Online jobs pioneer Andrew Bassat seeks new rivers of gold

Fifteen years ago, Andrew and Paul Bassat launched SEEK, which would go on to become Australia’s leading online jobs board.

The story behind their success is almost legendary. In 1997, Paul grew frustrated when trying to buy a car, and figured it made sense for classified ads to move from the back of newspapers to the online world. His brother, Andrew, wasn’t yet an internet user at the time, but he saw the potential of the idea.

Together, the two brothers got it funded and running, to massive success. They undercut the prices newspapers charged for posting classifieds, and gave job-seekers a more user-friendly way to look for jobs. It worked as well as they thought it would.

Advertisers flocked from newspapers to SEEK, bleeding Fairfax and News Limited of their fabled ‘rivers of gold’ – the classified adverts that paid for their journalism.

Later this month, Fairfax will be demoted from the ASX100 – our top listed companies. Meanwhile, SEEK broke into the same index in 2009, only four years after first listing.

Two years ago, Paul stepped down to pursue other interests, leaving Andrew the sole CEO of the company.

“I have to work a bit harder now, unfortunately,” Andrew Bassat joked in the company’s swanky St Kilda headquarters on Monday.

“My brother and I split the role. So, there were a bunch of things I did without too much involvement from him, and vice versa. Our people reported either to him or to me. So obviously, since he left I’ve had to pick up what he was doing. The executive team have stepped up though.”

The company continues to grow rapidly, posting a $67.5 million half-year net profit, up 11.5% on the previous period. Today 80% of all Australian online job advertising is done on SEEK, according to most sources.

There’s still plenty of growth left in the sector though, Bassat says.

“For us, the focus has never been on growing our market share much further,” he says. “It’s always been about the market growing in itself. There’s still a lot of dollars in print advertising. Print still gets 39% … even though online represents 75% of the activity. The dollars will keep coming from print to online.”

The company also has its sights set on international expansion. Since 1999 it’s operated in New Zealand, but has also expanded to markets in South-East Asia, China and Brazil in the past couple of years. Bassat says many of these markets are about five years behind Australia in terms of things like internet penetration, and are thus set to rapidly grow.

“These markets present significant opportunities for us,” he says. As these economies grow, SEEK hopes to capitalise on these booming markets.”

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