This week I’m delighted to interview Jack Parsons, the 23 year old founder and CEO of YourFeed, the soon-to-be-launched online network to showcase young people’s skills, talent and ambition.
Jack has gone from a virtual unknown to one of the most recognisable faces in the recruitment industry in just over a year. Feted by the great and good of the industry, he can bend the ear of CEOs and is in great demand as a speaker. His mission? To connect two million young people to commercial opportunities by 2020.
Jack, what was the inspiration for YourFeed?
I left school when I was 16. I didn’t go to college or university so didn’t follow the conventional path to employment. Without qualifications, it was hard to get a job – I even got rejected initially from Morgan Hunt (a recruitment consultancy) I really had to push for that role. My CV didn’t reflect my potential and it still doesn’t now.
“We’ve pledged to connect two million young people to commercial opportunities by 2020″
After meeting with a good friend of mine, Haydon Godbeer, we realised that this was a common problem with many of our friends and family too. We realised that young people all over the UK are facing two critical problems: they either have the qualifications but can’t get a job because they have no experience, or they’re taken a job they’re unhappy in because they didn’t know what they wanted to do. 66% of young people want to change their jobs by 2020 because they are unhappy. The inspiration for YourFeed came from our will to change that and empower all young people who are in this position.
How have you taken YourFeed from just an idea to a vibrant startup in just over a year?
Perseverance, action and passion. As soon as we came up with idea of YourFeed, I got in touch with experts in the industry to gain the support and advice we needed to take it forward. There’s a need for change – and young people need more opportunities to showcase their skills and potential. Unemployment and staff retention are huge issues, and as soon as I started sharing my ideas for a solution, more and more people wanted to get involved. This is why we’ve pledged to connect two million young people to commercial opportunities by 2020 and are going on a UK tour to launch the pledge this year. We can’t just talk about the problem, we have to make an impact.
How important is networking to you? You seem to be everywhere!
I love to network and meet new people. Surrounding yourself with your audience is extremely important – otherwise how do you know how they’re feeling toward your product or about the industry. I spend over 60% of my time networking to make sure we at Yourfeed are hearing it first. It’s important to reach ideas. I showcase and document my networking which expands my reach.
You once said to me you’d built your network single-handedly with just your enthusiasm and your phone. Can you elaborate?
We’re at a huge advantage now with the technology available. I’m passionate about supporting young people and, through social networks, I shared YourFeed’s vision and the message grew. Social can be a really powerful tool if you stay authentic and utilise it well. It’s the reason YourFeed will be going global!
You’re super-active on Twitter and surpassed 20,000 followers in a very short time. How important is Twitter to you?
Invaluable. It’s documented my journey, helped me share my vision and provided opportunities that a CV/resume or email never could. It’s given me a chance to tell my story and I’ve met with a huge number of FTSE 100 CEOs because they’ve seen me on Twitter and LinkedIn and got to know me. Paper doesn’t show personality.
“Twitter has documented my journey, helped me share my vision and provided opportunities that a CV/resume or email never could”
As a Millennial yourself, you clearly understand the power of social networking to bypass traditional barriers. Could you have achieved what you’ve achieved in such a short time without social media?
In short, no. However, social media also means there’s no longer a traditional path to follow. We have direct access to leaders, brands, consumers and peers. It’s up to us how we use it.
What’s it really like being a startup CEO?
Overwhelming! You’ll never know everything but the potential and power to make an impact keeps you driven to learn and makes you adaptable. Sacrifices have had to be made but I’m young and chose to lead this life. It’s cliché to say, but it’s not for everyone.
What is the best advice you can give to anyone thinking of starting their own business?
Take action and do it now. It’s up to you to make it happen and there’s enough tech infrastructure and support out there. Find mentors that complement and support your vision; a great team is everything.
YourFeed describes itself as “The digital platform that gets you noticed.” Tell me a bit more about it. What exactly is it and how is it different from what what’s currently out there?
YourFeed is an online network that showcases young people’s skills, talent and ambition to those who matter. It connects young people to relevant brands and experienced professionals and provides opportunities to network, upskill and progress in their careers. Young people all over the world should be aware of their options and be hired for their skill and attitude, not because of a list of facts on a black and white piece of paper.
“YourFeed connects young people to relevant brands and provides opportunities to network, upskill and progress in their careers”
Over 75% of LinkedIn users are over 35. We’ve combined the best features all the social media platforms into one, creating a platform that young people can use and benefit from. Instead of cover letters and CVs, it’s about showcasing and matching skills. The algorithm is designed for users and brands to match to each other – anything under 50% won’t show up in your feed, so there’s no time wasting. We’re bringing the passive market to the forefront and into focus. Young professionals may not know that they match a particular company and not give it a second look; it’s the same for the talent companies are looking for.
YourFeed is also a social network. What will make Millennials want to use it when they’re already so wedded to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter? What’s your special ‘social sauce’?
Now that’d be telling! We are #GenerationNow and the future workforce. YourFeed supports young professionals to build a great career with great brands and vice versa through skill-based hiring and continuing opportunities to upskill. It’s more than just a social network or platform, it’s a way of life, it’s a movement, it’s your chance – you just don’t know it yet!
Looking ahead to 2020, where do you want YourFeed to be?
We’ve made the pledge to connect two million young people to commercial opportunities by 2020 and that’s my mission. YourFeed will be becoming one of the main sources for recruitment in the UK and beyond, with companies eradicating CVs in favour of making skill-based hires.
You clearly believe that the current recruitment and job-seeking model is broken, especially for young people. YourFeed is trying to fix that. What needs to be done more widely to make things fairer and more democratic?
Young people are at a constant disadvantage because of lack of experience. There’s a new apprenticeship levy coming in, yet I’ve met companies who’ve said they’d rather just pay the levy and not take on any apprentices. That’s the company’s future workforce they’re forfeiting; it’s short-sighted and economically damaging.
“YourFeed is more than just a social network – it’s a way of life, a movement”
What role can CEOs play in making their organisations more attractive to aspiring talent?
Give young people a chance. Don’t just look at education and covering letters. Open your doors and hire on skill and potential. Someone that completely fits a job criteria is OK for your business now, but will they grow and adapt with your business? Also, to retain your staff you have to be approachable. Provide the opportunity to grow, learn and upskill.
Is the era of the ‘social CEO’ now upon us? Should all CEOs be active on social media (especially Twitter)?
The Social C-Suite has interviewed several CEOs who’ve referenced the ability to connect to staff online. Engage, interact and connect with your employees and you’ll find them becoming more loyal and passionate about what you are trying to achieve. You also have direct access to consumers, partners, press, employees, industry news and even competition. People buy people. You’re a role model and your voice can be heard.
“CEOs – engage, interact and connect with your employees and they’ll become more loyal and passionate about what you’re trying to achieve”
Finally, what role can CEOs play on YourFeed?
There’s two roles. Firstly, it’s an opportunity to engage with young people – your future workforce. Communicate your company values: why should people want to work for you? Why would anyone want to dedicate their career to helping your business succeed? Secondly, it’s an opportunity to give back – to provide mentoring, advice and feedback. This is what I’m most excited about!