Chad Turner is the Canadian entrepreneur who has turned his dad’s college side project into a student staffing success story. I sat down with Chad to talk about Student Workforce beginnings, Richard Branson’s ADD, and how to be self-“blissiplined” on this session of The Startup Sit Down.
Hey Chad, thanks for taking the time to give us the Student Workforce lowdown. Our KillerStartups fans are looking forward to being inspired! Let’s get started…
How was student workforce hatched?
It actually started back in the 70s when my dad was in chiropractic school. He went to homes in Toronto to get quotes on painting jobs, and when he got contracts back, he would outsource the projects to other students. It was called Student Summer Services, and he did that for 2-3 years to put himself through school.
When I was 19, I played hockey in Berlin, but when my team went bankrupted, I came back to Toronto. I didn’t want to go to college because I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, so the best way was to start my own company and go out on my own.
Action over theory. My dad suggested that I start Student Summer Services again. So, I started placing ads in the papers. When people started responding I was trying to convince my friends to take the jobs. I didn’t know anything about recruiting or staffing at the time.
So, it started with about ten university students doing small jobs around Toronto. But then I started getting calls from companies needing students for flyer distribution, promotion marketing, etc. and it grew from there.
After 2 years, I got involved in the fashion industry as a marketing director for a clothing brand, which inspired me to start my own clothing line. Tried that for 2 years, learned a lot of lessons, and realized you can’t start a clothing line without any money. I didn’t have the financial backing to fill orders, and I couldn’t find the right partner to help finance it.
So, in 2007 with $50 in my overdraft account, I thought, “What did I use to do that made money? Oh yeah, the student staff thing!” I had bills to pay at the end of the month, so I opened the phonebook and started calling companies—dialing for dollars. I found the students through craigslist, had a good summer, paid off some of my debt, and it grew from there. That was five years ago.
It looks like you’ve grown to also include the US?
Yeah– in 2007 I was only in Toronto, and then it went national and by 2010 it was in the US. Now, we do a little work in Argentina and South Africa, and I’m looking to expand.
Biggest business surprise (good or bad) so far?
My biggest learning lesson in growth was assuming my market, and putting all my resourcing in the direction I thought my market was… and being completely incorrect. In 2009, my business dropped 90%, no one was hiring, but also I spent 6 months going after marketing contracts. I had a lot of business from agencies, and I thought I could turn Student Workforce into a marketing agency for students and grads.
I got about $4 million in quotes and proposals from this idea, but I saw $0 of that. It’s because I wasn’t a marketing or ad agency. I did staffing and recruiting. It was a good learning lesson—Understand the value your company provides, and focus on doing that really well before you try something else.
Where do you find inspiration?
I really admire Richard Branson, but reading his bio I realized his approach is really scattered. Other people I’ve found who’ve been successful have become phenomenal at one thing. That’s where I see lasting success, as opposed to having ADD with businesses.
I’m guilty of that; I’m working on 3 businesses at the moment. But, I’m learning to focus more and not say yes to every opportunity.
Also, I’ve learned a lot from Eben Pagan. He runs this course called Altitude and Mastermind—it’s a course for entrepreneurs and it’s the BEST course I’ve ever done. One of the teachings in the course, and I recommend it to everyone, is “Wake up Productive.” It’s all about programming yourself to be hyper-productive all day and be balanced by doing these four things:
- Do something productive
- Do something physical
- Learn something new each day
- Do something social
What is Student Workforce’s success sweet spot? What goals are you looking to accomplish?
Growing the client roster, diversifying our services somewhat, and growth. I want to add more substantial clients that we do a lot of work for. We have more of an online presence, so it’s getting more interactive for students and employers.
What’s your office vibe?
The main office is in Palermo Soho, in Buenos Aires. Most of our work is virtual, and runs on freelancers and contractors. I have a bunch of expats from the US, UK and Canada that are living abroad and are able to work remotely and be effective. They can relate to the market, and that’s key.
This is also a way to cut overhead, and become better and really lean with the business, especially after the downturn in 2009. I think a lot of entrepreneurs are doing it this way. I’ve worked all over the world, and that has always been by dream.
Favorite tech tool? Or, an app or site you use every day and can’t work without?
My iPhone because it allows me to work from anywhere. I can go snowboarding for the day and still be checking emails and be on Skype. I love the flexibility it gives me.
Also check out readitfor.me. It’s 7-10 minute condensed videos explaining the best business books in really cool, quirky summaries.
Parting words of wisdom for other entrepreneur newbies and wannabies?
One of the things I’ve learned this year is “Blissipline.” You have a core talent–something that you’re good at and you love doing—focus on that and outsource the things you’re not good at to others.
My core talent is creation and action. I love turning ideas into reality. I’ve let go of the things I’m not good at and I focus more time on the what I’m good at.
Thanks, Chad! If you’re looking to staff some students (or, you’re an eager-beaver pupil or recent grad yourself) check out studentworkforce.net. I look back on my student job days with great, if not fuzzy, fondness. Shout out to my alma, Florida State.
Photo and Video Credits
StudentWorkForce.net/blog / StudentWorkForce.net / ReadIt.me