Being able to count David Cameron among its ever-growing fans and plotting global expansion is good going for Adzuna – the classified ad business that went live less than two years ago
Every once in a while, a new business launches that is such a good idea, it is barely believable that no one has done it before. Adzuna is one such venture. The website is a one-stop-shop for every single job, property and car ad that is currently on the market.
This alone isn’t what makes Adzuna unique. But what separates it from the likes of Gumtree is a social networking element that makes looking for a new job, for example, a little more personal. “So, if you’re looking for a job, you can plug in your LinkedIn or your Facebook network, and suddenly you can see thousands of jobs that are at companies you are connected to.”
This more closely aligns the experience of looking for a job online with the offline process, says Doug Monro, co-founder of Adzuna. “This is what people do in the real world when they’re looking for a job – they go and ask their friends. And this is just a more effective, digital way of doing that.”
Monro isn’t the only person sold on the site’s capabilities: less than two years after it launched it is already attracting more than a million visitors a month. “We’ve grown very rapidly,” says Monro.
He and business partner Andrew Hunter are familiar with fast-growing start-ups. The pair have form, with Monro’s previous roles including MD at Gumtree and COO at Zoopla, and Hunter is the former MD of Qype. Monro admits their backgrounds probably helped – both from a product knowledge perspective and from having formed a serious business network.
“It certainly helped us in the early days with fundraising, and, also, with approaching business partners and journalists and people like that,” he says. But Monro also cautioned against relying too heavily on stellar past performances. “I think it only helps you so far. It helps you get in the door sometimes, when you can say, ‘I’m worth meeting because I’ve done something before’. But really you have to stand on your own merits as well,” he says.
He also says the experience of starting a business from scratch and joining a start-up in its formative years are very different. “In the previous businesses I was involved in, I wasn’t the founder. I ran Gumtree but I didn’t found it. I was a very early employee at Zoopla, and ran a lot of the business as the COO, but, again, I didn’t found the business,” explains Monro. “I’d managed businesses that other people had created before, whereas with Adzuna, we were starting something something from zero, and that’s very different from joining a little bit later.”
Monro says his two previous roles at Gumtree and Zoopla meant his knowledge of the classified ad market was profound. This is how he and Hunter came up with the idea for Adzuna. “We learned about the market and would spot trends. That’s partly why we started the business,” says Monro. “When I worked at Zoopla, we used a lot of search engines like the earlier versions of Adzuna to generate traffic for our site in the early days. And we saw that users liked them, but the user experience wasn’t very good.” He continues, “That’s where we saw the opportunity to do something. None of these guys were doing anything with the data and social elements.”
Even though they had the gem of an idea, that’s not to say it was entirely smooth sailing from that point. “It was a big step,” admits Monro. “To be honest, we started off thinking we could do this in our spare time while we still had jobs. We started to build the website, looked at things with our lead developer, who started to build the infrastructure behind it, and somewhere in there was a daylight moment when we realised that actually it was quite a big opportunity, that we were going to need some more money and that we couldn’t do it in our evenings and weekends.”
That moment of realisation came in January 2011, and from that point on, things moved quite quickly. The pair went to a few business angels “very quietly” (they were both still in full-time jobs) to raise some money. Having secured £300,000 by March, Monro handed in his resignation at Zoopla before then working his full three months’ notice.
“I effectively ended up having six months where we were fundraising and working pretty hard on the business, while I still had a fairly high responsibility job at Zoopla,” says Munro. Unsurprisingly, it was a bit of a juggling act. “Those six months were pretty tough, but the excitement of something new gets you through that. You can come home from an 11-hour day and put in another two or three hours because you’re excited about what you’re doing.”
It also took more than a little patience from his wife, Kim, mother of their two young boys, who were just one and three at this time. Monro makes no bones about expressing his gratitude to his wife. “I was working all hours and quitting a very well paid job at Zoopla, which is a decent-sized business that can afford to pay a decent salary, to go back to basically taking no salary or paying ourselves minimum wage. I made that jump with two small children and a mortgage.”
Monro’s family’s faith in him appeared to be justified when Adzuna raised a further £500,000 from Index Ventures in December 2011 – not that they really needed more cash. “We didn’t really need to raise more money at that point, but we were fortunate to have them knocking on the door. When investors want to give you money, you should always think twice about saying no because you might think you don’t need it, but then find you do in six months’ time.”
The wonga is certainly going to come in handy with Adzuna’s heady expansion plans for 2013. “The main thing we’re looking at doing with our cash in the next six months is starting to expand internationally,” explains Monro. “We’ve not announced where exactly yet, but I can tell you we’re planning to do five countries in the first half of this year, and that’ll include a mixture of European emerging and English language,” he confides.
For a business with such big ambitions, the team remains relatively small, with just six people (including the founders) in its south London offices, and a further six (the development team) in Athens. The decision to base themselves in Clapham instead of in the east London tech hub was a very conscious one. “We’re not part of the Shoreditch, Tech City crew, although some of our investors are,” says Monro.
Convenience plays a part. “Andrew and I are both south-west London boys in terms of where we live,” explains Monro. “It’s also a little bit less distracting. When you know what you’re trying to do as a business and you’re focused on your customers and the things you need to build, sometimes being part of a big community can be a bit of a distraction. There are lots of benefits to being able to access the London tech community and go and talk to other people and learn from them and share. But sometimes, day to day, you just want to be in your office with your team and executing on the stuff you need to do.”
And, all told, execution seems to be going smoothly for the Adzuna team. With world domination at its fingertips and a loyal user in the form of PM David Cameron, the start-up is going from strength to strength. But it’s not been easy, says Monro. Would-be entrepreneurs should know what they’re getting themselves into, he says.
“Don’t do it, it’s completely crazy,” he half jokes. “Not unless you’re really, really up for it. Know what you’re letting yourself in for. Which is: it’s hard work, it’s emotional and you have to keep bouncing back a thousand times when things don’t work. It takes a certain type of character and belief and focus and desire to want to do that. It’s not for everyone.”
But if you do decide to take the plunge, give it your all, says Monro. “If you do do it, put everything into it because it is hard. If you do it half-heartedly, you won’t succeed.”