I’ve waited a long time to write this blog post. Twelve years in fact. I’m not sure I could have taken a longer route to building this job board. Though it feels good to look back at all of the lessons I’ve learned.
The Origin Story
The story starts in 2000 when I purchased the domain name Talentopoly.com. The idea was to have a site where talented developers could find free and paid projects to work on. I was still in high school when I bought the domain name and began coding it. I used the project to teach myself PHP. Unfortunately the earliest snapshot of it in the Wayback Machine is in 2001. I had several false starts back then and continued to reinvent it when I got to college. I continued to work on it off and on. But by May of 2005, having gone nowhere it was put on the shelf and started collecting dust.
In 2009 a friend emailed me a link to an Inc.com article about a guy named Markus Frind who created the massively successful site plentyoffish.com. It contained the following quote.
“With all the free time on his hands, why doesn’t Frind just start a second company? He says he thinks about that sometimes and has even toyed with creating a free job- listings site but finds the idea stultifying.”
This was just what I needed to read to get the juices flowing again. I was deep in the throes of building my own consulting business, but over the Christmas break that year I buckled down and got serious.
Failing Again, But Faster This Time
I spent the next few months building out a site that let users search Indeed, SimplyHired and LinkUp at once in my spare time. Employers could submit jobs directly through the site. You could search for any type of job you wanted. I figured anyone and everyone could use the site. I did everything, the design, the programming, everything. Just as I always had.
Three months later I debuted the job site. I thought it was great. You could search for jobs by location, pay, type and more. It had a slick Kayak.com-like UI so you never needed to refresh the page. I even had a way for users to post their resumes for free.
But just like before the site didn’t get much traction. In fact, after six months of pushing the site on friends, in LinkedIn groups and elsewhere on the web I had roughly 130 resumes and was happy if the site got more than 20 visitors on a given day. It was a failure, again. I knew something needed to change and quickly.
It’s Not Pivoting When You Change Everything
One day, while running at the gym, I decided to think through what would happen if I went against my gut and made decisions that were the opposite of what I’d done with the site so far. What would that plan look like.
Here’s that plan.
- Constrain myself to spending no more than 2-3 weeks on build out (I would base this new site off the existing code base)
- Make the site invite-only and exclusive to developers, designers and IT pros
- Don’t even have a place for listing jobs (I’d revisit this later once I had a site that could support it)
- Give people an entirely different reason to come use the site (which I decided would be sharing and voting on links)
- Don’t wait to launch the site, just get it out there in some form
- Used advertisements to get the word out
I had nothing to lose so I followed the plan. I took the code base and rebuilt it into an invite-only community for sharing developer and design links. The jobs section of the site was deleted. I hired a designer I found on Dribbble. And I spent no more than three weeks doing this. The site was launched before the designer was even hired. The design was as basic as you’d imagine. But I bought some ads on various ad networks and began driving some traffic to it. After a few weeks of ads I had over 100 users! The ads were working. I realized that I shouldn’t have avoided ads for so many years. I wasn’t ever going to reach enough people without advertising.
Users have to request an invite or be invited by a member. The site launched towards the end of Oct ’10 and by mid-Dec I had over 100 requests to process. The site was quickly nearing 300 users. It was a great feeling. After years of failed attempts things were finally clicking.
Fast Forward: Launching the New Job Board
A year and a half later the site is chugging along. It has almost 2000 registered users and gets 500+ unique visitors daily. Talentopoly is a close-knit community with a loyal readership.
Now that I had built out a site that I felt could support a job board it was time to revisit the concept. This time though I spoke with the site’s community and my new business mentors about it before writing any code. The idea was to keep it really simple. I’d build out a basic job board. The real value from the job board wouldn’t come from anything in the code, but rather the principles behind it and my ability to do the business development for it.
I spent two Sat afternoons building out the code. It was three pages. A form for submitting and editing a job. An index page for listing them all and a page to show a specific job. I kept things simple. Back in 2010 I had built out a way for job posters to create accounts, create companies and attach their jobs to them and store job applications directly on the server. This time I shunned the idea of having posters create accounts. They’ll simply receive a tokenized URL by email for managing the listing. There’s no way to search at the moment, let alone by a specific company. And I simply have the job poster enter an email address or URL for collecting job applications.
This time around I wasn’t going to build anything else unless the business side of the job board was demanding it (i.e. paying customers). Not being able to obsess over the code was critical as it forced me to spend 99% of the time thinking about the business. I put together a slide deck and then started having meetings with prospective clients. The meetings went really well and I signed up a few initial launch partners. They paid upfront. It was thrilling. I felt like I was getting closer to following the right path this time around. I spent the rest of the time building partnerships with local meetups, bloggers, ad networks, press releases, SEO, etc. to drive traffic to the site.
With my launch partners in place and a plan for getting traffic I was ready to launch the site. Last Friday at roughly 3pm EST I launched it. I launched a job board with actual paid jobs on it. I had money in the bank and customers from day one. I had a plan and I was executing on it. I’ve been so focused on the next steps in the plan that I hadn’t stopped to let the reality of it all sink in until I sat down to write this post.
Well I wouldn’t be a very good businessman if I didn’t suggest you go check out the job board and sign up for the jobs/gigs newsletter!
I encourage you to follow along on the blog or via RSS as I continue my journey to build out the job board. In my next post I’ll go into what we, the community, identified as problems with existing job sites/boards and how we’re trying to solve those issues.