Our startup: Joseph Williams on his inclusive recruitment platform Clu
What does Clu do?
Clu is an inclusive hiring platform leading the skills-based recruitment revolution. It is designed to ensure no one feels “other” in a hiring process ever again. It gives job seekers from all backgrounds a fair opportunity to demonstrate their value to organisations and get hired into roles they would thrive in.
Clu focuses on what job seekers do best. Instead of lengthy CVs and cover letters, it favours snappy information like skills, behaviours, aspirations, and career expectations. By getting to know job seekers better, Clu can present them with more meaningful and appropriate career opportunities – rewarding a much greater return on effort and up to 60% more responses from organisations.
Recent data from Gartner and LinkedIn respectively found 80% of people don’t have the right skills for their jobs and almost 50% of people leave their jobs within 12-18months. These figures are not coincidental. You can never assess a candidate properly when you are almost exclusively looking at what they have done in the past to determine what they’re capable of doing in the future.
Competition for talent is too great to be complicitly overlooking vast pools of people because of barriers to entry. Through Clu, we are helping organisations re-evaluate what it takes to do a job, and who is capable of doing it.
What's your biggest strength?
Between my co-founder and I, we have a lot of experience building products that people like to use – this helps. Cayelan has 18yrs experience software and games development, and I have 15yrs in product innovation and marketing, my last 7 in recruitment.
Because neither of us have university degrees, we both started out at the very bottom of the ladder and lost years of time getting to a place other people were handed simply because of a degree.
In framing the argument for skills-based hiring, who do you think makes a better entry level employee, a single mother with 3 jobs, or a graduate? Who will demand more? Who will work harder? Who will stay longer?
Our collective knowledge across D&I, Psychology, Technology and Recruitment set us in good stead but grit, determination, and creativity run through the veins of marginalised and overlooked people and it lives in us. We have to work harder by default, and this will underpin our success.
What made you think there was money in this?
There’s a reason rec-tech is booming at CAGR of 7% YoY – it’s a cash cow. Our market is worth £38bn in the UK alone and has next to no accountability for being one of the lowest performing business service lines.
The base line is unfortunately so low and because our sector (recruitment-technology) is almost exclusively focused on digitisation and automation, we knew that even if we influenced the smallest segment of our market, in the UK alone, we’d be able to make ends meet.
We spoke with over 20,000 candidates, analysed over 100,000 job ads and interviewed over 800 hiring managers to get to the heart of our sectors biggest issues. Frankly no one was happy with recruitment and there was a big disconnect between what people wanted and what they were getting. This is why we have anchored our produce vision to improving the accuracy, inclusion and experience of recruitment for everyone.
We celebrate everyone for what they can do, not where they learned to do it.
Where is the business today?
We started the company in 2021 and have had a very busy 12 months. After completing our meticulous research phase for the platform, we launched our beta pilots last summer with top businesses such as BBC studios, TSB, Stryker and UKTV.
We used client generated revenue from pilots to build Clu v1.0 and have gained several very high-profile advocates, like Lord Simon Wooley, along the way.
We’re currently on track to meet our £300k revenue target in year 1. This fast traction is underpinned by ease of onboarding and a deep credibility and trust in our marketplace.
But we’re only a small team, with no dedicated sales resource so have recently launched a funding round to raise money for sales and marketing fire power to fuel scale up capability.
We have been lucky to have had some inspiring women join our Advisory Board. Director at Google Kia Christian, Hootsuite Chief Marketing Officer Maggie Lower, decorated Technical Strategist Jen Shorten, and Salesforce Senior Vice President Lalitha Stables are bringing their extensive tech, marketing, HR and diversity & inclusion knowledge to Clu.
What is the secret to making the business work?
I think it’s easy to succumb to hustle mentality when you’re a founder. There is always something else to do and never enough time to do it.
Don’t get me wrong, being a founder is tough, but I don’t think it needs to be as challenging as some “gurus” make it out to be.
I must prioritise my physical and mental health because of my health conditions and have managed to still move further than most in Yr1 with a mostly part time team. This is not because I’m superhuman or impeccably gifted, it is simply because I exercise very clear personal boundaries, am crystal clear on what I do well and where I need support, I always make time for self-care, and am more than happy to ask for help when I need it.
That last part is an important one. You’ve got to be a bit of an egotist to be a Founder, but I think many people fail because they’re so caught up with being seen as a successful entrepreneur that they end up passing over asking for critical help when it’s needed. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones, we are all worrying about money all the time, and will need friends to buy dinner or lend us some cash to pay bills. There should be no shame in talking about this, but I see many founders getting themselves into bad financial trouble just because they didn’t want to be seen as “failing”. I wish we had more authentic conversations about the founding journey and more support was available for these kinds of conversations.
How do you market the company?
We have next to no marketing budget so must be VERY intentional about spend. We’ve surpassed paid ads at this stage and opted for a strategic digital PR partnership with a company called Four PR based in Scotland.
The most important thing for a new business is to have a really clear message and point of view and to get that message out there as far and wide as possible. With Four, we work to drive awareness of Clu, conversations about topics such as social mobility and the future of work and ultimately drive traffic to our website. We create content on certain topics and place it on sites that future job seekers or partner businesses will read and want to get in touch with us as a next step. I also am a HUGE advocate of following #journorequests on Twitter and the Lightbulb PR requests group on Facebook. Loads of media and press opportunities come through there, and they’re free.
As a new brand, it’s also really important to be seen next to credible brands. So we have an extensive partner network ranging from content, to x-sell to brand partnerships. We get thought leaders together to discuss trends, turn this into content and then invite our customers and pipeline customers to discuss it with us.
When you have no money to market, finding things to talk about and growing your own email list in the base line and most of that is very much achievable through LinkedIn. Sales navigator is also (I hate to say it) a pretty good tool and worth the investment. Canva and Grammarly are also tools I would happily pay for again and again and really supercharge the content we create.
What funding do you have? Is it enough?
We are bootstrapped to date with no previous raise. We’re revenue generating and have an extensive social impact and results through our work already. Some might say we’re a hot ticket for investment.
That being said, around 70% of funding in the UK still ends up with Oxbridge grads and so we are struggling to get the funding we need to grow our sales and marketing fire power to fuel scale up capability.
There are programmes out there that support “diverse founders” but find that this is often limited to just female and black founded businesses. There is very little funding available for LGBTQ business owners and next to nothing available for disabled founders.
I have recently teamed up with several other disabled entrepreneurs recently to create a campaign to bring more awareness to the vast but systemically underutilised opportunities of investing in disabled founders. We are calling on Venture Capitalists and Private Investors to not overlook my community, now representing over 1 billion people, globally.
We’re EIS and SEIS approved, so if you want to invest, feel free to get in touch.
Tell us about the business model
During piloting, we tested three price points in the market to establish our current fixed fee model.
Growth targets have been benchmarked against competitor growth, ensuring a seamless onboarding journey, and are underpinned by Clu’s unique features.
In year 3, we will convert to a ‘per licence’ model, maintaining our features across talent acquisition and engagement, but by using our unique data sets across geographies, skills, and demographics will build out innovative features across the full employee lifecycle.
To help us create a working world that works for everyone, we also have an extensive partner network of organisations that refer skilled job seekers from underrepresented communities into Clu.
For every successful hire made through a talent partner we reinvest back in their employability programmes. It is part of our social impact pledge to add 100,000 socially mobile workers to the workforce and reinvest over £5M in employability programmes over the next five years.
We’re not building a product based around fads or tokenism – what we’re building addresses the perennial business issues of critical skills gaps, poor retention, and an unsustainable talent pipeline – so Clu will be as relevant in 10 years’ time as we are today.
What were you doing before?
My personal history has informed the direction of the business and has been a complex one. When I was younger, I struggled with behavioural issues and my studies. My mother died and I left college and home at 17 and because of a lack of education, I began work in a call centre – the only place not in retail that would interview me without a degree.
My managers noticed my ability to read data and got me involved in campaign management. I went on to develop the highest performing campaign, and then business quarter, in the company’s history, earning me a promotion at the parent company. I was always good at working hard but struggled immensely with adapting to the workplace - the politics, the unnecessarily complicated processes, and the egos you need to navigate.
I found that instead of being able to express my problems and ask for help, HR managers told me not to make a fuss and disclose my neurodiversity, or sexuality, if I wanted to get ahead. The working world was a lot less open. The Equality Act hadn’t passed yet and anyone who was different was instantly side lined.
After the tests I faced in my first roles, which painted a picture of what work would be like, I became a business consultant, like many other neurodiverse and disabled people do but gained vast experience working on projects like the 1st B2b product offering for News UK, Twitter’s SMB business in the UK and the launch of BBC Earth.
Are there any technologies you've found useful?
Touched on this in the earlier marketing section. But would definitely add Xero, Hootsuite and Hubspot to the list. Although HubSpot has hiked its prices to something significantly less sustainable now, so let’s see how long that will last.
What is the future vision?
The recruitment sector anchors its services around a really flawed process and is dominated by salespeople, not psychologists. It’s core methodology has not been improved since its inception and this is what we are aiming to do in the market. CVs and CV-anchored application systems are one of the biggest barriers to social mobility in the UK. For example, applicants with Asian or African-sounding names need to send twice as many job applications as those with a “British” name to get an interview. Women are also less likely to be invited to interview than men. But even if we remove names and education history from them, CVs are still worsening the current social mobility gap, which has been increasing in the UK since 2014.
We want to grow the platform and to dramatically increase the accuracy of job searches and in doing so, save businesses huge amounts of time and money that can be reinvested into employee experience and retention. We are aiming to bring more features that specifically target the mobilisation of the most marginalised groups in society. We are already running specific programmes for refugees, the neurodiverse, and economically disadvantaged young people, and want to scale this impact far beyond the UK.
We want to be the leader in advocacy for job seekers because of our new way of finding work in a rewarding, time-sensitive and empowering way. Clu is at the forefront of the social mobility revolution. And we will not stop breaking down barriers to entry and participation until we achieve our vision of a democratic job market.