Witnessing his wife struggle to return to work after nine years at home raising their children put Joel McInnes on the path to founding HR platform FlexCareers.
Launched in 2014, FlexCareers has just closed a $4.5 million funding round, after seeing user numbers double in the last year, hitting the 200,000 mark, and revenue growth of 150%.
On the surface, FlexCareers seems like a niche online recruitment marketplace, where employers as big as ANZ, Telstra and Deloitte list open job opportunities allowing for flexible work.
But McInnes tells StartupSmart the real value comes from its other features, such as its annual research report, employee coaching, and consulting services for employers.
“I knew how desperate corporate Australia was to rebalance the gender equality scale,” McInnes says.
“Companies were struggling with how to become a more progressive employer — for women in particular.”
This funding round was catalysed by “a bunch of pushes” from the New South Wales government, McInnes says.
Based on anecdotal feedback from corporate clients, McInnes and his co-founder Markos Njavro plan to use the funding to grow FlexCareers’ AI and data analysis arm to offer real-time reporting and analytics.
They will also set up a more powerful self-learning matching system for returning workers based on skills, work history and work preferences.
“It will be like the Netflix of recruitment,” McInnes says.
“In the same way of ‘watch a movie like this, love a movie like that’, it will be ‘done a job like this, love a job like that’.”
The year 2014 was one of change for the McInnes household. Joel left his 15-year career in investment banking behind, while his wife began the return to work process after nearly a decade of being a stay-at-home parent.
“It was very difficult to find either employers that supported flexibility or jobs that supported flexibility,” McInnes says.
“With two careers and three kids, there’s a lot of juggling going on.”
At about the same time, McInnes went to a regular catch-up with Njavro, a friend from his days at Deutsche Bank, who had just completed his Master of Business Administration.
It was Njavro who suggested a startup could address the issue, and the pair went into business together, launching a bootstrapped Facebook page before the end of the year.
“We realised on day one that the trust element is very, very important when starting a company,” McInnes says.
“We’re very different people … we each had strengths that could be applied in very different areas of the business.
“Marko looks after the back of house, and I look after the front of house.”
The startup’s first raise of $250,000 in early-2015 enabled the pair to migrate away from Facebook — FlexCareer’s home for six months — and onto their own website.
Initially, FlexCareer was focused on women and back-to-work mums in particular.
“There’d been a lot of people in the mums-for-mums space before, but none that we could find had applied any proper technology, any AI, or any data analytics, to the problem,” McInnes says.
This observation spearheaded FlexCareer’s first programs, such as support for parental leave workers and training for employers.
Some of these early assumptions remain true, such as the need to change employers’ mindsets about the future of flexible work.
“HR traditionally has always struggled to put a hard dollar cost and benefits to flexible working,” McInnes says.
“There’s also a lot of myth-busting that we need to do.”
Understanding changing trends
As FlexCareers continued to publish research annually, the team found some of their assumptions needed changing, and so did the startup’s overall vision.
The research found that although women make up a large proportion of workers needing flexible work arrangements, the need for corporate work flexibility is quickly growing beyond that. Namely, the desire for healthier work-life balance, and time to complete work admin tasks.
According to McInnes, flexibility has become the top consideration for professionals of all genders seeking work and “candidates are now becoming much bolder in asking for flexibility”. This is an expectation he sees corporations struggling to keep up with.
To accommodate changing trends, McInnes and Njavro shifted their focus to two areas: educating employers on “what ‘good’ looks like for a flexible worker” and ongoing support for returning workers.
For employers, this meant more than simply knowing how to onboard returning workers, but also how to incorporate this into their HR strategy and brand marketing.
For employees, this saw the start of programs such as Relaunchship, which seek to empower employees in more practical ways, such as tailored training upon re-entry.
Editor’s note: this article was updated at 6.53pm on October 23, 2019, to amend a factual error. FlexCareers raised $4.5 million, not $1.8 million.