Kaarel Holm: “The most significant emotional victory is to see someone use the thing you've created”

Kaarel Holm is the CEO and co-founder of MeetFrank. MeetFrank is a secret recruitment app for top talent that helps you find out who wants to hire you and what they are willing to offer. Also, MeetFrank helps you to find job offers from top companies based on your skills, experience and expectations. MeetFrank was founded in 2017. Last December, MeetFrank raised €1.5M to tear down borders for global talent.
This interview was conducted by Rene Rumberg, a member of the sTARTUp Day Marketing & PR team.

Explain to a child what MeetFrank does.

MeetFrank will help you find a new job. We build a product to help you advance in your career. It only doesn't help you find a job, but it allows you to be up to date with the job market. We want our offers to increase your confidence. You don't necessarily have to find a new job, but it's important to understand whether your current position is good or not for you. If we can do that, we will be happy. We are a talent-oriented solution, not the other way around.

I found my current job through MeetFrank. And although I am satisfied with the company and my role and have no plans to change the company, I still have MeetFrank on my phone because I want to be informed about what's going on in the job market.

Yes, I agree with you. The longer you stay in one place, the more you start thinking about whether the company benefits and conditions are reasonable compared to others and what else is out there. You look around, are aware, and understand that the place where you are is perfect. We do not want people necessarily to change workplaces.

Another important thing is that "People do things when the opportunity arises," but if you don't have the information about your profession available to you, then "opportunity never comes", it just passes by you. As you said, you found a job at Ridango thanks to MeetFrank, but the chances are that if there is something very interesting out there that matches your values, then you will apply, even if you're happy at Ridango.

We have interesting data about applying for a job, it is very different from the traditional job portals. Our average user applies once or twice a year for a job. That is a tiny number, which shows that you'll only apply for a job if you have a genuine interest and the offer is attractive. There are also 10% of the user base who are active job seekers and apply for a job five times a day because you'll also apply more actively if you need a job.

What are the questions to ask yourself to find out what you want to do in life?

It isn't easy to jump out of the routine and analyze yourself as a third person. To me, it seems that Mondays are good indicators of how satisfied you are with your career. If the beginning of a new work week comes hard, reluctantly, and you describe it as a "blue Monday", then this is not something to be accepted.

What are the personality traits that help a person to become successful?

Analytical ability. It's the most important thing, followed by diligence, routine tolerance, and determination. But the ability to analyze is the most important thing. It's okay for people to make mistakes or fail. We fail very often by trying out new and different things. What matters is how we act or learn after we've done that. Can we analyze them enough or adjust our course? In general, we have seen that the people who don't succeed are the ones who do not admit their mistakes, and therefore they cannot learn anything from their mistakes to be stronger next time or do better.

I agree. If a person makes a mistake once, learns from his/her mistake, and moves forward a bit smarter, it is okay. But if the same error is repeated twice or more times, then it isn't good...

Creating a startup is a "trial and error" process. We try hundreds of things, but maybe 10% out of a hundred works the way we want it to work. I haven't seen anything in my life that would work straight out of the box, and even if it does, it won't work to its full potential. When we talk about product development, sales, and operating a company, you can move on very well if you can analyze and be self-critical. But if you isolate yourself, then it's game over.

What do you think about mentors? Should everyone have one? Do you have any?

I have had different mentors. They are the people with who I talk from time to time. Lately, our mentors have been our investors, but they also play a mentor's role to some extent. I think it's crucial that you can bounce your ideas with someone. It helps you create a little clarity and gives you a clearer picture and a different perspective, helping to structure your thoughts better. It is especially useful if that person has gone through a similar process and can bring out their experience to you. I recommend mentors to everyone. We try to do it inside the company or find mentors for people at different levels. If you are a first-time founder, then mentors are a "must-have".

These mentors were first-time founders themselves once and made mistakes. So it is much easier to learn from these mistakes than to repeat the ones they've already made.


What have been the biggest victories along your journey?

The biggest victories are related to MeetFrank's ecosystem, starting with the first positive feedback from the user who wrote to us that he found a job through MeetFrank. You can define raising money and growing the company's size as the biggest victories, but emotionally for me, the biggest win was when I saw a random person using our product in a cafe when I stood next to them. It has been the most significant emotional victory, you seeing how someone uses the thing you've created.

Otherwise, when we talk about MeetFrank as a company, our team and the team structure we have today are the biggest victories – our people, our culture, and the world of thought in the company. It hasn't come as easily as we initially hoped, but today the dynamics and pace at which we are moving are excellent.

Meet Frank, the office dog, and the co-founders
Anton Narusberg, Kaarel Holm and Marko Virkebau.

What motivated you the most at the beginning of your journey when you just started with MeetFrank?

Based on my personal experience, I believed that there are still people out there who are not 100% satisfied with their careers, but at the same time, it isn't also as bad as it might feel, so they wouldn't dare to take risks or do something to change that.
It was an internal flame and the belief that there are many similar people out there.
MeetFrank is an interesting project in a sense – if you're building and developing a product, then you should never build it for yourself. However, MeetFrank is an exception because we built the product precisely for ourselves. Having been employees in a company only three months ago, we asked ourselves what kind of product we would like to use. So we built this product for ourselves, according to our vision, and just hoped that we're doing something that other people would also believe in, and there would be enough people who share the same worldview.

What is your biggest fear as an entrepreneur? How do you cope with it?

In today's situation, we are afraid of cluelessness. Talking about COVID-19, there are certain processes that we cannot control. It will mess up all your plans. For a moment, we saw a very sharp decline in the market. Today we see it again to some extent.
We are afraid of things we cannot control ourselves. Everything else is surpassable.
However, such situations are the most difficult. What we are doing is that we are much more conservative today than we used to be. We make sure that we have enough buffer to survive such times and that the efficiency of our business operations is something other than it used to be. It creates confidence that even if something changes very radically, we have enough time to adjust. We have some business operation processes that are forward-looking and create security in the long run.

It's a great example of how a difficult period and uncertainty can help make a company more efficient.

Yes. The worst thing is uncertainty. When your people or team develop a sense of cluelessness, fear, or hesitation about the future, efficiency and the whole vibe become relatively bad. During this and the previous crisis, our main focus was that we can say very clearly, no matter what is going on around us, even if the whole economy stagnates, you will have a job for the next 12 months. This confidence helps people make the right decisions and not look at the short-term picture. In the long run, those who don't try to survive in today's situation, but will be able to prepare for the moment when the market starts to recover again, will be the real winners.

Tell me something you are learning right now.

As a leader, I am learning how to lead and communicate with people. This is the main place to study and see how to be better. With this crisis, I've developed a bit of humbleness. Leading a team and people is a big challenge.

Yes, managing people and an organization is actually a completely separate profession and art that can be studied at university.

(jokingly) Yes, if we had known ten years ago that I would need such a thing today, I would have learned something completely different at university.

What tabs/apps do you have open right now?

Things related to MeetFrank, of course. MeetFrank itself, then various tools for statistics, Mixpanel and Google Analytics. I spend most of my time on Gmail and Slack. Confluence. Figma. News portals. These are the basic things. Numbers and communication.

What will MeetFrank do in five years?

Hopefully, we are doing pretty much the same thing as today, but on a much larger scale. All over Europe, all around the world. Our vision also involves moving a little deeper into this chain. If we look at our five-year plan, we see a lot of services there. In five years' time, we will also see ourselves hiring people and shuffling them around while they are on MeetFrank's payroll, and changing jobs is just a click away.

Sounds very exciting.

In fact, before the crisis, we started a relocation work marketing campaign, which has now become a remote work campaign. With remote work, we see that the legal side isn't keeping up with the pace. Let's say you work in Estonia but would like to work remotely for a Berlin company. It is very difficult for them to pay a person living in Estonia because the cost is very high + you will have problems if you don't get paid from a local company. For example, if you are in Berlin and you don't receive a salary from a local company, then your credit rating is zero, meaning you cannot rent an apartment. So there are challenges to solve.

What makes you excited about the future?

Today, I expect our lives to return to a normal rhythm. But aside from that, technological advancement is what excites me. If we look at this curve of the last 20 years, how technology has changed our lives, then in theory we should have an exponential curve up, and this invasion of technology into our daily lives and business processes should still accelerate. One of them is green energy, but the other is all kinds of solutions in the field of transport and communications. Yesterday (November 9), for example, was the first Hyperloop test with people on board. Our entire transport system, flying, etc., has been a huge innovation, but after 10–15 years, moving around in the world could be many times easier and faster. This is very exciting. We will no longer be as stationary as we are today.

If today it is normal to go to work from Paide to Tallinn, then in the future it is completely normal to go to work in Stockholm from Tallinn, because Hyperloop will take you there in a few minutes.

Exactly! Even the Tallinn-Helsinki tunnel, so you can go to Helsinki. I'm looking forward to the moment when traveling is no longer such an undertaking. You just think: "I'm going to go to Berlin and come back!". It gives so much freedom. In 10–20 years, we could be there. What I fear at the same time is an invasion of virtual reality and what it can do to our society. If we have a lot of different parallel worlds that you can control yourself and drown in. It's a little scary. Especially, if you've watched Netflix and Black Mirror. We are not that far at all. It's a very simple nearby temptation.

Kaarel is one of the speakers at sTARTUp Day 2021. He will conquer the stage on January 27, which is all about Leading Innovation.

Hero of the Week is a column focused on inspirational entrepreneurial people around us – their journeys, success stories and lessons learned from failures, goals, inspiration and everything in between. Get inspired and be the Hero of your own life!
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