“Tell Your Story and Make Many Allies”
Interview with JobzMall Co-Founder & CEO Nathan Candaner.
The jobs market has undergone significant changes in a short period of time and California-based tech startup JobzMall is at the cutting edge of those changes. JobzMall is quite literally a digital mall helping to connect employers and job seekers. The difference is that both parties use video to share their story, using video job ads and video resumes to connect the right candidates with available positions.
JobzMall Co-Founder and CEO Nathan Candaner recently joined startup coach Roland Siebelink on the Midstage Startup Momentum Podcast to discuss JobzMall’s unique roots and the incredible traction the startup has found. Nathan was also forthcoming about a variety of topics and lessons he’s learned as a founder.
- How JobzMall has become more of a community than a startup.
- The one mistake Nathan made that many other entrepreneurs also make.
- How JobzMall grew by understanding the value it created for customers.
- Why starting a business can be similar to starting a cult.
- How building relationships and partnerships became JobzMall’s key to making sales.
- What factors go into deciding where JobzMall should expand geographically.
Roland Siebelink: Hello and welcome to the Midstage Startup Momentum Podcast. My name is Roland Siebelink, and I am so excited today to be here with founder Nathan Candaner, owner of JobzMall. Hello, Nathan, how are you?
Nathan Candaner: I’m good, Roland. How are you?
Roland Siebelink: Very good, very good. And, Nathan, you sound extremely energetic because you just told me that you’re dialing in from Istanbul, where it’s currently 4 a.m. Talk about dedication to the founder’s life.
Nathan Candaner: That is absolutely true. When you’re an entrepreneur, there’s always unexpected things going on.
Roland Siebelink: Of course. Tell us more about JobzMall. What kind of company is it? And what difference are you making in the world for whom?
Nathan Candaner: What JobzMall is, we connect job seekers and organizations through the power of video. JobzMall is a virtual mall. If you go to jobzmall.com, you would see different buildings, segmented by industry. And organizations host virtual stores, post their video job ads, talk about who they are, who they’re looking for, and bridge the gap between the text interface. And when job seekers are applying to those jobs, they can apply with video cover letters and video resumes.
We have built this, pre-COVID, especially targeting the young professionals. The reason for that was we believed that was a very underrepresented segment. If you’re a 22-year-old, college student or a non-college student, if you are a young professional and you’re trying to find your job, you’re not going to get hired because of your past. You don’t have a past. You’re going to get hired because of who you are today and your potential.
That was our approach. And COVID has been a huge accelerator to us. Right now, we’re closing in on our two millionth member. More than 5,000 organizations across 50 states. That’s why I’m in Istanbul right now. We’re traveling all over Europe as we’re expanding our operations.
Our core is to empower both parties to tell who they are because we believe every individual is unique and we believe every individual has a story to tell. And we believe every organization has a story to tell. But traditional job boards and mediums are not letting that happen. That’s where we come in as JobzMall.
Roland Siebelink: Very cool.And you already said your focus on the candidate side is really on the young professionals. It sounds like you defined it as people typically right out of college looking for their first job. Is that right?
Nathan Candaner: Yeah, that was our initial target. COVID has been very interesting in the sense that the video interface got accepted and became the norm by a lot of senior professionals as well. Prior, if you are a chief marketing officer or a director at a company, you have the network. You can utilize LinkedIn very efficiently. You have a past. That segment has always been a bit skeptical when it came to video. And our core focus was how can we amplify the job seeker story. Even if you’re a young professional, you have a story to tell. You have something to showcase.
With COVID, that became normal for even a lot of senior positions. And a lot of the companies we work with, they were initially posting to reach a younger demographic. Instead of just going to college campuses and joining a career fair, they were opening stores on JobzMall, posting their video job ads.
Roland Siebelink: You mentioned pretty impressive numbers for what’s still an early-stage startup, 5,000 organizations, signing up two million members shortly. What has been your go-to markets approach in getting to these numbers? Because it just doesn’t come all to you automatically.
Nathan Candaner: Of course. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears. A lot of people ask me this when they see our numbers and when they see our community. What we’re very proud of is JobzMall is a community more than anything. In fact, our job seekers who want to have their video resumes public can have it public. And we have a section called cinema in which they can support and cheer other people that are looking for jobs and they can hear their story. Our community - building this from ground up has been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.
Our approach has been, we targeted all of the large companies in the Southern California area. We had our prototype. We had JobzMall in private beta testing. We showed them what we’re doing. And we said, “Is this something you’d be interested in?” A lot of door to door knocking. We launched JobzMall with a little over a hundred organizations in the beta version and a little over a thousand users across USC, UCLA, and UCI. From that point on, there has been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.
Roland Siebelink: Can I just ask you to expand a little bit, knowing that a lot of the audience to this podcast are founders who are a little bit behind you, who are just starting to figure out the basics of, “Okay how do we actually get our sales motion going?” How did you actually sign up those first 100 large companies to launch your JobzMall platform?
Nathan Candaner: I’ve made tremendous mistakes. That’s why there is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Typically as a founder, when you’re starting, there tends to be some very common mistakes that entrepreneurs tend to go through. One of the mistakes that I’ve gone through - which again, I’m very proud of all this journey because we learned the better way to do it - was that we asked them to use it absolutely for free. My sales pitch was, “Hey, please be on JobzMall. Post your jobs, we’re not going to charge you.” That was our entire approach because we have the chicken and egg problem.
As a much more veteran entrepreneur, I would always suggest that that is absolutely the wrong way to go. When you look at it from a very high level, you would then truly, really miss the true customer because we believe the true customer is the one that is in desperate need. There’s an analogy that I really love in the Bay Area. You would have probably heard this, Roland, many times. If I tried to sell you water right now, you would not buy it. But if I go to you in the middle of the desert and say give me a million dollars, anyone would buy it.
When you approach it from that perspective, you tend to hit a lot of road snags. But the advantage of that approach actually let us address the other area, which was the talent. Because we have these large brands in our area, posting jobs on our platform, we start to attract a lot of job seekers within that community. Actually, talking to them, we did things that didn’t scale. We wanted to talk to as many job seekers as we can and truly hear their problems. And we even asked them, which company would you truly be wanting to work for? Because companies really want to have engaged candidates, not just resumes.
Hearing that feedback really enabled us to go back to those companies and pitch ourselves in a much more different fashion. I think the way we grew to this size from that size was really, truly understanding the value we’re providing, making sure that we’re actually providing that value, and having the unit economics set around that.
Roland Siebelink: The initial model, it sounds like, was a direct sales model, just when knocking on a lot of doors. Is that right?
Nathan Candaner: Of course. When you’re building a marketplace like ours, it’s like starting a cult or starting a religion. You have to really tell your story. You have to make a lot of allies. You have to really understand. We partnered with a lot of nonprofits, a lot of community colleges to really deliver that value. We always looked at it in a much more direct relationship building and then direct sales because. We made most of our big ticket sales through our relationships that we built over this period, not through cold sales. Our approach has always been, let’s provide the value, let’s build a relationship, and economics would then work out.
Roland Siebelink: How big is the team now? You mentioned a huge growth of the team and how you have to adapt the organization to it. But how big is the JobzMall team at the moment?
Nathan Candaner: We’re very lean for what we do. We’re closing in on our 30th employee right now. When you look at our community, our team is extremely lean but a very effective team. That’s why we’re able to grow at this size. Now what we’re looking to do, as I said, I think this year is going to be a very fast growing year for us, as we expand into other markets and other geographies. We’re very excited for that.
Roland Siebelink: How did you decide on which geographies to expand to and how fast to move that geographical expansion around the world?
Nathan Candaner: This is partly by focusing on our existing customers. Again, we work with large organizations in which they also hire in other geographies, such as Canada, that we’re close to, which we’re opening up. The UK is a very similar market in that regard. But other than that, we always look at - we know our user base extremely well. We know what value we provide to them. We hear a lot of feedback. As I said, JobzMall is a lovely community. There are a lot of the same cohorts, across multiple geographies that actually address them.
For example, I would say San Francisco is much more similar to Paris regardless of the geography compared to let’s say to a more rural community in the United States. When you unlock some of those core, niche areas, then we look at it from a strategic level. Which area would be truly advantageous for us and where we can truly give the most value. That’s how we’re deciding, but we’re planning to open up as much area as we can.
Roland Siebelink: Of course. And do you feel like your business model will require a local presence in those markets? Or can you just scale across the world without having people in all the cities that you serve?
Nathan Candaner: It truly shows you how veteran of an interviewer you are because this is a concept that I try to talk about - I spend a lot of days just talking about this. When you’re expanding into local geography, you have to localize and localization does not mean just translation because translation is easy. You have to really understand the local market. You can build a productivity tool like Slack or even Zoom, and you can keep certain things scaling much more on a recurring basis. We still have services like that. However, you have to do a lot of localization because every local market is different, price break points are different. The culture is different. As much as the daily life is similar or the segment is similar, the culture is different. Even how you charge the customer is different based on the geography.
Roland Siebelink: Can you give us an example? Sitting here and doing the interview from Turkey, I’m sure that’s a good example where you can see some differences.
Nathan Candaner: Of course, I can compare it to Turkey versus the US very easily. In a market in the US, even if you’re a very large organization, a recruiter would typically pay for a service like us by using a corporate credit card, instantly paying the transaction online, and start using it. In a country like Turkey, there are no online payments when it comes to a corporate deal. You actually have to send an SLA, regardless of the service. Typically, there are lawyers to approve that mechanism. Then they would wire the money to your account within 30 days. There’s all these niche localizations. Then I, as an entrepreneur - any person can say, “Nathan, are you crazy? Why are you expanding into these geographies?”
But at the end of the day, what we try to do is really maximize our value. We believe that the value that we truly can maximize - and don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean our value. I mean the value we add - we believe that there is a tremendous opportunity all across the globe. One of the things I really want to segue into is what this shifts with COVID.
With remote work being much more accepted, remote work doesn’t just mean that you’re going to sit at home in the same city and work for the same company but don’t go to the office. It means now a company in the United States can hire a software engineer in Bulgaria. It means that they can hire a designer in France, have another QA analysts in Italy. I don’t want to say war on talent. But the way talent is connected, the organizations are much more global now. That’s why, whether we like it or not, we have to be in these markets because we believe that as this decade furthers, the geographic boundaries will slowly - but not that slowly - will vanish. And I think we’ll be living in a much more global market.
Roland Siebelink: Tell me a little bit more about the team, your co-founders. How have you built up the team? Where are you hiring the most? How do you divide up the resources that you have?
Nathan Candaner: I’m very lucky. I always say that. I’m maybe the luckiest person when it comes to actually working with my current team. It’s a very lovely team in which we trust each other. They have a tremendous amount of skill set in which they run their entire department. But we also share the same value, which is to always not forget what we’re doing, why we’re doing. And the why is humanizing this entire process.
Right now, our team is pretty much California based. We’re all working remotely since the pandemic. That really hasn’t changed anything for us because we were already very digital. Our life hasn’t changed. We made sure, even at the height of COVID, to really see each other at least once in two weeks in person. We always gathered in an open area like a park. It was like a potluck. We had either Indian food or Chinese food or Mexican food cause you really need that interaction. As I said, starting a startup is on some level having your own cult and finding other people to really share that journey with you.
Roland Siebelink: How did you divide up the roles between you and your co-founders? That’s often something that earlier stage founders struggle with. Who becomes the CEO and what does everyone else focus on and where do you draw the lines between what Person A does and what Person B does?
Nathan Candaner: Our story is very unique in that sense. And it might even give a more personal insight to who I am and how I got interested in this field. We have two co-founders, one of them is me. The other is Pembe Candaner. Pembe is actually my relative. She happens to be my mother, which you wouldn’t actually hear a lot of mother-son technology pairs. Extremely rare.
Pembe has a background. She was in HR for a very long time. She has a lot of background. But she was the CEO of Adecco, which is the world’s largest staffing company in Turkey and then Eastern Europe. She was extremely familiar with this field. Then she was the CEO of Turkey’s largest job board. I grew up being very familiar with this.
Why I got involved with it is a completely different story? I, as a young job seeker, was looking for jobs and I absolutely struggled because I’m trying to upload my resume over and over again, it’s a complete disaster. A couple of my friends were sitting around this table and one of them asked the other friend, “Hey, what font are you using in your resume?” And I said, “If you’re using Calibri over Times New Roman, and that’s how you land the job, this entire thing is broken.”
Roland Siebelink: I would personally draw the line at Comic Sans.
Nathan Candaner: That’s a big problem. I shared this story a week later with Pembe. I, as being her son, was complaining to her saying, “Hey, all my life, I heard about you changing the labor law in Turkey and consulting the European Union on workforce development. I grew up hearing about these and your own son can’t use these platforms.”
But then that was a lovely start of a conversation because I learned, as I said, as a job seeker, you’re not really thinking about the employer side. It’s a really two-sided problem. And that’s when I learned the employer side as well, in that conversation. And she, being a very tough woman, said, “Well, if you can do better, think better. You know coding, go for it.” She challenged me in that regard.
JobzMall mostly started out of that conversation. Turning into many conversations. Turning into a project. Project becoming a bit more serious. A bit more serious to suddenly we have people around an office, actually having an office and coding around this. It gradually sunk in and suddenly one day I looked around and I’m like, “Oh wow, we’re actually a legitimate company now.”
Roland Siebelink: I love that story. It’s great to hear.
Nathan, we were talking a little bit about the big vision behind JobzMall. You did give us some impressive numbers already, but how big do you see this become?
Nathan Candaner: Well, we look at it as saying sky’s the limit. Let me put it this way. We never try to put numbers first and dollar signs on it. We always try to see how many people’s lives can we actually help. One of the biggest questions we always ask ourselves is that we are at the cusp of pioneering a very key aspect of workforce development, but in the future, there are all these different technology trends that are driving the society. Automation is going to do a lot of things and started doing a lot of things for a lot of jobs.
There are always questions of universal basic income. There is a question of education because when you think about globalization and automation, these are extremely two important forces driving what we do. We try to look at what - and no one knows the answer - we try to look at how that’s driving the world and where and how can we add value to humanize this process.
We believe the sky’s the limit. We have a vision and I can simplify it. We want to open up JobzMall, the virtual mall, to every major city across the globe.
We look at everyone as a customer in that regard. Everyone is a potential person to help. But you can’t grow by targeting everyone. You have to target the right segments to get to that point. The vision is big, but the path may be segmented. And we’re aware of that. And that’s how we act always.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Very good. Talking about all the people that you want to help, how can listeners to this podcast help JobzMall? What are you looking for most? What can they help you with?
Nathan Candaner: Well, given the audience is extremely wide, they can go to JobzMall.com. If they’re hiring, they can open a store. It’s free to open a store. It’s a freemium plan. It’s free to open a store. I always say, if you’re hiring or if you’re looking for a job - which is basically the entire population - if they’re hiring, they can open a store at JobzMall. If they’re looking for a job, or know someone that is looking for a job, they can create a video resume very simply, apply to jobs, and start getting the value from day one or even hour one.
Any listeners out there, they can also reach out to me directly on LinkedIn. I always focus on relationship building as opposed to a direct benefit. It’s much more important to give than take. I would just love to meet anyone who’s listening to this. I’m not saying this in a very generic way. If you’re listening to this, please add me on LinkedIn. Tell them that you listened to this podcast. I’ll thank Roland each time. But I’d love to talk to you. I think it’s very important to build relationships. Anyone can add me on LinkedIn. Go to JobzMall.Com, spread the word. That would be lovely.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Well, thank you. That’s a great closure of this recording of the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast. Really appreciate you coming on, especially so early in the day for you, Nathan. Much appreciated. Thank you so much for joining. I think you have a huge way ahead of you.
Nathan Candaner: Thank you very much, Roland. Lovely meeting you. Thank you very much for everything.
Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders across the world.