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Nick Evans and Dylan Hunt are the co-founders of Hired Ottawa

Christian Mackie

Dylan Hunt and Nick Evans know they're lucky.

The Ottawa residents, both 24, landed steady jobs at e-commerce golden goose, Shopify, straight out of university. Mr. Hunt works in customer support and sales, while Mr. Evans, who moved to Ottawa from Temagami for school, is a data analyst.

Three years after graduation, a number of their friends still struggle to find that crucial career steppingstone. It's a conversation the co-workers had numerous times over their Friday night video game ritual.

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"We were really talking about how there's nowhere to go to get a full list of jobs available as opposed to just niche-oriented jobs that companies are paying to promote. There's no easy-to-find database," Mr. Hunt says.

Within six months, the pair had pulled together a significant amount of behavioural data involving the ways job seekers interact with job posting boards online. They tapped into local job fairs, companies looking to hire, and spoke to numerous unemployed individuals to see if they could find a place where all the elements intersected.

From the job fairs and companies they received enthusiastic participation. Anything that could help proliferate job listings and improve participation would only serve to their benefit.

Not surprisingly, the real value came from job seekers, who almost universally described frustration with traditional database search methods.

"They said they find when jobs are posted, there's a huge rush of people applying for it. When you see a job you want has been applied to more than 200 times, it's discouraging. People wanted a way to be first at it," Mr. Hunt explains.

Another complaint was lack of job variety. Using the information they'd compiled, the newly minted business partners logged in hundreds of after-work hours to build Hired Ottawa, their own stab at a disruptive job search engine.

Mr. Evans customized existing technology to constantly trawl the web for new Ottawa-area positions. Within seconds of a listing going up, Hired Ottawa uploads the post to their site. To ensure they're not stepping on the company's toes, the link redirects users to the original posting on the company page. Job seekers receive an e-mail roundup each morning in case they missed something in their search.

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The main differentiator is their business model. While juggernaut boards like Workopolis charge companies up to $600 per month to post, Hired Ottawa doesn't charge companies a dime.

"The job search system hasn't changed very much in the last 10 years and companies are being forced to pay to reach people unless their own career pages are popular enough to be checked daily," says Mr. Hunt.

"This paradigm shift is what has gotten us interest from Invest Ottawa and a ton of startups as they no longer have to pay to reach a massive talent pool. We want to show that it shouldn't cost money to find talent, and that there are better ways of reaching a massive audience than paying existing sites close to a thousand dollars to reach people."

But Hired Ottawa is still a for-profit venture, a reality that forced Mr. Hunt to find alternative means to make a buck. He zoned in on the frustration applicants experienced when hundreds of others were vying for the same job and decided to create a premium model that would allow paying customers to take first crack at a new listing.

For $8 per month, premium members are able to customize and save their search preferences and receive new listings in their daily e-mail roundup a full seven days before non-paying members.

Because their paid conversion rate sits at approximately 5 per cent, Mr. Hunt feels Hired Ottawa still offers paid members a competitive advantage, as their pool will remain small and contained.

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"Even if we had 100,000 users and 5,000 on the premium service, the percentage of people looking for a specific job and applying for a specific posting would be low enough that it wouldn't flood the market. You'd still be able to stand out and get your posting in first," Mr. Hunt says.

"There are up to 150 jobs posted every day in Ottawa alone, so the odds of having a huge amount of head-butting in the first day is low."

Less than three months after they launched in January and without a penny spent on advertising, Hired Ottawa clocked in 2,000 members and became a profitable venture. Their surprisingly quick success propelled them to bring their model to Toronto, where they launched a local iteration last Monday under the name CareerFeed, a name they plan to use as they open boards across Canada.

Naturally, duking it out in the big city will provide different challenges for the two novice entrepreneurs. But after floating their idea past notoriously straight-shooting Reddit users during the company's incubation period, they learned not to take too much criticism to heart.

"We got a lot of negative comments from [Reddit users] because they said we'd never make money doing it and job seekers didn't have money to pay for a premium service," Mr. Hunt recalls. "We almost reconsidered doing it at all. But we've been able to prove people are more than willing to sign up and even pay."

Sounds like they're ready to jump from the canal to the lake.

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