For most of Gen Y, we were always told, “You can be whatever you want to be. Just work hard and you’ll be successful”. No one ever mentioned GFCs or unemployment rates. You mean, I can’t just do well in school my whole life and magically land a fulfilling career? Hold on, what?!
I left Uni at the start of the Global Financial Crisis. I was a recently-graduated expat in the job pool along with the thousands of highly-experienced people being laid off left, right and centre. Me, land a career-related job? I couldn’t even get temp work! At one point, I was literally counting out my coins to see if I could afford bread. But tough economic times inspire entrepreneurship.
Not one to back down in front of a challenge, I forged my own path by starting my own media and marketing business consulting to SMEs – trouble was, I had only just started. I needed to supplement my income with a part-time job while I grew my client base. So I spent hours banging my head against the virtual job boards searching for opportunities that would fit around my consulting schedule – a monumental feat considering “part time” is relegated to a tick box in a category on most archaic job boards still practicing the online classifieds model. And recruiters? Finding one that would give me, as a part-timer, the time of day was like being picked last for gym class. But I wasn’t alone in my dissatisfaction.
Fellow consultant (and soon-to-be co-founder) Fiona Anson was having the same frustrating experience trying to find a job that fit around her clients and assorted responsibilities. Grumbling about our common complaint regarding the methods (or lack thereof) that were open to people looking for flexible work, we decided to build our own solution. We figured if a dating site can match love interests, why couldn’t a job site match work and availability interests? So, we built HireMeUp with a world-first availability search engine making it easier for people to find jobs that fit into their lives.
Despite having no experience in HR or recruitment and a meager amount of HTML knowledge between us, we had an idea we both felt passionately about and we acted on it.
Fiona is no stranger to starting up her own business, but for me it was a new adventure. Although I had started my own consulting practice a mere two months before, this was different. Any time spent on HireMeUp wasn’t work – it was exhilarating!
But, while I loved every minute of building HireMeUp, for the first 6 months I was like a married woman having an affair. I only told my closest family and friends about my new venture and even then I downplayed the significance. To do otherwise was to go out on a limb where I would be vulnerable to failure and judgment — things that I avoid at all costs.
In the beginning there were a million fears of “what if” that kept me from truly taking ownership of my new passion. What if the business flopped? What will people say when I say I’ve started a business at 25-years-old in an industry I have no experience in? What would it mean for my career? But as time went on my confidence grew and I started to answer these fears with, “So what?”
The first year of HireMeUp was definitely a roller coaster. Our first platform we attempted to build from scratch made us want to pull our hair out, so we binned it and sacrificed some of our ideal features for more reliable off-the-shelf job board software we heavily customised. A compromise. We had potential partners, developers and employees get our hopes up only to let us down. We threw money at professional branding and marketing only to have a hacker attack our site partway through our advertising campaign. We spent weeks upon weeks – months! — chasing up leads that never amounted to anything and even had a government agency rave about what we were doing and offer us their support only to not follow through.
Personally, the pace I’d set for myself juggling a part-time job, my consulting clients and HireMeUp was exhausting making every dip in the roller coaster that much more painful. Not to mention sacrificing my social life, savings and, sometimes, sanity. At so many points along the way, Fiona and I laughed because while we preached “work-life balance,” we certainly weren’t practicing it!
But, the dues we paid started paying us back and by our first birthday we were finally making some serious waves.
By the end of year one, we reached the point of profitability and not long after, we won a pitching competition for female entrepreneurs that whisked us over to Silicon Valley where, within four amazing days, our minds were blown. While in the mecca of tech, we had an epiphany that has set the course for the future of HireMeUp.
Our second year was roller coaster like the first but with a lot more ups than downs — although it did bring one of the most heartbreaking points when yet another potential partner pulled out when we needed them most. But Fiona and I are both big believers in what is meant to be will be. And in hindsight, we needed these dips — we had to take the journey.
Developing two imperfect platforms spurred the creation of new services to compensate for what our technology lacked. Trialing different marketing strategies and different approaches to business growth helped us to really understand what works and what doesn’t. Now, armed with all of this experience and learning, we’ve been able to pull way back to re-examine the flexible workforce and its needs in a way that no one else has. In just a few weeks, we’ll be launching a truly revolutionary, disruptive approach to the flexible workforce’s problems — and we did all we could before reaching the point of seeking investment.
Having access to more resources had always been high on our wish list but financial constraint really had been a blessing in disguise because we’ve kept our mass low and we’re now able to pivot (or as we like to say, “pirouette”) swiftly because we don’t have a huge company to rotate. We also haven’t wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars amplifying a flawed product as we’ve seen other startups do.
We bootstrapped, worked part time, juggled family and friends, stole as many hours in a day as we could to grow the business, taught ourselves HTML code, battled hackers on our own, took our own version of recruitment and HR 101 and put every spare cent, credit and hour into our baby.
It was the two years of blood, sweat and tears that helped attract our first investors and it’s this same drive that will be the key to our success as we set out to conquer the Australian market before taking on the world!
In the last two years, I’ve learned to get out of my own way and not let my own fears of the unknown hold me back. I’ve also learned that I’m much more of a risk-taker than I thought — and I’m a glutton for punishment! And while a fulfilling career is not necessarily going to be served up on a silver platter if you tick all of the right boxes, you can take part in determining your own destiny.
I can honestly say starting up HireMeUp has been one of my biggest achievements to date and I can’t imagine a more fulfilling career. I can’t wait to see how the rest of our story unfolds. I can promise it will be one worth reading about!
About Alli Baker
Alli Baker is the Co-Founder and Director of HireMeUp, a revolutionary mobile and web platform dedicated to taking the pain out of finding part-time and flexible work. Her background in Journalism, PR and marketing has seen her work with a variety of companies from multi-national to small business. With a focus on print and online, she has worked with and written for several U.S. newspapers with circulations ranging from a few thousand to a few million such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today and the McClatchy Newspapers Washington bureau.
Since moving to Australia, she has used her journalism training and previous experience working as a media researcher to run her own media and marketing consulting business advising small businesses on how to implement a low-cost, high impact media and marketing strategy. It was in the early stages of starting her consulting business that she co-founded, HireMeUp.
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