When every entrepreneur’s nightmare came true for the founders of one young company, they knuckled down, powered on through, and came out the other side of it with a better business.
In October 2015, two years after launching their disruptive SME recruitment platform TalentPool, co-founders Andrew Lavelle and Tom Davenport were, “in a way that was entirely planned”, coming close to using up the last of their startup funding. They had spoken to investors about trying to raise some more capital, and were about to embark on the next stage of growth – and then disaster struck.
“Every business goes through a phase when dependency on the founders has to stop at some point. Now, Tom and I could both go away for a week or so and nothing would happen, the platform would keep going, people would get hired, but that wasn’t the case last year,” Lavelle told Business Advice when we sat down with the pair at their base in tech incubator space the Rainmaking Loft.
“One Monday, I found myself in the office completely on my own,” said Davenport. Three-quarters of his team were seriously ill – Lavelle with glandular fever – and the remaining founder would have to go it alone for four weeks.
“That month was definitely the most challenging of my life,” Davenport said. “It made university finals seem easy. I lost quite a lot of weight – not because I was nervous, but through my absolute and total focus on getting it right. I didn’t drink a drop the whole time!”
Having met while working as management consultants, TalentPool’s founders are no stranger to long hours, and Davenport was able to take twelve-hour days in his stride. “That wasn’t too bad – the difficult thing was the pressure on me to get everything right, because I couldn’t talk to Andrew, and a wrong call could have scuppered us quite badly,” he explained.
His decisions turned out to be the right ones. The business not only survived, but went on to successfully raise an additional £300,000 in April 2016. Yet the experience highlighted for both the importance of not going it alone as a small business owner.
“We both have girlfriends and parents who we can talk to but that’s not the same as someone who’s been there since the beginning. Nothing beats having someone as a sounding board who really gets the business,” said Lavelle.
Key to the success of the pair’s working relationship has been the clear division of responsibilities between the two. Davenport is responsible for TalentPool’s finances and operations, while Lavelle looks after the company’s innovative recruitment technology, which uses algorithmic matching to invite candidates to apply for suitable vacancies in a few clicks, doing away with the endless hours of searching and emailing CVs often associated with the graduate job hunt.
Yet it is not just the pair’s different areas of focus, but their contrasting perspectives, which they think make their business relationship so important to their company’s success.
“Though we agree on the core, Andrew and I have very different outlooks, so on almost everything else we disagree,” said Davenport.
“It’s often the case that if we’re discussing a particular issue, I come at it from a candidate perspective and Tom thinks about it from the point of view of the client. You need to have two people at least to entertain all of those possibilities, and doing so is incredibly valuable,” added Lavelle.
Having recovered from the shock of their first major crisis, the pair now plan to use a recent cash injection to improve the matching algorithm and expand the platform’s base beyond a current base of almost 15,000 candidates and over 260 employers.
“If full speed for a business is 60 miles per hour, 0-10 was much easier than we expected,” said Davenport. “10-30 was much harder. But the business is in much better shape now. Once you start heading towards 100 clients, those little inefficiencies start to cost you time and money, and you have to improve your processes. At one point we had over 50 acquisition channels – now we’ve cut that down to the four or five that actually work.”
As they prepare to put their foot on the accelerator once more, it’s hard to imagine a team more capable of overcoming whatever is thrown at them.
Inspired to find yourself a business partner? Here’s one way of doing it.
Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest from Business Advice.