As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristine Angeltvedt, CEO and co-founder of Nixa.io, a startup on a global mission to disrupt traditional tech recruitment. Kristine founded Nixa.io in 2018 as a solution to a lot of the industry challenges she faced first hand when working as a tech recruiter. At only 26, she was persistent in bringing change and innovation into a billion dollar industry. Today, Kristine manages a remote team of seven people across Europe who are building tech to facilitate faster and better recruitment without compromising quality.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Before I started Nixa.io, I worked as a tech recruiter in a recruitment agency called First Engineers in Oslo. This agency specializes in tech recruitment and works with companies ranging from small startups to bigger corporations in Norway. During my years here, I helped several companies scale their engineering team by recruiting different types of software engineers. By working closely with my clients, I could see first hand how extremely challenging it is for a tech company to hire software engineers in today’s market. The average time to hire is often exceeding five months and companies across all industries are struggling to attract enough qualified candidates to fill their open roles. The discrepancy between jobs and talents available is just getting bigger and bigger for every day, and hiring qualified engineers is actually listed as one the biggest challenges that managers face today.
It is obvious that traditional recruitment is broken — it takes so much time, effort and money to find the right person and then there’s no guarantee that person will work out. I’ve seen a lot of mis-hires in my time and it takes a big toll on the company and the candidate. There is a need to flip the whole model and bring innovation to the recruitment game. I’ve always had a big dream of starting my own company and with a Master’s degree from the University of Oslo in Innovation and Technology Management, I decided to start building a solution to the problem myself. I saw a huge potential in building up a platform where tech and automation could be enablers for a faster and easier recruitment process.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Early in my days as a young recruiter, I accidentally sent an in-depth client brief to a major recruiter of a large global organisation. They were very understanding about the mistake and it actually opened up the door to this company so that we had in-depth conversations about the challenges they faced. They explained how much time and effort was required to source, interview and hire someone, why they used recruitment agencies and how they felt about recruitment as a whole. There had been a number of mishires which had impacted significantly on the business and generally there was a sense of frustration about new hires. It was eye-opening to see the experience from the other side and I learnt a lot about client expectations and difficulties with hiring. They were a great connection to make at that stage of my career.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Without a doubt, I really appreciate all of the support and encouragement that I have received from my two mentors and co-owners, Tor Daneshmand and Jørgen Iversen. None of this would have been possible without their support. They have believed in me and Nixa.io since day one and actually funded the whole first year of building Nixa.io. Although I’ve had to learn a lot along the way, they have given me the fundamentals to succeed and the courage to fail along the way. They have shared unconditionally from their own experience as serial entrepreneurs and guided me through rough times and challenges.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I had a vision to change both where and how companies recruit technical talent. I’ve always been an advocate of remote work and I wanted companies to acknowledge the huge benefits of hiring remotely. Instead of competing in a very limited local talent market, companies could look across borders and tap into a global talent pool of candidates. This would give them an opportunity to access better talents faster, and at a reduced cost. In addition to changing where companies recruit technical talent, I also wanted to change how they do it. Instead of companies spending huge amounts of time and resources on sourcing and screening candidates, I wanted to build up a platform of pre-vetted engineers who could be matched with companies in just a couple of hours. I wanted to give both companies and candidates a chance to spend time on the things that really matter through automating the time-consuming and manual processes in recruitment. My end goal is still to make recruitment a fast, easy and self-service process and to help companies worldwide to scale faster by hiring remote through our platform.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
We’ve built an automated recruitment platform that helps companies hire permanent remote engineers in just two weeks. We pre-qualify all candidates through technical tests and a screening interview before they are accepted to the platform. This way we help companies save time and give them the opportunity to jump straight to final interviews with their favorites. Our thorough pre-vetting process and AI matchmaking tool ensures that companies are only matched with talented and qualified candidates. It also ensures that candidates, on the other hand, only get matched with the type of jobs that match their preferences. It’s a win-win situation. Candidates save time on job hunting and give them an opportunity to join a community where they can access the best remote engineering jobs in the world. A lot of biases are removed as part of the process, so recruiters know they’re being presented with excellent candidates, while candidates know that these are jobs where they will perform well.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
I would definitely say that AI and machine learning in recruitment is disrupting a very traditional and people-centered industry. AI might not be able replace the human touch completely in the recruitment process, but there is a huge untapped potential in using AI to make better predictions and better hiring decisions. We are currently building AI and machine learning models to predict a better automated match between a candidate and a company, and to promote a more objective decision making process. Machine learning combined with AI can see what the probability rate is of a candidate’s likelihood of succeeding within a job.
It’s not a secret that recruitment is full of biases that negatively affects hiring, both in terms of how long you spend on the process and what type of person you hire in the end. Recruitment is traditionally very manual and requires a lot of effort, from identifying and sourcing candidates to creating networks and connections, to interviewing and testing the applicants. If a badly designed resume lands in your inbox, you’re immediately going to think they aren’t great candidates because of the way it looks. Their experience could be fantastic however, and using technology will help us get past our subconscious biases.
This is now changing and it’s for the better.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
There is so much scope and potential with AI and machine learning, so I had the idea for a recruitment platform that would disrupt the recruitment industry. The sector hasn’t changed in decades and is ripe for a major shake-up, though many people are happy to carry on as they were.
In 2018, I began working on the Nixa.io idea with my mentors and developed a minimal viable product after just 200 hours. We then went out to industry to test and refine our platform with the people who will be using it, including developers,CTOs and recruiters. Now two years later we are leaving the testing phase and heading into scale-up with a product that works. It’s been a really exciting two years!
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
I remember my one big moment very well! Working as a recruiter in a very challenging market, you have to work hard to bring in candidates for a client, ensuring they fit the requirements, they fit the skills, they sail through technical testing and that everything is good. There was one client who provided us with a standard brief for a developer and I immediately began sourcing candidates for their role. It was good, looked interesting and with plenty of projects coming up so it wasn’t a problem to find applicants. They were tested and I carried out preliminary interviews and sent the best ones to the client. Each one was rejected with a very flimsy excuse. I tried again and the same thing happened. None of the candidates were good enough.
I called the client to get more information and to understand what it was they wanted, and it was a frustrating call as they couldn’t really tell me, only they would know the candidate when they found them. They trusted their gut feelings, and so far, our applicants hadn’t sparked anything off for them.
By this point, I had spent tens of hours searching, interviewing and testing potential applicants for this client. I realized their approach meant they would not find the best person for the role, because they weren’t considering anyone outside of their biases. They had to fit a very narrow margin to work at the company.
It was then I realized that there had to be a better way for the recruitment process and began researching available technology to see how the industry can be changed. The possibilities with AI and machine learning made it clear that there are ways to improve recruitment and even work through matchmaking people with their perfect roles. Everyone wants interesting work where they will thrive and this new route will find jobs where candidates are likely to succeed.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
It’s really good. We’re hired people into companies within two weeks with our new approach and tech which means it’s working. At Nixa.io we’re changing two things — where they do it and how they do it. People are open to Nixa.io’s approach — they don’t want to spend loads of time on recruitment and being recruited. Our approach to recruitment makes perfect sense for companies wanting to find the best talent possible with remote workers. It also makes sense to match people and jobs based on data to remove human bias and get the best person possible for the role.
We work with clients and candidates across the world, and this year has seen huge organic growth for the Nixa.io platform. Remote working has been on the rise for many years — it was a trend I spotted when I was working as a recruiter — and the pandemic has simply accelerated this. Nixa.io has been ahead of the curve for the last two years and we’re in a great place now to accelerate our growth. 2021 will see us going into a scale-up phase and we have given ourselves some big targets to reach, though we’re already well on the way there.
The recruitment industry is being disrupted with our tech approach and people are welcoming the disruption. AI to automate time consuming tasks and machine learning to match people with their best roles equates to efficiency and reduced biases. Opening up the roles worldwide makes a difference as well the quality of the candidates can be higher. We combine global talent with tech so that companies need only interview three people instead of ten, and all of those will be perfectly qualified to do the job.
We’re capturing every data point we can to ensure our matchmaking tech is operating at the optimal level and so far, there have been plenty of successes! Our platform is saving time, effort, and most importantly, money.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?
A company approached us needing help urgently. They had tried hiring senior engineers using different agencies and tried themselves but had no success and now the situation was getting critical. A senior engineer was really needed. Then the pandemic hit and they decided to open up their recruitment to remote working. They talked to us and decided to try Nixa.io out to see what we could do for them — they were quite frustrated with their hiring attempts.
Working with us, we helped them change how and where they recruited, and as a result, the company hired four engineers in rapid succession with Nixa.io. They are so pleased with the ease of the process and the quality of the candidates presented to them. They were able to choose quickly from our candidates and one was hired within 14 days of the job going live. It was fantastic to help this company as they’d tried so hard for nearly a year and spent so much money without getting results. Needless to say they’re working with us for the long-term now and we’re working with them to scale their engineering team as they’re growing quickly.
It’s been great to be able to help companies change the ways they recruit and even some with the way they work.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
Your vision is the most important thing, and ensuring it’s communicated properly to the team. They need to know the ultimate objective of what you’re trying to achieve; you can’t define tomorrow, not usually within a startup trying to disrupt an old and billion-dollar industry, and especially not when in the midst of a pandemic. But knowing the vision of what will be achieved will focus the team. How we get there will change, finding our way around obstacles as we test and experiment and master and reiterate until we reach our final point. Be a thought leader and give your people the tools to succeed.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Have your people understand why we are doing this and let them see the results of their work, always make sure the dots are connected to keep your team motivated. Their impact on the success of the company will greatly increase morale and productivity as they can see the value in what they do. Working on something that you know is going to change someone’s way of thinking and doing, or even changing up an entire industry is hugely inspiring and motivating in itself. The company culture cements this and creates the bond within the team.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Let your employees see results of your work, don’t be task-driven, be objective-orientated and show them their value. Focus on the big picture, the statement of what will be achieved, for example, Nixa.io will change how people recruit and will be the most preferred recruiter for developers in the world and we guide our team to get here.
Guide people to the right positions. In tough times, asked to plot something in excel all day, without knowing why, you get tired of it. But if you know why you’re doing it, then it’s easier to find motivation and get through the tough times.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Building tech without testing the market first — are people willing to use it, are they willing to pay for it, is it solving a problem? If you build something and take it straight to market then it’s highly likely it will fail. Not daring to test with real users early enough. People want to have a full product before they begin testing it but have your users involved from day one and don’t be afraid of testing it with them.
- People move into industries where they have no background. I don’t know the tech but I know the recruitment industry inside out. I’ve watched people start businesses in areas where they have no or only basic knowledge of the sector and they have struggled or failed because they haven’t done the research or put the work in to thoroughly understand the problems they have to solve.
- Managers and C-suite often make assumptions about new tech and disruption, and this leads to issues with employees. Understand the tech you want to adopt and see how it fits into your business — what problems can it solve, how does it do it, how can you use it and who can manage it? Get this knowledge and drive it throughout the company so that your teams know how it works, what the limitations are and what they can expect from it.
- When faced with disruptive tech, find a proper balance between working on the business vs in the business. As a startup founder you are always torn between building and delivering here and now but also thinking and planning ahead to make sure that the company will still be there in a couple of months or years time. Tech and a disrupted industry will force you to look at strengths and weaknesses in every aspect of your business if you want to survive and grow. Everybody and everything needs your attention and you need to practise how to prioritize in order to balance things out as perfectly as possible. The tech you adopt needs to work for you now — and can it be adapted/changed for the future?
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Start building and test early on — we spent just 200 hours on developing our MVP, which is not a lot of hours. After that we started to test it with real users, building functionality on top of that. Daring to go to market early to get feedback means you create a product that works for your audience. Small start to the disruption but then you know it’s what the market wants and they will pay and use it.
- Understand every angle of the business to make sure everything is captured so that you can identify the areas where you could streamline and automate, where you’re spending too long on a task that could be completed much more quickly identifying your strengths and weaknesses. For example, here at Nixa.io, we have streamlined our marketing to ensure it is holistic using a fully integrated platform.
- Change the path to the final vision, ensuring employees are bought into this through reinforcement of values, demonstrating output no matter what happens externally with new technology and pandemics. Don’t underestimate how valuable company culture is in reinforcing the team and motivating them towards the final objective. We’ve achieved this through regular contact, not only for work, but for social as well. For example, we sent out Christmas gifts to employees and had a video conference where we opened them together.
- Go back to the industry, focus on the trends and news, understand what people are looking for, what problems they’re facing and if there is tech that can simplify things. Drifting away from the industry that you’re focused on will cause issues when trying to pivot, as you won’t give them relevant or useful information, tech or solutions. The industry is your source of knowledge, don’t disregard them in the race to pivot for something new and shiny on the horizon, stay embedded and your company is more likely to succeed.
- Don’t hide your mistakes and business vision as it causes anxiety and suspicion from colleagues and investors. Embrace transparency and vulnerability in order to get people onboard and to believe as strongly as you do in the company’s vision. You need to promote transparency and don’t be afraid to show people that you don’t know the answer to things. You also need to show people that you are capable of making mistakes and show them how mistakes can be turned into valuable insight and learning. Running a business, particularly a startup, is all about trial and error — and you should empower your team to make mistakes and learn from them by leading as an example. Mistakes are not bad, you can learn a lot from them. For example — we regularly receive feedback about the platform and recruitment, such as more questions were requested when filling in the initial form and we are adjusting this and information received as a result.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I was brought up to believe what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I absolutely abide by this philosophy, especially as the founder of a startup. There is so much to learn along the way, I have made mistakes, but I have gained so much knowledge since starting Nixa.io, not only in tech but in running a company. I’m excited for Nixa.io’s future and I truly believe that we will become the preferred remote recruiter in the world. We have the tech, we have the know-how and most importantly, we have great people working with us.
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