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By Oliver Milman
Imagine if you could find out the truth, warts and all, of what it was like to work at a business before you applied to a position there.
That’s the premise that spurred Michael Larsen to create InsideTrak , a jobs site with a twist – former employees can comment on their experiences at a listed business to provide an insider’s insight to jobseekers.
In two months, Larsen’s site has amassed 40,000 job listings and 4,000 reviews. InsideTrak is set for an official launch in the New Year.
Larsen, an Australian who is based in Boston in the US, speaks to StartupSmart about how he’s looking to shake up the traditional jobs boards.
What problem does this business solve, exactly?
A core problem that’s been around for a long time is that people don’t really know what it’s like to work somewhere until they actually join a business.
They can ask friends or go on Facebook, but getting an authentic insight is hard. I came up with the idea for InsideTrak earlier this year – I thought it could be a natural extension of what TripAdvisor does but in a different area.
It’s good for jobseekers but it’s also good for employers, as it helps reduce turnover and helps them get staff who are knowledgeable about their company.
You were at Monster in the US, weren’t you? Bit of a risk moving to a start-up, isn’t it?
Yes. I left Monster in August to work on this full time ahead of our launch next month.
Monster has done very well in its area but we are seeing a shift in the whole recruitment model from a monologue to a dialogue. It’s as big a shift as seeing job ads going from print to online.
Jobseekers now have more power than ever and I think InsideTrak is a good reflection of where the market is moving to.
How has the start-up process been?
The biggest hurdle has been to aggregate job listings from different platforms. We send robots to crawl across different sites to provide links for our site.
We’ve partnered with a development house in Ukraine, which has the job of building the job source software and handling the features of the system.
In terms of revenue, we have cost per click advertising. It’s free to have your jobs on the site, but if there are, say 300 nursing jobs on the site, you can pay to have your own nursing job ad promoted. It’s a bit like Google Adwords.
It was a smooth process leaving Monster and then getting a couple of angel investors. It’s fair to say we’re in bootstrapping mode now, ahead of raising a more formal level of funding next year.
There’s six people working on the site and we are completely virtual. I’m in Boston, I’ve got a guy in Pakistan and there’s someone else in Sydney. We’ve never been in the same room yet!
How have you got around that?
It’s been a challenge for sure, but you have to build a trust base to ensure everything runs smoothly. The tyranny of distance can be a problem when you want something done quickly, but it also means that someone is always working on the business at any point during the day.
We basically use Skype a lot for project management.
How did you get angels to invest in a concept before its launch?
I pitched the concept as an extension of TripAdvisor, which everyone knows and understands. They could see that this model could work well in other areas.
If you look at the market in Australia, it’s dominated by the traditional job boards – Seek has 70% of the market. Launching something that is unique and can disrupt the market is attractive to investors.
In the US, there’s a site called Glassdoor.com that, it’s fair to say, pioneered this model, but they do it a bit differently to us. They scrape jobs form anywhere, such as large job boards, where we only use jobs directly from recruiters or employers.
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So how do you source jobs?
There are essentially two ways – much like Google does, we’ll send a robot around to look for jobs. The other way is to get direct job feeds from employers and recruiters.
There is no issue legally because we don’t republish the jobs in full, we just provide a link to them. So there’s no breach in copyright.
Employers prefer candidates to go to their websites rather than a job board anyway, so we’re fundamentally giving them free traffic. For recruiters, they are more than happy to see their listings shared.
How do you screen comments about employers?
Employers do have some concerns about how the reviews on the site are screened, so that nothing offensive is there. But we have solid screening processes in place. If an employer sees something that breaches this, they can flag it and we’ll take it down.
I’d prefer to not say how we screen, otherwise people could game the system. We have steps to ensure offensive comments aren’t on the site. But it’s impossible to vet every single comment.
We encourage people to share their opinion of an employer, but not of an individual colleague. We don’t want it to be personal, more of a general opinion on the employer.
But you allow criticism?
Yes, of course. But if it’s offensive, it’s taken down. We encourage employers to respond to a negative comment so they can say ‘sorry you had that experience, but our company isn’t about that.’
It shows authenticity on the employers’ part to go onto the site and get involved.
It sounds like it could be a ticking legal time bomb for you, Mike.
We’ve had some very bright legal minds work on this and their view is that as long as there is a system in place that provides initial screening and also where reviews are taken down if they are offensive, that is okay.
If you think something is inappropriate, you can flag it and we investigate. The risk is very manageable. In fact, it’s very low.
To an extent, the average of comments is a good indicator, much like TripAdvisor. If there are overly positive comments and overly negative ones, the truth is likely to be somewhere in-between. We want to build that critical mass so that the overall opinion comes through.
What are your plans for the future?
We are aiming at the Australian market. The market is worth $350 million a year there and if we can get 10% of that market within the next four or five years, I’ll be happy. I’m looking at moving back to Australia in June.
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