you know, any leadership experience? What, what do they do? And then we'd actually invite them in to a physical assessment center, essentially, to assess them in the first iteration we've done on paper and spreadsheets on Google, and we have the rolls up on a whiteboard, um, in the, in the office. And then we had the candidates in a spreadsheet, and we'd manually do the match, send the email, and it would be all done like that. Now, what's great about that is, if you can build a business where it is, you've got a supply/demand dynamic, it is a marketplace, but you can actually generate revenue without any technology, then you know that you have the ability to develop something that will be more facilitated, and you can invest in building that marketplace. Now, I, obviously, because of my Hired experience, I had an idea of what I wanted the back end of that system to look like, how I wanted that matching process to work, how I wanted to create efficiency in the candidate vetting, in the employer vetting, in the connection process, and building that data architecture behind. But at the beginning, we didn't have the money or the resource internally to do that, so, then we had to start building out so th- an online application, a platform process, and that was sort of V2, and now we're probably on V25, but V1 was very manual.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:29:03] Yeah, fantastic. Like, it's great to hear also, in a earlier episode, where I talked to Charles, who, who you also know from Florence, and he'd told me a similar story that their first shifts, uh, matching also happens in Google Sheets,...
Sophie Adelman: [00:29:17] Of course.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:29:17] ...uh, which is fantastic. Yeah.
Sophie Adelman: [00:29:18] If the right way ... So, I have pictures of that. So, sometimes in, you know, when I'm with the team, you know, what we've developed on the product and tech side, because I look at half the product and tech team the way it had, as well as some of the other teams, and when I show them where we are today, I also remind them how far we've come by showing them the original spreadsheets and how we calculated all these different metrics manually.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:29:39] Well, you say, of course, but it's not actually that logical. Like I think many people, maybe especially people who y- you could benefit from a prior experience, and, and working at a bit more with startups, and maybe realizing that the idea is probably more important than the initial execution, but I think, often people, and, and we see that also a- at Sharetribe a lot, people are very ... They would like to build Uber in a day, you know,...
Sophie Adelman: [00:30:02] Yeah.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:30:03] ...with everything including SMS notifications, geolocation, any kind of thing. So, I'm actually ... Yeah.
Sophie Adelman: [00:30:08] But I think people forget that all of these companies started off with humans going out into the street and making that business work. I mean, with ... I had friends at Uber, and when they launch new markets, they'd literally go around and find cab drivers and talk to them and convince them that this new startup was something they wanted to do. And I think at the end of the day, it's all about sales, but you have to, you have to show this product market fit before you can start spending money on building product. And, and importantly, if you build a tech product before you understand what you need, and what dynamics you need to develop and generate, and the efficiencies you need, and what the priorities would be, you learn that building something doesn't actually work. So, I actually think that those organizations that don't start by using spreadsheets and whiteboards are missing a trick, because you learn a huge amount, and it a- allows you to, to know when pain points are in your process.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:31:02] Yeah. And it, it, it really ... We always sort of hammer on this idea that, well, you need, first, need to validate this idea somehow. So, it doesn't happen until you basically the first transaction happens,...
Sophie Adelman: [00:31:11] Mmh.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:31:12] ...which is a nice segue into my question, uh, what was the first transaction for WhiteHat?
Sophie Adelman: [00:31:16] So, we worked with a lot of very small companies early on, before we started working with the Santanders and the, the Skys, and the, you know, Googles of the world. We worked with very small companies. We had to build our reputation. So, I think the first placement was with a company called Servest, I think that's right, in facility needs. I can't remember exactly. And we went on to law firms and small tech companies. Quite frankly, at the beginning, it was just anyone who was willing to take on a, an, a young apprentice, and invest in their development, and then we learned along the way. And I think you have to start with low risk. I think the companies that start by trying to win the big deals straight off the bat with these big companies, are setting themselves up, up for failure, because, those big companies require a lot of support, a lot of account management, they want things to be bespoke, and you can actually refocus your entire team to build something for that big client. Whereas, if you can establish yourself and say, "No, this works for lots of small companies," then you can actually go to the big companies and say, "No, no, we built something we, you know, works, you need to adapt to us." And that's more how we work now. We are the experts, and they, they start to sort of listen to our advice.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:32:30] Yeah, but of course, it's, it's taken you a couple of years to build that position, like what you s- mentioned also with the education and everything.
Sophie Adelman: [00:32:36] Yeah.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:32:36] Hey, this was s- super insightful. I got so much out of this already. I learn everything e- every time I learned something new, and I really like the idea of these squares thinking. So, thanks for that. Time for a final plug for the people in the UK, I think, isn't WhiteHat UK only for now?
Sophie Adelman: [00:32:52] Yes, we're only in the UK right now, but the plan is to, to move to the US early next year. So ...
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:32:57] Oh, wow. So, where can people find WhiteHat?
Sophie Adelman: [00:33:00] So, if you go to whitehat.org.uk, and if you're a company that's looking to take on apprentices, then you can click on, on the employers tab, and somebody in the team would love to speak to you about the different kind of apprenticeships that we offer to both young people, bringing on new talent, because I know a lot of companies aren't hiring right now. So, something to keep in mind for the future, but also, if you want to invest in your existing talent, even if that's furloughed, which a lot o' companies are doing right now, you can actually start somebody on an apprenticeship during their furlough period, and it's a great way to keep people engaged, and active, and developing their skills while they're on furlough. So, it's very timely right now that people are able to invest in their development.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:33:38] All right. Thank you very much, Sophie.
Sophie Adelman: [00:33:40] Wonderful, thank you. Speaker 2: [00:33:41] [music playing] Thank you for listening to Two-Sided, the marketplace podcast. If you enjoyed today's show, don't forget to subscribe. If you listen on iTunes, we'd also love for you to rate and give us a review. If you got inspired to build your own marketplace, go visit https://www.sharetribe.com, it's the fastest way to build a successful online marketplace business. Until next time.
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