Today I want to talk about a recruitment company that is taking the market by storm and look at the reasons why. having spent much of my working life recruiting IT staff for the banking world, I think I know what it takes to be successful in this game. However, I was surprised by what I saw when I chatted to the Guys at Intelligent People in St Albans in the U.K. Here’s what I found!
I talked to Doug Bates who is one of the co-owners and Directors at IP. An interesting character who is “into” cycling big time. In his early 40’s he cuts a fit and dashing figure. The thing that stands out though, is his total enthusiasm for what he does.
Being The Best
“I love cycling and trying to beat my best times, I’m ultra competitive”, he enthuses. “I’m exactly the same with the business, I want to…no I have to be the best”!
So I asked Doug about the business, how it started and how it evolved. It’s an interesting story, so get a cup of tea and settle down!
“Chris Mason is the co-owner. He and I met working together at a coprporate recruitment company back in 1999. We were doing the sameas you as it happens, recruiting IT staff in to the City”.
Indeed, they were wild times. Huge bonuses and I was placing the “rocket scientist” programmers that builtthe derivatives trading systems that ended up getting us in to so much trouble. They were heady times. Indeed, I remember talking to a project manager at one major (and I mean major) Bank who told me they had made nearly $1 billion on derivatives in just one quarter. He said to me,
“If we made this much, someone else MUST be holding the other end of the stick”, and so it proved. That “stick” was full of useless sub prime mortgages and the crash duly happened.
Back to Doug,”So Chris and I were working away making all the money for someone else. One Friday after work, sitting in a pub in the West End, we decided, after a few pints, that we could do this for ourselves and keep all of the money”.
At breakfast on Monday, they decided that it wasn’t just beer talk and the concept of Intelligent People was born.
“We served our “gardening leave” and we got going. There wasn’t any pomp or ceremony. We rented a small office in St Albans (as we both lived there) and hit the phones. It took a little while to get stability but essentially we just worked really hard and built a business from the ground up”.
Having done this myself I know how viciously hard it is to build a recruitment agency from zero. At least when I started I had some investment Chris and Doug had nothing apart from some savings, so very little safety net. They had to bill from day one.
But after a couple of years, the gloss had gone a little.
“So, like you, we got a bit fed up with the City”. Doug commented. “In all honesty they were so far up their own backsides it was untrue. We were only good to them as long as we could supply and we really just didn’t like the people much. There was also the added complicaion of many of the banks moving to the RPO (recruitment process outsourcing) model which complicated our lives and made suplly so much more difficult”.
Another Friday night in the pub and a heart-to-heart that lasted until well past midnight resulted in a change of direction.
Doug takes up the story. “We wanted to enjoy our work again. There was no doubt we’d both fallen out of love with the City. So, we set out some parameters that we wanted in a new market and set about searching for it. We wanted to be able to deal directly with line management, we wanted nice people (as far as possible), we wanted something with a technical slant to it and finally something that would be a growth market”.
After much soul searching and market research, they arroved at Digital Marketing. Now it is fair to say, ten or eleven years ago, this was very much a fledgling market. Areas such as search engine optimisation was in its infancy and online product management had really not developed. PPC (pay per click advertising) was new and few companies had yet to truly embrace online marketing.
“It was a gamble that’s for sure”, smiles Doug, “we took a big gamble. But we just had this feeling that the move to eCommerce was inexorable, even if people weren’t comfortable using credit cards online at the time. I guess we felt the technology that drives the online world had reached a tipping point and we were beyond the point of no return”.
“We didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater though, we gradually transitted over to the new market. A year after making the decision we were stillplacing people with some of the Banks, so the full transition took about 18 months. And, during that time we saw incredible growth in the market which we knew then justfified our decision to change”.
Nowadays Intelligent People are still in St Albans and work as one of the U.K’s leading digital headhunter as well as specialising in head of product recruitment and many other digital recruitment disciplines.
“We preach to our staff that excellence of service is what stood us apart in those early days and that we should provide outstanding and outrageous service to both clients and candidates. Indeed, we have managed some of our candidate’s careers for over ten years now. Our customers like what they get from us so they keep coming back…and that is very gratifying”.
You can also find Intelligent People on Facebook
Here’s Doug talking about motivating your staff, a good watch.