Nearly two years after Montreal entrepreneur Ilan Saks formed The FounderProject, a movement that spurred hundreds of the city’s talented university students for startup ideas, he’s well on his way to leading a profitable head-hunting firm.
Stacked HR is an Old Port-based business in Montreal. As Saks proudly told MTLinTech, the company feels it’s “building the core engineering teams of some of the most innovative technology companies in the country.” It’s clients – AppDirect, Lightspeed Retail and Busbud just to name a few – approach Saks and his small team of two other people to find the best intermediate to senior talent.
Typically businesses like Stacked take a 20 percent commission from a company based on a given hire’s first years salary. Companies like AppDirect, which in 2013 stamped its presence in Quebec with a Montreal office, are often willing to pay senior engineers over $150,000 in salaries. That means that companies like Stacked end up making healthy revenue in return for their work.
Saks, 25, formerly graduated from McGill University and also spent time at a law program at Syracuse University. Throughout his experience he kept running into brilliant fellow students with great business ideas, but less knowledge of where to turn for commercialization. Admittedly, this same problem has been attacked quite forcefully for years by public and private institutions alike.
Nevertheless, it was 2013 and Saks wanted to do something about it in Montreal, the city that presumably still has the most students per-capita in the world.
He founded The FounderProject as a way to mobilize students into forming student startups. He paired up entrepreneurs with experienced mentors in the field and help provide the students with resources to help kick-start their businesses. Most importantly were the various events, or ‘Student Startup Showdowns’ that Founder Project would put on in cities like Toronto and Montreal, high up in the glitzy offices of law firms like Fasken Martineau. During one such event, Saks simultaneously web-casted the live events in both cities, and had startup legends like Dick Costolo (Twitter’s CEO) and Aaron Levie (Box) skype with the crowd.
But The FounderProject was a tough business model to crack, taking one percent of equity from the new teams that emerged, many of which were first-time business ideas by first-time entrepreneurs. It wasn’t going to survive very long and Saks knew he had to evolve.
In early 2014 he came up with the idea of a new head-hunting firm based in Montreal that would feed talented, experienced web startup individuals to high-growth, venture-backed teams that needed new employees to step in and make an immediate impact.
“It was just an organic transition,” Saks said of the transition from Founder Project to Stacked HR. “We had tons and tons of entrepreneurs who were coming to me and doing interesting things. They were asking help to find people and we had these people, so we started to refer them and understand what employers were looking for. It turned into a full-fledged recruiting operation.”
Since founding Stacked, Saks hired two full-time associates and figured the trio has placed between 30 and 50 new hires at some of Montreal and Toronto’s fastest growing startups.
Saks said the transition to starting Stacked wasn’t seamless, and there were several quiet periods. He calls entrepreneurship a “long and lonely journey.” Within recruiting, August and September were the quietest months, alternating with extremely busy periods.
“The hardest thing isn’t in a particular part of the business but staying focused as an entrepreneur and is having the stamina to keep going when it can be tough sometimes,” Saks told MTLinTech.
He said the most rewarding experience in his first year was when Stacked placed its first hire for a client.
“The hire sent me an email and said ‘this totally changes things for me: I have a young family here in Montreal and I can’t thank you enough.’ That was the best part in everything I’ve done, and that’s the most rewarding thing. That’s fantastic. On the other end when a client says to you that you’ve been the ‘fifth limb of our company and our growth,’ that is beyond rewarding,” he said.
Saks admitted that the business is still a young one in the fast-paced and aggressive world of recruiting. Moreover, it’s not always easy: if a hire doesn’t work out, Stacked doesn’t get paid until it finds a suitable replacement. Usually recruiting firm and company sign a contract stating that if a doesn’t work out before 90 days of employment, the firm can replace that employee free of charge.
Those instances aren’t exactly fun for a firm that’s already done a ton of work searching for the perfect fit between a person and a company, but Saks said there’s no room to complain. He wants to please his clients and if it means working seven days a week, then so be it.
“It’s so much more than finding candidates that have a technical match for what the client is looking for and just sending them to the company,” said Saks. “That’s literally a fraction of it. The bulk of it is really understanding what the company is looking for from a cultural fit.”
Saks continued that Stacked actually needs to try and act as an extension of the company. They need to find the perfect person for what a given company is looking for, and that means actually representing the company. Moreover, they need that new employee fast and they have the money to pay for the best recruiters if one can’t get the job done.
“It’s a rat race. You need to find that talent as fast as possible or someone else will,” he said. “They raise five million dollars and 80 percent of it goes into hiring. They don’t have the resources or the time to do it themselves, so who do they call? The recruiters.”
It’s then that the game is on, and Saks and his small team at Stacked HR are well into the race.