#womenINstaffing Wednesday: Svetla Simidchieva, CEO, Placement Feed
Years in staffing: 15 years (primarily in Bulgaria and South East Europe)
How were you introduced to the staffing industry?
Back in the late 1990s I was working for PwC as a HR Manager, focusing mostly on in-house recruitment. Staffing in Bulgaria back then was new and there were only a few companies doing semi-professional jobs. The size of the market was approximately USD 3 million. At the same time, I was getting bored with the HR routine, but really enjoyed working with the team at PwC. So, I developed a business plan and two months later the partners at PwC gave me the go-ahead to launch PwC HR Consulting services, including recruitment services. Within 6 months my team grew to 5 people, we were break even and a top 3 staffing firm in the Bulgarian market.
Fast forward five years and Sarbanes Oxley (the first US law which had transborder validity) had an impact on my life. As a result of Sarb Ox, I had to close down the department and turned down several job offers to jump in at the deep end and start my first business: a staffing firm. I named it Monday. Within months we were already amongst the top staffing firms in Bulgaria servicing the local branches of Fortune 500 companies. We had a great team and were an employer of choice within the Bulgarian staffing industry.
What was your entrepreneurial moment to start Placement Feed?
It was in 2013 after I had one successful exit behind me (selling my other venture, a HR Consulting company) and my staffing firm was not doing great. Financial success was not driving me ahead personally and professionally. I lost motivation and the satisfaction from delivering value to both candidates and clients alike. Then I was approached by one of my previous clients who had an idea for a new type of platform which would match people to jobs—a grand idea to end spray and pray. He visited me to validate the idea and on our second meeting we decided to do it together. Just like that, we applied to the leading Accelerator and venture Fund in the region—eleven—and our idea got funded. The company is maj.io, matching applicants and jobs in order.
For nearly three years, our growing team has been building a solid stack of matching technology. Doing R&D and building technology satisfied my inner geek, I gained a millennial as a mentor (my now CTO) and was happy to harness my experience and passion into building a scalable solution to make the hiring experience better.
But start up road can be rocky. Getting to product market fit can be one of the most difficult things ever for an innovative new technology. In July 2016 we organized a Design Sprint, the new lean strategy methodology, and within three days Placement Feed was born. I love the Design Sprint methodology as it is human-centric and produces fast results. On day one we did a lot of customer development interviews with corporate talent acquisition leaders, agency recruiters and staffing executives. It confirmed that recruiters from the staffing industry have the most to gain from using a good matching product. On day three, the new product was prototyped. For a quick market entry we designed a product without integration which can be set up in just one day—Placement Feed Light. Placement Feed Light works via email, recruiters do not need to go out of their ATS and into a new system and are using it for redeployment of candidates as well as their virtual assistant. With the agency recruiting lifecycle in mind, we are now beta testing with a few clients on free trials. Making more placements is good for us and good for recruiters.
You’re currently working at Talent Tech labs, an incubator and think tank for talent acquisition technology in NYC. What are some of the main lessons you’ve gained from this experience?
Building a product from the ground up, with lots of R&D and new technology is exciting but also extremely uncertain and difficult. You need a supporting ecosystem where you have access to like-minded people, clients, investors as well as advisors and mentors. The most integral part of each start-up ecosystem are the accelerators and incubators. Talent Tech Labs has provided all of that as well as having access to a huge research database in talent acquisition. I feel at home in the office of talent Tech Labs – this is priceless given that I am away from home for long periods of time!
As a staffing veteran turned entrepreneur, what keeps you motivated?
The possibility to positively impact the lives of many recruiters and staffing executives. Agency recruiters are the best there are. With technology, we enable recruiters to be more productive, make more placements, be the best resource to their candidates and be more satisfied by their jobs day in day out. I am glad I am playing a role in that.