Having run his own construction company for ten years, Martin Jones was no stranger to entrepreneurship when he launched online recruitment platform Trobs, which connects building companies with available workers.
Inspired by recruitment sites focusing on creative projects, he wanted to create a similar offering for the construction industry, a sector with very specific recruitment challenges and where contractors are often needed at very short notice.
Jones had been thinking about the concept for three years before he passed on his construction company to his cousin and took the leap of launching the platform in mid-2015. “It was scary, but I think Trobs has a really good chance of success. I knew I had to commit to it fully because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to take it forward – you can’t start a company with 20 hours a week. I’m now spending 60-70 hours a week on it, which I think you need to do if you want to be a success.”
The process of outsourcing the technical development of his site has been a learning curve for Jones, who explained: “I started off using developers in India, but I found that things were progressing too slowly, so I ended up using Upwork to find some people in Ukraine instead.” He emphasised that it is worth being thorough and diligent when trying to find the right people, because once he did, “the process really sped up, although there are still changes I want to make on the development side.”
Marketing to recruiters has provided an additional challenge, though it is also the most exciting aspect of the business for the Trobs founder, who cited Facebook and AdWords as his main tools in this area – although he believes that the latter can work out expensive because it means paying for lots of irrelevant clicks. He is also looking at the potential of Twitter to grow the profile of his company in future.
“I already had lots of experience of SEO through running a construction company, but it takes trial and error and lots of time to work out what’s delivering the best marketing return-on-investment. Ultimately, I think referrals are the most effective way to reach more customers – a big focus of mine is on getting users to promote the site themselves” he said.
Jones is hoping to take on an intern to help with this area of the business as soon as he is comfortable that his revenue can comfortably support the wages it would entail.
And the site has proved incredibly popular with contractors, and now has over 1,500 registered. “A big advantage of this platform over something like Gumtree, which I previously used for recruitment and a lot of people in the industry still do rely on, is the way it grows every time a job is posted, because users have to create a profile to apply for a position, so even those who aren’t successful can be contacted about other jobs,” Jones said.
Jones has made Trobs stand out from the competition by speeding up the recruitment process – applicants selected receive a text message to let them know as soon as a job is available for them. “Construction companies will often need someone tomorrow, so it’s a big advantage for them to be able to search for contractors and make instant enquiries to find out who is available,” he explained. In contrast, Jones said that recruitment using a more traditional job board model could often take a week.
The most difficult aspect of the process for Jones has been getting the platform right as a non-tech founder. “It’s hard to find good developers who want to put other peoples’ ideas into place. My advice to anyone looking for freelancers is to spend a lot of time searching, reading profiles and inviting people to apply for the job – don’t expect them just to come to you. When I found the right people the process really sped up, although there are still changes I want to make on the development side.”
Once he has perfected the model, Jones is excited about the opportunities for expansion provided within and beyond the construction industry. “It’s a brilliant sector to be involved with because it’s growing so quickly,” he explained. The Trobs founder thinks that collaborating with more traditional agencies could provide growth prospects as well. “Small business owners used to see Amazon as a negative force in the market – now they’re embracing its logistics. I think the same thing could happen with this sort of recruitment as well,” he said.
And for Jones, the benefits of entrepreneurship certainly dwarf the difficulties. “Would I start up other companies in the future? Definitely. As long as you’re surrounded by the right people, there’s no reason not to go for it.”
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