An Interview with Chris Villa, creator of wellpaid.io (4,500 job applications per month)
Hey Chris, can you tell us a little about your background and what you're building?
Why did you decide to build wellpaid?
There’s a real lack of transparency in the contracting industry. Most of the job market is dominated by recruiters because companies themselves don’t have the networks to find decent contractors.
Recruiters typically take a huge cut of your day rate - anywhere between 10- 30% of what you charge. So if you’re charging £400, £500 or even £600 / day, they’re often making £100-200 / day, despite only having spent a day or so placing you. Most of my contracts last around 3-6 months (and often more), so they easily make £10-20k for placing you. That’s obscene!
The worst part is that often neither the contractor nor the client generally knows what the recruiter is charging. It’s a very opaque process.
And now there are a bunch of regulation changes happening around something called IR35 - the short version is most contractors want to be “outside IR35” so they can pay less tax, and when you speak to companies, most of them are actually open to it, but some recruitment agencies and platforms are charging contractors to find IR35 contracts. Recruiters take £10-20k off your rate, and on top of that, charge you to find a position. That’s not okay.
I don’t believe it’s possible to have either the client or contractor’s best interest at heart when your business model is based around such a steep commission.
In the end, I guess I just heard one too many horror stories about people being massively underpaid whilst their recruiters were still taking a huge cut. I wanted to create something transparent, that allowed people to make educated decisions about what to charge and (eventually) find contracts without having to rely on a recruiter.
How did you validate your idea?
It’s always easier to validate something when it’s something you and your immediate network need. My first customer posted a job shortly after launch, and they found an awesome contractor within a few days. The company was a start-up, and because there were no recruiter fees, they were able to afford a much higher quality contractor than they normally would.
What went into building the first version?
For the first version, I decided to build a simple jobs board for a UK audience, listing contract tech positions from around the web and analysing the rates on each job to let you know if it was below or above the market rate for the position.
It took me a couple of months of working on the first version on the side before I was ready to “soft launch” to my network. I’m an engineer and I knew what needed to be done, so I designed and built everything from scratch.
Doing it this way meant it took longer than it could have, but I had fun doing it and learnt some new technologies along the way. These learnings have also been useful for client work.
What’s your tech stack?
The main site is built with React.js and Next.js, using Firebase for the database and Algolia for search. I have a backend for aggregating jobs built on Node.js. The whole thing is running on Heroku.
How would you have done things differently if you started again?
If the no-code movement was a bit more mature, I might have built an MVP using something off the shelf just to validate things sooner. Some features are now obvious to me that I wish I’d focused on at the start, but hindsight’s 2020 I suppose!
I also think that focussing on a narrower niche and slowly growing the number of applications would have made the sales process easier.
Can you tell us about your business model?
I've experimenting a lot with pricing model, with anything from free to £299 per listing. The current price is at £99 for a 30 day listing. I've made sales at each price point I've experimented with, which indicates that there is a fair amount of price elasticity.
I think this is because recruiters are so expensive, anything else seems like a bargain. The killer feature people seem to love is my money-back guarantee, which entitles you for a refund if you don't hire someone within 30 days. This makes it comparable to a recruiter, who normally won't charge until they place someone.
What growth tactics did and didn’t work for you?
The two best growth tactics for jobs board I’ve found are integrating my listing pages with Google Jobs and sharing jobs to twitter with relevant hashtags.
It’s not a growth hack, but I think makers should rely less on Product Hunt as a growth strategy. It encourages you to obsess over your launch since you don’t want to mess up your “one opportunity”. It’s also very unpredictable, so you end up putting it off for ages when really you should be getting feedback and iterating fast.
The most successful makers on Product Hunt seem to be those that release every new “feature” as a new product, but I find the platform isn’t structured to encourage this.
What’s the grand vision for wellpaid?
For companies to hire great contractors without relying on recruiters.
I also want to enable the business to run itself so that I’m able to spend time exploring projects related to the environment.
What was your lowest point in building wellpaid so far, and how did you get out?
In the early days, when I first introduced the money-back guarantee, it became pretty depressing every time a customer would pay for a job listing, only to have to refund them because you weren’t able to fill the position.
I realised that either my audience wasn’t big enough, or the jobs being posted weren’t resonating with my audience.
Growth was happening quite naturally via Google Jobs and Twitter, so I took off the gas from sales for a few months to allow the audience to grow.
I also added a bunch of analytics and found that either remote positions (with no timezone restriction) or outside IR35 positions were the most likely to be filled.
Now I focus my outbound sales on positions that match these criteria, and many are filled in a matter of days. This isn’t always the case, especially with inbound sales, but I learn more with each one that succeeds or fails. The number of positions being filled is probably the most important metric to me right now, because it captures whether I’m providing value to the customer.
What else have you built before wellpaid, and what were the biggest lessons from those experiences?
I’ve built a lot of products, both for myself or my clients, but the most significant is probably my old e-commerce business selling vinyl records to millennials called Quickfire. We had a bunch of cool features like Spotify integration and a Discover Weekly feature.
The biggest lesson for me was trying to build a lifestyle business in a commodity industry with extremely tight margins, and not factoring that into the business model. We struggled for ages because it was impossible to compete with the likes of Amazon on price since they often sold records at a loss. In hindsight, we probably should have also sold the records at cost, focussing on value-add features to build a robust subscription-based business model.
What are the most common mistakes you see Indie Hackers make early on?
The most common mistakes I see are taking way too long to launch, being afraid to charge for your product and thinking “one more feature” will suddenly bring in sales. Often your product is already good enough, so you just gotta roll up your gloves and hustle. This can be very uncomfortable for indie makers because developing features is more comfortable than speaking to people. I’m also responsible for doing this.
How do you stay focused and avoid distractions?
House music, do not disturb and setting one clear objective at a time. I’m also a bit of a productivity nut, so have a fairly advanced setup with Mindmeister and MeisterTask.
How do you plan on transitioning to full time Indie Hacking?
Luckily I’m able to support myself on part time contracts, so I’ll be able to dedicate a full day or two to wellpaid each week. I’ll keep doing this until I’m able to substitute my income with revenue from wellpaid, and then start to wind down my client days. I’m pretty confident in this approach, and prefer it to going “all-in”. I tried that before and it failed because I ran out of savings before I was able to draw enough salary.
Favourite indie product?
offset.earth to offset my carbon footprint.
Favourite apps on your home-screen?
Ignoring common apps or ones I don’t use:
The Maker Mind Newsletter from Anne-Laure Le Cunff
This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
Favourite Twitter follows?
- The Tim Ferriss Show
- How I Built This
- Indie Hackers
- Where Should We Begin by Esther Perel
- Above & Beyond - Group Therapy