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A cheeky approach to business growth

Date
Mike Larsen has used a number of guerrilla marketing tactics to spread the word about his website.

Mike Larsen has used a number of guerrilla marketing tactics to spread the word about his website.

It takes a lot of guts to advertise your services on your competitor's website. But that's exactly what Mike Larsen did last week when he placed an ad for "Australia's worst employee" on jobs site seek.com.au.

Larsen is the CEO of Insidetrak.com.au, a jobs site he launched in September that features reviews of employers from past and current employees. His ad for "Australia's worst employee" also featured a link to a cheeky YouTube video featuring fictional character Derek Wadsworth, reminiscent of the slimy manager David Brent in TV series The Office.

Instead of enlisting the likes of comedian Ricky Gervais, it's actually Larsen who flexes his acting muscles to star in the video. (And he does a pretty good job.)

It's just one of the guerrilla marketing tactics that Larsen has used to spread the word about Insidetrak.com.au. The site operates in a similar way to restaurant review sites or travel review portals such as Tripadvisor.com.

Reviewers can comment and rate everything from workplace culture to remuneration and opportunities for advancement. Similar sites include Glassdoor.com.

The inside scoop on employers

"The biggest issue people have when looking for a job is to find out what it's really like to work there," says Larsen. "Insidetrak.com.au is a social media site and it's intended to emulate the opinion you would get from someone in a social setting."

This a big gamble for Larsen, 42 , who has recently held senior positions in the corporate world - including over the past five years as director of national sales of Monster.com in the US. Prior to that, Larsen was chief executive of a recruitment firm in Sydney.

"I had been thinking about a way to provide a more open ecosystem, one that was a more information-rich experience for candidates," says Larsen. "Then I went to a conference and listened to a social media expert talking about what he saw in the future of recruitment. It validated a lot of what I'd been thinking about. So I realised I had to stop thinking about it – and get on to doing it!"

From corporate to start-up

"The biggest issue people have when looking for a job is to find out what it's really like to work there," says Larsen. 

He took the plunge into the uncertainty of start-up life when he quit his role at Monster.com this August.

Larsen, alongside two "angel" investors, collectively invested $500,000 to kickstart the business. He currently owns 80 per cent and plans to undertake another round of capital-raising in 2013.

The development and building of the site has cost more than "six figures", according to Larsen, who adds that while marketing is important, he has steered away from big-budget marketing campaigns. "We've focused more on viral and guerrilla marketing tactics."

Punking your competitors

It's one of these tactics that resulted in Seek pulling down the ad for "Australia's worst employee", which led people to InsideTrak. Seek also cancelled Larsen's account. "It's a bit cheeky and I assume that Seek have got a pretty good sense of humour about these things," says Larsen. "They don't have much to fear from us right now."

The reality is that Larsen does hope to capture some of Seek's market share. Although Insidetrak.com.au is currently primarily a review site, it plans to charge companies to feature jobs at the top of search results in a pay-per-click model similar to Google AdWords. Companies can also create a public page on the site, a feature that's free until the end of March, but will attract a monthly fee thereafter.

Big plans, big goals

"The online recruitment advertising sector in Australia and New Zealand is about a $350 million annual market, with Seek having a 70 per cent market share, according to their annual report. I believe that InsideTrak has the potential to reach a market share of 10 per cent within five years," says Larsen.

It's a bold goal for a start-up that wants to take on strong, incumbent competitors. And transitioning from the life of a corporate executive to being a start-up founder has had its challenges. For one thing, the hours are longer.

"In my corporate job, I would have worked about 50 to 55 hours a week. Now it's more like 70 to 75 hours," says Larsen, who has a wife and two small children.

Challenges and obstacles

There are also cultural adjustments. At Monster.com, there were 5500 staff. His new venture has six. "I've gone from a very strategic role to one that's very, very tactical," he says. "It's literally the difference between 30,000 feet and three feet, and I'm changing gears like that several times a day. It can be a challenge to focus on the bigger picture when you're busy solving the day-to-day issues of the website. You also need to spread the word about the business; I think that's the biggest challenge."

However, Larsen has tackled this challenge head-on. His video as Derek Wadsworth has reached close to 10,000 views at the time of publishing. The character Derek even has his own Twitter account and describes himself as "Australia's worst boss".

"We're certainly planning to promote Derek Wadsworth more," he says. It's a marketing stunt that could pay off and see InsideTrak challenge the status quo of the online recruitment industry in Australia.

If it doesn't work, all is not lost. I'm thinking that Larsen may have actually stumbled upon a promising alternative career. Judge for yourself here:

twitter Follow Valerie Khoo on Twitter  @valeriekhoo

10 comments so far

  • Clever stunt, wish I'd thought of it!

    Commenter
    Sean
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    November 30, 2012, 10:51AM
    • Good luck to Insidetrak
      Feeling the same pain of day to day work vs strategy and business orientation.

      I'm definitely on-board with the video stunt. Looking at what shaveclub.com managed to do, there is huge potential to create persona, just need to put y head in in front of the camera (even my facial appearance better fit radio...)

      Commenter
      Freddy
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 11:15AM
      • Brilliant idea. I love this concept, having first hand accounts from employees on what its like to work at a company will not only give a helping hand to job hunters but also push employers to make sure they are treating their staff like the extremely valuable assets they are.

        Commenter
        Kris T
        Date and time
        November 30, 2012, 12:19PM
        • Brilliant idea to go some ways to redressing the power imbalance between employees and employers. It means being shiny in the interview is no longer enough for either party. For well-ranked employers, it should also help them reduce their recruitment spend by being able to bypass agencies and their extortionate fees.

          Commenter
          M Huntington-Smythe
          Date and time
          November 30, 2012, 12:46PM
          • Finding a job that sounds great and then actually experiencing it for the first month are totally different!

            Commenter
            chris
            Location
            syd
            Date and time
            November 30, 2012, 2:08PM
            • I love guerilla marketing stories! This is inspirational. Create awesome content so people actually want to know more about you. I'm impressed.

              Commenter
              Amy
              Location
              Sydney
              Date and time
              December 01, 2012, 12:48AM
              • This is a great example of a challenger brand! Great approach!

                Commenter
                gus
                Date and time
                December 01, 2012, 11:48AM
                • Very interesting guerrilla markerting tactics he's adopted. He adds a new approach to the connection between employee and employer. Curious to see what the future holds for this new venture.

                  Commenter
                  Gelo
                  Date and time
                  December 02, 2012, 6:43PM
                  • Fascinating read, very ballsy to advertise on a competitors website!

                    Commenter
                    Jonny
                    Location
                    London, UK
                    Date and time
                    December 03, 2012, 4:04AM
                    • sounds almost familiar.. loves these "trendy" nonsense words (strategic incrementalism) that are so often used in the corporate world, especially on your first days ...

                      Commenter
                      Chrissy
                      Date and time
                      December 03, 2012, 11:40AM

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