Adriano “Adri” Herdman, co-founder of freelance talent consultancy, We are Move (‘Move’), and recently launched tech job platform, Just Startup Jobs, talks to The Freelance Informer on why looking for a job in 2020 “still sucks,” how his Move business is coming back from the brink from the initial global lockdown, why there is always a place for freelancers in the startup community, and how career contractors are changing their career paths in the face of IR35 and the COVID pandemic.
‘The world has opened up, location may no longer be a barrier to getting that dream job BUT something has stayed the same, looking for a job sucks.’
These are the first words you will read when you click on the About page of Just Startup Jobs, or JSJ, a tech jobs board, that is focusing on permanent roles for candidates with a taste for the tech scale-up experience.
There are job sites that already cater to those that prefer working in the tech and startup market, such as Angel List, Otta, and On Startup Jobs, to name but a few. So, why launch now and in one of the toughest markets for recruitment firms?
For candidates keen to work in a startup environment, there have been factors that made the job hunt experience and prospects unattractive, with the onset of the pandemic exacerbating the situation, according to Herdman. Factors including location-centric jobs, a lack of representation of non-majority groups at client companies, cumbersome sign-ups making candidates jump through hoops and generic job specs that were overlooked or ignored have all contributed to why the job hunt has, lack of a better word, ‘sucked’.
Back from the brink
Herdman has his business partner, the reportedly ‘more technical of the two’, Chris Haslam, to join him on this new venture. A venture, which has followed their 2017 launch of talent consultancy, ‘Move’, which focuses on outside IR35 contractors. What also has entered the mix is the worst recruitment trading environment Herdman has experienced in his 15-plus years in talent acquisition.
Herdman explains, “Just before the first wave of COVID our team was growing and we were 16 across several markets, including an office in South Africa, but then when that wave hit and everything went into lockdown, the recruitment industry was hit hard, companies were not hiring. We took a huge hit and basically, 90% of our clients either paused or stopped paying our retainer. This went on from April until June- the period was a write-off. But after that, slight signs of recovery emerged and we are now back at 25 % of what we were trading before the lockdown. So, things are trending in the right direction.”
However, Herdman says some applications for certain roles, went through the roof, while others lacked applicants: “Software engineers are not applying and there is a serious shortage of them in the UK. There are not enough software engineers in the country to fill all the jobs.”
While other contractor and freelance day rates in the tech and startup scene, such as those for designers, sit at between £250 – £400, the software engineers can demand a day rate of closer to £700, according to Herdman. These costs can be high for a startup long-term, so some clients are toying with the idea of using specialists for a set period with the option to hire permanently if that is something the contractor would find interesting, or find a permanent replacement, but with perhaps less experience behind them once the task at hand is up and running.
With the more universal acceptance of remote working and large corporate clients opting for their permanent workforce to work from home or remotely, sponsoring foreign candidates for highly sought roles, such as software engineering, is no longer such an onerous task, nor expensive. If a candidate can work remotely to start or even on a long-term basis, clients can save on sponsorship costs, which can run up to more than £5,000 per candidate for visas and other legal costs, explains Herdman.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Herdman has seen a shift in some career self-employed contractors changing tactics to avoid falling foul of IR35 and opting, if they have the choice, to become permanent employees of their clients. They are also looking for a more stable form of employment in these uncertain times, he says. Herdman’s Move business works predominately with ‘outside IR35’ contractors and freelancers, those he explains, that have their own equipment, their own limited company, with multiple clients. Their contracts and dealings are direct with Move clients.
Two birds with one stone
However, he has startup company clients that are opting for a freelance filler to get a startup up to speed in certain lines of the business – making an impact on the business – while looking for a permanent replacement, therefore feeding both the freelance and permanent candidate propositions. In other cases, clients ask Herdman for a combination of one freelancer to two permanent roles to fill, highlighting that freelancers will always have a place in the startup community.
Herdman says he has seen some freelancers work with umbrella companies, instead, which is taking a hit on their historic take-home pay after they tally up the additional taxes, lower day rate due to benefits being added, such as sick pay, holiday pay, and umbrella company fees, which are usually charged on a weekly basis. The minimum most umbrella company contractors will pay is between £85 to £100 per month, and even higher for those contractors signed up on an invoice percentage fee model.
However, by having two tech startup recruitment and consultancy platforms, one that caters to contractors and one for permanent roles, Herdman is covering as many bases as he can for his clients and candidates in the Programming, Data, Product, DevOps, UX and Design segments.
Follow the Money, the Growth, and your Dojo
Some of Herdman’s clients are seeing great growth. Herdman advises job seekers to look for tech startups that are “not limited by a physical presence”, which leads to areas such as edtech and insurtech, for example, which are seeing greater popularity.
Just Startup Jobs client, Cuvva, for example, a car insurance platform that allows customers to pay for cover by the hour, is seeing sales increase at a rapid pace during the pandemic as families forego public transport and see savings when putting younger drivers on a per-hour policy. There are also edtech clients, such as, Future Learn, an edtech platform that does micro-credentials and courses for people who are unwilling to do degrees right now, which is seeing positive growth and job opportunities.
Herdman suggests those looking for work, should add job sites such as Move and Just Start Up Jobs and others that might cater to startup companies, even the JSA, on their search bar and actively look for new opportunities on a daily basis. He also suggests actively looking for e-commerce companies that will need to ramp up their operations.
When job seekers are on top of which sectors are receiving seed and venture funding, such as healthtech, insurtech, edtech, or social care, their job search could be more effective. Reading up on these sectors in the venture capital press is also a proactive way to engage startups in these segments.
One client, Birdie, for example, a digital care app that enables family members, carers and care companies to keep in direct contact via an app about crucial patient or resident data, such as medication changes, is one of those companies. Apps such as these have a ‘must have’ service for so many people during the pandemic and ongoing social distance measures.
Herdman also mentions that his companies are partnering with the Rasberry Pi Foundation, which is a STEM education charity working to empower people of all different backgrounds to become digitally skilled through the power of computing and digital technologies. One project that they are working on is Coder Dojo, which is a global movement of free, open, volunteer-led coding clubs (Dojos) where young people aged 7–17 (Ninjas) can explore digital technology with the support of their fellow Ninjas and volunteer mentors.
Herdman explains that when he and his colleagues had free time on their hands during the lockdown, they wanted to use that time wisely. They wanted to be “part of the solution” and that is why they reached out to the charity.
“We expressed to them – ‘we want to partner with you’ – and when we start to monetize our website we want to donate to your cause
because we believe in it,” says Herdman.
Admittedly, Herdman does not sound like your traditional recruitment agency executive, but perhaps that is because he is leading his ship into new waters: the new normal.
The Freelance Informer will be keen to follow his journey to see where it takes the freelance workforce and the startup community that drive the job opportunities that so many talented freelance individuals are so passionate to be a part of.