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case study

Efron, Sarah

The challenge When James Clift and his team at WorkStory Inc. bought the online résumé and portfolio platform VisualCV, it had over 200,000 members. Having those members already in place sounded like a dream come true for the young startup, but with only 1,000 active users the numbers were misleading and showed the sheen had clearly come off this aging software.

"We knew there was an opportunity to help people better market themselves online, and we wanted to solve that problem," explains Mr. Clift.

VisualCV needed an overhaul, that was clear, but Mr. Clift and his co-founders had to find a way to update the software while keeping the current users happy.

The background Mr. Clift, a bachelor of commerce graduate from UBC's Sauder School of Business, and computer engineer Thomas Zhou, founded WorkStory Inc. in May 2014. VisualCV was bought immediately to serve as the company's flagship product – a tool that helps people create, track, and manage an effective résumé and portfolio.

"We had this vision for an entire suite of tools and services that would help professionals discover and pursue their dream careers – but to get there we decided first to focus on a pain point every job seeker faces – how to create a résumé that will get them the interview," says Mr. Clift.

For him, traditional résumés often don't show off a person's true identity, as they can look rigid and uninteresting. "Everyone's career is so fluid now. You have your long-term career, the hobbies you have on the weekend or a side business, and you need a place to showcase those efforts."

VisualCV allows users to select a series of different visual layouts, have multiple résumés for different professional interests and upload PowerPoint, video and other visuals onto a web-based résumé.

"However, with an existing website came a lot of baggage," says Mr. Clift. "The user base was not growing, the technology was outdated, and it was not generating any revenue."

But up to 1,000 people were still using the site and seemed happy enough with the existing tool – and so began the balancing act of satisfying the existing customers and attracting the new ones.

"The most important action we took was to talk to our existing users," says Mr. Clift. His team sent out emails to thousands of users asking questions along the lines of: Why do you use VisualCV? What features do you love about VisualCV? What do you hate? What features would you pay for?

Once the data was collected, Mr. Clift says they gave themselves two months to rebuild VisualCV from scratch, keeping only the name and the domain.

The solution Six weeks later VisualCV had a soft launch–with mixed results.

"It was a pretty embarrassing product we first launched," says Mr. Clift with a laugh, "but that gave us valuable feedback from some disgruntled customers, which was just what we needed."

Over the next three months Mr. Clift and Mr. Zhou worked tirelessly to improve the look of the site. They focused their energies on the product itself, continuing to seek customer feedback, and decided not to put much into marketing the tool.

The official launch was in October 2014, and to Mr. Clift's surprise it went exceptionally well.

"We were featured on sites like Mashable, CNN Saudi Arabia, and Product Hunt," he says. "But better than the press – word of mouth started to kick in. New users really loved the product. Our organic traffic started to grow exponentially, along with direct referral traffic."

Results In June 2015 alone VisualCV had more than 30,000 new user signups – a 3,000 per cent increase in less than 11 months.

VisualCV now has over 550,000 members from dozens of countries, and a team of two full-time employees and three independent contractors, and has been profitable since January 2015.

"As a fully remote operation, it's also given the team the opportunity to travel while working on the business," adds Mr. Clift. He recently spent three months in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and co-founder Mr. Zhou is planning a trip to London this September.

Jeff Kroeker is a lecturer in the accounting division at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.

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