How I Started A $3M/Year Remote Worker Recruitment Agency

Sharon Koifman
Founder, DistantJob
from Montreal, Quebec, Canada
started April 2008
alexa rank
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Start A Recruiting Agency

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Sharon Koifman, and I am the president of DistantJob. DistantJob is a unique recruitment agency that specializes in finding remote employees. That means we go all over the world to find outstanding talent who works remotely for our clients.

To make a clear distinction - because confusion often arises on this point - this is not outsourced talent, they are not freelancers, they are not people who fly from across the world to move into the client’s office. These are full-time, permanent employees who would work directly for our client companies, focusing on their processes and culture.

The next big question is: why remote? Well, when you work with remote, it gives you access to the world and with that comes a much bigger pool of talent. This means you get to find much better people faster, and you also get the benefit of working with countries where the cost of living is lower. On top of it there is a huge body of research showing that remote people are happier and more independent, and that reflects on their productivity.

Our target market is small to medium size technology companies; through us, they can get an edge over the big guys with deep pockets, who are not willing to hire remote but can headhunt local talent much more competitively.

Our unique approach and model, combined with a commitment to great customer support, has done well for us: we have 3 million dollars in revenue.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I started off by running and owning a hosting company called Empire Host. We had about 3K clients at the time support was run from two offices in India with nearly 30 employees.

We were also providing an outsourcing package. Our business solutions were really cheap and to be frank, our results were mediocre at best. Although the service was fine for any mom and pop shop or even an “any results will do” kind of company, we noticed that too often, people who run tech companies actually outsourced to companies such as ourselves even work that went into their core offering - because it was cheap.

At the time, what outsourcing really was, was an arbitrage business. But the concept that people would outsource big chunks of their business to a company that does not provide the same level of communication, process, quality control, and culture just because they’ll save a lot of money, that idea really stuck with me.

There was a real misconception at the time that in order to go to the world and take advantage of lower-cost talent, you needed to outsource.

After selling Empire Host, I gained a lot of experience in recruitment and in managing international people and I was already a believer in the philosophy that no one can be better at managing their employees than the company who is building the product or service that reaches the end customer.

And because of that, I realized that my future was specializing in finding the best people that would work following a client’s process and culture, and in teaching my clients how to employ their management processes with a remote team.

Describe the process of launching the business.

I wish I would have some glorious story about going in and making my point so eloquently to people with big bucks, that they backed me on the spot with loads of cash. But that wasn’t the case.

My business was fully bootstrapped. I was very lucky to have an office in my brother’s company. I would literally spend every night networking and trying to find the clients. There was no big launch; for me, the key was to pay off my first salary and the salary of my first recruiter. Once I achieved that, it was real for me; it made me realize: “I can survive doing this!”

I wish I would have some glorious story about going in and making my point so eloquently to people with big bucks, that they backed me on the spot with loads of cash. But that wasn’t the case.

The reality is that by the time you start your second business, all you’ve been doing between that and the first is soul searching and looking for the next opportunity. It’s only once you get to the “I can survive doing this” stage that you can stop the search.

For me, that was somewhere between my first and second big client, because while my first was what gave me the first breather, it was the second one that assured me that it wasn’t a fluke.

I remember that first client; it was an Oracle consultant that I met in a BNI networking event in Montreal.

After discussing the model and details for a bit, he hired one person from me, and then he hired another person a few weeks later, and another person and another. It was seriously such a relief! If I remember correctly, it was 6 months from when I started.

Since then it was always a continuous hassle, although I have to admit I did not feel as miserable as that sounds. I started going from one tech conference to another and doing everything in my power to be the center of attention. Every show that I went to, I started recognizing more and more people which made it even easier to network.

I got to know so many great people and often when I ran out of what to talk about we simply started figuring out where the good parties were at that night. I very quickly got the reputation of knowing where all the good things were happening and that attracted even more interesting people. The climb to where we are today was made one relationship at a time - and once people got a chance to try out our service once, they got addicted!

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Our service is based upon building trust and driving a deep understanding, not necessarily of what we do, but of why a client should be interested in hiring remote people, and why they should be interested in hiring a recruitment agency to do it.

That was my drive in the early days, going to conferences and tradeshows and making connections and educating people, and these days, we’re shifting that effort to digital - to educating the market and showing people that, yes, there is a way to make remote teams work, and once they are on board with the concept, we offer a very attractive solution to help them build such teams and treat the employees well, with minimum hassle on the business’ owners or HR manager’s part.

We are investing a lot in content where we aim to be the leader in remote Mangement advice. With no doubt, we are in the top 5 best content where it comes to everything remote. This includes a podcast, online articles, short advice from me and soon intimate conversation with my team.

Yet as hard as it is for me to admit, the only thing that really works is hard selling. In the recruitment industry, there is no shortcut. For the longest time, I myself have been going to every show and now my sales team is doing it. This year we are planning to hit 50 shows and grinding through.

You need to make a product that is exciting to talk about! Something that you feel makes a difference in the world. I honestly don’t understand how some people can just sell a commodity where the sales process is really just about the relationship and not really about the product.

I feel that the key to making a good sales team is to make them passionate about the product. And for that, you need to make a product that is exciting to talk about! Something that you feel makes a difference in the world. I honestly don’t understand how some people can just sell a commodity where the sales process is really just about the relationship and not really about the product.

I do have a tip to offer when it comes to the networking part. For us, it seems that being the center of attention works. I know every salesman in the world always talks about how being a good listener and not a talker is key, but what I’ve found out is that, sometimes, being a fun, exciting talker does the job just as well.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Things could not be looking better! Not that I’m planning to ever be inactive, but for the first time, I feel that the company can actually grow without me, and grow fast.

My job these days is to make sure that all my employees are well taken care of and have the energy to keep on doing what they are doing. I feel that in 2 years, we will double in size.

They say only 1 out of 10 entrepreneurs succeeds in their venture, what they don’t talk about much is that a second-time entrepreneur has almost a 50% chance of succeeding. Don’t be shy about failing. This goes for all your experiments also, the best ideas DO come from failure.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Absolutely!!! Here are a few highlights:

Learn to fail.

You know, there are certain, blessed people who get it right the first time, but I feel that learning to fail is the superpower for the rest of us.

Until you find your formula, experiment as much as you can.

As much as you can is key here because sometimes you get pulled in too many directions, start too many experiments - experiments in marketing, experiments in sales, experiments in product development, etc - and you don’t have enough time and brainpower to analyze the results, but at the same time experimenting too little will get you nowhere.

It doesn’t matter what you pay your employees, you always need to treat them as if you paid them 200K.

(If 200k is not a lot for you because you live in California or New York, then think 400K, lol.) The point is: if you treat someone like cheap labour, you’ll get cheap results. Even if you get a good deal due to geo arbitrage, make sure your employees feel valued.

Unfocused employees will most likely fail your expectations.

This is an extension of the last point: (This is also the reason why freelancers and outsourced employees will never perform better for you than full-time, “in house” remote employees.) As a manager and leader, your job is to make sure people have a clear set of goals and priorities, and the headspace to progress towards their accomplishment.

Remote employees could be the greatest value-add for your company, especially if you are struggling.

The benefits of increased quality, reduced cost, and improved productivity are immense. I know this sounds like a plug, but the realization really changed my world.

If you choose to hire remote, do everything in your power to replicate the experience of the office while still trying to eliminate the distractions of the office.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

The tools that matter the most are those that make the remote experience feel local. Here are my personal favorites:

  1. Zoom - A video conference software that actually works, and works well, is key. Getting all my people into a video chat quickly, and having the feeling that you are in a conference room is crucial for the remote experience. Zoom does it the best.
  2. Slack - It’s a real-time chat software that makes it very easy to communicate with one another. You probably know it. I feel kinda silly adding it here, but it really is essential. If you are especially playful, you can try Discord, instead - it’s built for gamers but works great for bootstrapped businesses.
  3. Basecamp - As much as I love Slack, it is a distraction machine. While it does a great job replicating the office experience through real-time chat, it also replicates the distractions common in a real office. That means we had to use proper project management software like a basecamp for communication about projects and tasks, where people could respond at their own convenience, instead of being constantly harassed by beeping green dots.
  4. Jabra Evolve headset - I’m always surprised how super expensive headphones don’t do a great job for communication. The Jabra line really does a great job.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

My management style is about building trust, letting people fail and guiding them through their mistakes. Once they start making fewer mistakes than you, you simply start supporting them. I feel that this book is a quick, easy, fun book that defines the rules and process to create a team ripe with people like that.

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

This book changed the way I think - and even more importantly, confirmed a lot of what I’ve believed for a long time: that people are legitimately irrational. In order to change people’s opinions, you don’t just need to come with a good argument, you actually need to change their emotional context.

DistantJob Podcast Honestly I don’t want to toot my own horn, but we have invested so much in interviewing incredible people related to remote management, that it is a must-listen for everyone.

Works Rule - A great practical book on how to keep an amazing company culture.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

They say only 1 out of 10 entrepreneurs succeeds in their venture, what they don’t talk about much is that a second-time entrepreneur has almost a 50% chance of succeeding. Don’t be shy about failing. This goes for all your experiments also, the best ideas DO come from failure.

Focus on your team’s well-being as much as on their work and don’t be fake about it - it pays off.

Don’t take pride in being the businessman that works 12 hours a day. That simply means that you don’t have proper delegation skills and you are not inspiring enough so you have to do all the hard work yourself. Instead, do your best to make sure that your team loves their work and feels empowered to take matters into their own hands.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Recruitment is a forte so that’s not much of a challenge, but if you know any great salespeople that love to travel and network I would be open to hearing from you.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

Sharon Koifman, Founder of DistantJob

DistantJob has provided an update on their business!

About 2 years ago, we followed up with DistantJob to see how they've been doing since we published this article.

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