We caught up with Cian and Nev of Recroot, our 2017 winners, for the launch of our new series of Entrepreneurial Interviews.
+ Can you give us a quick overview of your background?
Myself and Cian both grew up in the same town in Tipperary. We attended the same primary and secondary school, and eventually ended up in the same university. In UCD, I studied Mechanical Engineering, and Cian studied Commerce International.
+ For any readers who haven’t heard of Recroot, could you give us a sense of the company and where the idea came from?
So the idea originally came when we moved up from home, and found it so difficult to get a part-time job. I eventually got a job in Starbucks throughout my first and second year. During this time I would see people handing in ten, twenty CV’s a week, and they all seemed completely indistinguishable from each other. I saw a lot of meaningless info and no indication of personality at all, or how good a jobseeker would be in a customer focused area.
This is where we had the idea of a focused platform, solely for hospitality and retail entry through the actual video itself. So I suppose the idea came from firstly trying to find a job and secondly, managers lack of ability to gauge a personality from a cv.
+ What were the first steps in getting Recroot off the ground?
One of Nev’s skills was in graphic design, illustration and photoshop, and this proved to be very useful to us in the early stages. We drew up a business plan, then had a product plan which Nev was able to design through photoshop to give it look of a real app and website, even though it wasn’t functional at the time.
Our next step was receiving our first innovation voucher from Enterprise Ireland. It was very easy to apply for, and they’re worth five thousand. What we did with that was we built a basic website, and this got us to such a place where it was functional enough to ask for further investment. So the design as well as the grant were definitely the initial steps in getting it off the ground.
+ Do you feel any college aspects or extracurriculars have helped you up to this point?
I’d always say engineering is a good one. I enjoyed studying engineering but it’s not really specific things I remember from the course, but more the general problem solving ability that you pick up from the degree.
I think the internships in Quinn are good for a certain period, and definitely get you involved in what it’s like to work in a professional environment. The main thing that they give you, along with studying a business degree, is actually presentation skills. That definitely helped us countless times when it came to hopping up on stage.
+ How has the company progressed since winning ISEF last April?
It’s definitely progressed quite a bit. I think around last April we were at a stage where we found ourselves fairly quickly running out of development funds. It was at a point whereby the platform wasn’t quite ready for us to actually release it, so the actual prize from winning ISEF went a long way in terms of buying another month of development. This proved really important actually, because without that stint I suppose there would have been a gap there whereby our product wasn’t ready to release into market and we wouldn't have had enough money to bring it to that level.
Also, some of the contacts through the judges and business leader that we’ve gotten in touch with after have been really beneficial. So between the prize and the actual networking it’s been really good.
+ What do you find is the best way to advertise?
I suppose the main thing for us was to actually attract job seekers. We found from approaching stores that they thought it was a great idea, and were happy to put their various job vacancies on the platform. We ran into a bit of an issue however in terms of getting actual job seekers on board. Initially we found that quite difficult.
At the start our main goal was to build general awareness, just to prove the concept and so on but we found quite tricky. Ultimately what we ended up doing was we would (and occasionally still do) place an ad on Gumtree - for example if starbucks had a couple of job vacancies around the city - saying vacancies are available and to get in touch with either of ourselves. Then once people did, we’d confirm that the jobs were available and have them redirect themselves through the recroot app. It can be a bit of a manual and sloggy way of getting it up and running but it’s worked pretty well so far. We have relatively large pool of active jobseekers that we can call back on when there’s jobs available and be immediately able to have applicants for stores.
+ Where direction do you see the company heading over the next year?
It’s very tough to say with the amount of variables. In a year however, we’d really like to see ourselves get significant funding from Enterprise Ireland's High Potential Startup scheme. This is 500,000 in EI funds, and we’d love to match that with VC or private equity funds. That’s the main plan, and hopefully to get to London at some point next year once Dublin’s up and running.
+ What pieces of advice to any student entrepreneurs reading?
I think for our situation anyway, we thought of this idea initially and then floated it to friends, peers and family. We thought it was great as it seemed to make an awful lot of sense. For a job in a bar, cafe or the likes, an employer isn't really overly concerned with your past experience whereby you can learn to do the job in a couple of days. The hardest thing that they try to find is probably whether or not the applicant is a good personality fit. Because of that reason we thought this idea was really good. My advice would be to take an idea and get as many opinions as you can on it. Eventually once you’re suitably happy this could be an option, really put everything into it and go for it. The worst that could happen is you’ll come away knowing so much more than you did when you started, and the best that could happen is you’ll build a successful business ultimately.
I’d say contacts is a massive part of it, and definitely use them if they’re there. Get in touch with relatives, family friends, professors, any sort of mentor that you can get. Definitely reach out and try meet up to get their thought processes. What we’ve found is we’ve probably learned the most by doing this through talking to mentors and contacts over the past year, and the learning curve is huge.
You really know nothing when you start, you may think you do but it isn’t until you actually go and do it that you realise. Dublin’s so small and we found the network available to be massive.