Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
The Hub is a Nordic platform that aims to help startups grow and scale their business by connecting them to the two most crucial growth areas: talent and funding. The platform is tailored to the needs that young companies have and resolves the main issues connected to scalability; that is, access to good team members, risk-willing capital, and visibility. The Hub thus has three main target groups; young growing startups, talented individuals, and investors.
The Hub has to date helped connect over 8,000 startups with more than 630,000 applicants. Furthermore, we currently have over a thousand active investors on the platform that have invested in the growth of the Nordic startup ecosystem.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
We run things a little bit differently, as the company behind the Hub, Rainmaking, helps corporates build and scale startups.
So back in 2015, the leading bank in Denmark, Danske Bank, approached us at Rainmaking with the wish to support and play a bigger role in the booming (and sexy) startup ecosystem across the Nordics. For the past decade, we helped thousands of startups through their investment and accelerator initiatives and were, therefore (luckily) the natural partner for this project. We had seen the many pitfalls of startups and were keen to find a solution to the problems, as to increase the ‘chance of survival’ for the many startups in the Nordic market.
The collaboration entailed building a platform in which the biggest identified challenges of Startups were addressed. For Danske Bank, this was an opportunity to establish themselves as the premier partner to young entrepreneurs, giving them access to an ever-growing segment of the Nordic Market. At the time, Danske Bank had fallen behind in this segment and was working to remedy this, by combining a CSR strategy with a strategic growth mission.
Rainmaking and Danske Bank went out and interviewed more than 100 startups about their challenges to make sure that the solution created was relevant and feasible. Three main categories of challenges were found; recruiting, investment, and best practice tools. From this background, a platform in which all of these elements were combined felt like a smart innovation.
The Hub has since day one been funded by Danske Bank as a part of their corporate social responsibility. As a result, the Hub has been able to stay a free service for startups, investors, and talents alike. The Hub has thus been able to become the exclusive spot for our target demographics and grown exponentially in the Nordic markets since its inception. Our growth has continued to be spectacular.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The initial design of the Hub was based on the ‘pain points’ of the +100 startups surveyed. As the results showed that funding, talent, and best practices were the elements that startups struggled with, those were the foundational elements that the site started with.
The functioning of the website has been largely the same for all the years we’ve been online, although the design has changed, along with some added features.
This is what thehub.io looked like back in 2017. At that point we were still managing multiple domains across the Nordics, meaning we had a .dk, .se, .no, and .fi. The merging of all domains came in a few years later.
And this is what we look like today:
Describe the process of launching the business.
When the platform went live in 2016, the first startups that registered on The Hub were ones that we had found through our research. These we manually onboarded and asked to post jobs. The next couple of months we spent cold calling startups and pitching the site to them.
What we could see happening after that, however, was that a sort of ‘domino effect’ took place, wherein startups recommended the Hub to other startups. That’s where the sustained growth has come from mostly, as well as from marketing. The growth has been mostly organic in the past years since we have become the biggest site specifically tailored to the needs of startups. Nonetheless, when we launched in Sweden, in October 2016, was when the site really took off. We have seen a month-on-month growth of around 2% of active startups for the past 6 years and a growth of 30% MoM for job posts.
We were lucky to have done all the legwork upfront and secured a commitment from our corporate partner enabling us to focus on growing our user base and active audience.
The launch was a great learning experience in how to get a platform to grow. The biggest learning from that experience was that your first customers are your best ambassadors and while structures are nice, flexibility is so much more important than processes. Flexibility allows us to make the necessary changes without going through the cumbersome process of changing all older procedures.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
A lot of our early marketing efforts have been directed towards SEO. One great feature for our credibility on search engines is the fact that our backlinking is extremely high because all startups registered on our platform must provide a website link for their business. This makes it a lot easier for us to appear in search results, meaning that our ad spend does not have to be very high.
That being said, we are still working intensively on improving our ranking across everything startup, and do that mainly through our blog. When it comes to this SEO, we probably spend 80% of the time optimizing existing content and 20% writing and publishing new articles.
Securing qualified traffic has proved to be done best through partnerships with other job boards - even though we are built for startups approximately 80% of our traffic comes from talent. We have been lucky enough to create a lot of free partnerships with a lot of focus on creating value for said partners. Our young target audience is highly valuable for other players who want to diversify their offerings. We do however have a lot of other partnerships that have required us to cough up the money why a fairly big chunk of our marketing budget is directed towards referral partners.
Start with the customers. Ask them if your business idea is something that they need or would like. So many businesses are started without having an overview of whether their product is something that customers even care about.
As for the rest of our mix, we rely heavily on Google Ads, Facebook, and LinkedIn as that is where the volume and a feasible CAC are.
Some of our ads on Google look like this (one for talent, one for startups):
Across FB and LI, we typically run stuff like this towards startups. The tactics that have worked best over the last 6-12 months have been basic pure content videos like “this is how you attract better talent in 2021”. We typically run this towards a semi-cold audience and then retarget the hell out of them in two or three steps. This has proven to bring our CAC down significantly.
Over the last 12 months, we have put a lot of resources into improving our email game. Two things have worked especially well for us: putting out 1-2 weekly newsletters to keep us top of mind. 9 out of 10 times we do not talk about the product at all, but try to provide value-added content like tools, interviews, trend report, industry analysis and the like. This has increased our active audience by 15% - our measure of an active audience is startup users posting a job. Secondly, we have optimized our welcome flow sending users through two different automation aimed at activating them. This has enabled us to activate +70% of new users within 45 days of joining the platform.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today we have a solid presence across Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland) with more than 8.000 startups on the platform. We are constantly working on the product as the landscape of candidate experience is rapidly changing.
As we have seen a rapid decline in the organic value of Facebook, at the beginning of 2020 we shifted our primary SoMe focus to LinkedIn. We have more than doubled our follower base here, and even though it is a vanity metric we have continuously worked to optimize conversions from social. YTD (May 5th, 2021 as of writing this) compared to the same period last year we have grown social media contribution by more than 112% whereas LinkedIn accounts for 52% of this.
Our core service will continue to remain free to our users but we might be looking into ways we can help some of our rapidly growing startups securing even better talent. A big pain point to us is, that when startups reach a certain level of growth they tend to look for other recruiting partners. We are putting a heavy focus on following our users for longer and extending their lifetime value.
It has been difficult to keep scaleups active on the platform as most of our solutions are tailored to startups. They face completely different challenges compared to startups and as such we have to continue evolving so that we can serve that part of our segment as well as we want to. What we have done to solve that problem so far has been to promote the jobs they post more, as well as give them tools that improve their recruitment process. Similarly, we recently launched a Teamtailor integration to the Hub so that any jobs posted on Teamtailor can be imported to the Hub seamlessly.
Across markets, Sweden has historically been the country where we have under-indexed compared to market potential. We are putting a lot of resources into expanding our footprint locally to help more startups on their way to world domination.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
We’ve learned tons of things over the years, it really has been a wild ride. One of the most important lessons however is that stressing over vanity metrics that do not add value to your business is useless.
For us, that meant exaggerating the importance of traffic to the site, instead of focusing on conversion metrics. Traffic really does not matter when the people visiting your site do not actively engage on the platform. When we realized this, we switched our focus to ‘Unique Engaged Startups’ (internal lingo) or the active audience as previously mentioned. These are startups that are not only registered on the platform but who have also posted at least one job.
Another learning that crucial to stress was the importance of a LinkedIn presence. For a long time, our SoMe presence was focused on Facebook, even though LinkedIn is the top job platform in the world. When we realized this, we quickly started making content suited for LinkedIn, which has thus far been a success.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use so many clever tools to help our business run smoothly. Some of our favorites are notion.so, which is fantastic as an organization system. Anything we have done so far or are planning to do, in terms of marketing, development, sales, design, etc. is in notion. It has a fantastic search feature so that you always can find what you are looking for.
Another favorite is a classic, but slack is invaluable for any kind of day-to-day communication between team members. We use it to celebrate our successes, share any interesting articles and our different documents with each other.
For our landing pages, we use unbounce. The site allows you to build super-smart landing pages that you can keep track of.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
A couple of books and resources have been a great help for the Hub. For example, The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick is a book that takes you through the process of vetting your idea and selling it. The basic premise of it is that you should never ask your mom about an idea because she loves you and will lie to avoid hurting your feelings.
Although not directly related a staff favorite is Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. It gives the entire inside story behind one of the largest athletic retailers in the world, while also detailing the pitfalls and successes of starting a business.
A great recommendation that comes from in-house production, however, is our podcast FUNDED by +impact. In it, we feature success stories of impact startups who have accomplished great things. Our recent features have been super cool impactful companies such as Nøie and Organic Basics. Go listen!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Start with the customers. Ask them if your business idea is something that they need or would like. So many businesses are started without having an overview of whether their product is something that customers even care about. Do your research. The Mom Test comes in handy here as well, talk to people who are unbiased to your idea or perspective.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Nope, right now all positions are filled, but we are always interested in hearing from top talent who can contribute in a meaningful way. Who knows, maybe we’ll figure out a position.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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