"Have the Hardest Conversations First"
I talk about long hours, interning and the formula of success with Dominic Chapman, the owner of video interviewing app StemX.
C: So tell me how it all began!
D: Before I had Stem X, I started a creative agency with the same guy I started this one with, so we started this agency to brand work and create. We did that for about nine months!
C: How old were you?
D: I was 19.
C: So, you didn’t go to university?
D: No, I didn’t! I did a year of work, so IT consultancy, and then whilst I was doing that I started my agency, and then I left that to do my agency full time, and then basically there were two people who had this idea called AVCV, which was like a video CV platform. So, you know like Indeed and all that sort of stuff, they wanted that but for everyone to have a video of themselves.
They couldn’t get it off the ground, so they came for some consultancy, and then as a group we decided that they really had the legs to build a different platform. It would be based around video but with a slightly different concept, so focusing on work with companies to get candidates onto the app to actually do it themselves.
C: Did you know what you were doing? You wouldn’t have known all the business things you’d need to, like accounts and things like that, surely?
D: No, I had no idea! I think the biggest struggle with the inexperience was knowing when people are trying to take the piss, or not.
C: Did you find that people were quite condescending because you were young?
D: Condescending yes, but I learnt quite quickly to go with your gut, so that was OK. Recruitment and HR is, you know, quite an older persons topic, so because they had more experience, I needed to get their trust to have a meaningful conversation. That took time, but now I’m in a good place.
C: So StemX came about - where did you get the funding?
D: The two people that started AVCV. They put some money behind it to help us build the first version, obviously now we’ve got customers so we’re in a place where we can pay a few people.
C: How long has this all been going on?
D: August 2016, we started talking about it in March 2016.
C: So it was quite quick?
D: Well yes, March was the first conversation. Then there were months of market research.
C: Is there competition?
D: So there’s like three or four other players around, but they’re all trying to work with Nike and Amazon, Apple etc, all the big players. Where as we don’t do the recruitment, we’re more of just a platform used to help recruit the people, so we don’t get to see them. We work with smaller companies, like Third Space, restaurants, people like that.
C: Why have you chosen to do that?
D: Well, we’re not as experienced at selling software, so there’s no point trying to convince people who have a lot more money and backing, and we prefer working with smaller brands where we can go and actually meet them, and they have time for us. It’s more intimate, and it’s a better place to sit at the start, instead of trying to have a polished product and just not knowing what to do.
C: So, if I was going to download your app and use it, what’s the process?
D: So the way it works: You apply for a job, instead of getting called out of the blue from a recruiter or a random e-mail, you get an invitation from us to download the app and go and take a video of yourself, answering questions they’ve set. The recruiter sets the parameters, so how long the video will be and so on. There’s a little bit of time pressure which is good. Then, the recruiter will get back in touch if he likes you. It’s really good for feedback too, because you can watch it back.
C: What are the negatives though of this? I mean, can it be at times based on face value, so what someone looks like? D: I think if you don’t set it up right, it can be really impersonal.
C: What’s the progression now? Where are you going?
D: So, we’ve just released new products for smaller companies, so if they can’t afford a higher-tier they can go and do this. We’re about to release a new mobile app soon with loads of new features too.
C: So, for people who are really inexperienced and they want to be you – what are the steps? Did you just get lucky?
D: We were super lucky because we had money and the others bought into the idea and into a kid who thought he could deliver it. So, I think being able to get somewhere is like a formula of luck, plus opportunity, plus taking the opportunity. Not everyone sees the opportunities they need to take.
C: How often are you working?
D: Every single day! We all are – Me, Diggs and Harry are working constantly.
C: Do you work when you’re not at work? D: Oh yeah! I think the thing with entrepreneurs are, you don’t switch off. Some nights you just can’t get to sleep – your mind is just ticking.
C: What would you say to someone just starting out?
D: Say yes to everything – every opportunity! Don’t turn things down, because it might lead somewhere else. A lot of people don’t take the opportunities. I was massively naïve, so I didn’t realise how much pressure was on me and how much money I was spending.
C: Did you have a job on the side when you started out?
D: Diggs had a job on the side, I was full time but I was paying myself below apprenticeship wage, so I did stuff on the side. Luckily, we had a creative agency so I had a load of contacts, so I’d build a website every now and again and things like that.
C: Tell me something I don’t know?
D: Before I was full time, I had the opportunity to work for free for Specsavers. I worked at their head office doing IT. It didn’t seem like anything massive, but what I did was worked there in the day – didn’t get paid. Then I’d go to a pub in the evening and work there. So, I worked 9-5 in the day, then 6-1 in the pub, but then at the end of that I got a job, I’d learnt a tonne and I started a creative agency.
C: What advice would you give to interns in your industry?
D: Begin to own a bit of the business, not literally – but take a part on yourself. Make yourself indispensable. It makes it harder for them to get rid of you at the end and more likely to hire you.
C: Did you always want to do what you’re doing now?
D: No – I was so unambitious. Well, actually I was ambitious but I didn’t really know what for.
C: Are you scared about competitors?
D: Well we do compete, but I wouldn’t say I’m scared. You’ve just got to focus on your own thing. If you look over your shoulder too much, you’ll end up just copying everyone else.
C: You own your business, which gives you a lot of freedom – can that make you lazy at times?
D: No – but I think it depends on the person. Most know when to work and when not to, some days you’ve just got to do it. When you’re in business, you do realise there are things you don’t want to do, accounts for example.
C: Why didn’t you go to uni?
D: I just didn’t fancy it! I didn’t know what I wanted to do! I could’ve still been working in the pub but it worked out.
C: Money chats are quite awkward aren’t they?
D: They are, but I think you always have to have the toughest conversation first.
C: How do you find managing teams?
D: It’s something I try and work on every day – I wouldn’t say I’m perfect at it! Being a manager is so different to being managed.
Visit the website and find out how to download the app at www.stemx.co.uk