Wesley Clover Portfolio Spotlight: CareerJSM & Thrive

Inception

The idea for CareerJSM began almost five years ago, at a time when co-founders Jeffrey Doucet (CEO) and Tristan Toye (CTO) were focused on the challenges university students face when entering the labour force. Doucet and Toye felt that the software universities provided students to aid in their search for a job after graduating was inadequate and outdated, and thus they built the first version of CareerJSM to help job seekers execute an improved job search. They had worked on a number of projects while Doucet was involved in student politics and Toye worked as a designer and web developer for the student’s union. After graduating Toye gained experience founding a company by launching a couple of startups. The project started as a bare bones productivity tool to help new graduates track and organize all their work applications, and they began to sell it to universities and colleges across North America. 

Expansion

The business evolved significantly over the next couple of years and they started to sell CareerJSM to outplacement and career transition companies around the world. Typically, these were HR companies that provide consultants to help manage job searching after a person has quit or been let go. Then about two years ago, their focus began to shift. Doucet and Toye realized that businesses are also looking for software to improve internal processes. That was where the idea for Thrive began, and they started to sell CareerJSM services through a subscription model, which only further educated them about the placement and career transition market.

They were receiving questions about the ability to do more to help people in upskilling and reskilling, to help them be able to develop new competencies as part of their job search, so Thrive developed as a response to the needs of their customers. There were certain software features in their tool set that Doucet and Toye felt could evolve if their business model changed. Thrive was launched on top of the CareerJSM product, adding a new business model that shifted their consumer base. Instead of targeting career transition companies, they moved to corporate clients. Users can still get access to their core job seeker functionalities but now they also have access to a marketplace of services that help them materially advance their career. Thrive launched about 18 months ago. They now have ten full time employees and a partner, Optimum Talent, that deliver services on their platform. 

Generally, career transition services place more of an emphasis on the soft skills associated with a job search. They’ll help you with your resume, career coaching, and interview preparation. These services are an important part of the Thrive business model and account for 60% of the spending on the platform. Job seekers have access to these services delivered by coaches across the country. What truly differentiates this company is their support in helping individuals advance their abilities as they go through a career shift – helping them learn new skills. There are five different learning platforms integrated into the product.

They range from simple upskilling on platforms like ‘LinkedIn Learning’ that have short courses to freshen up on skills, all the way to learning to develop software. From learning to build your first website with something like ‘Codecademy’ up to helping you take a University course through ‘edX’. Doucet and Troye’s emphasis on increasing talent capabilities in parallel with finding your next job have truly made this company stand out. It was a defining part of their product prior to COVID, as they were seeing shifts in that direction accelerated by technology, and it’s now intensifying post-COVID. Now companies are forced to go remote and implement new technologies that require new skill sets and need to adjust their workforce accordingly. 

COVID-19

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Thrive and CareerJSM have experienced an increase in demand, but have also seen variations in the type of services demanded. Clients are looking for lower-cost, higher-volume services, and services to aid people experiencing temporary layoffs which one typically wouldn’t anticipate in a recession. At the same time, they’ve also had customers who are putting freezes on any business activity during the crisis, so it’s been a mixed response. The company has been adapting rapidly by rolling out new features.

Additionally, there’s been increased demand for their services in anticipation of when the pandemic comes to an end. Doucet expects that many of these social distancing measures will be in place for 18 months or so, until there’s a vaccine, and a lot of his competitors still rely primarily on face-to-face services. This places Thrive in a unique position, as they were already discussing ‘digital only’ services with customers six months ago. Overall, the team has kept quite busy and hasn’t seen a decrease in demand due to the pandemic.

The nature of Thrive’s business gives Doucet a unique perspective on the different attitudes that companies have taken towards their employees during the pandemic, and he’s often been surprised. He’s seen large corporations, which you would not expect to be proactive with employee engagement, offer services to employees that are being furloughed. He’s also seen some other companies, ones that pride themselves on the services they offer individuals, turn around and lay off or furlough employees with little to no support. Some clients that employ lower wage workers – the type of employees that traditionally don’t get strong benefits from their companies – actually invest a lot in services to support them during this time.

Pandemic’s Impact

Doucet has seen major retail companies go above and beyond in how they’re supporting their employees, but then watch software companies that have 500 people and considerable venture capital behind them treat their employees poorly. Of course, it’s important to appreciate that many companies’ hands may be tied because some of them are teetering on bankruptcy. Doucet thinks that the clients whom they’ve seen treat employees well are ones that, even during a crisis, take a longer term view of their employee relations. He believes that it’s the difference between younger companies that have less experienced management and ones who have been through crises before and are aware of how the decisions that they make in this time are going to impact their brand in the long term. 

From a career management perspective, the companies that have more employee turnover are going to be negatively affected coming out of this crisis. Most don’t expect the economy to recover for at least 18 to 24 months, and some companies may pull back benefits with the mindset that employees don’t have anywhere else to go. It’s tough to give very definite predictions, but Doucet thinks that the companies that treat their employees better will gain a lot of brand recognition. 

During this time of employment insecurity, Doucet provides a piece of advice useful at any time, but feels is particularly relevant now. A lot of individuals don’t have a good understanding of how transferable their skill sets are to other industries. The Thrive platform enables those individuals to identify their current skill set, then show them what other industries may be hiring more actively than their current one for those skills, and what other skills they may need to develop to transition into that industry.

For example, Thrive had a large client in a certain industry with a large number of call centres and they were experiencing a high degree of turnover in those call centres. The employees were frustrated and leaving the industry because many call centre jobs  were either being outsourced (in many cases, overseas) or being eliminated due to the use of new software. But at the same time, companies such as those in the software business are hiring customer support agents aggressively.  The same skills that were no longer in demand in industry were in high demand in another. What CareerJSM and Thrive are doing for job seekers is displaying how to chart out a course to enter into other industries.

For another example, imagine you’re a manager in a retail company and you get let go. Retail most likely won’t be hiring much for the next six months or more. But, if you go to the Shopify website you can see how many customer support representatives they’re hiring.  You could also investigate financial institutions that have a large demand currently in digital customer service support. These are examples of roles that require only small variations in skill from those in a physical customer service environment.  Although the entire economy has been impacted, that impact is not being felt equally across every industry. So, it’s important to chart a course forward in ways that are relevant to your skill sets, but also to consider other industries that are presently seeing more growth.

In Conclusion…

Doucet suggests that a key element to their team’s success during the pandemic has been the speed at which they’ve implemented new features and capabilities based on demand from customers. Thrive is still a startup, so even without the pandemic they want to be pushing new code out weekly and launching new features, but they’ve been able to accelerate that even in the current situation. They’ve launched multiple product enhancements in the last seven weeks, all based on the simple principle of calling their customers, listening to their needs and deciding how the team can help. Doucet said he understands that for a lot of their clients their world is changing on a daily basis, so the team has made an effort to be a business that proposes solutions to their customers’ immediate problems.

Many companies tend to find solutions to the problems they imagine their customers might have and pitch a solution instead of communicating directly with them. Much of Thrive’s marketing has simply been asking questions, and from that they’ve been able to understand the challenges that their customers are going through and help meet them with solutions. Doucet recommends for other startups to be truly customer focused. It has always been a core tenet of his company, but they’ve doubled down on that now and it has guided innovation, resulting in client satisfaction and retention.

If you’ve loved this article, are looking to level up your skills yourself, and are located in BC, be sure to sign up for Alacrity Canada’s digital marketing bootcamp! We’re excited to run another cohort later this summer 2020. Sign up to be notified of the details here.

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