Most of us drag ourselves to work day-in and day-out and wonder how we got into this predicament in the first place. You have done your due diligence, researched the company and outside looking in, and everything seemed perfect. As it turns out, it is not what you thought it would be and your dream job suddenly becomes Hell’s Kitchen.
FirmPlay is looking to change everything by taking the job search to the next level. Vasilios Alexiou and Jason Rivas, co-founders of FirmPlay, tell us more in this exclusive interview.
What’s your company about? What do you do? Who are your customers?
Everyone goes through the job search process at some point. It’s often a time-consuming, anxiety-filled process of combing through countless job descriptions that all sound the same. Worst of all, there’s very little sense for what it would actually be like to work at each of those jobs. What kind of people would you be working with? How quickly do things move at the company? What kind of training would you receive? What does the layout of the office even look like? Put simply: would you love working there?
So we created FirmPlay – a new job search platform that takes job seekers behind-the-scenes at companies through in-depth videos, photos, and other compelling content to help them discover cool companies and find a job they’ll love. The companies on our site all care about culture and are hiring (and often growing at incredible rates), so it’s a win-win: job seekers have a better chance to find a job and employer that’s right for them (and save time avoiding companies that aren’t a fit before they start applying)…and employers have the ability to showcase their culture in order to attract the right candidates.
What’s the greatest thing about your company/website? Why is it better than the competition?
FirmPlay’s proprietary WorkplaceDNA™, which will let job seekers search by a dozen individual components that make up a company’s culture, such as work pace, hours, events and traditions, and feedback style, to name a few. This will change the way you search for job, because by searching and filtering for a company based on the criteria that ultimately impact your day-to-day happiness at work, you can avoid companies that aren’t a fit from the beginning and invest that saved time in the companies that are right for you.
How’d you come up with the name for your company?
Whether through a blockbuster hit, a documentary, or even a corporate recruiting video, we believe in the power of video to tell a story. We encourage companies to do the latter, so that for a job seeker finding out about a company is as easy as hitting the “play” button…hence, the “play” in FirmPlay. The “firm” is there because we’re focused on companies, businesses, firms, etc. So that’s why we chose FirmPlay. That and the fact that the domain was available on GoDaddy.
What was your first computer? How old were you when you first got on the world wide web?
Vasilios: One night when I was 13 or so, my dad walked into the house carrying several enormous boxes. Inside was a new IBM Aptiva, tricked out with some cool accessories (i.e. an HP color inkjet printer). I still remember thinking, “How is this possible? Is this real life?” I had gotten onto the internet probably a year or two before that, but never owned my own computer until that miraculous night.
Jason: It was back in the 80s so it’s tough to remember the exact model, but think it was an IBM. However, I can vividly remember using it almost exclusively for video games (Castlevania, Zelda, SimCity, etc.). My early memories of the internet involve AOL CDs, chat rooms and AIM.
What time do you usually start work each day? How many hours a day do you usually work?
We typically get going between 9:30am and 10am. The end-point varies, but usually we wrap up somewhere between 9pm and 11pm.
When’s the last time you went on vacation and where did you go?
Vasilios: Went to the US Virgin Islands over 4th of July weekend. It was what you’d expect – hot, muggy, beachy, and boozy.
Jason: I went to Bali for a close friend’s wedding in June, with a 3-day stopover in Hong Kong. Tough to pull yourself away from a startup that you’re trying to build, but it was one of the best decisions I’ve made since embarking on this adventure. A little time away does wonders.
What’s the very first thing you do at work every day?
It depends on the day of the week. Mondays we conduct a planning session for the week (prioritizing the things we need to accomplish for the week). Most other days, we start off with a cup of coffee and check email.
When do your best ideas come to you? In bed in the morning? During dinner? On your third beer?
Vasilios: Oddly – and irritatingly – enough, just as I’m falling asleep. It’s as if I’m being tested; do I care enough about the business to pull myself out of near slumber, unlock my phone, type out a barely comprehensible email to myself, and hit send before I’m fully in the clutches of sweet, sweet REM sleep? The answer is usually yes.
Jason: I would say ideas come to me at all times, but the best are usually during a run or a workout session. There’s something about exercising that clears my head and makes space for good ideas (use the term “good” loosely here).
How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?
We started with the two co-founders, Jason and Vasilios, in late 2013. We quickly added a videographer, Jeremy, to help us start creating behind-the-scenes recruiting videos for clients. Then around May 2014, we added two developers (Mike and John) and three other people in the areas of Marketing (Victoria), Sales (Vicki), and Product Management (Emmanuel).
A lot of people have big ideas. What gave you the confidence to actually go after yours?
A few things. First, we tested out our idea on companies. We just cold emailed a bunch of startups in Boston, and surprisingly, most of them wrote back, interested to hear more. Since then, we’ve been amazed at how eager companies are to show off what it’s like to work for them. We also tested the idea with job seekers. We conducted interviews, set up ads online to see if people would click on them to use our very basic (at the time) site, and distributed surveys to dozens of people. We asked them if they consider culture when looking for a job, and if so, what services they use to evaluate a company’s culture. We found out that, yes, they do care about culture, and that the tools they use don’t exactly do the greatest job at providing a comprehensive view at what it’s like to work somewhere. Thirdly, we noticed that companies were starting to showcase their culture on their own careers pages, so in a way the concept had already become a reality. This was worth something, in our eyes. Finally, our mothers loved the idea. That was the icing on the cake.
Remember the early days of starting up? Describe the struggles you went through.
Where to begin. There was no structure or guidance – it was just an idea and two people interested in that idea. Also, both of us were working full-time (and in different cities) for several months – in investment banking and management consulting, no less. The only time available was typically a couple hours late at night during the week (midnight meetings were not unusual), and the weekends. Also, because we weren’t technical, we built our first website on a drag-and-drop site (Weebly). It did the job for a very basic proof-of-concept, but didn’t allow for much functionality for the user. Maybe the toughest decision was when to pull the plug on our day jobs and take the plunge full-time on our startup – there was no obvious point in time for us to do that, so it was always going to be a somewhat uncomfortable judgment call on our part. Fortunately, we decided to do it around the sa! me time – late Feb / early March 2014. And we haven’t looked back.
How do you handle frustration? What has been your biggest professional frustration?
Walks around the block are good. So is beer. But mostly, talking things out, when possible, gets the job done. We have so much to do that letting frustration fester or go unhandled is an unfeasible solution, so we tackle it ASAP and move on. Biggest professional frustration for us has probably been the fact that we want to do a million things, but can only do a few – so we’ve gotten fairly good at prioritizing and choosing our battles. It’s less of a frustration now and more of a basic way to operate our business, but it was tough at the start.
What’s your office environment like? Do you listen to music? Watch movies? Play video games?
We work at a co-working space in Central Square in Cambridge, called Workbar. We’re surrounded by other cool startups and friendly, motivated people, so there’s a natural energy to the place. We often say it’s one of the best decisions we made as a company (our living rooms are nice and all, but…yeah).
How do you picture your company in 5 years?
For the job seeker, we want to be the number one resource for finding a company (and job) you’ll absolutely love. If you care about culture and finding the right fit, you can’t afford to not use FirmPlay in your job search. For companies, we want to be the premier way to show job seekers what it’s like to work for you. If you care about culture and finding the right fit, then you can’t afford to not have a profile on FirmPlay.
Who or what inspires YOU? Role models? Quotes? Running? Video games? Snack food?
The fact that we struggled with the issue we’re trying to solve is probably our biggest motivator. That is, if we struggled to get behind the scenes at companies when we were looking for jobs several years back, and can do something about it now to save others the same frustration and help them land a job they’ll love, then we’re doing something right. We’re also motivated to be our own bosses. Between the two of us, we’ve worked in large corporate environments for nearly 20 years, and we always had multiple bosses. Being our own boss and growing our own business and team gives us immense pride and motivation.
How’d you fund this venture? VC? Self-funding? Crowdfunded? Where’d you get the money, man?
We’re bootstrapping it! We took our bonuses from investment banking and consulting and ploughed them straight into the business. Smart? Reckless? We’ll see.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
Test every major assumption about the business as early as possible. Try – really, try hard – to fail. You say such and such is true about your customer…but have you really validated that assumption? Get out there and talk to people who will be your customers – like, right now. And don’t just stop there. People will say one thing, but when faced with the prospect of paying for something, may do something very different. So get creative. Set up a basic ad on Facebook, for instance, and link it to a landing page that prompts people to sign up and/or pay for your service. Are you converting your visitors when they land on that page? Are they clicking on that sign up button? With little to no money, you can quickly find out if you’ve got something worth pursuing on your hands.
What other advice do you have for other entrepreneurs struggling to get started?
Half the battle is just getting started. You’ll be paralyzed by what you don’t know, but if you don’t throw yourself into the game, then you won’t start learning. So just get going. Because the truth is, you probably won’t end up succeeding based on your initial idea. You’ll learn, you’ll iterate (quickly, if you’re doing it right), and you’ll iterate again. The quicker this process begins and happens, the better off you’ll be.
What would you do if you had a year off and $500,000 to spend (on something other than work)?
Probably invest in another startup. But if it had to be completely unrelated to all things work, then we’d probably spend the time and money travelling. Post-business school graduation we, along with one other classmate of ours, spent three weeks travelling through Europe. We both still look back at that time as one of the best of our lives. Though $500k is a lot of money to spend on travelling, so we’d also pay off our student loans, too.
Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur? If not, what’ll make you feel successful?
No way, at least not yet. We’ll feel successful when we’ve managed to build a business that is self-sustaining and gets embraced by job seekers everywhere as the best solution for finding a company and job you love.
Top 5 websites you couldn’t live without and why?
- SI (we’re sports junkies)
- ESPN (see above)
- Techcrunch (seems relevant)
- NYTimes (because stuff happens outside of work, and CNN.com is now indistinguishable from Upworthy)
- GQ (we’re gentlemen of refined taste)
Top 5 mobile apps you’re in love with and why?
- Google maps (still an all-time classic – how else are you gonna get around?)
- Yelp (like having a foodie friend in your pocket)
- Facebook (who looks at FB on their desktop anymore?)
- Gmail (we pride ourselves on responding to emails immediately – we’re former bankers and consultants!)
- Spotify/Pandora (Vasilios likes Pandora, Jason likes Spotify – guess opposites attract)
What is your music streaming player of choice, and what are you listening to right now?
Vasilios: Pandora. As Ron Popeil would say in his legendary rotisserie oven infomercials, just “set it and forget it.”
Jason: Spotify – $9.99 per month for access to almost any song I could ever want to listen to, with no commercials…no brainer!
Number 1 country you’ve always wanted to visit but haven’t yet? (And why that country?)
Vasilios: Japan. Because “Lost In Translation” is my favorite movie (I know, I know – Japan may turn out to be slightly different than the way it was portrayed in that movie).
Jason: Brazil. Haven’t met one person that’s gone who doesn’t rave about it. Also have a few friends who live there so could travel cheaply (bootstrapping = limited funds).
Three people (other than you) we should follow on Twitter and why?
- 3Play Media (because they’re our first-ever client who took a chance on us, so we give them a shout out every chance we get)
- Mark Cuban (he just keeps it real)
- Angry Bobby Flay (because he’s an angry, famous chef)
Please share some specific numbers (funding, revenue, visitors) that highlight your growth.
We just officially launched (check out our first PR piece: firmplay-boston-tech – check back with us later this year for growth details!
Where Can Our Readers Find You Online?
FirmPlay | Vasilios Alexiou