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The days of ‘hyper-growth’ startups are receding somewhat as investors increasingly look for more grounded businesses.

Proving the business model with clients and revenue seems like common sense after several high-profile tech platforms went pop recently under the burden of heavy cash burn.

A more cautious approach is paying off for Matthew de la Hey and Alex Hanson-Smith, who founded inploi back in 2016 as a marketplace serving the recruitment needs of the hospitality and leisure sector. 

The London startup, fifth on our sister publication BusinessCloud’s inaugural TalentTech 50 ranking this year, was forced to pivot hard when COVID wiped out its customer base and pipeline. It now helps the likes of Compass Group and Wagamama to reach prospective candidates wherever they are online, and removes friction from the application process.

“Our approach to building inploi has been measured,” de la Hey tells TechBlast. “We’ve never raised venture capital, which has meant that we’ve had to be very, very focused on being capital efficient and minimising expenditure.

“For us, it necessarily has been a marathon and not a sprint. And whilst there are little bits of the journey that you can sprint on, you can’t sprint forever – because it’ll kill you.

“It turns out that it has been a really beneficial position to be in. For a lot of companies, access to venture capital has dried up – and there’s a winter coming for those who have become addicted to it and need that next round in order to sustain high levels of burn.”

Go slowly, go fast

De la Hey describes the approach it has taken as ‘go slowly, go fast’. “Building a sustainable business rather than rolling the dice and seeing what happens has been good for us,” he adds.

“Try something, see if it works, iterate, go again. You won’t always get it right. But it’s an iterative process, and crucially those mistakes, when they do happen, are not too expensive.”

Could inploi fix your hiring while rivals lag behind?

Born and raised in South Africa, de la Hey completed his undergraduate studies there in accounting and finance before winning a scholarship to the University of Oxford to do a Master’s in African studies.

He was then exposed to entrepreneurship at the university’s Saïd Business School during an MBA in business administration before entering the world of work. It would be a brief foray as he and Hanson-Smith, frustrated by inefficiencies in the hiring journey, began working on inploi in their spare time.

inploi – Powering the hiring journey, for everyone

Taking the plunge

“I was living on his sofa! We started to investigate whether or not there was a business opportunity there,” he explains.

“We figured that there really was a massive inefficiency in this market and that somebody would produce a slick tech solution to address it – and if that wasn’t us, or at least we hadn’t given it a shot, we knew we’d always kick ourselves.

“So we quit our jobs and went all in.”

De la Hey says he always had the aspiration of running a business but “didn’t plan to do quite so quickly”.

It may have been an advantage, he concedes. “Starting a business soon after university meant that the downside risk was limited because we’d just been students until fairly recently anyway,” he says.

“My time at Saïd took me behind the veil of people who had built businesses. It helped me to realise that there was never going to be a ‘right time’. 

“I found a very strong co-founder who I was prepared to take a big risk with and we found an idea that we thought had some legs.”

‘A market-ready product was key to our success’

Million-pound milestone

Growth since it adopted its new model post-COVID has been impressive, with inploi reaching a million pounds of revenue for the first time last year.

“We’re now in a place where we have hired a growth team to accelerate our go-to-market and some professional salespeople for the first time rather than it all being driven by the founders,” says de la Hey.

Among his mentors are recruitment industry veteran Chris Nelson, who sits on inploi’s board of directors, and its chair Ross Sleight, chief strategy officer EMEA for CI&T after his Somo business was acquired by the New York-listed company.

“Ross has been with us since the very early days and has been an amazing mentor, advisor and picker-upper when we’ve been down,” says de la Hey.

Despite having never sought VC funding, inploi has raised two rounds of investment from friends, family and angels. Now entering a scaling phase, it is considering taking on growth funding to target more aggressive growth and the US market.

Top tip

De la Hey warns fellow founders against burning out.

“Very few businesses are overnight successes – and they say that even overnight successes take 10 years to make,” he says. “You can’t be ‘always on’ for that period of time and not exhaust yourself. 

“I think it is important to have balance: stay healthy, spend some time in the gym, make time for friends and family. 

“And also, crucially, to switch off at points – don’t work on weekends, because your capacity to perform during the week will suffer as a result. I tend to work in sprints then take a couple of days off or go for a weekend to see friends.”

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