After seeing a disconnect in the market, Charles and his team decided to create a solution for employers and recent grads to find one another.
Davis Baer: What’s your background, and what are you working on?
My name is Charles, CEO @ UnivJobs. I studied Software Development and Network Engineering at Sheridan Polytechnic Institute. The first time I ever touched code was freshman year.
We built UnivJobs while at school. UnivJobs is a marketplace for students and recent grads to connect with employers for part-time, internships, co-ops, and entry-level jobs. Candidates use our service to earn extra cash and find career building experiences. Employers use our service to find young people to hire.
Our biggest clients are Instacart, Home Depot, Air Miles, and recently Rover (the dog walking app). They’re early adopters of our very first paid subscription plan. We’ve also had conversations with a few big banks, notably, Bank of Montreal (BMO). Mostly, we are noticing that companies come to us to find recent grads or tech talent.
What motivated you to get started with your company?
I knew that I wanted to build a startup after attending my first ever hackathon sponsored by Google. The winner of the competition combined three algorithms in one day to produce 3D printed hearts. Apparently, this type of thing normally takes weeks to create. It was at that moment that I became obsessed with the possibilities of things we can achieve with software.
After my first internship at Blackberry in Waterloo, I felt confident that I could easily secure my next job, having experience at Blackberry on my resume. As for my peers, I noticed that they were struggling to secure their own opportunities. I also realized that a bigger problem was at play after receiving a furious email forwarded to me and all the other STEM students at Sheridan from my our career advisor that no one attended the career fair for us to meet with employers. To be honest, none of us were even aware that there was a career fair in the first place. Concurrently in this Canadian landscape, I became aware that multiple news outlets had published articles about a quiet crisis in Canada regarding youth unemployment and underemployment. Around this time, things started clicking in my head that this was the problem we were going to tackle, particularly because we knew this space very well from a students perspective.
Not long after, I built the first version of the platform. I realized that I couldn’t do it alone, so I started recruiting friends who I knew weren’t afraid of tackling hard problems- especially while we juggled school. I found Khalil, now our CTO, and Julio, our DevOps specialist. They were instrumental in taking the load off of me so I could focus on product development and customer acquisition.
What went into building the initial product?
To validate UnivJobs, we did the following.
1 day of building a landing page. We didn’t know Mailchimp back then so we just used Firebase to gather all the emails.
We got about 200 signups in a couple of days after posting it on our Facebook walls and asking out friends to reshare it.
Employers were tougher to get, I realized LinkedIn and Twitter were the wrong channels to get employers. What actually worked well was cold emails or warm referrals from old contacts.
After we gathered a sizable amount of signups from both students and employers (400), we started using AWS’s free-tier. Originally, the codebase was Django Rest and React Redux, but when Khalil joined, he wanted to use Node.js. I told him if he could replicate the whole backend using Node, he’s on the team. Within a few weeks he was able to replicate most of the backend and now we’re using Node, Express, and Sequelize ORM. He’s now our CTO. Khalil had to learn how to build an entire architecture while I had to move into learning the business side of things from user acquisition, sales channels, marketing, etc.. We learned to cut scope and just build things quickly to see if the feature was useful or not. I normally skipped class and spent nearly every waking hour learning how to build a product that people want.
How have you attracted users and grown your company?
In the beginning, we kept posting in different Facebook groups to generate signups. We got about 5 to 10 signups per post. The most we got was 600 signups in one day. This traffic came from a blog post by a famous publication in Toronto called BlogTO. On the employer side, I decided to focus on cold emailing big brand names in the beginning to create a good perception of our startup. We never once used paid advertisements to get employers, we tried to generate as much word of mouth interest as we could to spark organic growth. We leveraged a few campus-linked accelerators to get media attention that has been helpful in terms of PR.
I still strongly believe that we have not yet found product-market fit. However, we are close. We continue to get emails and meeting requests from corporations asking about UnivJobs. One of the biggest indicators that we were onto something is when two of the biggest banks in Canada asked to meet with me personally for a demo, and one of them kept on bashing a competitor of ours for how awful it is for them to use a WordPress site that hasn’t changed for over 10 years.
What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
As of right now, our business model is a mixture of pay-per-posting and subscription in order to get access to our student database. We started for free for about 10 months in order to get feedback from our early users.
We started charging in June of 2018 for $20/posting. Feedback from our employers on the pricing change was that they were unsure why it was so cheap; they told us we should be charging way more. This led us to increase our price to $100/posting. A few months ago, we added a subscription plan of $500/month for our enterprise customers. This helped us increase our MRR with a 200% increase month over month.
In the beginning, I used to spend a lot of time talking to employers who weren’t sure if they wanted to invest $20 per-posting. Today, I mainly focus my efforts on employers who are willing to pay more and use our self-serve features.
My biggest tip for entrepreneurs with regards to pricing is to start low then increase it over-time when you have more useful features. It’s harder to complain when you have more valuable things to give and your users see that.
What are your goals for the future?
Our goal right now is to land 9 more enterprise customers for the year.
This means I have to personally work on getting better in enterprise sales. I’m fairly decent in cold emails, however, discovery calls to closing a deal is where I need to improve by 10x. I started a daily habit of doing 10 cold emails to employers per day, and I commit an hour each day making cold calls. That is the most important thing right now for us.
On the product side, we plan to create Targeted Postings where employers can specify the school and students they want their job to be shown to. For example, an employer could say: I want a student in Comp Sci that is in their 3rd year and knows French and is from either Waterloo, Ryerson or University of Toronto.
We also want to build tool for recruiters eliminating their need to take pictures of student resumes during campus recruitment tours. Normally, they have to stay at work after-hours in order to go through the hundreds of pictures they took, then somehow upload them, and then follow up with the candidates.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
The biggest challenge for us is getting the right person to join our team. In the beginning, I would just the pick person based on their program and their enthusiasm to work with us. Geez, was I wrong. Figuring out their internal motivation and future goals allowed me to pick better people to be on our team. For us, building the product is easier, learning about sales and user acquisition is something new that we’ve had to learn and continue to learn more about.
Another thing that is still an obstacle is continuing to understand and prioritizing what tasks need to get done. For us to move forward, I need to focus more on sales rather than coding. If I had to start over, I would have tried charging right away for at least $5/posting.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Here are books that I found useful:
What’s your advice for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
My advice for other entrepreneurs who are starting out is to quickly validate your idea without spending a lot of money on building a finished product. Use whatever free resources you have. The common thing that business people do is use a lot of money to pay for people and then build out version 1. That version 1 money could have been used to buy a landing page or a kick-starter video. When you have a lot of signups from people, that is when you actually build the product.
Where can we go to learn more?
Here is our website. If you are a student, recent grad, or an employer in Canada looking for part-time work, career building opportunities or early career candidates to hire, check us out at https://univjobs.ca.
If you have any questions regarding hiring, product, software development or anything else that you think may help you, feel free to comment below or tweet me at @charlesjavelona.