x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

i-expatriate gets the recruitment job done for UAE companies

The Life: Craig Stuart, a UK entrepreneur based in Dubai, has refused to let a failed venture defeat him and has bounced back with a company matching expats with suitable jobs.

Craig Stuart, left, and Adam Passfield are co-founders of the online recruitment agency, i-expatriate. Razan Alzayani / The National
Craig Stuart, left, and Adam Passfield are co-founders of the online recruitment agency, i-expatriate. Razan Alzayani / The National

This time two years ago, Craig Stuart was sleeping on a friend's couch in Dubai, no longer able to afford the rent on his Jumeirah Lakes Towers flat. His business partner at the document destruction and recycling company they were launching had run up debts and fled the country, leaving Mr Stuart to pick up the pieces.

"I nearly lost everything on the back of that particular business," he reflects. "I don't have a degree in business but I do actually consider that venture my BA."

An entrepreneur at heart and reluctant to get a regular office job, Mr Stuart returned to the UK in July 2011 to "lick his wounds" and figure out what to do next.

To keep himself occupied, he started working for a friend who had created an aggregation tool to help recruitment companies improve their service. By selling this technology and speaking to up to 50 recruiters a day, Mr Stuart got a handle on how the industry worked. Then in a casual conversation with his friend and boss, they realised there was a gap in the UAE market for a flat-fee online recruitment system.

There are currently two ways companies can find candidates to fill jobs. They can approach a recruitment agency, a route that is time-efficient but also costly; the employer will typically pay 15 to 20 per cent of the successful candidate's annual compensation package, according to Mr Stuart.

This can soon mount up - say if a construction company wins a contract and needs to bring in 200 staff members.

The other option is for a company's human resources department to go it alone and post an ad on a job board. This is cheaper but the downside is a flood of applications from unqualified candidates.

What the UAE needed, reasoned Mr Stuart, was a middle ground allowing companies to search broadly for the best candidates, weeding out unqualified applicants in the process and, in turn, making it a cheaper option than an agency.

So he created an online platform to offer this service and at the same time got wind of a company in the UK, F10 Recruitment, that was preparing to launch a product similar to his UAE model.

Joining them as a consultant when they first set up, he learnt which elements of the system worked and which needed refining. He also used LinkedIn to connect with UAE HR directors asking for their opinion on his new idea, whether they thought it would work in the Emirates and whether they would use it.

In May last year, in what many would describe as a brave move, Mr Stuart returned to Dubai and launched i-expatriate, with Adam Passfield - the friend whose couch he had once slept on - as co-founder.

"I wasn't going to let it defeat me," he says of his earlier failed business. "Before, I wasn't in control of what happened. This was something I was very passionate about and very confident it was going to work well."

Now he is sure his new offering will fare better.

When a company approaches i-expatriate, the job is advertised on a range of job boards internationally in addition to LinkedIn and other social media. Applications are initially filtered by Mr Stuart's technology, which selects only those that meet the company's criteria. Then the i-expatriate team draw up a shortlist of qualified candidates.

The company's HR staff can then log into their account and select candidates to interview. For this they pay a flat fee of US$2,000. (The executive-level search packages start at $3,000.) If the company wants to fill multiple roles from the search, there are no additional costs.

Over the past year, the company has won 45 clients including Dubizzle and Gulf Finance and is winning repeat business, according to Mr Stuart, who adds that the company also made a small profit in its first year.

The founders have now launched version two of the platform, describing it as more user-friendly, with better sourcing. The company currently has a staff of six but with a recent move into new offices in JLT they are poised to hire extra employees.

Happily for Mr Stuart, he is no longer couch-surfing.

"I'm sleeping in a bed now," he says. "Things are going pretty well."