Jonathan Azoulay: The Ownership Generation

Jonathan Azoulay: The Ownership Generation

Jonathan Azoulay
Co-founder of Talent.io 


A paradigm shift

In 2005, Jonathan started working as a recruiter on an off chance at the end of his studies. “At the time, I didn’t know the field at all and I wasn’t in the least bit interested. I started working in a British headhunting firm because a friend of mine worked there and he got a bonus for referring someone! In under 24 hours, I knew that the company culture wasn’t going to cut it.” Nonetheless, Jonathan ended up staying a little over 3 years in order to “learn from a big company and to prove to myself I could make it.” To take his mind off things, he took off around the world, just when the global economy was wobbling. “After my trip around the world, I could only think of one thing, which was to start my own company. Unfortunately, it was 2008 and it just wasn’t the best time to launch a startup and pursue funding rounds.” In spite of the situation, he decided to launch his business in a market that’s a little less about tech and a little more about what he knows well: recruiting. “I started my own recruiting business, Urban Linker. We specialize in tech jobs because I wanted to stay close to innovative companies and sectors.” And so Urban Linker was born. With a more modern marketing approach and a recruitment process centered on user-experience, it is a breath of fresh air in an ossifying, ageing market, dead set on meeting the expectations of a new generation of talent looking to fill challenging tech jobs. 


“We have a really different approach than traditional recruiting firms. It’s really not in their DNA what we do. I’d say that’s why we were enormously successful from the get go.” From its outset, the firm expanded quickly to 20 employees and established itself as a leader in tech and digital jobs. Yet, curiously enough, tech hadn’t yet “disrupted’” the recruiting market. And given the ever growing need for his company’s services, with an market growing more tense by the day, Jonathan took a keen interest in the subject. “At the end of 2014, I started to think about building a selective recruiting platform, the only possible way to create a scalable model for my business.”


At first, he shared his ideas with his entourage. One of his friends advised him to speak with a few entrepreneurs out in Silicon Valley working on the same technology. “Those fellows were Nico and Amit (editor’s not: Nicolas Meunier and Amit Aharoni, the founds of Talent.io). In the end, we decided to pursue the idea together. Even though we didn’t know one another, we were a good fit.” Jonathan had recruiting experience, and Nicolas and Amit had tech expertise after building out a platform they had sold to TripAdvisor. 


They started off working remotely in 2015, Jonathan in France and Amit and Nicolas in the United States. “We agreed on a test phase and gave ourselves 100 days to see how it worked. We met our goal in only a week, which gave Amit and Nico the impetus to move to Paris sooner than intended.”

Since then, the startup has raised over 10 million euros, bought a German competitor and now has over 90 employees in 3 countries: France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. “We created an extremely efficient model. Today, one out of every 4 candidates on Talent finds a job.” In only 3 years, the startup has successfully closed more than 2,000 recruitments. The goal? Become the most influential and successful engineering recruitment service in Europe in the next few years. 


The secret to Talent’s success? Creating value on both sides of the recruitment chain by focusing on the user-experience and by making selected candidates profiles visible for one month only. “Many platforms look to create value for only one of two parties. By fostering conditions for rapid recruitment on the candidate side and the quality of selected profiles for the hiring side, you can avoid the famous problem of the chicken and the egg. Your growth is a lot stronger!”


Talent.io is a real revolution an a recruiting market that has, until recently, been dominated by job boards, recruiting firms, or even professional social networks, all of which are less and less suited to a rapidly shifting market. Jonathan puts it this way: “It’s proof that millenials really are looking for meaning!”  Indeed, 20 to 35 year old employees give a lot of weight to their future employer’s purpose or mission. Above and beyond that, they expect autonomy, leadership and flexibility, all indicative of a societal revolution that Talent.io has been living from the inside out. More than 80% of its employees are under 30 years old. 


Meaning & leadership

Since the industrial revolution, most companies have developed a very hierarchical, top-down management model that has curbed creativity and the capacity for fulfilment, if you ask Jonathan. “Massive loss of talent in big corporations is just that. We’ve entered the age of the masses and people need another way to self-actualize. The very strict framework offered by big corporations isn’t attractive to younger generations. When you launch a business today, the biggest challenge you have is to put governance models in place that will allow you to recruit the talent you need. It’s not enough to create conditions for autonomy and responsibility and then just leave your talent alone. But if you create rules to encourage projects and and conditions for leadership, now that, that works.”


It’s a model in its own right. One that Talent.io’s founders have fostered since they launched. “We wanted to build an organizational structure that would allow our employees to have a different kind of relationship to their work. It’s hard to channel that energy sometimes because it creates high expectations, but it’s incredibly exciting!”


For Talent, that meant creating a specific company culture, one open to the search for meaning. And it can be summed up in a few values, well-known by the entire team : Take ownership - Think team - Make impact. Two concrete measures bring these values to life. 


Opening up capital to employees 

Talent’s founders, it was important to link their teams to the value they created. “It means everyone is rowing in the same direction and with the same mission. When you launch a startup, you’re working with a blank slate. So if everyone wants to write the story with you, you can building something even bigger and better, much more quickly!” Above and beyond that, you have to create an environment conducive to communication in order to encourage leaders to emerge, gathered around what Jonathan calls “collective intelligence.”


Ownership

At Talent, the company revolves around a single word: ownership, or pushing employees to become intrapreneurs and run their own mini-projects. “It could be a new form of training for sales teams, improving workspace, it’s all collected online in a dedicated tool and anyone can propose a new idea.”

Anyone can take charge, without financial reward. To take ownership of a project, the process is straightforward: first, define a project and its initiatives, then set up an advisory committee with at least 5 other people affected by the project, pitch the project to the entire company and follow-up on results and impact. “Among other things, it allows for very engaged middle managers and it helps to reveal leaders who help the company to move forward in a very entrepreneurial spirit. It gives meaning to their work.”


For Talent, the ownership process has allowed everyone to understand that in order to advance professionally in the startup, they must participate in acts of “collective intelligence” and prove their ability to manage projects. Jonathan adds, however, that this may not suit everyone. “There are a lot of detractors of the ‘startup model’ and this new mode of management. But the employer-employee relationship just doesn’t work anymore. We’re building a world based on a new foundation, a more creative world that encourages taking initiative. This new world may not be a good fit for everyone, but that’s why the two worlds shouldn’t be mixed.”


The model is virtuous, in Jonathan’s mind, when all interests are aligned and things are well-balanced from the start. “It’s an exacting model, one that requires a lot of engagement and sacrifices that not everybody is willing to make. I’m not saying it’s a perfect model, but for those looking for meaning and personal fulfillment in their jobs, it’s a model that fits perfectly.”


For Millenials, who will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, empowerment, or the opportunity given to an individual to have an impact, participate, and make a difference, is key. It’s also the force behind the current societal revolution and at the heart of the modern company. Without it, talented players will leave or take a leap and create their own businesses, all-the-while continuing to create the future. 

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