When you want to start a business, many question marks stand between idea and execution. It’s easy to get paralyzed by all the decisions you need to make and tasks you need to complete. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs get stuck in the planning phase, trying to get things just right. But to launch a successful startup, you need to learn the difference between striving for achievement and striving for perfection.
As a two-time startup founder, Oleksandr Gamaniuk has learned that done is better than perfect. In 2019, he founded Tarta.ai, an AI job assistant that helps you quickly find a job. Instead of perfecting the details, Oleksandr launched Tarta when it was functional. Then over the following year, he experimented with various business models until he found the right one to generate sustainable revenue for the company.
Now, Tarta has close to 15,000 new job seekers signing up to its platform every day with two million jobs uploaded daily – and all with a team of five.
Using Your First Startup to Launch Your Next
For eight years, Oleksandr worked as a software engineer for Ukrainian tech companies. In the years leading up to launching his first business, he spent a lot of time learning about entrepreneurship. One of the most helpful books Oleksandr came across was The Four Steps to the Epiphany. It’s a business classic that offers insights into what makes some startups successful and others bankrupt. The founder drew inspiration from it to start his first business.
In 2016, Oleksandr and his wife, Viktoria Perminova, both left their corporate jobs to start Botmakers, a chatbot template marketplace, with their savings. It helped marketers create chatbots and run Facebook Messenger campaigns using bot templates. Oleksandr focused on software development while Viktoria worked on product design and operations.
Since then, chatbots have lost some steam. So, Botmakers became the springboard for Tarta.ai. Oleksandr says, “Tarta is my second business, but it’s deeply connected to the first. After Botmakers, we started brainstorming where else we could use chatbots. We concluded that recruitment was one of those industries with good potential.”
Tarta imports jobs hourly from job boards and career websites, aggregating all the information in one place. The Tarta assistant (aka chatbot) helps to automate the process by interviewing a job seeker and asking questions about skills and experience. Armed with that data, Tarta scours the web for the perfect job openings for that candidate.
The team behind Botmakers is the same one behind Tarta. “While we’re only a team of five, with a heavy emphasis on developers, we didn’t need to hire anyone new. We also reused some admin resources and technical building blocks. Why start from scratch when you can repurpose what you’ve already created?” Oleksandr says.
The founder incorporated Tarta in the US, but the team works remotely from Ukraine. Oleksandr and his family currently live in California because they haven’t been able to return to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion.
He says, “Sometimes sirens will go off during our calls and people have to seek shelter in their basement. When the war first started, our employees took paid time off for three weeks. It was just too difficult mentally to work because everyone was only thinking about the safety of their family and friends. Slowly, we got back to work, but it’s still hard.”
Generating Traffic Before Monetizing the Product
One of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs is gaining any sort of traction for their new startup, whether that’s creating a media buzz, generating traffic, or acquiring first customers. No matter how great your product is, you won’t find any customers if nobody knows it exists. So, start getting the word out as soon as possible – even if you haven’t nailed down all the specifics of your offering yet.
“Especially in SaaS, it might be easy enough to build something, but extremely difficult to get any interest in your product and foster a community around it. You could spend a year building something only to discover that no one cares about it. We wanted to have some kind of traction before we went all in. So, we decided to build website traffic first, improving our domain ranking, and then figure out what to do with it later,” Oleksandr says.
While they were building the product in late 2019, they started publishing public job listings on Tarta’s website to generate traffic. Despite competitors like Ziprecruiter and Indeed having been in the space for 20 years, the US recruitment market is huge. With Tarta adding thousands of new jobs every day, Google started seeing it as a current and reliable source of information.
Tarta also implemented a custom business intelligence solution last year. Oleksandr says, “We pitched the product to a few companies and saw big interest from their side. However, after two demos we decided not to onboard any customers and instead use the solution for ourselves. That has helped grow our traffic from 20,000 to 80,000 people per day. It was a hard decision to make, but keeping this piece of software for our own business was the right way to go.”
Now Tarta aggregates jobs from a variety of places, including directly from employers and through their partnerships with recruiting sites like ZipRecruiter. Tarta imports one million new jobs daily and reactivates another million, totaling two million updated listings on its platform. This brings in a lot of website traffic. Currently, Tarta has two million visitors per month and counting.
“While our approach of getting traffic first was risky, it worked for us. This allowed us to continuously move forward with the business and figure things out along the way. We weren’t slowed down by waiting for a finalized product or until customers came to us. Also, when you’ve already built interest, it’s easier to stay motivated and keep building your product because you know people want it,” Oleksandr says.
The Trial and Error of Business Models
Tarta is a marketplace, with employers on one side and job seekers on the other. With a variety of options related to these two personas, the founder wasn’t sure how to monetize Tarta right off the bat.
Oleksandr says, “We tried four or five different business models during the past 12 to 15 months. It was complex to figure out the right way for Tarta to generate revenue. From the outside, it might seem obvious to make money by charging job seekers for the service. But on the inside, there are so many different ways to bring in revenue.”
In the beginning, Tarta did implement membership subscriptions for job seekers. The job seeker paid a monthly fee and Tarta provided customized job openings. The founder says it was hard to generate substantial revenue this way because the subscription was priced so low. On top of that, churn is high in the recruiting industry as no one is looking for a job all the time. Once somebody finds a job, they cancel their subscription. This resulted in a lifetime value (LTV) of only $30 to $40 for most customers.
Tarta then shifted to showing ads on their site through Google AdSense. Since Tarta already attracted substantial traffic to its site, it earned considerable revenue at first. But Google then reduced the number of ads companies can show, cutting Tarta’s income significantly.
That’s when Oleksandr turned to the other side of the marketplace for an additional – and more sustainable – revenue stream. Now, companies can enlist Tarta to help find candidates by sending out job listings to its 200,000 active candidates. Tarta’s bot automatically qualifies candidates and schedules interviews with them. Companies pay per candidate and per click on the job listing.
Working directly with companies will also allow Tarta to make an even bigger impact in the recruitment industry. Oleksandr says, “The question we ask ourselves is how the industry will look in ten years. We see the need for it to change from the job seeker’s perspective.
“Right now, if you’re looking for a job, you need to sign up on every single website and fill out applications over and over again, entering the same information. Once you’ve applied, you have no clue where you stand. It’s a big black hole until a recruiter finally reaches out (if they even do). We envision a much more positive and efficient experience for job seekers in the future – and Tarta will have an important role in that.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Take That Plunge Early On
While Oleksandr has been a software developer for almost ten years, Tarta has been one of the most challenging products he has ever worked on. He says, “I still code at Tarta, even though I’m in the CEO position. Sometimes there are advanced tasks that the team needs help with. This is the most technically difficult project I’ve ever worked on. From the outside, it just looks like a website where you publish job listings but we process so many gigabytes of data every day, so a lot goes on behind the scenes.”
But the founder has achieved the goal he set out to do: build something that helps a lot of people. Oleksandr says, “I’m 35 now and I need to focus on something that truly provides value while I still have the energy to do so. That’s why I’ve taken risks over the past couple of years.
“The only thing I regret is waiting to quit my full-time job until I was 29. If I could go back in time, I would do it earlier. You only need two or three years to gain experience and build a network. Past that point, you’ll hit a plateau in learning new skills and you won’t be using your energy as best as possible.”
Oleksandr believes that when you’re young, you have all this untapped energy and drive. He advises aspiring entrepreneurs to think about where they want to direct that energy. Do you want to spend it on a corporate job or your own business? It becomes more difficult to do the latter when you lack the same energy and have more responsibilities like family and so on.
Is it time for you to take that leap?
Want to share your bootstrapping story with the world? Enter your details in this form and we’ll be in touch.