In this episode of JobBoardGeek, we talk to Lars Peter Svane of EuroJobSites. His multi-site company tackles different niches in the European job market, and has been successful for decades. Jeff Dickey-Chasins of JobBoardDoctor and Steven Rothberg of College Recruiter discover how Lars managed to turn a side venture into a full-time business by expanding his offerings to meet specific customer demands – all while juggling multiple countries, languages, and hiring preferences. Jeff weighs in on Indeed India’s recent addition of a Hindi option for its users; Steven sees it as a smart move in a competitive market.
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0:00:33.6 JD: Hello everyone. And welcome to JobBoardGeek. I’m Jeff Dickey-Chasins, the Job Board Doctor. This is the podcast about the business of connecting candidates and employers. And with me today, I have the never scruffy Steven Rothberg of College Recruiter. He’s the co-host. Hey Steven, how’re you doing?
0:00:55.4 Steven Rothberg: I’m doing well. I’m all shaved and showered and ready to go.
0:00:58.8 JD: Yeah. I was kind of hoping in a way that you would come in in a dirty shirt and unshaved just to screw up my description of you. But once again, you foiled me, so what is there to do?
0:01:12.8 JD: So I’m excited today. We have a great guest on, Lars Peter Svane of EuroJobsites. He runs not one, not two, but many job sites that cover the entire European continent. And he’s gonna talk to us a little bit about that. But first, I wanted to chat a little bit about something that you actually sent me. It’s something that the AIM group picked up, and it was an article about how Indeed India has just released a Hindi version of their website. So basically it makes it accessible for those folks in India that are most comfortable speaking and reading in Hindi, or perhaps they don’t even know English, although, in India, most people certainly most people in the white collar segment are very, very comfortable in English. And I thought this was kind of interesting because this is one of those markets that Indeed is actually not doing very well in. We often tend to think of Indeed as the board where it sort of comes into a market like it did in the UK and just sort of destroys everything in its path and then moves on to the next market. But that’s not always the case. In fact, in India, the largest job board is Naukri and they actually control 75% of the job board revenue. So they’re a monster literally in their particular market.
0:02:33.6 JD: I read this article and I thought, “Okay, so Indeed is sort of hitting the wall. They’re having trouble expanding”, and adding this Hindi version of their site is one way that they can try to compete in the market. It’s kind of interesting because if you look at companies like SEEK, they have a really different approach to moving into other markets instead of sort of slapping down. SEEK Brazil, they end up buying companies that are native to those markets and putting them in under the SEEK umbrella and running them, which I think in a lot of ways is a smart way to go, because it’s very hard, at least in the job board industry to have a truly global brand that works at every single market. But I don’t know, that’s my opinion. What do you think Steven?
0:03:15.5 SR: Well, so first of all, I love the Star Trek reference with the Borg. But you do know they weren’t so much into destroying as they were into assimilating we can have…
0:03:27.4 JD: Right, engulfing.
0:03:30.1 SR: That’s another conversation for another podcast. I found the article to be really interesting because one of the things that, I’m sure we’re gonna talk with Lars about today is multi-language support. And when you’re operating across borders, it’s one thing to be operating in across the US where virtually everybody is gonna speak English as their first language or in a country like the UK, or if you’re in France and everybody’s gonna speak French, but when you start crossing international borders in most areas of the world, and I’m sure that Lars knows this all too well, probably has lost a lot of sleep about it. I mean, heck different areas of Belgium, you speak different languages and you wanna go into Switzerland and I think there are four different languages there now.
0:04:18.8 SR: Sure. Lots of people are gonna speak German and English or whatever, but if you’re searching for a job, I sure think you’re gonna wanna be searching for it in the language that you’re the most comfortable in. And so, even if your English language skills are decent, if your primary language is Hindi, you’re gonna wanna search in Hindi. So I thought this was really smart and culturally sensitive of Indeed that they rather than try to force the Indian labor market to be a square peg to fit into their square hole. I think Indeed has realized that it’s easier for them to adapt to the market than for them to force the market to adapt to them.
0:04:53.9 JD: I think so, although I also think that your argument would have more strength. If in fact Indeed had come into the market with a Hindi translation on board. I think unfortunately, a lot of companies will move into a new market and they’ll only start making adjustments after they’ve been in the market and they realize that they don’t understand the market.
0:05:16.4 SR: Better to admit you’re wrong though, and correct course. So we could turn back the clock and say they should have, but I admire them for basically saying, “Hey, you know what, we can do better here. And this is how we’re gonna do it”. Supporting multiple languages is very complex and it’s very expensive. And especially when you’re doing it at that kind of scale, you can’t just have somebody in your back office converting or translating job ads on a manual basis, doing it one by one, it has to be at scale. And that’s really hard.
0:05:52.3 JD: You’re right. But so we’ll be looking for multiple translations of the College Recruiter site in the coming months as you move into international markets.
0:06:02.1 JD: But anyway, I think it’s about time for us to welcome our guests today. Lars Peter Svane, he runs the EuroJobsites. Lars, welcome to JobBoardGeek.
0:06:12.1 Lars Peter Svane: Thank You very much. Thanks for inviting me.
0:06:15.2 JD: Yes. We’re glad that you’re here and I believe that you’re speaking to us from, Brussels. That’s correct?
0:06:22.1 LS: That’s right. Yes.
0:06:23.6 JD: And so I was just wondering if you could tell me. I was remarking to Steven before you came on that you’re one of the few guests that we’ve had, that’s actually running multiple job boards and that made me sort of think, well, so how did you get into this recruiting business and then morphed that into this empire of multiple job boards.
0:06:47.2 LS: The beginning you could say I’m… Myself studied in not only my native Denmark, but also in France for a year. And I studied politics and economics. And then I did a masters here in Belgium in European politics. And that actually meant that I thought I should look for a job here. I did the internship with one of the EU institutions as many others do when they finish their master’s degrees here. And then, but we were always joking at this master’s degree about all these lofty theories of European integration that we should, instead, we should start the internal market company to do it bottom up instead. And even though I did go into a kind of traditional career myself, I worked for, first for consultancy, then for an industry association in the energy field. And then I ended up working for the EU institutions also, on energy, but also on antitrust stuff.
0:07:48.2 LS: There was this frustration that we don’t have a Washington post here in Europe’s capital. So there wasn’t a newspaper where we could just look for job ads, and this meant we would look… There’s like a weekly publication. It was called European Voice that time, now it’s political, has actually taken over that. There were a few ads at the back. There were some consultancies who had some ads. I applied for my first jobs by fax, I remember. [laughter] And although, back in good old Denmark, we had… I think we had internet access already in the late ’80s when I studied. But a lot of these websites, they were very simple at the time. So I made my own little, can I… HTML pages with links to all these different EU organizations. A lot of the people I studied with then ended up working for NATO or OECD. And so we thought, “Okay, that’s pretty interesting too”.
0:08:45.3 LS: Over the years I kept thinking maybe there was some kind of an opportunity there, because when I was a kid, I had my paper round and I was carrying these really heavy Sunday newspapers. And there were like three sections in them, the jobs and also houses, apartments, and cars, but you could make money on job advertising. I knew it. And so, when I thought can… If you were to create some kind of media, maybe jobs wasn’t such a bad idea, and this is what we were always talking about at the kind of… Those bars by the European parliament on the Friday afternoon and where am I gonna get my next internship when this one runs out [chuckle] and people were sort of in various degrees of desperation because they were on unpaid internship too. But in the end we thought, “Okay, maybe… ” I thought I could maybe make this into some sort of database or something and actually list the jobs, not just the links to the organizations.
0:09:44.6 LS: And one of my old friends who actually was based in London, but who had been with me, kind of interested in maybe going into some sort of e-government startup, Richard, he said, “Well, I can set up some sort of database”. And so he set up the database and, well, we basically, we put all the jobs in the database ourselves because no one… But we came up with this funny name, EuroBrussels, because this was kind of what people were referring to this world I was in. And little by little we were basically scraping ourselves by, I think, I made a list of all the different organizations that had jobs in this field. Richard wrote a little robot that would check, were there any changes? Then once a week I would check… Go through all the ones that had changes and see if those were jobs and we put them on. So it was very simple kind of job sites, but little by little, we had thousands of people who subscribed to our newsletter with those jobs. And I remember my girlfriend at the time, she got really annoyed at me because I ended up spending most of Sunday working on this. And the little program we had that would send a newsletter, it would sometimes crash in the middle of the night. So at like six o’clock in the morning, I’d wake up I’m like, “Oh, no, I had to restart it from P” or… So she basically told me, “Look, you’re gonna do this Monday night, not Sunday night. Okay, okay”.
0:11:06.9 LS: So the newsletter came out Tuesday morning not Monday morning for that reason. Okay, later it was twice a week. Basically we used a lot of the kind of EU jobs as, you could say, it’s a little bit like a carrot, ’cause everyone wanted to work for the EU or OECD or NATO. And then little by little, we added lots of other jobs. And then we thought, “Okay, now we have thousands of people reading this”. So we basically spammed all the different organizations here in Brussels saying, “If you just send us a link to your job, we’ll put it on for free”. And then this way we built the marketplace kind of without really knowing it. Suddenly we had thousands of organizations using us maybe only a few times per year. I mean, 10 thousands of people subscribing to our newsletter. And we were doing all this in our spare time. And then people started sending us a word document, and saying, “Can you put this on?” We were like, “Yeah, that’s… Maybe we should start charging for this”.
0:12:02.1 LS: And then in the UK you can start a company for a hundred pounds. So my dear friend Richard’s wife, Rachel, she studied maths while he studied computer science, but she ended up working for one of the big four accountancy firms. So she said, “I can do the invoicing and we’ll set up the company.” But so for a few years basically, we had a company, one of my old friends took care of putting up all the ads against the percentage of whatever we got, and the prices were 200 euros or something and 100 for NGOs, and then later a bit more. In that way, we kind of built a marketplace. And then after a few years of doing that, we realized, okay, we’ve got something that looks like a business here. So I started by taking a year off from my job. And then Richard took time off from, well, he quit his job as an IT consultant. And in the end, we realized we could… We basically, we built a freemium business model, I would say, because we were offering very basic listings for the ones who didn’t pay, but this would also be great for NGOs or internships who had very small budgets. So this kind of business model led itself really well to the area we were in. Little by little this was not 10,000 or 20,000, it was like 40,000 or 50,000 people who subscribed to our newsletter. And we started, once we left our jobs, we started selling ads. [chuckle]
0:13:24.9 LS: The education ads were actually some of the first things we made money from for Masters in Law and Politics, and anything goes like fitness clubs in Brussels, or… We even had ads for cars in the beginning. But little by little, we concentrated on the jobs. And we also, we followed your advice, job board doctor and increased the prices.
0:13:46.5 LS: Very scary the first time a big increase like, “Are they all gonna start advertising?” But no, they continued. So as the audience grew and the quality grew, we could do that. And then we also really, I would say the freemium model was maybe the secret to our success. Because we managed to still cater for everyone in the market, but give the ones who were willing to pay, more visibility. And that’s how we made it into really a business. But of course, as a good economist, you start thinking, economies of scale. Can we maybe use this template to build some other businesses and we kind of thought, “Well, maybe IT, but nah, that’s kind of taken”. And a lot of people wanted to work in London in all these juicy city jobs. So there was eFinancialCareers, which was bought by Dice later I think.
0:14:37.2 JD: Right.
0:14:37.6 LS: We thought, no, that’s kind of taken. So what else? Then we had all these odd organizations like the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, who would place ads with us. And we were a bit puzzled by this because, okay, we understood they needed like HR or lawyers, but they also put sometimes, lots of science jobs. So we thought, “Okay, there’s something missing. There there’s a gap in the market”. So we basically, we decided to make a job site for postdocs, because we thought if it’s too much PhDs, it will be swamped by thousands of them. But we basically told all the universities in Europe that they could put their postdocs on for free.
0:15:17.5 LS: And eventually we managed to build up a huge audience of people with a PhD in science. And yeah, as we had guessed that’d be a very interesting audience also for Big Pharma or Aerospace Companies or, and we got, of course, some of these European organizations like European Meteorological Satellite guys, they wanted the weather guys and so on and so on. So that was the bread and butter of our business. And then slowly we became more and more commercial. And then, we split out an engineer site and we split out a Pharma site because we could see that there was a specific market for those things.
0:15:51.7 SR: For the listeners who don’t know what the freemium model that Lars referenced a couple times. And then Lars I would like to get you to kinda elaborate on that strategy a little bit. But essentially you’re giving away your product or service at a basic level and not charging for it. And the expectation that a percentage of those will become paying customers, it’s a strategy that has been used very successfully in different industries. There was a photo site that Yahoo bought years ago was it I think it was Flickr, that they had that where you could store your photographs online and it was free, but if you wanted to store a lot of photographs then you had to pay. Apple iCloud operates that way, where you get a basic level of storage. And if you want more, then you pay for it.
0:16:42.1 SR: And even if only a small percentage of those people upgrade, if it’s a digital product and it really doesn’t take much time for the seller of that product or service, it’s a really good strategy. Maybe you could talk with us Lars about your freemium model, because you definitely on your 10 or so job boards, you pretty prominently list that, to post a job for free. It’s very clear on your site that you’re not saying that you will take any job from any employer and run it for free, that there is a vetting process. If you’re Flickr or if you’re iCloud, you’re gonna take everyone. If you’re a job board, you are gonna wanna have some discretion about that. But maybe you can talk about like what percentage of those freemium customers end up converting into paying and also the problems that you’ve run into with people trying to post bogus ads.
0:17:42.2 LS: I remember one of the things I read when I was reading about this 20 years ago, there was a guy called Robert Cawthorn at the SF Chronicle or something who said, “Ads are content”. And to some degree you could say that those free ads we took it also populated the job site and made, but as you say, we vetted them. We were always checking, are these jobs actually in the scope for this very niche job site that we’re building? Because in reality, the marketing is closely related to how clearly we’ve defined that the scope of the job site, you know, are these jobs actually interesting for the people we want to reach and that’s the way we’ll find more people when they subscribe to job alerts or et cetera, that they will spread the virus. Yeah, part of the secret, I guess, is hitting the right balance between the low visibility free jobs and the high visibility paid jobs or premium jobs that you can actually tempt people enough to pay for the paying version by saying, “Okay, you’re gonna be in the newsletter. You’re gonna be at the top of the search categories. You will be… We’ll share your job on LinkedIn and Facebook”. And we’ve got some pretty potential groups there and 20,000 followers on Facebook on one site. And, so that has some value as well, but it isn’t easy, it’s something you could say also like an NGO, maybe posting their internships for free, with a free model.
0:19:06.0 LS: But if they want to have a new manager of the office, they might use the paying version to get more visibility. And I think that’s also part of these niche job site’s strength, is that compared to a generalist job board, even if I have a good job now, and I’m not really looking for a new job, I might just say, stay subscribed to a job site in my little field because I just wanna keep an eye on what’s… Are there any interesting jobs? I don’t wanna miss out. And I might be, you know, telling my friends about it as well. And so in a way we that’s also how we keep our value by being okay, not just the internships, but also you could say the universities on the science side. It’s very difficult for them sometimes to get the budget, to spend money on advertising the jobs. So we get the jobs, even if that could be a very difficult discussion. Some universities do choose to pay, some big university research centers pay, but that’s also, we can make money from the more commercial operators.
0:20:01.2 SR: And about what percentage of those freemium accounts become paid accounts?
0:20:05.3 LS: That’s very difficult to say generally also, because we have so many different sites. But if you look at Europe, Brussels, I would say that that was the kind of first site. In the beginning, it was like… The very beginning, it was 100% free. But then, after a little while it was maybe 80% free, 20% paid. And then part of our what we managed to do that we swapped that around. So it’s more like 70%, 80% paid and 20%, 30% free. And it’s mainly the internships and the NGOs who don’t have big budgets, who use that model.
0:20:44.0 SR: No, what I’m meaning is for every 100 accounts that where they sign up for the free posting, of those 100 accounts that sign up for a free posting, about how many of those will end up converting into paying customers?
0:20:58.4 LS: That’s difficult to say, because we also have a lot of people who come in directly and pay from the beginning, but it’s probably like, 80%, 90%, because you will see that some of them, even the NGOs, they say, well, let’s say we’re looking for a new Secretary General, for the Brussels office, we wanna pay, because we want the visibility, and we wanna be top of the search categories, we wanna go get those passive, and not so active job seekers, latent job seekers that we as a niche site are able to get for them, and they’re less likely to go down right to the bottom of the list, than the ones who just occasionally open the newsletter. But that’s also been our strategy all the time to try and see we really go for the very deep niches, very narrow niches, but then to some degree, we…
0:22:01.7 LS: Because we’re doing this across Europe, it’s almost impossible in some cases, because first of all, you’ve talked about language problem already, some people might not really be applying for jobs in other languages, than their own language. Increasingly, in something like research science, people probably wrote their PhD in English, and they’re probably quite interested in this very nerdy field that they are working on. And increasingly, it’s becoming like that in a lot of fields, like even things like law, you could say, “I’m a data protection lawyer, and I’m interested in this very particular field of cybersecurity”. And that’s a really interesting job in Frankfurt, why not, I actually I’m applying anyway, and this is, I think, something that’s only happening, it’s probably happening a lot less in Europe than it is in the English speaking kind of North American world. But it is increasingly happening, especially for the kind of field senior White Collar people. I mean, you could say IT and finance have been early adopters there. And then law used to be something very national. And now, it’s actually becoming, you know, increasingly, as business gets more international, and companies are more international, well, you need people who can deal with this stuff in different places.
0:22:53.4 JD: Yeah, I think you’re right on that in terms of the different fields, but also, and we’re running out of time, but I wanted to make sure I got this last question in to you. One of the things that we saw, which I think is driving some of the stuff you’re talking about was the effect of the pandemic, drove all these people, at least the 50% or 60%, of the workforce that can to be doing remote work and remote options. And particularly in the EU, I would think that would be attractive. If I see that great job, like you said, in Frankfurt, I don’t necessarily wanna move to Frankfurt, but I’m highly qualified, maybe I’ll stay in Brussels and do that job remotely. So that’s the obvious effect of the pandemic, but I’m just sort of curious, what did the pandemic do to you guys, I mean, was it? Was it something that just came and went? Or was it something that had a big impact on your business.
0:23:45.7 LS: To a degree, if you looked at the number of job ad’s here in Brussels for the policy site, and in that field, I mean, we were a little bit scared in, I think, March, April and May 2020, it wasn’t very pleasant. But once we kind of… I think June was already better we got through the summer, it already started ticking up a bit. And we were also lucky that we had more than one leg to stand on. So in fact, the science and Pharma stuff, it was still taken over pretty well. And it’s no big secret we have a lot of public sector clients and they were maybe less worried, they have a budget of a number of jobs they wanna place over a year, that’s always nice. But increasingly, we have some bigger customers who had just bought a big package in January or February, so cashflow wise, we were not so worried, but I completely agree with your point that especially, you could say in a place like Europe, the fluoridization of Europe hasn’t maybe really happened to the same degree, as it has in the US. So people increasingly now opening up their eyes and saying, “Actually, if I only need to be back here in cold gray, rainy Northern Europe for two or three days, every month”, I could actually rent that little nice little thing with a view of the sea down in that one part of Europe and then I could fly back there just for those meetings for the three days.
0:25:14.3 LS: Most of the meetings today they are on, like, just as we are right now, you know, we’re sitting in three different places. Personally, I think it’s, I sometimes miss a little bit hanging out with the other guys, especially from the sales and marketing team, but we have to be realistic as well. People get a lot of freedom, they avoid the commute. There are a lot of people who are happy with not having to stay in their cold, rainy northern places during the summer. So we’re not… Not just the digital nomads, but a lot of people are thinking about this now.
0:25:45.0 JD: Well, listen, Lars, it’s been great having you on the show, very interesting what you guys are doing. If any of our audience wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to reach you?
0:25:54.3 LS: Well, there’s LinkedIn, you could look up my name and or just email@example.com. Thank you very much for having me. It was a pleasure to meet you guys online. [chuckle]
0:26:07.1 JD: Yeah, because we certainly have swapped emails over the years, but it’s kind of fun to actually virtually meet so. Well, thanks for coming.
0:26:13.7 LS: Thanks for the great plug.
0:26:14.7 JD: Well, thank you. Thank you. And Steven, if people want to get in touch with you what should they do?
0:26:19.8 SR: Easiest way is email me steven S-T-E-V-E-N @collegerecruiter.com. And for the listeners who have not had the pleasure of going to Brussels, do, I’ve had the good fortune of being there a couple of times, including last November, truly one of the world’s great cities. Thank you so much, Lars.
0:26:38.8 LS: Thank you.
0:26:38.9 JD: And I guess that’s about it for today’s episode. If you have been enjoying the podcast, be sure to subscribe via Apple, Spotify or whatever happens to appeal to your subscription needs. My name again is Jeff Dickey-Chasins, the JobBoardDoctor and you’ve been listening to JobBoardGeek. It’s the only podcast that focuses on the business of connecting candidates and employers. That’s it for today. And we’ll see you again next time.