Co-founder of Deltra Group, Minesh Jobanputra was recently interviewed by Nick Synott for the Climb in Consulting podcast – a show that provides consultants who want to rapidly accelerate their careers access to mentors and guidance from industry specialists. Minesh talks about his experience building a leading recruitment company, the challenges he faced, and shares his advice and experience for those thinking of setting up a business.
Our preview blog provides a taster of what’s discussed in the session. You can listen to the full interview with Minesh on the Climb in Consulting website or by downloading from iTunes or Stitcher.
Listen online: https://www.climbinconsulting.com/podcast/
Myself and my business partner, Julian used to work for a large recruitment company and when that was bought out by a larger organisation, we recognised significant changes, changes in the way that the company was operating and the way that candidates and clients were treated. It became a very transactional model but the team that we worked in at the time bucked that trend massively. It wasn’t about operating in a transactional manner, it was about working with candidates and clients and trying to build good relationships with them, and those relationships take time as it can’t happen on the first meeting.
When we saw that change coming, our team had gone out to the wider market and interviewed with different companies as individuals and met with loads of recruitment owners, some of them which had really impressive recruitment stories. Ironically, because we were all using the same head hunter we were going to the same recruitment companies one day after the other and we’d come back to the office and sit there talking about the different offers and companies. We’d gone out and met with the same people largely, and there were some impressive characters that had built some big businesses that we hear about today. The one thing we weren’t getting though was inspiration. We weren’t meeting people that we thought “I want to work with and for you”. Quite often the big common denominator was that not many of them were client facing anymore. They’d built these businesses sat in their offices but weren’t interacting with customers on a daily basis and our entire model was all about going out there and being client and customer facing.
It’s a point of contention amongst myself and Julian – neither of us agreed on who suggested it, I’m convinced it was me. But once day we said, why don’t we start a recruitment company together? I think it took about 5 minutes for us to say yes sure, let’s do it. And that was it, we decided we would go and start a company. The realisation then sunk in that we needed to work out how we actually did it.
Well, our first thought was there’s two of us. We know what we need to do in recruitment, we know how to recruit and we know there’s enough customers out there that we can approach – such as former clients and candidates - once our restricted covenant period was over.
We had enough self-confidence to start our own business but the main thing we needed was financial support and help with infrastructure as we were so new to it. We went to an individual that we had interviewed with previously and asked him for investment instead of going to work for him. We met at the RAC club in London for breakfast, told him what our idea was and within 2 hours the agreement was there in principle and that was it.
The three of us sat down around a table and figured, we get on, we all like what we’re hearing and we’re honest about what we want to achieve so let’s just go away and do this. We always knew that this meant that Julian and I would be the ones on the phone, meeting clients and candidates and doing the recruitment part of this job, but we’d be able to call upon advice and support in a board meeting session, once a month from our backer. The rest of it was really down to us, we knew we wanted to own, run and create a business, so we did.
When I describe how we set up, I always use the term ‘back of a fag packet’. But in effect it was. We knew the logistics of the job, we knew we wanted to be change, project and programme recruiters and the rest we figured we’d work out as we went along.
We knew that we didn’t want to work in a transactional environment so we took our model and approach out to the marketplace – explaining that we were relationship focused, that we took the time to really understand our clients and candidates and get to know what they were all going through and what they were trying to achieve. Once we explained that, the rest of it was quite straightforward.
Julian’s wife who worked in PR kindly helped us out when thinking of names. Latimer was always the front-runner, but Julian’s wife and a couple of colleagues sat down with us and said, what is your business going to do and what do your candidates do? So we came up with a series of words: effectively deliver projects, run projects, project delivery.
The common denominator was deliver transformation, so she spliced the two words - DELivering TRAnsformation, and that’s where it came from.
There wasn’t anything that was ever spoken about between Julian and myself. We knew that if we picked up the phone and spoke to the right people, they would want to work with us and we didn’t necessarily need to have a multi-million pound business behind us for them to want to do it. That gave us the confidence that we had the right relationships that we needed to really make this work.
So, from day one I always had my head looking at the accounts and the figures and I continued doing this almost on a daily basis. I just presumed at the time that’s what you have to do to run your own company as well as the recruitment side of things. It took me a little while to step away from that. We were having a conversation with our backer at the time and he said just forget that for now. Just go and do what you do, and do what you’re good at. Go and recruit and actually build the business, and the rest of it will take care of itself. And that was actually really good advice.
We’d got our first client on after two days, which was ideal. An old contact of mine, a candidate, was working over at Lloyds Banking Group and on day two saw my LinkedIn update that I’d left my old firm. I’d never transacted with her at Lloyds because we weren’t able to at my previous business, but she called me and said I need to recruit a project manager. It was a really difficult role that they’d had no joy in finding it as it was a really unique skill set and she just said, what have you got?
So that was it, on day two we were up and running. Julian and I were working on it together. We used our existing network, Julian had an old candidate that he’d worked with years ago, so we met her, had lunch with her and realised she was the right person for the role. We introduced her to our client and within a week we had our first offer. Within 2-3 weeks we’d made our first ever placement as a business with Lloyds Banking Group, who had it not been for our contact, would never have worked with a start-up that was only a month old.
For me, during the second year of business I found it really difficult to get new clients on board and it was probably my worst year ever in recruitment. I was knocking on doors and being told no, we’ve got a PSL we’ve got other suppliers and that was really tough. On the other hand, Julian was doing fantastically well, breaking into some really major companies and was absolutely storming ahead, which was brilliant for the business and absolutely what we needed. It was great that we had that but it also meant that I knew that I needed to do a heck of a lot more as well. We’d had some new employees join the business who were going out and making progress with some really good clients and winning business so the challenge for me on a personal level was to demonstrate that I could bill and that I could still go and win business and place contractors.
Thankfully towards the end of that year and the start of year three, things picked up for me and we got some big clients that led us to win bigger projects. Fortunately, the rest of the team were also doing extremely well, which meant that year on year we were still growing.
The main thing is just perseverance, and this is something that we’ve always spoken to potential hires about. We speak about perseverance and whether as an individual you can stick with it, even when you have a rough time or bit of a lean time? If you know you’re a good recruiter and you understand your subject matter, the rest of it falls into place, and it will fall into place.
Internally we talk about going back to basics. Don’t forget relationships, don’t forget your candidates, don’t forget your clients, just keep in touch with the right people and make sure you always have something of value to talk to people about so you can make sure you differentiate yourself in the marketplace.
Naturally, we have KPIs in place but we’re also honest about the fact that there are times when people struggle, or things don’t quite go to plan. There’s not an endless supply of time to make things work but we’re also not the sort of recruitment company that says you’ve not made a placement this month, you’ve got to leave the business. It’s about being realistic. As long as we’re working smart and doing all of the right things, we know it’ll come good. We’ve always been honest with our team and we know that if they follow the plan and follow our way of working it’ll come good. There are enough clients out there in the industry that will work with us and plenty of contracting opportunities where we can make a difference.
It's trained into our team to make sure you’re going after the right opportunities, doing the right activities, meeting the right candidates, talking to enough people and providing those value-add services. But it has to be a collaborative approach, yes we do have targets in place and we stand by them, but we also understand that when people are trying and doing the right activities if it doesn’t yield the right results instantly that doesn’t necessarily matter because we know the results will come. And that goes back to us being a relationship driven business so we can’t expect results to happen on the same day.
I think it makes for a healthy work environment. Yes there is the pressure to meet KPIs, but the focus ultimately needs to be on quality. We want our consultants to go out and meet with clients and take people out for lunches, drinks, dinners or seminars. But at the same time we need people in the office calling through our existing database, as well as new people that we’re registering and really honing in on the quality of the candidate. We’re not interested in having 100,000 people on our database, we’re interested in the quality of the people we work with. We’d rather work with a smaller sample of candidates but give them a better reach with our clients.
We also give consultants time to thoroughly understand their market, map out their vertical properly and better understand their clients – who they are, what they’re going through, what challenges they face and who can we introduce them to in our network that can either provide them with a solution or a bit of information that’s going to make their lives a little bit easier.
I think it comes down to the individual, there’s no right formula to build a successful relationship, it’s a personal thing. We promote meeting people. It really helps to understand what they’re going through, what environment they want to work in and what sort of culture they’ll deliver best in.
The other part is being real. When anyone comes in for an interview at Deltra, the first thing Julian and I will say is, if you’ve been prepped to come in with an interview persona, drop it. We need to get to know the real individual, who they are as a person, how they would deliver programmes, what sort of style they would take, how do they react to a difficult environment, what are the biggest challenges they’ve overcome and how did they go about doing it.
Because our entire model is built around quality, if I’m submitting a candidate to a client I’ve got to make sure that I can say that person is really good and I rate them. At the end of the day it’s my reputation on the line. Both Julian and I agree, if we really mess up and we get it wrong we don’t expect a second chance, so we need to know that we can trust our candidates and trust our clients.
Be true to what you do, stay focused and on point. Don’t get distracted. We’ve built our business on being a niche provider and sometimes we’ll be approached to provide roles very close to but just outside of our niche, and we have to turn those opportunities down. While it’s hard to do, we’re actually doing the client a favour as they won’t get a second rate service from us, we’re only going to support them in the area that we’re a specialist in. If someone’s looking to launch a company and they are going to be niche, be a specialist and be niche as your reputation will build from that.
Another key point is your team, we’re really fortunate that we’ve got some brilliant people here. As we’ve grown, we’ve got people who’ve been able to help us on our journey, people that have been able to drive the business forward. We’re eternally grateful for having really strong-willed and strong-minded individuals working in the business with us. When you’re looking at hiring someone new you need to look at it from the perspective of can you manage that individual and do you like them as a character? Then take a step back as a shareholder or owner and look at whether they're right for the business, is that investment the right thing to do or should you invest that capital into two other resources elsewhere? Making those decisions are difficult.
You can listen back to the full interview with Minesh on the Climb in Consulting website https://www.climbinconsulting.com/podcast/