Changing careers: Lauren Friese on entrepreneurialism and taking risks … prudently.
Lauren Friese, Artsci'05, started TalentEgg to help young Canadians take the first step on their career paths. Now, after the sale of her company, she looks back at how it all started, talks about being a risk-averse entrepreneur, and explores what's next for her.
Lauren Friese, Artsci’05, built a highly successful digital business, TalentEgg, to solve a problem that she and many of her millennial peers faced with trepidation when graduating from university into the world of work. As Friese was finishing the final year of her economics degree at Queen’s, she wasn’t sure what to do next, had minimal work experience and didn’t know how to go about finding a meaningful job to launch a career.
“Looking out at the wild west of work, I found the idea of entering the workforce daunting and very scary. I had a lot of education but not a lot of work experience,” says Friese, who compares the transition from one world to the next to the leap from five-pin to 10-pin bowling.
“School is like five-pin bowling for kids. You know the education system and there are bumpers on the side to protect you from failing. Entering the workplace is like moving up to 10-pin bowling, without any bumpers in the alley. There are many more opportunities to succeed, but there is also a real chance you can fail and fall in the gutter,” she says.
As a new grad, Friese couldn’t find effective tools and resources in Canada to link her to prospective employers and help navigate a career path. She opted for the safer route of studying for a master’s in economic history at the London School of Economics. “I wanted to play five-pin a little longer. It was a prestigious school,” she says.
Friese hadn’t planned to be an entrepreneur and sees herself as risk-averse. In the U.K., however, she discovered some career websites that allowed her to research job opportunities and browse free resources, while offering employers easy access to a pool of new and recent grads in one place. “I felt I could go somewhere, a virtual somewhere that understood my problem,” says Friese, who’d landed a job as a consultant in London and wondered why there wasn’t an online resource like this available in Canada to help students start their careers.
The idea for TalentEgg was born: a one-stop, online career resource and job board specifically for students and new grads in Canada, offering career-launching opportunities with leading industry employers.
Like an ambitious, hard-driving A+ student, Friese did heaps of homework in her spare time to test her promising business idea and minimize the risks of failing. “I had a lot of confidence in the business idea, and the market. But I didn’t study business and I had very little exposure to the work world. That forced me to do a deep dive into industry and I spent three months studying the market,” says Friese, who used Skype to cold-call prospective employer clients in Canada, gauge their interest, and learn whether and how much they would pay to use this innovative, online talent-recruiting resource.
I leaned on my network of friends from Queen’s when I was developing my business plan.
She also turned to her network of fellow grads from Queen’s for their expertise, support and counsel. These included a friend on the fast track in advertising, another doing hiring and recruiting in HR, and a third studying public relations at Humber. “I leaned on my network of friends from Queen’s when I was developing my business plan. They filled in a lot of my gaps in knowledge, which was extremely valuable,” she says.
Friese moved back to Canada and launched the TalentEgg.ca website in April 2008, with the slogan “hatching grad careers.” Employers and jobs posted on the site had to meet two key criteria: only highly reputable companies would be accepted as paying clients and the jobs had to be career-launching opportunities. “Employer brand is very important. The client doesn’t want its prestigious brand next to one that isn’t,” she explains.
Friese hustled to get 30 of the best employers on board for a free trial. The site was launched with considerable media attention. It generated traffic and earned enough credibility that about half the companies then signed paying contracts to help them attract, target and recruit students and recent grads. “We had 14 leading employers like KPMG, Procter & Gamble, Ontario Power Generation and BDO paying real money. Then, when we re-launched the website in September 2008, the entire economy collapsed and employers were calling for a hiring freeze,” she recalls.
TalentEgg adapted to the drastic shift in the job market by building up career resources on the site for students and grads, with tips, tools and inspiring stories, and in-depth employer profiles to enhance company brands. Friese was bold in her ambition, but had a natural aversion to risk and debt that helped the fledgling business survive and ultimately thrive. She started the company with just $5,000, the cost of her first website, and lived at home with her parents. “We had paying clients and I was always very cost-conscious. We raised money to finance the company’s growth by selling the product to clients rather than taking on debt or selling equity to investors. Being youthful and naïve also helped. You make audacious decisions with less thought,” she says.
In the evenings, the 24-year-old fledgling entrepreneur would sit on her parents’ couch and email profs on campuses across the country, asking them to steer students in their classes to the TalentEgg site to help drive traffic. “That was a huge hurdle. We had to deliver the audience to the employers, who were our paying clients. When the clouds lifted and the job market improved, the resources we had developed gave us a leg up in building our client base and credibility,” she says.
Friese’s hustle, tenacity and prudent entrepreneurial spirit paid off. TalentEgg has earned a profit every year since 2009. In 2010, she hired Steph Morgan, an experienced account executive, to help grow the business to another level, expanding its roster of clients and attracting over four million students and recent grads each year.
In July 2015, Friese sold TalentEgg to CharityVillage, the largest and most popular job board for Canada’s nonprofit sector. She orchestrated the sale of the company in the same prudent, analytical way she had created and built it. After receiving a significant offer, she tapped into her network of friends from Queen’s and hired a business broker -- Andrew Farncomb, Com’05, founder of Cairn Merchant Partners -- to help find the best and most suitable buyer.
The process took eight painstaking months, but Friese is leaving TalentEgg in good hands. She now has the financial freedom and time to navigate an open future with more excitement and less fear than when she graduated from Queen’s a decade earlier. “I had become less important to the company, which is a good thing for a founder, and the sale gives me an opportunity to reflect on what I want to do next. Ten years ago facing the unknown was 90% scary and 10% exciting. Now it’s 10% scary and 90% exciting,” she says.
Ten years ago facing the unknown was 90% scary and 10% exciting. Now it’s 10% scary and 90% exciting,
Friese has gained the confidence, self-knowledge and track record of success to embrace change and risk in pursuit of business opportunities with a social purpose. “It took me years to be comfortable calling myself an entrepreneur. I am an entrepreneur and I look forward to starting many businesses that are good, profitable businesses that also have a social impact. There’s always been a huge social element to what we do. TalentEgg’s business is driven by employers, but we all go home satisfied because of the impact we have on students,” she says.