How UniTaskr achieved explosive growth overnight

March 16, 2023

In this episode, Legislate meets Joseph Black, CEO and co-founder of UniTaskr, a platform that connects students with part-time work in their local community. Joseph shares the pivotal role that UniTaskr played in the student financial crisis and the various challenges they faced while building the company. Going from 3,000 members to over a quarter of a million during the Covid-19 pandemic, UniTaskr has experienced explosive growth.

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Joseph Black: Sure, yeah, thank you for having me. I guess, start from the very beginning. I come from somewhat of an unconventional background. When I left school, I didn't want to follow the herd as it were straight to university, so instead, I followed the herd to Africa. where I became a safari ranger and I worked for the military shortly, conducting anti-poaching. When I finished my rather peculiar year abroad, I decided that I wanted the experience of going to university. Ended up undertaking a degree at Manchester Metropolitan studying animal genetics. Then, it was in my first year and my co-founder's second year, Then we stumbled into I guess what was and still is the student financial crisis. At the time, we had a number of peers that were either A, having to leave university because they couldn't afford the cost of living, or B, graduating yet didn't have the right experience they needed to be able to go into their sector of choice. And for my co-founder Ollie and I, this very much felt like a pivotal flaw in the current education to employment gap. So we put pen to paper, as I guess most start-ups do, managed to convince some friends and family in our belief and, you know, the good that could come from such a platform. And, here we are, almost six years later, still going. So, yeah, it's been an interesting few years to say the least. 

Charles Brecque: Congrats, and I know that UniTaskr has had quite a big impact on students in the UK. Are you able to share some high-level stats about your company.

Joseph Black: Fortunately enough, as we, we were one of the lucky few as, as Covid kind of came amongst us, in the sense that we had pivoted shortly before to focus primarily on online, remote jobs. So when Covid came in, we saw rather large growth in the sense that we went from practically 3000 members to over a quarter of a million by the time Covid had ended. It was explosive. And in terms of the good that we've been able to do for the student community, 'cause that is who we're all about, we have seen an excess of £6.5 million worth of jobs offered to students in the UK through an excess of £350,000 job opportunities. So, certainly starting to make an impact which is great. 

Charles Brecque: That's great. And I guess, how did you cope with that explosive growth? 

Joseph Black: It was- it was interesting, to say the least. You know, For years, my co-founder and I tried to find the best way to drive growth to the platform. And we tried everything. You know, national billboard campaigns, PPC, Facebook, everything we could. And nothing quite hit the mark. And d'you know what, funnily enough, one day, we were sat down, I can't remember what we were doing, we might have been having a whiskey. And we, we just relaunched the platform and we thought, why don't we post a task and we get 50 students to shout us out on their social? Best case, it does something from a marketing standpoint. Worst case, we've given some students on the platform some money. 'Cause at the time, we didn't have enough businesses posting jobs. And overnight, we went somewhat viral. It was this momentous, you know, driver that came from actually having our own students shout us out, that triggered our growth. That, kind of, I guess that moment of inspiration led on to us actually launching a bi-product called SHOUT, which is essentially a student nano influencer agency. Recently announced by TikTok as actually the largest in the world. We've now, I believe, it's 150,000 accounts and a combined 500 million followers. But, but this, this agency business has triggered all of our growth. You know, our route forward has been utilising our own students to act as advocates to shout us out, but doing it in volume. And it's, yeah, it's been explosive. I mean, there are nights where, I remember one night where we hit the number one app on the Lifestyle category on the App Store. Our servers were spinning up practically larger than Uber's, it was, it was crazy. We did, you know, for years having only seen five or ten sign-ups coming through a day, to go to over 15,000 in an evening was, was a bit nuts. 

Charles Brecque: Yeah, well, congrats and I, I can only imagine the excitement and stress that you must have been going through. 

Joseph Black: Yeah, it was, it's, yeah. It was definitely interesting. 

Charles Brecque: And, obviously you mentioned you've been going for a couple of years. What's been your favourite moment so far? 

Joseph Black: That's, that's a good question. There are too many to count. You know, I think it's important to champion the small wins as much as it's important to champion the big wins. You know, from hiring our first full-time employee to, you know, having the first task fulfilled on the platform to you know, like I said, hitting number one on the App Store. There, there's been so many moments. I feel very fortunate that I've been able to build an incredible team around me to share these moments with us. 

Charles Brecque: That's great and if you could go back, you know, what do you wish you'd known before starting UniTaskr? 

Joseph Black: I think there's, we've learnt a lot of lessons along the way. I think one of the most important lessons that I've learnt, if I had to pinpoint it, would be knowing when to pivot. I think as a founder, or business-owner, you know, you tend to hold your idea very, very close to your heart. It's your baby, at the end of the day. And, you know, but also, it's important to know when something's not quite working and to be able to not hold that, that baby tight enough to the point that you can take a little sidestep. Sometimes, even the tiniest sidestep could be the difference between, you know, resounding success and impending failure. 

Charles Brecque: That's great insight and I guess a follow-on question from that, how do you know if it's not quite working? 

Joseph Black: I think, yeah, I mean, that's, that's a good, good question. I think, often, you can quite tell when something's not working. It depends on where you benchmark success. You know, if you're looking to, for me, for example, the initial platform that we launched prior to UniTaskr was called UniDosh and it was a student, student platform. The idea still being the same, we wanted to give students a way of earning money and building experience. But we worked out that, you know, and it took us a number of years to actually determine that students who are super hungry to earn money, very receptive towards picking up tasks, don't want to spend it. So, you know, we had this, kind of, it was a bit of a pivotal flaw in the initial concept. You know, the idea was there, students were joining to earn money, but no one was hiring them. And you know, we could've continued trying to go down that path and continuing to market it and hoped that one day there'd be enough of a circular economy of industry with the ability (ph 06.58) to do that. But we really had to take a step back. And our decision on that pivot was to open up the buying side to members of the public and businesses so they could tap into this workforce for good. 

Charles Brecque: That's a very, very interesting piece of insight. And now you've had success and you know, had explosive growth. Where do you see yourself and the business in the next five, ten years? 

Joseph Black: Yeah, it's, you know, it's important to say it's, you know, I feel very fortunate the success that we've had to date. I'm also very far from where I want to be. You know, I think often, you know, success is glamourised in a way that perhaps it shouldn't. You know, I, I think as a entrepreneur, I'm always going to want more, regardless of if I exit somewhere in the future. You know, I'm always going to want more. So, continuing to build out on those building blocks is, is incredibly important. In terms of where I see the company, you know, within the next five years, we've been fortunate to partner (mw 07.57) on some recent integrations with LinkedIn, which has been exciting because it's opened up a load more opportunities which is assisting us in essentially launching into new markets as well, which is great. On the SHOUT side, you know, we've recently partnered with ByteDance and many other large companies to help them with their student marketing efforts. We launched in the US about six months back and the US side of the company is practically already taking over the UK side, with a limited infrastructure, so that's super exciting. I think, I mean, without waffling on too much surrounding your question, overall growth, you know, there's a number of different facets to the business that we're working hard to build out. We're going to be fundraising over the next month as well to really kind of fast-track this growth chapter. So, just trying to keep our, I guess, ourselves level-headed in this next chapter for us. 

Charles Brecque: Well, congratulations on what you've achieved so far and best of luck with your plans. 

Joseph Black: Thank you. 

Charles Brecque: As a busy founder and entrepreneur, I imagine you interact with quite a few contracts and legal topics. What are those key contracts and what insight can you share about them? 

Joseph Black: It's interesting because especially, you know, early days when, when starting the company, as much as I completely appreciate the value and the importance of legal. It's often one that, you as a founder, try to wear that hat as long as you can. And it, you know, often it takes having to hit that barrier for you to learn that there are perhaps better ways of going around the same issue. You know, so, in our early days I looked after, for the most part, all of the contracts that we had going out from building, you know, terms and conditions with my co-founder to our privacy policies to, you know, partner agreements and so on and so forth. There's been a lot of lessons that we've learned along the way. For the most part now, I tend to head up our agency side of the business, SHOUT. So I deal with contracts on a daily basis when it comes to assigning new partners, new partner's agencies, new clients, influencer briefs for example, or waivers. So, there's quite a lot of legal documentation that I have to run past. 

Charles Brecque: Yeah that, I can definitely relate to legal being a cost that, the bills always just seem bigger than they should be. 

Joseph Black: At £400 an hour, it, it makes sense. 

Charles Brecque: Yeah, no, exactly. But luckily we're a legal and we have our own lawyers. So, I guess it, it makes it a bit easier for us. But I guess it seems like you're creating quite a few contracts and, of all different types. How do you keep track of all, all your contracts and the data in those contracts? 

Joseph Black: Yeah, so, you know, to, to be very frank, up until now, it's been your standard, you know, online filing system, you know, to keep track of everything. I think using systems like DocuSign in the past, for example, has been helpful because there's a unified place which has been incredibly valuable, having everything in one area is, you know, incredibly important. But I mean it's, even, even nowadays when still, having achieved the growth that we have, you know, that still raises the flag whether or not we need to have a lawyer review certain documentation. I think, you know, from my perspective, like, I understand the agency better than anyone possibly could 'cause I created it. So, when having to go back and forth, you know, on numerous occasions with a lawyer to kind of outline what perhaps I already know is challenging. I think for, obviously every person's in a different position, for me now, for the most part, when I use lawyers, it's to review the work that I've already conducted to ensure that I am protected as best as I can be. So, I, I look at spending the bulk of my time on the smaller details to limit their time, that ensure that I've got that stamp of approval. 

Charles Brecque: Yeah, no, I agree. I think, if you look at what a lawyer or what legal is all about, it's about managing risk. And risk is often very connected to the nature of the business and the types of clients, the types of arrangements and as the agency owner you know what works, where there have been issues in the past and what needs to be protected. And so yeah, I, I totally get. I'm conscious, Joseph, that I've taken already a lot of your time, so I'm going to ask you the closing question that we ask all our guests. If you're being sent a contract to sign today, what would impress you? 

Joseph Black: What would impress me. I like some clear red lines in terms of you know, understanding, if there are prior points that have been already discussed, it would make it easier for me to understand. You know, within the contact where those points have been dictated, because naturally you tend to discuss, you know, these concerns in advance of the contract coming over. So, actually, making it simple for me to better digest what we had already previously discussed would be of importance to me. I guess also facilitating the signing process in a way that doesn't involve having to print out something, fax or, you know, keeping it all quite digital. I definitely think there's a lot of- lot of room for growth in the legal tech space. 

Charles Brecque: Yeah, no, that's a great piece of insight. And you can tell the industry is back is when e-signature platforms allow you to sign offline. 

Joseph Black: Yeah. 

Charles Brecque: So I think- I think, obviously Covid has helped a lot with increasing the adoption of electronic signatures but, but there's still a lot to work- 

Joseph Black: Definitely. It's ever evolving, like all industries. But no, it seems like you guys are doing some great work with the space as well, so congrats to you. 

Charles Brecque: Yeah, no, thank you. I mean, I think we're, we're definitely trying. Although we offer e-signatures, it's really just to complete the workflow. And, and I'd say really what we're trying to do is make it easier for business users to make contract changes themselves within a tracked environment. So that you can then also track the data in the contracts. 

Joseph Black: Definitely. Well, it's definitely something that I would use. 

Charles Brecque: Great, well, seems like we need to have a chat. 

Joseph Black: Yeah, for sure. 

Charles Brecque: Great. Well, thank you very much Joseph for taking the time to be on the show. Best of luck conquering the US and the world and look forward to following your success. 

Joseph Black: Thanks a lot, Charles, thanks for having me. 

Charles Brecque: Thank you. Bye bye.


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