My Friend. Hired.

How Harry hired Olly with a little help from his friends

When I walk through the door of Outlandish’s studio in Finsbury Park, North London, I’m immediately greeted by a big bearish man with a wide smile and a pile of curly hair who announces loudly to the whole room, “Thanks for finding me all my staff!”

After shaking hands, it turns out this is Harry Robbins, founder of Outlandish, a three-year-old digital agency with a small but important difference - Outlandish are a worker-owned cooperative.

The John Lewis of Digital 

Outlandish’s unusual ownership structure means they don’t keep formal hours, pay themselves on a pro rata basis, and share all their profits amongst the team. “We want to be the John Lewis of digital.” Explains Harry, “We really believe that it makes us a better company, and we therefore build better products because we’re worker owned.”

Harry then introduces me to Olly Meakings, and we sit down for a chat. Olly is the reason I’ve popped up north from my offices in Old Street to find out more about what’s going on at this unusual agency; because he’s one of a growing community of digital workers who’ve found their latest gig via Hire my Friend, and I’ve dropped in to hear their story.

I start by asking Harry and Olly if they’ve tried any other ways of hiring or finding a new job, in particular working with recruiters. Harry instantly pulls a disgusted face and announces, “Working with recruiters is hellish, just hellish, and hugely expensive.” 

“working with recruiters is hellish, just hellish, and hugely expensive.”

Olly adds, “I have actually tried using a recruiter as an applicant once, and the experience was awful. It’s the sort of thing you do and then instantly regret. You are sat there in some office with your passport in your hand speaking to someone who obviously has no idea what you do, and doesn’t care - you can tell they just want to get you the highest-paid gig on their books so they can get their bonus and then go and get pissed.”

Harry follows up on this, “yeah, the few people I’ve got through recruitment agents have been so money motivated. They just want to achieve a high day rate and leave, they don’t care about the company. This is especially difficult for us to understand because of how we’re set up.”

More than just the weird incentive structure that warps recruiter behaviour, Harry goes on to say that the main problem is that Outlandish are looking to “hire people, not ‘fill a role’ and agents don’t understand that.” 

What does work to hire people?

So what has worked? “Well,” replies Harry, “Twitter and our inbound marketing has helped. We run an internship programme that has got us three full timers, and of course friendship networks. But we’re sort of at the edge of these now, and we’re growing quickly so we need to expand our base.”

And of course, Hire my Friend is working very nicely for Outlandish. Harry reveals that he is in advanced conversations with a second full timer found by the service, and has forged several other new relationships with developers who weren’t quite right, but led to an expanded base of potential referrers and friends of the company. 

So why is Hire my Friend delivering for Outlandish? Harry proffers an answer. “Basically its very simple, and very friendly. Previously we’ve often hired people by meeting them in the pub, and this somehow feels like an extension of that! Its not so much about a specific role, CVs, job descriptions and so on. Its more like hiring a person.”

“Previously we’ve often hired people by meeting them in the pub, and this somehow feels like an extension of that!”

Olly adds, “Yeah, the main reason I came to an interview here was because Harry’s intro message was really personal and great. He said, ‘we’re growing fast, building cool things and we want to go out and get drunk with you!’”

So what’s next for Outlandish? “We’re building more products now and doing less custom work for clients.” explains Harry. “We grew by 100% last year, and the same the year before. We made about 20% margin last year, which gets returned to the team, and we want to increase that a bit by specialising more, which means we’re hiring devs with specific analytics skills to support our new products. Oh, and we have to complete our full transformation to a co-op - currently we’re technically a partnership, but in time for International Workers Day on the 4th of July we’ll reincorporate as a fully worker-owned company.”

On the way out I take Olly’s photo half way up a rickety fire escape plastered with the Outlandish logo and I finish by asking him about the co-op ownership structure and what it means to him. “It’s great,” he replies, “it encourages me to be more measured and thoughtful with how I spend my time now that I’m an owner. Everything I do has an impact on everyone else, and if I’m wasting my time, I’ll be wasting everyone else’s. It’s very refreshing.”

If you run an amazing digital company like Outlandish, you should request access to Hire my Friend, and if you’d like to work somewhere as refreshingly different as this, you should create an anonymous profile now!