Client Chronicles: Revolutionizing IT Recruitment with Andrew Elliott

Andrew Elliott checks his schedule as his train heads to Prague. As CEO of Techloop he never has a typical day. One moment he’s firefighting issues, the next he’s pushing the boundaries of innovation. But, there’s one aspect to his day that never changes: finding top IT talent.

Lancelot Purdue - Copywriter

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Andrew Elliott checks his schedule as his train heads to Prague. As CEO of Techloop he never has a typical day. One moment he’s firefighting issues, the next he’s pushing the boundaries of innovation. But, there’s one aspect to his day that never changes: finding top IT talent.

For the last 13 years Andrew has been committed to placing the best candidates available in one of the most progressive and fastest-changing industries. His entrepreneurial and competitive mindset helped propel him to the top of his field, but it didn’t start out that way. Before he could help others land their dream job, he first had to find his.

The Perpetual Foreigner

Andrew was born in Vienna, Austria and moved to the United States when he was three years old. His parents’ work brought the family to Virginia, where he lived until he was 16. When Andrew’s mother found out she qualified for Czech property restitution, she and Andrew moved back to her native Czech Republic in 1997. “For her, the best step was to go back where she could now have property and proper family connections,” said Andrew.

Everywhere I travel and live I’m a bit of an expat.

For Andrew it was an exciting time. It didn’t set in right away that this was a permanent change. “It was more like, hey let’s go to Europe for a trip,” said Andrew. “The biggest wake-up call was when I had to go to school and start learning Czech.”

They settled 100 km east of Prague in Pardubice, a city best known to Czechs for its hockey team and gingerbread. “At the time nobody spoke English, so it was fun to learn basics like ‘ty vole!’ (dude!) and ‘rohlík’ (roll),” said Andrew.

Andrew adjusted quickly to the culture differences and, apart from learning Czech, the hardest thing was adapting to the harsh winters. “During my first real winter in Pardubice there was a meter of snow,” said Andrew. “I thought I wouldn’t have to go to school, but my mom said, ‘No, that’s not how it works here. Now go to school.’”

Andrew attended the High School and College of Applied Cybernetics in Hradec Králové. Though he always had a fascination with IT, he chose to study design and art, a choice he would later regret. “Had I known about the expanding role of programmers in the IT world, I would’ve chosen differently,” said Andrew. “The real reason I went to an IT-focused school had been that part of the curriculum was taught in English.” After a few years of Czech life and having graduated high school, Andrew was ready to return to the land of Uncle Sam.

Living in the U.S.A.

During high school, Andrew had enjoyed his AutoCAD courses the most. He did some research and found two Richmond, VA-based companies who were looking for AutoCAD specialists. “I contacted both companies, and Sydnor Hydro, Inc. offered me a job right out of school,” said Andrew. “I was excited.”

Andrew struck out on his own. He secured a job, found an apartment, and got a car; the dream trifecta for most young adults.

Andrew worked at Sydnor Hydro Inc. for three years, where he focused on CAD, learned more about IT in general, and looked for stepping stones to a career in software development. As his life in Richmond was taking shape, he learned about an interesting job that his friend had. “He was working as a headhunter finding IT specialists for different clients,” said Andrew. “Plus he got paid to travel. It was quite intriguing.”

This job combined two of Andrew’s favorite things: IT and business networking. “I was always naturally outgoing, so I couldn’t imagine being behind a computer all day,” said Andrew. The work required understanding high-level IT insights and knowing the difference between IT positions, without actually being a software developer. Along with the competitive salary, this outsider’s role in IT was what ignited the idea that recruitment would be more interesting than being a CAD specialist.

That’s when he got the idea of moving back to the Czech Republic. “I thought it was cool that there was more of a work-life balance in Europe,” said Andrew. He figured he could live on his own terms while making a good wage above normal Czech standards, with the freedom to travel easily throughout Europe. “Plus, I spoke the language and already had friends there, so it wouldn’t be as tough as the first time,” said Andrew. He had nothing tying him down in the U.S.A., so he gave Europe another chance and decided to focus on a career in IT recruitment.

Take the Long Way Home

Andrew didn’t have a job waiting for him this time, so in order to make ends meet he had to get creative. “I had upgraded my car with a carbon fibre hood and other aftermarket parts, which got a lot of notice,” said Andrew. While he applied to recruitment jobs, he bought US car parts and resold them in the Czech Republic. “My car was in AutoSport and Tuning Magazine and people were asking how they could get them, too,” said Andrew.

This wasn’t the first time that Andrew had displayed entrepreneurial initiative. A favorite pastime of his during high school was exploring antique shops in the Czech Republic and selling coveted items, like WWII memorabilia, on eBay. “I would buy military helmets for about 1,000 CZK (roughly $27 at the time) and resell them online for $500-600,” said Andrew. “That covered all of my expenses during high school.”

In 2007 Andrew secured his first recruitment job at ICT Recruitment. “It was a young and growing company and I was the second or third person to be hired,” said Andrew. The job was exactly what he wanted, but there were definite growing pains. His probationary period proved stressful. “You were expected to make several placements or hit a certain figure within the probationary period,” said Andrew. “It wasn't just shuffling CVs.”

After six weeks into his new gig, he still hadn’t placed a single person into a job. Andrew was a bit concerned, but he finally got two confirmed placements: a software engineer for CA Technologies and a technical writer. “I was able to have meaningful conversations with the IT talent, which built trust,” said Andrew. His extra efforts and in-depth knowledge of IT were paying off.

I look at recruitment like a sales job, even though most people don’t. It’s about finding people the right job, but at the end of the day, it’s selling an opportunity, selling the right person to that job.

After that initial learning curve, things started to gel. Andrew also became part of ICT’s training team. “If people don’t understand the breadth of IT, they end up trying to match irrelevant people with the wrong jobs,” said Andrew. “You must be taught and trained well early on, which is why I’m still happy about the rigorous and well-developed training I received.”

He stayed at ICT Recruitment for nearly four years, where he learned professional sales techniques, as well as how to be a full-cycle recruitment consultant and manage client relationships. He also benefited from working with some of the biggest international companies in the Czech Republic, like Deutsche Boerse Group, Barclays Investment Bank, AVG (now Avast), which helped build up his professional network.

The most important connection Andrew made during his time there was with Joao Duarte, a programmer placed by ICT, who later switched to IT recruitment at Zeebra Recruitment Services. Joao and his colleague Paul Cooper became friendly competitors with Andrew over the years. When they left Zeebra to start their own recruitment firm in 2010, they hoped that one more person would come on board.

From L to R: Joao Duarte, Paul Cooper, Andrew Elliott

With a Little Help from My Friends

Joao and Paul reached out to Andrew to join them, but he was hesitant about starting over at a new company. His wife-to-be was pregnant and he now held a top position for ICT with a comfortable salary. But he was intrigued by the opportunity to start a new company from the ground up.

“I was afraid, but I was attracted by the challenge,” said Andrew. In May 2010, Andrew joined Hagen Human Capital as a partner.

Their main goal at Hagen from the start was to build a recruitment powerhouse and well-known brand for the Czech IT market. Joao, Paul, and Andrew set up shop in a cramped apartment in Prague’s Žižkov neighborhood—a drastic change from the comfortable ICT office. “The first client meetings were in hotel lobbies because our office was so small,” said Andrew. “We would tell clients to meet us in hotels or at their offices because our office was too busy.”

Hagen’s core team expanded to 18 consultants over five years. They built up a name for themselves and established a strong market position, but Andrew’s competitive nature took over and he started looking for another challenge.

This challenge began as a side project for the three Hagen partners. “The whole thing was mainly sparked by how fragmented, expensive, and non-transparent the market was,” said Andrew. To address these pain points, Joao, Paul, and Andrew took inspiration from what was happening in the recruitment field outside Europe, especially in the U.S.

“There was a new company at that time called, which was a marketplace where you didn’t have to do any recruiting,” said Andrew. “You get the companies on one side, the candidates on the other, and you let them have transparent discussions and communicate while you sit on the sideline.”

This concept turned out to be the basis for their new side project. Since they already had the clients, they could test the idea quickly and easily. “Now it was just about finding a way to create a minimum viable product (MVP) and push a couple of companies and candidates onto it,” said Andrew.

The side project transformed into a full-time job. At that point, Joao, Paul, and Andrew decided to make it their sole focus. They discussed what needed to be accomplished before they would relinquish control of their company. Once they got everything checked off their list, they handed the reins over to Hagen’s most senior consultants and, in 2015, Techloop was born.

Techloop's base of operations, HubHub coworking space in Prague

Join Together

The initial idea of Techloop was to create a marketplace that connects IT talent with job opportunities. The three partners drew inspiration from two essential aspects of transparency and anonymity.

A typical recruitment agency will limit the amount of information they give to a candidate during initial discussions. Techloop’s breakthrough was to give all the info upfront, keeping it visible and clear, focusing purely on the IT niche. Being transparent and providing direct feedback between companies and candidates was critical.

Most IT recruiters look at the majority of the IT workforce as never-really-looking. “You never want your boss to think that you’re open to other job opportunities, even though you might be,” said Andrew. “When you go through job platforms, and reveal your CV and contact details, there’s a risk that someone sees it.” Techloop has set themselves apart because they don't give the identity of job seekers to companies without the candidate’s approval.

It’s about putting the job seeker in charge.

Techloop also operates as a reverse marketplace. This means that when an IT specialist creates a profile on Techloop, and they’re not an active job seeker, companies have to wait to pitch to them. The job seeker is the one who agrees to open a dialog with the company and then reveals who they are.

Let’s say Microsoft offers you a project, but the tech stack may not match your future interests; you’re the one who decides whether to enter into discussions with them. These innovative ideas, along with being a cheaper recruiting option and knowing which companies best suit the candidates, helped Techloop gain traction early.

Even with the combined weight of their experience, there were challenges when it came to establishing Techloop in the Czech market, the biggest one being brand trust. “We never identified Techloop as a recruitment agency,” said Andrew. “It’s a marketplace where you manage the recruitment yourself.” For them, it was about education in the market and building trust—for companies and candidates.

“If something works in the Czech market, it doesn’t mean that it will automatically work well in the more conservative markets of Hungary or Germany,” said Andrew. “The core of the foundation, the idea, stays the same but when it comes to the details of how it works, expectations may be different.”

Knowing this, the first countries that Techloop expanded to were Slovakia and Hungary because of similar market size and user acquisition cost. Andrew also managed a trial expansion of the first generation of Techloop into the Swedish market, but the cost of getting new users into the candidate pool was too costly. They had to set up a local team to help with sales and marketing—a detail that would later impact the founders’ decision when it came to the second phase of Techloop.

Techloop started with the ambition of removing the middleman and providing direct access between the company and a candidate. With years of experience we learned even more about the pain points in hiring, especially in IT and set out to become state of the art in two areas: sourcing and building brand awareness in IT. -

Techloop: The Next Generation

For the first few years Techloop operated as a service-oriented company. “No matter how well the product works online, the basics of a service-oriented business means you’re still scaling teams,” said Andrew. “We never wanted Techloop to become an agency, but purely through the scale, it naturally started growing that way.”

To ensure that Techloop wouldn’t become something they didn’t want, Andrew made the tough call to change Techloop’s business from service-oriented to product-oriented. In order to do this, they had to focus on building a SaaS platform within the markets they knew best—Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary.

They also needed a new product that had everything integrated so a company could come into it without requiring consultation or hand-holding from Techloop. This would save them money because they wouldn’t need to set up teams in every market they expanded to.

In 2018 Joao introduced Andrew to a mutual connection: Salsita Software Founder and CEO Matthew Gertner.

“Matt was known for building Salsita as a company that’s very focused on JavaScript and working on complex projects for international clients,” said Andrew. “Our team was building something, but we weren’t sure if we were doing it right.” Andrew knew that if they needed an external opinion or audit from experienced technologists, Matt and the Salsita team would be able to give it to them.

Spicing Things Up

Transitioning to a new direction can bring unexpected outcomes for any company. Towards the end of 2018 both Joao and Paul left Techloop to pursue other paths. “Joao had a keen interest in the investment side of the start-up world and Paul went back to Hagen and took over as Managing Director,” said Andrew. Despite these departures, Andrew remained steadily focused on Techloop’s future.

He had his core team to back him up, but was cautious when it came to seeking external help. Andrew was slightly dubious that Salsita could quickly jump into Techloop’s mindset to see what they were doing and why. Fortunately, he was able to put those fears to rest right away.

“Matt sent over Project Manager Karel Klíma, who was already prepared and quickly grasped what we wanted as a business and why,” said Andrew. “The initial audit gave them a full understanding of our tech stack and they quickly identified where our weaknesses were.”

During their cooperation, Andrew took over as Techloop’s project manager. It was crucial to make sure that the product would be released within a certain time period, so he wanted to keep a close eye on the product development. Andrew gained a lot of insight from Karel about how PMs work and what their expectations are.

“Andrew is a passionate leader who has an outstanding ability to motivate people and bring out the best in them,” said Karel. “I was impressed with how the whole Techloop team was working together towards the common goal of overhauling one of their products, even under difficult circumstances.”

Team Techloop enjoying the comforts of HubHub

Communication can make or break most relationships, and that’s especially true when it comes to creating software. Salsita product managers strive to have transparent and open communication with clients as well as staff. The project with Techloop wasn’t any different. “They had three months to build the whole app and I know that Karel was very direct and open, in a good way,” said Andrew. “He always came to me and gave me all the available options.”

This style of communication was a big plus for Techloop, but what really put Salsita above the other companies they considered was their extensive knowledge and experience with JavaScript and single-page web applications. “All of that was naturally the expertise of Salsita, so there we simply had trust,” said Andrew. “The biggest impression they gave me was that they could manage the project better than any of the other companies.”

Salsita set the foundations, processes, and tech stack with the goal of handing it off to Techloop within just six months. On top of creating the product from the ground up, Salsita was also tasked with training Techloop’s staff after handing off the application. “Karel and his team had to keep our team up to speed and help them gather more experience, and I think that worked out very well,” said Andrew.

The cooperation with Techloop was great and we became friends with their whole product team while working with them. Our cooperation was a success thanks to every single team member pulling the rope in the same direction. - Salsita Director of Engineering Karel Klíma

Though the transition from focusing on a service to a product brought unexpected changes, the end result was a resounding success. The project with Salsita finished in mid-2019 and has helped to maintain Techloop's strong presence in IT recruitment in the region.

Andrew was satisfied with the collaboration and iterated that Salsita will be their top choice when it comes to their next project. “Our staff was happy that they could be trained and involved,” said Andrew. “Since then we’ve kept those same processes and it’s completely changed how we work internally.”

Lancelot Purdue - Copywriter

Storyteller and photographer whose puns are always intended

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