Website founders putting plan to work: Shopify employees make it easy for job hunters, employers

A pair of Ottawa entrepreneurs has developed a platform that makes it easier for job hunters to get hired and for small businesses to find talent.

So far, their plan is working just like it should.

Hired Ottawa looks to undercut expensive pay-per-post job boards such as Monster and Workopolis by automatically pulling in advertisements from companies around town and displaying them in one spot at no cost to the employer or the applicant.

“We want to benefit the companies and the job hunters,” says co-founder Dylan Hunt.

“You don’t find the small companies without actually going and searching for them, and without knowing them already,” he says. “We wanted to create a database where the company wasn’t hindered by costs to post the job and the user would have a huge database of jobs, way more so ... than some of the major players that are charging companies.”

Created and run by Mr. Hunt and Nick Evans, both current Shopify employees, the website went live at the beginning of 2015 and has already surpassed all of its founders’ expectations.

Initially, they wanted to grow to 3,000 users within the first year. Hired Ottawa is now on track to hit that number by the end of April.

After straddling the line between offering too much or too little for free subscribers, the firm has also found a sweet spot for its freemium model.

Now, new free users have all the access and search functionality of the website, but only see postings a week after they’re added; paid users, on the other hand, get the “early bird” perk that lets them apply to those jobs sooner. 

Hired Ottawa has seen its free-to-paid ratio climb to five per cent, a figure many would consider impressive for a company its age. According to industry experts, most freemium companies convert between one and 10 per cent of subscribers into paying customers, with an average of around two to four per cent. Pandora, for example, a California-based music streaming service whose CEO Mr. Hunt met while on a trip to Silicon Valley, converts one per cent of its roughly 76.5 million users to paid subscriptions.

And because the young company has kept its costs to a bare minimum, it’s already profitable – a fact that has apparently made even the veteran startup mentors at Invest Ottawa sit up and take notice.

“They (Invest Ottawa) were very surprised that we had made any money as of yet,” says Mr. Hunt. “So that was the big thing we were really happy about.”

The idea for the site came to him after he noticed two glaring problems. 

First, Mr. Hunt says, many of his friends and former classmates had still not been able to find jobs even three years after graduating from university.

The Council of Ontario Universities found in a 2014 report that recent university graduates’ ability to find work in their field of study has fallen since the recession by about seven per cent six months after graduation and three per cent after two years. The Ottawa company would like to help reverse those numbers.

Second, Mr. Hunt says his father Jack, CEO of local business communications firm Netcelerate, had always found it too expensive to promote multiple job postings on existing pay-per-post websites. 

It costs roughly $600 per month to post a job ad on Workopolis or Monster, according to quotes on their websites. Those expenses make the search for talent a lot more difficult for small companies looking to grow, says Mr. Hunt.

“We realized that the startup community is getting bigger, there’s so many more companies that are growing, and we would rather a company have money to put toward growing themselves than to spend on finding the right talent,” he says.

So far, the founders seem like they’re on to something. Local media exposure has helped give the firm traction here in town, and Hired Ottawa has fast-tracked plans to move into the Toronto market. 

Mr. Hunt says the company expects to launch a minimum viable product in the country’s largest city within the next month. Hired also plans to expand into Montreal within the year, and eventually into Western Canada and the United States.

“It’s a question of how fast we can do it, not if we can do it,” says Mr. Hunt. “We don’t want to slow our growth. We want to be able to grow into a new city without impacting the ability to offer a good service to Ottawa. So that’s a hurdle, growing while keeping up the user base here.”