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11th November 2014

Careers Corner: Founder of ‘Facebook’ for Student Employability

One of the founders of Kloodle, Phil Hayes, talks to Robert Firth about how they started and the graduate job market today.

Kloodle is Facebook for student employability and graduate recruitment: a LinkedIn for students. Creating a profile allows you to upload blogs, videos and coursework to showcase your experience and skills with employers and universities on the website. The company was founded by four friends: Phil Hayes, Andrew Donnelly, John Coles and Stephen Cheetham and they’re based in Bury, Manchester. I spoke to Phil about Kloodle’s beginnings and the challenges facing graduates in today’s job market.

How did Kloodle get started?

Kloodle was born out of an idea I had during my penultimate year at university. I had known Andrew since being at school, having played cricket against him. We discussed the idea of Kloodle over a beer (or eight), and the journey was started. Andrew worked at a local college, where John Coles attended as a student. I had known Steven since I was eight, again through cricket.

What were you all doing before Kloodle?

I had commenced teacher training. Steven had got back from Australia after spending four years as a professional cricketer at Lancashire. Andy worked at a local college, and John had just finished his A-Levels.

How many students/employer/institutions does Kloodle have using it at present?

We started actively marketing Kloodle to students in September, and have three thousand five hundred students on the site. We have up to twelve employers, three universities, and three sixth form colleges. Our aim is to concentrate our efforts in the North West, creating a “Kloodle microclimate”. We have the best student population right on our doorstep, so we want to see Kloodle work well in Manchester before expanding our efforts nationwide.

How did you find out about the Dragon’s Den style event in Manchester?

Heavy duty googling! We knew that with our commitments (I have two children, was working towards my PGCE and played as a professional cricketer in the local leagues) that we would require funding to allow us to concentrate on the business full-time. We thought that there must be a similar “offline” version of Dragon’s Den, and there turned out to be one right on our doorstep!

You had to wait six months after you pitched at the Dragon’s Den style event to get an offer of £150k. Why was that?

These things take time. After our initial pitch, we had follow up work to do with the investors who had shown interest. We kept in touch with emails about our progress, to ensure that they didn’t forget about us!

How would you recommend someone to prepare for pitching a business concept to potential investors?

It’s fairly hard to give advice: if you have success with something you start to believe that you’re suddenly the world’s authority! Firstly, tell a story. Kloodle was born out of my frustration with the world of graduate recruitment, how I thought a first class degree would be the road to a great career. The reality was much more difficult. Portraying the need for our business within the context of a story allowed us to highlight the need for our platform. Secondly, investors are there to make money. In your pitch, you have to show them how they’re going to do that. Take them on a journey from them putting money in, to them making a big return. If you cannot do this then you will probably struggle. Thirdly, you have to display passion. Investors want to know that you’ll be busting your guts for their money.

Explain specifically how Kloodle matches employers to students.

When employers post jobs on Kloodle, they’ll be presented with students who’ve created the most relevant evidence. If a job requires a lot of teamwork, people who’ve written teamwork blogs and uploaded videos and work that demonstrate a degree of teamwork, will appear highest on the employer’s radar.

A reason for the idea of Kloodle coming about was your frustration at being rejected by graduate schemes which discriminate on UCAS points. Is this a common feature in graduate schemes?

Yes, with good reason. Graduate employers receive thousands of applications, and have to whittle the numbers down somehow. They do this by using what the University’s Director of Student Life, Dr Paul Redmond calls “weapons of mass rejection”. It’s not uncommon for students to be rejected for one spelling mistake. But, there must be a better way. If Google can rank the millions of pages by the content they possess, Kloodle can rank students based on the skills they possess.

Do you think Kloodle would have been able to get up off the ground if you hadn’t got the £150k investment?

I would like to think I would’ve been able to, as I like a challenge. The difficulty was that I had so much else going on in my life. Between planning lessons and looking after kids, I was going to the office most nights until 1am and then getting back up at 5am. The investment money allowed me to concentrate full time on Kloodle. The goal is to increase the value of your business as much as possible before seeking external funding.

Which universities’ freshers’ fairs were you at this year? What did students think of Kloodle?

We attended Manchester, Manchester Met and Sheffield.

The student reaction was pleasantly surprising. We had to compete with nearby Domino’s Pizza and Baa Bar’s free shots! The mention of “employability”, however, engaged students. Students now are more than aware they are paying £9k a year for the privilege of university and any avenue that helps them gain meaningful employment after their degree is worth exploring. Manchester deservedly has a great reputation because of the calibre of students it attracts.

Why should employers pay to use your service, when they can recruit by themselves, e.g. at graduate fairs and their own schemes?

Recruiting students is an expensive business. To attend a graduate fair costs a lot of money. Only the biggest employers can afford to engage on such a level. We’ve spoken to employers who only attend fifteen fairs due to cost. Kloodle will allow them to access more students at the other one hundred+ universities they cannot attend.

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