Sydney startup Conx aims to shake up construction sector jobs market

8:17AM | Monday, 18 August

Sydney-based startup Conx has developed a job networking platform specifically aimed at the construction industries, in an attempt to address skill shortages in the sector.   Australia is no stranger to employment startups, with AirTasker (temp jobs), Freelancer (IT jobs), Dippla (hospitality) all targeting various sectors.   Conx differentiates itself by targeting only jobs in the construction industry.   Employers can sign up, create a project and then an SMS and email is sent out to all the tradespeople that match that criteria.   Co-founder Annie Slattery says prospective employees don’t have to worry about getting spammed constantly with jobs that don’t suit them.   “It’s very construction specific, we ask them for their driver’s licence, transport method, tools, their insurances and trade licences,” she says.   “We know exactly what they need. If you want an electrician, the message isn’t going to go to a carpenter.”   Once the employer has created a project, they’re shown a list of applicants, which they narrow down even further to a shortlist of favourites. Those favourites will be notified and the first to accept gets the job.   “They don’t care about CVs, previous hobbies, interests, or things like that,” Slattery says with a laugh.   Conx is trying to solve a skills shortage in the industry by making it easier for employers to connect with potential employees.   “There’s a massive skills shortage in Australia in construction and it’s mostly due to inefficiencies in how they connect, because they still go for traditional word of mouth,” she says.   “One of my co-founders is a tradie and we know first-hand how they operate.   “Tradies don’t use Seek, they use Gumtree and it is an inefficient medium, so we’ve built this specifically to target them.”   Conx began as a classifieds website called GetTradies, before pivoting to Conx.   “GetTradies was like we saw this instant problem and we built that to see if we could solve it,” Slattery says.   “We built it with a basic WordPress site and the technology was basic, but it didn’t take long to see that we were trying to solve a massive problem, Australia-wide, industry-wide.   “So we’ve built Conx with scalable technologies and with a much bigger vision now. So we can actually grow really fast.”   Conx went live last Saturday and the first Conx tradie completed his day at work on Wednesday.   “We’ve already got construction companies, especially here in Sydney, excited about it,” Slattery says.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Six business lessons from The Wolf of Wall Street

1:45AM | Tuesday, 28 January

The Wolf of Wall Street film is an intoxicating mix of seedy stock market practices, suave sales techniques, charismatic but corrupt businessmen and mountains and mountains of cash.   Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, the infamous Wall Street stock market guru who built an incredible fortune selling penny stocks and laundering money, before facing the wrath of the FBI, prison time and millions of dollars in fines.   While based on a book written by Belfort, large amounts of Belfort’s tale were fictionalised by director Martin Scorsese. But DiCaprio’s character can teach us a few things about the right and wrong ways to do business.   Clearly fraud, stashing money in Swiss bank accounts, secretly buying stocks in an initial public offering, and bribing an FBI agent – as subtle as it may have been portrayed – are all clearly no-go’s.   However, remarkably, there are six things that business owners can learn from:   1. Eat your pride and start from scratch   In the film, Belfort started his career at a high-flying stock broking firm, but when it crashed he found himself at a dodgy local operation that sold worthless ‘penny stocks’ in companies unlikely to succeed. Not perturbed, he picked up the phone, started selling, and fearlessly built a livelihood from scratch.   2. Have passion, but not too much   While Belfort’s passion for money led him to unscrupulous practices, it can’t be denied that DiCaprio’s portrayal showed how much he loved his industry and was intensely motivated to sell and succeed. If a business owner channelled passion like this in a legal way, there would be no stopping them.   3. Nail the sale   When Belfort picks up the phone to make a sale, he will not hang up until the ink is signed. He could sell anything – from someone’s own pen back to them, to stocks in a company that barely existed. The art of building a rapport with a client, enlisting their confidence and making them feel positive about a purchase is a skill all business people can learn.   4. Hire on potential   When Donnie Azoff, played by Jonah Hill, meets DiCaprio’s Belfort in a diner, he drills Belfort on how he managed to buy the posh sports car parked out the front. He wants to work for Belfort, despite having no experience, but Belfort spies his hunger for money and takes him on. He trains him to lead a ‘wolf pack’ of hard-hitting sales gurus. This becomes his hiring technique – gathering people with potential rather than impressive CVs.   5. Staff incentives help loyalty   Admittedly hiring escorts, providing illicit pharmaceuticals and throwing parties that trash entire floors of hotels are not appropriate incentives for staff. But Belfort’s goal to build camaraderie and reward success fostered loyalty in his team, which should be the aim of any business owner.   6. Give a winning speech   DiCaprio’s Belfort had the art of a captivating monologue down pat. He revelled in showing his passion, motivating his team and twisting a bad scenario into something uplifting. He threw $40,000 watches into the crowd and told his team he loved them. Clearly speeches like this are over the top and inappropriate in a modern business setting. But being a polished public speaker, good staff motivator and being a face of a business are all elements a business owner can take away.

Three common mistakes to avoid when hiring your first few team members

1:29PM | Tuesday, 14 January

It’s widely accepted that having the right team is one of the most important factors for start-up success.   But many cash-constrained and time-poor start-ups can struggle to make the best hiring decisions.   Julie Seletto, co-founder and operational director of recruitment firm Seed Talent, says start-ups usually only hire when they have to, when the stress of massive workloads really begins to wear on them.   “It’s absolutely key that you don’t wait until your business is under pressure or you’re in desperate need to hire someone,” Seletto says. “The key thing in establishing a business is staying true to your culture and brand. So always be looking to hire for the right talent, don’t leave it until you need them.”   She shared the top three first hire mistakes start-up founders make and how to avoid them with StartupSmart.   Take the time to realise your own skills gaps   Before you even start flicking through CVs or composing job ads, founders need to take the time to work out exactly what skills their team will need to reach their growth goals.   “The main hiring mistake we see all the time is failing to take the time to understand what you as a founder need. Often start-ups get excited and carried away and want to grow the business quickly, so hire on a whim,” Seletto says.   But companies that take the time to recognise what skills they need but don’t yet have, and approach recruitment at least partly as a skills acquisition process, will rarely regret the time investment, says Seletto.   “As a director, you need to push your ego to the side and realise what skills you have to get the business where you want it to get to, and what gaps you have. Because first and foremost you need to attract people to provide or fill those gaps,” she says.   Don’t scrimp on costs for first hires, but be smart about how you structure the salary   Often start-ups choose to economise on early hires because they have no other option, but Seletto says being willing to pay more for your first few hires is a wise decision.   “Too many start-ups sacrifice quality for costs. But getting the right people on board early is crucial, so you probably want to invest more in your first few hires so you’ve got excellent people to help build the culture,” Seletto says.   As outsourcing continues to flourish, Seletto says more and more first hires for start-ups are growth and marketing team members so you can offer a lower base strategy with ample performance incentives.   “Figure out what you want to achieve from each hire and structure each package flexibly around that. Try to structure packages so they can earn more, but emphasise the ‘earn’ part: attach it to targets with a lower base salary supported by lots of short and long term incentives,” Seletto says, adding profit sharing or equity options are good incentives to attract entrepreneurial types to your team.   Set really clear targets and don’t be afraid to move people on   Many start-ups hire organically, from their own networks or via social media. Seletto says this means it’s especially important to have really clear targets and goals for the new hire, and be willing to move them on if they aren’t performing.   “In reality, if you hire someone and it’s not working out, you can finish them up quickly. But to avoid having to do that, you need really clearly defined goals, targets and expectations. You also need to coach those you’ve invested in to give them and you their best shot at success,” Seletto says.   By having clear goals and regularly following up with new hires, you can make sure you have similar expectations and touchstones to discuss their performance against.   She adds networking and attending events is critical for savvy start-up founders on the hunt for excellent talent.   “For start-ups, they join you at the early stages, not the business. So get out there, get to know people and leverage your reputation,” Seletto says. “When you don’t have an established brand you need to sell your vision and story. Start-up directors should always do the hiring in the early stages because they’re the business.”

Rapping Peter Strong: Keepin’ it real against red tape

7:18AM | Wednesday, 31 July

Since Old Taskmaster was knee-high to a grasshopper, the clowns in Canberra have been stifling small business owners with red tape and regulation.   While many business regulations are created with multinationals like BHP Billiton and Wesfarmers in mind, the same compliance hoops and taxes are also forced onto sole traders, small businesses and start-ups with far fewer resources.   Unfortunately, despite the fact small businesses are the backbone of the Australian economy, the message just doesn’t seem to be getting through. Until now, that is.   Thanks to Council of Small Business of Australia executive director Peter Strong – with a little help from YouTube – that message is now going viral. In fact, earlier this morning, the clip was doing the rounds here at Taskmaster Towers.   Strong recorded a rap music video on behalf of small business owners and entrepreneurs across the nation, telling Kevin Rudd to start keeping it real on red tape. It’s a battle rap against bureaucracy.   While it probably won’t force the likes of Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre or Kanye West to update their CVs just yet, the clip turned out better than you might imagine.   If it hasn’t shown up in your email or on your Twitter feed yet, here’s the video everyone’s talking about:     Now, you might think it’s a little silly. But it’s novelty value that causes videos to go viral on social media sites, including YouTube.   So Old Taskmaster says it’s time to take a leaf out of Peter Strong’s book. If you use YouTube as one of your social media channels, don’t just upload a boring old ad. Instead, create a video with some novelty value to it and have some fun with it!   Get it done – and bust a funky lyric!

Managing expectations: Is your manager right for your business?

7:43AM | Monday, 8 July

After scouring through the seemingly endless pile of CVs to find what is, in your mind, the chosen one, and then going through the interview process and calling referees that give glowing reviews (that is, after all, why they’ve been put forward), you think the position is filled like a perfect profiterole.   The first month is pure honeymoon. The newly appointed manager cannot put a foot wrong and you feel rather pleased with yourself for finding such a top pick.   Time goes by, however, and you’re starting to become frustrated with little things that haven’t been done and the attention to detail that is just not there.   Here are a few tell-tale signs that the pressure of hospitality management may not be their cup of tea.   Any one of these behaviours should sound warning bells. More than two – sound the alarm!   Deadline phobia   A deadline is a commitment. A manager that cannot set or stick to deadlines has commitment issues. Failure to set and meet deadlines also means that no one can ever feel a true sense of achievement.   How can you celebrate milestones if there are none?   Too much focus on small tasks   Years ago, I was working in a large restaurant with many managers and there was one in particular that was hired to be a day manager for the café side of the business. He was always on time, his data was always up to date and he would always volunteer for projects that he had no training or skill for, like marketing plans, menu design and supplier management.   It was all ‘busy work’ to hide the fact the he couldn’t do the job he was hired for.   Preference for weak candidates   This is one blunder that happens far too often! Take, for example, a café manager and assistant manager interviewing three candidates for a new position. One is clearly too inexperienced, the second is too cocky and rubs everyone the wrong way and the third stands head and shoulders above the rest.   Who do you think the managers hire?   The junior!   They feel threatened by the confident and competent candidate; the managers simply don’t have the experience to know that you should seek to hire people smarter and more capable than yourself.   Over-sensitivity   "I know she’s always late, but if I raise the subject, she’ll be hurt."   An inability to be direct and honest with staff is a critical warning sign. Can your manager see a problem, address it headlong and move on? If not, problems won’t be resolved; they’ll only get bigger.   When managers say staff are too sensitive, they are usually describing themselves. Shrinking violets don’t make great leaders; weed them out. Interestingly, secrecy and over-sensitivity almost always travel together. They are a bias against honesty.   Not all that glitters is gold   You’ve seen it before. The (supposed) perfect manager: they have worked in some of the city’s best venues and are well-respected by their peers. You think to yourself “if they can manage a three-hat venue they can run mine and take it to the next level!”   What you don’t know is that this manager was simply a headwaiter that the staff looked to for guidance and that the upper management did not look to or involve them in any decisions about marketing, financials or other important tasks.   It won’t take long to realise you’ve hired a headwaiter, not a venue manager – hopefully, before it’s too late.

Global start-up leadership course opens applications for Australian program

6:27AM | Monday, 24 June

Applications are now open for the Startup Leadership Program, a global, founder-focused development course for start-ups across all sectors.   The coordinator of the Melbourne program, Grant Downie, says the two-month, part-time course was designed to attract start-ups across a range of industries.   “We try really hard to get a diverse group,” says Downie. “We’re not tech focused, although tech is part of every business these days.”   Melbourne is currently the only Australian chapter of the organisation, but Downie says there are discussions with teams in Sydney and Brisbane for next year.   Over 900 entrepreneurs have graduated from the program since it launched in Boston in 2006.   With only 20 places, it’s one of the more exclusive development programs in Australia. Applicants need to submit their CVs and a summary of their business along with the application form.   “It’s for founders and CEOs of early stage ventures,” Downie says. “It can be for people who have been running a business for 18 months and want to get their business to the next level or those who are just getting started and, so, still have day jobs.”   Previous attendees have included iAward winning company CareMonkey and OneTouch, which has raised a significant amount of capital in the last year in Silicon Valley and from Melbourne angel investors.   “We look for people who have taken initiative previously and who can demonstrate that, by attending the program, they’ll be able to pass on the knowledge and training by developing their business and being a more knowledgeable and active member of the community,” Downie says.   He says the focus of the program is broadening the business owner’s skill so they’re equipped to coordinate a business, not just an idea or product.   “As a generalisaiton, most people go into a start-up because they believe they’ve got this niche offering and that’s why they’re going to be successful. And that’s quite a narrow perspective,” says Downie. “This is a basic general management program to help specialists, people with narrow experience, understand how to run and grow a complete business.”   Downie says the practical focus of the course is boosted by the global network of graduates. He has been working with the coordinators in China, Japan and Hong Kong to develop the local course.   “There is a lot of collaboration internationally, especially for the cities that have been up and running for a while,” Downie says, adding that this is only the second Australian program.   “These conversations and contacts are especially helpful for those looking to export, critical for Australians, because you can connect with someone with exactly the same entrepreneurial mindset.”  

“How we raised funds pre-development”: SpotJobs co-founder tells

3:31AM | Monday, 4 March

Another new niche job site, SpotJobs, is preparing for its national media launch next month, having already received seed funding and office space from residential builder Simonds Homes.

Start-up takes a social approach to recruitment

10:36PM | Monday, 22 October

Businesses searching for staff are increasingly turning to social tools such as LinkedIn to unearth the best candidates.


5:25PM | Wednesday, 2 May

While running their recruitment agency, Patrick Flaherty and Matthew Hughes realised that the hiring process could be enhanced with a healthy dose of video.

Should we already know the people who will sit on our board?

3:38AM | Friday, 15 March

This article first appeared August 29, 2011.   If you are starting out, you should definitely approach potential board members that you already know.   There are many reasons for this:

Shifting the focus to your team

5:32AM | Tuesday, 31 May

I was talking through Shoes of Prey's strategy with a good friend Chris Chan the other day and he made the following observation: “From where you are now, the success of Shoes of Prey is less about the founders and more about your team.”

Cold calling versus networking: Which path should you tread?

5:41PM | Monday, 30 May

Competition is fierce. You need to be on your game, ready and nimble as a start-up. The best technology, the greatest processes all means nothing unless you’re willing to network and be known. A start-up requires a great communicator and a person that can tell the story. There is an audience willing to listen if you know how to find it.

LinkedIn reveals online resume cliches

12:31AM | Wednesday, 15 December

Social network LinkedIn has revealed the 10 most popular phrases in resumes among the company’s 85 million profiles, providing some valuable insight for employers.

Should I set a test during interviews to ascertain skills?

10:42AM | Tuesday, 23 October

This article first appeared on September 27th, 2010.   I’m looking to hire someone with specific computer and editing skills.   Should I set a test during the interviews to ascertain these skills? If so, how should I go about it?