How we’ve built an MVP-Job-Network from scratch (without a Web-Developer) — The Business Part

This is the story of StartupJoblist.com, a job network built around recommendations and trust to grow local startup ecosystems and give jobseekers an easy entry into a career in the startup world.

The Background

For the last seven years we’ve been connecting the startup ecosystem by organizing events. Most known is the PIRATE Summit that brings together early stage startups with each other as well as investors (angels and VCs) from all around Europe. Its unique atmosphere, being hosted on a scrapyard in Cologne, Germany and its unusual attractions have earned it the title “Europe’s craziest Startup Conference”. 
We’ve added multiple other events over the last years, for example focused on the verticals of Fintech, Insurtech and IoT and also including events more suited for mid/later stage startups. 
We’ve also helped grow local ecosystems bye touring the world with the PIRATE Summit Global Series between 2014 and 2016. On this tour we organized more than 100 local pitch events — from Paris to Tehran, from Stockholm to Baku, often taking along well known investors with us.

In May 2017, Startup SAFARI joined the PIRATE family and is now our driver for local ecosystem growth topics.

With Startup SAFARI we identify key players in places all around the world and provide them with the tools they need to organize “days of open doors” in their local startup ecosystem.

More specific, this typically results in a two-day decentralized startup conference, where local startups, incubators, accelerators and venture capitalists open their doors and give interested participants a chance to see behind the curtains and learn about founding stories, pitching techniques, investment rounds and company cultures. Attendees of the sessions are typically either investors looking for new contacts and deal flow or job seekers that are looking for the next challenge in their career, an internship in the startup world or their first real job after graduation.

In September 2017 we organized our first own Startup SAFARI in our hometown of Cologne, Germany. 75 Startups opened their doors to the public and 1000 attendees travelled the city, eager to learn, discuss and exchange ideas,, and of course and have a good time

Instead of charging high ticket fees, we see the ticket prices of typically 5–20 Euro as a commitment fee. The event itself is mainly financed by larger companies that get brand exposure and quality leads in return.

We also offered a special Jobseeker-Ticket that gave people the chance to attend the SAFARI for free if they were actively looking for a job. All they had to do was to fill out a profile on our website with info about themselves, their skills and what kind of jobs they were looking for.


The birth of StartupJoblist.com

After a busy month of September that included all our major three events (Startup SAFARI Cologne, PIRATE Summit, OMClub), we evaluated the outcome of Startup SAFARI Cologne and found that especially the aspect of recruiting had received lots of interest. A total of 175 attendees had signed up as jobseekers and 15 companies expressed an interest to get introduced to potential hires.

We realized during the event, that recruiting is still a big pain point for startups and quite a few hires resulted through the jobseeker ticket offer and the SAFARI sessions themselves. 
While platforms like AngelList serve that market quite well for the U.S.market, we didn’t find anything quite equivalent for Europe, where the startup scene is not as prominent and obvious and still is a niche “industry” for recent graduates.

We wanted to give such a platform a try and decided to build a network for connecting talent to jobs, built on recommendations and trust. And we had a good starting point with the aforementioned 175 jobseeker profiles and around 125 startups to we know really well in the Rhineland-Area (which mainly is made up of Bonn, Cologne , Dusseldorf and their surroundings).

The main idea was not to build another job platform that needs manual input from all sides again and again, but rather a simple email newsletter informing people about new job offers from their area, or new talent that is actively searching.

We set up some simple landing pages, where people could sign up as jobseeker or employees and by that created a two-sided-marketplace.

StartupJoblist.com for jobseekers

Jobseekers have the chance to do basically two things:

  1. Submit their profile to StartupJoblist (SJL) to have the chance of getting introduced to employers
  2. Sign up for the job newsletter of their area and receive vacancies right into their inbox. And if there is something interesting, they can signal interest and we might be able to connect the two parties (if the applicant’s profile matched the employer’s requirements).

SJL will be free forever for the jobseeker side of the platform.

StartupJoblist.com for employers

Employers have the counterpart options available:

  1. Submit job openings to SJL to get them seen by jobseekers
  2. Receive a weekly newsletter with curated top candidates that are worth a look right into their inbox. For that, we screen all incoming profiles and select the outstanding ones, talk to those people and write a small text featuring the highlights of that person.

Employers only pay a success fee, once an introduction from our side resulted in hiring of that candidate.

Snapshot from one of our weekly newsletter to the employers

In mid October, we pitched that idea to both sides of the market and got quite good feedback, that made us start immediately with the urge to go live with an MVP as soon as possible.

Challenges that needed to be overcome

Our major goal was to find product-market-fit as soon as possible. With a clear market, and a head-start delivered by Startup SAFARI Cologne on both sides of the market (jobseekers and employers), our biggest challenge for the first week, was to realize the product and go live as quickly as possible, adjusting it on the go with user-behaviour, KPIs and most importantly user-feedback.

As we were still really early in the product development phase, we didn’t want to invest heavily into hard-coded development and bulky technology for two main reasons:

  1. We wanted to stay agile and wanted to change features, forms, emails on the go and implement feedback as soon as problems came up or changes needed to be made.
  2. We don’t have web developers in our team and just have the chance to hack stuff together to make it work (see the next story).

This is what we came up with:

We set up a simple Wordpress installation with some simple forms for both sides of the market. For a stable but still simple and adaptable database we used an external SaaS solution that was connected to the forms and from then on somewhat like a mix of a database and CRM for us, resulting in quite some manual work from our side here which was mainly exporting sub-lists of users and importing them into our newsletter-tool.

There will be more on the technical stack in the next chapter, as this might not be particularly interesting to everyone.

A few iterations later, we had a pretty much complete product that was usable and simple to understand and at the same time secure, which is really important, as we save lots of personal data about the jobseekers. 
Jobseekers were able to sign up for job-offer-newsletters, submit and update their profile.

Employers were able to search all past top-candidates as well as all other candidates and start automated processes to learn more about them (basically get their full profile via email) and get introduced to them by us (triggered by some simple forms as triggers).

All of that being managed in their respective member login area at StartupJoblist.com.

We didn’t focus on the job-offer part and don’t send newsletters to jobseekers yet, but will implement that as the next feature to really take advantage of this two-sided-market.

Employers are incentivized to forward promising applicants that they don’t have a open job offer for to SJL. This is the main drive for growth and gives back much to the network.

And there is one more thing, as SJL relies on recommendations from the network to fully serve its purpose. Employers (and other local network players) can recommend great talent (e.g. people that applied directly at their company, but didn’t match open vacancies, but still might be fitting for other startups). As this is one of the main drivers of growth to this network this is valued with a kickback of 25% of the generated revenues with that specific candidate that goes back to the referrer.

With this version running for two months now, and the first two hires already having happened, we are on a good way to prove the concept of StartupJoblist. We will be rolling out in Berlin really soon, followed by some other German cities in the next months. We’re still looking for ways to improve while being a lot closer to product-market-fit, but still need some more time. Now it’s time to increase the market and find more employers that are interested, as well as getting new jobseekers on the platform.

On the employer side, this is much of a personal connection and needs a lot of explanation while on the jobseeker’s side, we find that Facebook advertising let’s us find many interesting people that are extremely valuable for the network.

A snapshot of StartupJoblist.com’s Top-Candidate Page in the Employer’s view. All our Top-Candidates are anonymously described and their full profile can be requested with a click of a button

So, that is the current state.

If you want to try it — as jobseeker or employer feel free to do so at StartupJoblist.com (only really possible, if you are either looking for a job or offering one as a startup, as we curate all members).

If you have ideas for the product or need advice, please let us know via email:

  • Luke loves to speak with interested startups and jobseekers and focuses on the market topics (Email: Lukas@StartupJoblist.com)
  • Fabian is the Non Dev-web developer connecting all the bits and pieces and always working on the product part (Email: Fabian@StartupJoblist.com)

If you are interested in the technology stack, you’re highly invited to keep on reading in the next post. I promise it will not get too technical and maybe give you some ideas how to create an MVP for a product you’ve always missed and pave the way for finding proof-of-concept for that.


About the author:

As of the time writing this, I am working remotely out of Guatemala to escape the German winter season (first draft of this from a spot at Rio Dulce without any cellular or WiFi connection) but typically I am based, as most of the crew, in Cologne, Germany.

Hey, my name is Fabian Seibt and I am part of the PIRATE crew for a bit more than two years now. I joined it during my time studying economics and as a working student for social media advertising and came more and more into contact with web-design, product-management and (process-) automation after joining full-time in August of 2016. I’m learning CSS and JS on the go and now diving into Python as well.

If there is anything I can help with or something you think that might help me, let me know at fabian@pirate.global or find me on LinkedIn: