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Ditch conventions, boost output: The CEO of FlexCareers on the power of flexible working

Employers who resist the tide of change – i.e. refuse to embrace flexible working –  not only miss out on the advantages of greater gender diversity, they limit the size of their talent pool, according to Natalie Goldman, the CEO of Sydney-based tech startup FlexCareers.  

Boasting a community of 75,000 job candidates, FlexCareers – an online platform that matches job seekers with employers offering flexible work – is used by more than 950 business. Critically, its fan base includes a number of big-ticket, paying clients – notably, Lendlease, Commonwealth Bank, Deloitte, Wesfarmers, Macquarie Group, Medibank, AGL, nbn, Origin Energy, PWC, KPMG, EY, Aurecon, AECOM, Stockland, Bankwest, Vodafone, Bank of Queensland, Viva Energy, Cbus, Coca Cola, AMEX, Ashurst, Allens and Baker & McKenzie.

Since Goldman came on board as CEO in July, last year, FlexCareers’ revenue has been increasing month on month, with the company now on track to annualise $1 million by the end of the financial year. To unlock growth, FlexCareers have raised $1.5m in angel and seed funds, and – Goldman revealed – there are plans to raise a further $3 million by June 2018 to strengthen the company’s position in Australia and New Zealand and launch it further abroad.

Outside of FlexCareers, Goldman has made a name for herself as an advocate for the economic empowerment of women. In addition to being a board member with not-for-profit Women’s Indigenous Network (WIN), Goldman is Head of Strategy & Partnerships at Women as Entrepreneurs, a SheStarts Advisor with startup accelerator BlueChilli, an ambassador for Flexible Working Day and a supporter of the Springboard Accelerator program for high-growth women-led businesses. Previously, Goldman led Launch Pod, a program she founded to equip women business owners for success, and was involved in business-building charity Global Sisters.

In conversation with Dynamic Business, Goldman spoke about FlexCareers’ mission to deliver gender diversity at scale. She also discussed the role of flexible work within FlexCareers, the challenges faced (and successes enjoyed) at the company’s helm, her passion for giving back to the community and the value of being selected as a Portfolio CEO by Heads Over Heels, a not-for-profit organisation connecting female entrepreneurs with industry and business leaders.

DB: Can you give me the elevator pitch for FlexCareers?  

Goldman: Sure – at FlexCareers, we’re changing the way careers work by redefining success, rewriting talent management and realigning employer expectations with the workforce of today. We’re doing this through the use of game-changing technology, which has been engineered to connect progressive employers with talented individuals in search of flexible work.

Our initial focus has been an underutilised talent pool – Australia’s 2.1 million career mums – and delivering gender diversity at scale; however, we’re enabling both men and women to fully participate in the workforce through flexible work opportunities. To this end, we offer a suite of training and re-accreditation courses for skills enhancement, including our proprietary Relaunchships program, which helps facilitate a return to work following an extended career gap.

DB: What circumstances led to the company’s creation?

Goldman: When co-founders Marko Njavro and Joel McInnes looked around their respective offices, they noticed a very grave problem facing corporate Australia… where are all the women? On top of this, Joel’s wife wanted to return to work following a nine-year career break to raise their daughters but found it near impossible to find a full-time, flexible role in HR. These factors led Marko and Joel to conceive FlexCareers, which they launched together 2 ½ year ago.

DB: How did you come to take on the CEO role?

Goldman: Marko and Joel reached out to me because they needed someone with a) an extensive HR background who has great networks and understands the key issues facing their audience, b) a tech background, and c) experience leading teams and running a business. I had my feet in both the corporate and start-up world and felt comfortable in both (not that common). Plus, I am intensely passionate about changing the way we work, gender equality and flexibility.

Not only did I tick all the right boxes, it was a natural progression from some of my previous roles, including with Launch Pod. However, unlike Launch Pod, where I was a party of one, FlexCareers has grown from four to more than ten people over the past 18 months.

(On a side note… Joel and Marko are both very tall, being at least 6ft 3in, and I’m 6ft 1in – and that’s without heels, which I usually wear. So, I fit right in on the height side of the equation. We’re somewhat of a force to be reckoned with when we enter a room!)

DB: Are FlexCareers staff entitled to flexible work?

Goldman: EVERYONE works flexibly at FlexCareers. Apart from Marko, Joel and myself, everyone is part-time. Further, we don’t have strict days people (especially those in sales) must work because we trust our people to plan their week around their targets, client meetings, etc. Yes, everyone needs to dial in for a team meeting or attend in person (if in Sydney) but we have people all over Australia and New Zealand, so expectations differ to a traditional office.

PLUS, we have unlimited leave. People don’t request leave, they inform the team and then manage the projects/ targets that they have around that.  Most of us have kids, which means a quarter of the year is spent managing school holidays – working flexibly allows us to manage all our responsibilities.

I don’t just work flexibly because of my kids, however – not only am I highly productive working at home, it decompresses and grounds me, which is important considering how high-pressured my role is. Meanwhile, Joel works flexibly not only to be present for his three girls but so he can train for a marathon. You don’t need to give a reason why you want to work flexibly. I trust my team and it’s all about output and hitting or exceeding targets, which we do regularly so this approach is working!

DB: What key factors have fuelled FlexCareers’ growth?

Goldman: Sales, people and great tech.

From a sales perspective, we’ve focused on large corporates as they hire big, which has helped us scale faster. Additionally, we’ve identified organisations that are more open to flexible working, including the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s Employers of Choice.

On the people side, we’ve been hiring people with great skills and experience and who are a great cultural fit.

Finally, none of this would be possible without the continual development of our tech platform, which is driven by AI and predictive analytics, to ensure relevance, speed and effectiveness. Keeping our marketplace humming and driving connections between employers and our community is crucial.

DB: Has being a Heads over Heels portfolio CEO assisted?

Goldman: Heads over Heels has opened many doors for us via introductions to key influencers, decision makers and investors. Prior to Heads over Heels, I’d never been to an event or been involved in a community where the sole purpose of each member was to assist in the growth of my business and others – it’s humbling and overwhelming to have such energy poured our way.

My first pitch presentation to the Heads Over heels community was only a few weeks ago. Since then, I’ve struggled to keep up with all the connections made, including follow-up meetings arranged! Fortunately, I get support from the team at Heads Over Heels, which helps me stay afloat on the sea of opportunities – in time, I’ll convert them into business growth. It has been (thus far) an incredible experience and it is only just the beginning – just watch this space.

DB: What have been some big wins under your leadership?

Goldman: The market validation resulting from companies either leaving our competitors to utilise our platform or reaching out to us (rather than us chasing them).  Plus, when our community grew to 50,000, this was a massive milestone.

DB: What has been a key challenge at FlexCareers’ helm?

Goldman: There’ve been numerous challenges but the biggest, by far, is not having enough resources to grow at the desired rate. We wanted more sales staff to bring on more clients/ jobs, more money to pour into marketing (to get the word out to more people and grow our community even faster) and more time to do all the things that we wanted to do. As a result of raising capital, we’ve be able to achieve all of the above; however, these challenges haven’t disappeared because we want to push even harder as the market continues to grow. Although working harder is important, and we pour everything into FlexCareers, it’s also important to work smart and making the most of the resources we have.

DB: How do you plan to capitalise on FlexCareers’ success?

Goldman: To continue on our current trajectory, we’re focused on sustainable growth across Australia and New Zealand and setting out sights on the next overseas horizon.  Many of our clients are international and have already connected us with their overseas colleagues who are keen to start working with us.

DB: You’re involved in many initiatives to advance women…

  1. What has motivated you in this regard?
  2. How do you manage all your commitments?

Goldman: I believe in giving back – it’s something I’ve always done, from volunteering at local charities as a kid to volunteering, alongside my kids, at the Asylum Seeker Centre. But it’s also about professionally giving back, whether that’s an involved commitment like being a board member with the Women’s Indigenous Network (WIN) or an equally valuable, albeit slightly less intensive commitment, such as being an advisor for BlueChilli’s SheStarts program.  Advancing women through various means is fundamental to who I am because I value social justice.  Finding time to contribute to our community is essential.  Having said that, I do get many offers to participate in worthwhile programs, organisations and causes and can’t do it all – so I have to say no and give of my time where I can.

DB: What mantra or advice do you live by in business?

Goldman: I have a few…

Be yourself, everyone else is taken – focusing on authenticity

Go hard or go home – we all push ourselves to the edge and then some

Reach for the stars and if you miss you’ll end on the moon – Dream big and bold

DB: Are the benefits of flexible work understood in Australia?

Goldman: There’s been a massive shift in the mindset of Australian employers. They’re seeing the benefits of flexible work and the realising that it not only enables engagement, productivity and profitability, but also helps them to meet diversity targets and address a very pressing issue: a very small talent pool.

We’re also seeing an increasing number of job candidates asking companies about their flexibility policies and deciding who to work for based on this factor (sometimes over salary). Of course, some employers are sitting still but the tide is changing before our eyes – exciting times.

Related: The tech sector needs to start valuing women for their unique skills, says Silicon Valley vet, “You can’t be what you can’t see”: addressing gender imbalance in the startup ecosystem and UrbanYou’s co-founder on the ‘game-changing’ moments in her startup’s ‘rollercoaster’ story.

James Harkness
James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business