Still frame from the video we did to explain the idea of anonymous job searching. Wearing a t-shirt from a previous (failed) startup.

Djinni enters year 3

Max Ischenko
Mar 5, 2015 · 3 min read

It’s been more than two years since I’ve launched something that became Djinni.

For a first few months it was just another toy project. A friend of mine and I discussed this idea how we can “flip” a regular job board, by having recruiters hunt for applicants. I got excited, build a prototype over a New Year break and was curious to see if it would work.

Surprisingly, it didn’t take long for a first few hires to be made. Mostly luck, I guess — in the beginning we barely had two dozen recruiters and 100–200 developer profiles.

This got me thinking if there might be a way to actually make some money. Again, no grand plans but I thought $1–2k per month could be a nice bonus. I still had this juggernaut going, giving me work to do and income to live off.

After about six months of business model iterations, learning about custdev and all these “lean” stuff it turned out that yes, it could make money. Not much in absolute terms but if you played with numbers it showed real potential.

At about this time I learned that what I’m building is called a “marketplace” and in theory this could grow really big really fast. In theory — since in practice this is the most brutal, hardcore, tricky business to get started. Regular e-commerce or even SaaS looks like a walk in the park by comparison.

I’ve also discovered a VC-funded competitor in Bay Area and freaked out — I didn’t know yet the difference between going after “greenfield” opportunity and trying to make your way into well established industry, such as recruiting. That’s topic for another post.

Anyway. By the end of Year 1 about 200 candidates were hired through Djinni, business model was figured out (placement fee) and I was already dreaming how I’d hire a great team who’d take it to the next level.

Enter Year 2. Brutal it was.

Suffice is to say I wasn’t able to hire anyone full-time, even though I’ve tried. I did find some great free-lance help though. Growth was very uneven and painful. Some days it felt we’re crushing it and the next day it was clear there’s no way Djinni would grow past its initial success. Plus Maidan revolution and subsequent proxy war with Russia added to stress. Luckily I had my wife and a few close friends to compensate for highs and lows and brainstorm the ideas.

I’ve learned importance of having clear metrics to guide your product development; I’ve learned about “liquidity” and different hacks and tactics people use to achieve it for marketplaces; I’ve got more and more serious into marketing as an engine of growth.

Turns out it was a good year after all. Djinni grew 3x, I have learned a ton, it became clear we have a fighting chance of creating something much much bigger than could ever be. And here I am, at Year 3, writing about Djinni.

There is a slim chance I’d be adding full-time employees any time soon. I can afford to move slowly. In fact, I need to — my biggest failures happened because I rushed into something, triggering a series of bad decisions.

Also I’m shy on grand mission to change the world. I don’t care about “disrupting broken recruiting industry” just yet. I need to hit my 2x growth goal. And then the next one. Then maybe there’d be breathing room to craft something inspiring.

Mom, I love you but this trailer’s got to go
I cannot grow old in Salem’s Lot
So here I go it’s my shot, feet: fail me not
This may be the only opportunity that I got

Max Ischenko

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Founded, a 150K+ developer community in Ukraine and, a marketplace for hiring developers. Believe in capitalism, luck and Ukraine. @maxua