Outsourced recruitment for tech and scientific startups

January 26, 2023

In this episode, Legislate meets Jonathan Campion, director of TOTUS RPO an Oxford based recruitment process, outsourcing solution designed and tailored to startups and SMEs within the technology and scientific sectors. Jonathan is also director of Corriculo as a recruitment agency providing specialist and comprehensive IT recruitment services to Oxfordshire and the surrounding region.

Jonathan shares his experience in recruitment and the common contracts they deal with ranging from NDAs to employment agreements.

Listen to the episode below:

Learn more about TOTUS and Corriculo

Learn more about Legislate

Charles Brecque: Welcome to the Legislate podcast, a place to learn about the latest insights and trends in property, technology, business, building, and contract drafting. Today, I'm excited to have Jonathan Campion on the show director of TOTUS RPO an Oxford based recruitment process, outsourcing solution designed and tailored to startups and SMEs within the technology and scientific sectors. Jonathan is also director of Corriculo as a recruitment agency providing specialist and comprehensive IT recruitment services to Oxfordshire and the surrounding region. Jonathan, welcome to the show. Would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about your companies?

The story behind Corriculo

Jonathan Campion: Yeah, sure. Thanks. Thanks for much for having me. So yeah, my name is Jonathan and I'll start at the beginning.

 I founded a company called Corriculo back in 2013 that provides IT and technical staff for beginning around, just around Oxfordshire, but has slowly expanded across the UK. And also now the US- we're strangely popular in the states. I think it's maybe the accent. We recruit for all sorts of tech companies across the UK heavily involved in scientific R&D I set up with my business partner, Totus RPO a few months ago. It's a startup business and TOTUS is specifically looking at supporting startup businesses in the planning and execution of recruitment strategy. So what we've found is startup companies in the UK normally they've got a really good idea, normally very well funded but they're founded by people that are entrepreneurial.

Yes, but entrepreneur doesn't necessarily make the best business owner. And we're also finding that these these individuals normally don't have much of a foundation or an idea in how to do recruitment. And as the job market gets tighter, and recruitment gets harder for specific technical skills, we're seeing that these people and these businesses are struggling more and more. And what TOTUS is offering a resource to be able to give these companies a fighting chance to be able to attract the employees they need to grow. And at the moment in the UK market, it's an interesting

Charles Brecque: And who would be your typical customer? Would this be a company growing from ten to a hundred or a hundred to thousand.

Jonathan Campion: The companies that we're really targeting at the moment are the smaller companies. So we're looking at employee number one through to 20-25 is the absolute ideal TOTUS customer

 It's the companies that don't have a recruitment strategy, but have been successful in a funding round, be at seed or series A, B whatever that might be and are now looking to grow their teams quickly. We are interested, of course if it happens to be owner of a company, that's looking to go from a fifty to a thousand and yeah, my email is open.

But if our target market is the companies that are at the very start of their growth cycle. And we're looking to get to know these companies to help them set strategy from day one as opposed to coming in and trying to transform the strategy that might already be existing.

Charles Brecque: And you mentioned earlier that you were having some traction in the US is this to help bring you good candidates over to the US or are you sourcing candidates within the U S.

Jonathan Campion: No. This is sourcing in the U S directly. What we've found is that the recruitment, this is with Corriculo, and we haven't yet really explored the US with Totus.

As of yet, we're looking to start to walk before we run. And what we're finding with Corriculo, in the states, is that the US has compared to the UK, a relatively immature recruitment market. And the way that they approach recruitment is very different to the way that the UK approaches recruitment and our ability to source our ability to engage with a wide pool of candidates and the candidate market to find the talent the company needs. Isn't hugely prevalent. A lot of the U S companies have internal recruiters who work in a very different way to the external recruiters.

So taking the external model, a model that's existed for years here and is really the status quo here in the UK to the US has proven very successful. The US is experiencing similar things to the UK and that there's just simply not enough tech talent to go around. So you're seeing companies start to have to engage with specialist. Headhunters for want of a better phrase to find that the people that they require and that's where they come in for us.

What's been your favourite moment so far?

Charles Brecque: In those eight years, I imagine you've been exposed to some interesting recruitment challenges or problems what's been your favourite moment so far?

Jonathan Campion: Interested in recruitment challenges. There's lots of these there's the stories of taken projects from that a miles behind two miles ahead. But I think the most interesting challenge that we've had as an organisation is 2 start up companies. Both of whom are now, one of them in particular as it is a four and a half billion pounds, UK startup company that floated a month ago and we started recruiting with Curriculo.And there were 40 people. We've recruited over the years a hundred and six of their staff. I think I last count and watching that company grow and mature into what it is now, which is an absolute dominant market leader from a very small office two doors across the street from where my office is, has been a brilliant recruitment challenge trying to attract the best talent for what is a market leading product and have candidates buy in to what it is that this company is doing has been a very exciting thing to do for over the last eight years. And there's another company again, started with six people and they met with us downstairs, which is weird, when they were just starting out- I think there were two weeks old when they came into meet with us at Corriculo and now, I think they employ 450 people and have been sold out through to a large hedge fund. And again, growing with these organisations, placing brilliant people with them and watch them flourish. It's the best recruitment challenge working with startup businesses and helping them grow, encountering the issues that they've got in terms of finding the right people at the right time.

Placing these people working with them, watching them grow in their careers and then watch the company do incredibly well, has been really rewarding. I just wish that I could have bought more shares in both of them. And then I would probably be on a yacht somewhere, which is a bit disappointing.

What do you wish you had known before starting Corriculo?

Charles Brecque: So what would you wish you'd known eight years ago before starting Corriculo

Jonathan Campion: Eight years ago? I would've wanted to know how to buy companies, to invest some money into companies. I don't think they would have appreciated my 5,000 pounds. Let's be honest at the time. I think they were already looking at millions.

So what would I have known eight years ago that I know now, from an individual manager's perspective, when I set up. Whenever anyone comes to me and says what have you learned? I think the biggest thing is that the set up a company has an emotional roller coaster that no one really prepares you for in that there are days when this is the best job and it's the most enjoyable job and you absolutely, you think you've got a great company and a great product and you're absolutely flying. And those days are the best days. And then there are other days when you start to think, what am I doing here? How has this happened? Why have I invested so much into this what's going on.

And that rollercoaster where you have to ride that as a small business owner is really challenging. And that brings me onto my second point is that I've had a business partner from day one who is invested in this project as much as I am 50% of the way and having a business partner is the best decision I ever made because the days where I'm the lowest of lows on the rollercoaster, I'm the bottom of the dip is the days where he turns around and says, listen, John, it will be okay.

This is what we're going to do. This is the plan. This is where we're at. This is where we're going. This is what we're going to achieve together. And equally the days where I'm on the highest of highs and he is the lowest of lows we balance each other out with a sense of reality and some practical advice.

I find even working in the recruitment space, so many startup companies that are effectively run by one captain, one skipper. And they struggle because they end up being basically being in an echo chamber where their ideas are just bounced around with people that are just saying yes to them predominantly.

Therefore they don't have anyone pushing back on and being able to weed out the ideas that are no good, or when they're taking a raw misstep or when they're going in the wrong direction, or when they've lost focus about what they're trying to achieve. Having that business partner there and working in that way as an acts, as a soundboard is the best decision I ever made as an owner, a hundred percent.

Charles Brecque: I can definitely relate to riding that emotional roller coaster. I agree. It's always important to have someone in the team, whether it's a business partner, someone else who can challenge you.

Jonathan Campion: Absolutely. If I may, I wrote an article on Friday and looked at the the actual story of the big tech companies. So your Amazons and your Googles, and even Facebook to Amazon. For another example, Apple is everyone knows the owners and the founders of those companies, but no one knows the first hire. And if you actually look back through and do a bit of Googling, you can see that the people who own the companies credit vast amount of their success to the first hire.

And they say they could never achieve the things that they've achieved without that hiring decision that they took at that point, hiring employee number one. Is critical. So even if it's not a business partner, if you have the right employee number one, that has the ability skills, where with all knowledge and confidence to actually turn around to you and say, listen, I don't think you're right.

I think this is probably the right direction to take is a misstep. So many people make there's not enough focus taken on the first 1, 2, 3 hires.

Charles Brecque: Corriculo has been around for eight years. And Totus is a bit more recent but where do you see the two businesses in the next eight years?

Jonathan Campion: Yeah. So it's a great question. So my end point where I'm working towards with Corriculo is that we want to be a well-known organisation within the field of technical and scientific recruitment. And that sounds like a very modest aim, but, recruitment as a sector is a multi-billion pound industry within the UK.

And at the moment, even at the size of Corriculo, we've grown to be the biggest it and scientific recruiter in Oxfordshire. We're a little way short for Berkshire, but we are growing our market presence all the time. I want to take this business as far as it will possibly go to be as big as it possibly can be and work with as many clients as possible to provide the support.

Now I've controversial when it comes to TOTUS, I've said, and my business partners doesn't agree with me, that TOTUS will one day be bigger than Corriculo. I am happy to be proved wrong, but I don't think I will be. In my view that I think TOTUS is the solution to a significant problem for startup companies.

And it's a novel solution that as far as I can see, no one else is currently offering in the marketplace to work specifically with startup companies and provide support to these startup companies when they truly need it. At the beginning of cycle, TOTUS to continue to focus on startups for the next few years, but eventually grow into a full service RPO provider.

So that's working against the existing portfolio of RPO suppliers that exist in the UK market. Some of whom are whom I've got some questionable reputations in the RPO world. I think it can be done better than how it currently is, but I want to start with the startups A because I enjoy it more and B, because I think there was a genuine need that requires answering as the startup world continues to grow within the UK.

Charles Brecque: Sciences provide the strategy and frequently is a solution amongst all distractions.

Jonathan Campion: Absolutely. That's the general idea and it's real recruitment strategy and recruitment leadership that is lacking. In terms of a broadly call is talent acquisition is lacking. In terms of knowledge and experience  amongst startup and founders, this isn't something which you just know it's not ever something you are an expert in or you're not. And what TOTUS does is it provides that level of expertise to founders, to entrepreneurs.

It facilitates the execution of the ideas and creativity that these people have. It allows them to grow the companies. They want to grow by giving them a fighting chance and a very competitive talent market to attract the right people and the best people for their companies without the right people doesn't matter how good your idea is.

It doesn't matter how good your product is. If you don't have the right people. You're going to struggle.

What are the key contracts you interact with the most?

Charles Brecque: Absolutely. And you interact with lots of businesses at various stages of their life cycle. What are the key contracts you interact with the most frequently?

Jonathan Campion: The key contracts that we interact with most frequently; NDAs. We see NDA agreements, from agency to client. We see NDA agreements from clients to employee.

We see NDA agreements from client to contractor. They're all different. To A, B to C one is B2B, but one isn't always B to C depending on the contractor. Which makes things interesting. Obviously the employment contracts as well. There's a lot of startups out there who have substandard employment contracts.

There are also an awful lot of big companies out there that have substandard employment contracts. We often see, I didn't know that we see agreements. Supply agreements between agency and client. We see contracts, supply agreement between agency and client. We see contracts between agency and agency.

And I'd say that's about it as in supply contracts between agency and agency. So sometimes a company will use a recruitment service provider who will then outsource the recruitment to other recruitment service providers, which effectively creates a web of support. And your supply contract for us, if, unless we're controlling the account would be between us and another recruitment supplier.

And I think that's probably it. That's all I can think of anyway.

Charles Brecque: You mentioned substandard employment contracts. What is a substandard employment contract?

Jonathan Campion: That's an employment contract that doesn't offer the right level of protection for the company or the employee. Now, look, I think it's important that this point I'm not a lawyer but I've read enough employment contracts in my time.

It's quite easy to spot ones that are substandard ones that leave behind any sort of protection, one that leaves no sorts of notice periods. I've seen some contracts that have notice periods a week for their permanent employee, which just gives you no security as an employer that this person isn't gonna leave. I've also seen quite a lot of employment contracts don't have any clause in for seniority. So what you have is a candidate may join say six or seven years ago as a junior developer, let's say, and then they'll progress as they become more experienced at, through to a development manager or a development lead.

And they're still on the same employment contract as back when they started six, seven years ago and suddenly they hand in their notice that they're on a they're on a month's notice and they're a critical member of staff. That's happened more than once. I think notice is the biggest signifier and then there's also the competition clauses. I've seen employment contracts that are pretty scandalous in outlying that a certain candidate can't work for a direct competitor for a period of time but doesn't outline what direct competitor actually constitutes, which is I can't see a world in which that's legal, but again, I'm not a lawyer.

They're the biggest ones is also the IP issue for scientific R&D companies not protecting themselves. I think they're the biggest issues I've had. I've also, without rambling too much, I've also seen employment contracts that Prevent development talent in particular, working on external projects.

So you might have a developer that's working on I don't know some sort of financial services software in the day, but by night they're writing code to make a robot or something. And it actually precludes them from working on anything that's actually not the client's code. And candidates reject offers based on that, because they want to keep on doing the hobby project.

 It's not really a sensible contract that you can ask a candidate's to sign. It goes beyond what's reasonable.

Charles Brecque: You mentioned that employment contracts play a key role in candidates accepting offers. Do you advise the candidate on the employment contract? What happens if you've identified an employment contract to be substandard what are the next steps?

Jonathan Campion: There's two answers to this question, Charles. I think it's important to not just look at what Corriculo does, but what recruitment does as a sector. Let's do recruitment as a sector. First being honest with you I would expect most recruitment agencies to not provide the candidate with any sort of advice at this point, but instead to just get them to sign the contract.

Bearing in mind that most recruitment agencies are paid on commission and the recruiters themselves are paid on commission by closing the deal. It's not in the recruiter's interest to rock the boat with the candidate, irrespective of what the contract might say. So the recruiter might pick up on the fact that there's questionable clauses on the contract.

They really don't care so much that potentially puts the candidate in a difficult position because they want to spend their commission money. From a Corriculo perspective where we've worked with clients who've got clauses in their contracts that have been flagged or we've picked up for candidates.

What we've done is we've gone back to the, to the client to understand the spirit in which the clause was inserted. So if we can understand where the client is coming from with a specific clause and what they're trying to achieve with that clause, we can then answer that query before the candidate flags it as a problem.

So therefore what we'll do is we'll send the contract over. And we act as intermediary all the time with all our clients. We see every employment contract before it goes to those candidates. So we will have picked up on the problem we send to the candidate and we say, listen, you need to read this employment contract it's an important document.

You need to look at it, but I will pay specific attention to clause A, B or C or wherever it is and explain what that clause is about. What the spirit of that clause is, especially if we've been back to client and try to explain to client that this isn't a great candidate experience, and they probably need to think about rewording this clause, but they're unwilling to do changing your employment contract when you've got employees again, I'm not a lawyer is difficult. So employment contracts is something which you want to go on and get up to speed when you're start. And it's something that you want to have as a key cornerstone, when you're looking at hiring your first staff members, if you want to change your employment contract, again, I'm not a lawyer.

If you want to change your employment contract for new starters versus people that are already in the business. I think that's quite tricky and you're asking people to basically resign, and I think it could be a bit of an administration headache that you can do with that. So Corriculo advises candidates to look at the clauses, we understand what the client is talking about in the specific clauses and then we try and make the match accordingly.

If you were being sent a contract to sign today, what would impress you?

Charles Brecque: That makes sense. And I think one key thing that we try to do at Legislate is to offer gold standard templates, which are easy to understand and very standard so that there is no negotiation. And because we also have access to the data, we're able to explain to the users, what are the most used contract values across legislate, which can definitely help organizations creating employment contracts for the first time. I'm conscious that we've already used a lot of your time so i'm going to ask you the same question we ask all our guests if you were to receive a contract to sign today what would impress It's you?

Jonathan Campion: Not having to print out and sign it. Genuinely, not having to print out and sign. It would impress me being able to, it sounds very basic and I'm sure it really is in your world, but having a document that you can just click through and you can sign without having to print off and do all that. And as few clicks as possible would be fantastic.

You want it to be quiet. Understanding these things need to be comprehensive. Understanding needs to be in, in some cases, extensive, but ease of understanding is important. Salient points being highlighted, and then just agreeing quickly would be the best thing for us. That makes perfect sense and being able to sign digitally is definitely something we take for granted at Legislate, but appreciate it isn't widely adopted. I'm a one man crusade against the printer, so yeah, absolutely. I'll get rid of the printer tomorrow if given half the chance. So anything that removes printing I'm all for.

Charles Brecque: Great. Thank you very much, Jonathan, for being on the show. It's been a pleasure having you and hopefully we can have you on again.

Jonathan Campion: Thank you very much.


Listen to more episodes