Start-up Lockdown

Johnny Perrotta, founder of IT and tech recruitment specialist, nufuture on starting a business in a pandemic.

March 2020 – the month where Coronavirus took hold in the U.K., the country entered the (first) national lockdown, and supermarkets began rationing toilet paper. It may seem a lifetime ago to some, but for others, it was the start of a lifetime.

Before coronavirus took hold in March, the start of 2020 saw the nufuture brand come to fruition. The brainchild of Johnny Perrotta, nufuture set out as an IT & tech recruitment agency with a difference: they care. Coming from an extensive recruitment background, Johnny founded nufuture with the aim of putting the human element back into recruitment.

A long-standing champion of mental health in recruitment and building meaningful relationships that last, Johnny started the business armed with 10 years of tech recruitment expertise, and passions for investing in innovation, people and the future.

“Originally, the business focus was, and largely remains, on cloud and data recruitment,” says Johnny. “I started the business with a hunger for putting people first, as I truly believe the individuals on the ground in an organisation are the ones who drive operations forward. It has to come from the top down, so I was motivated to start my own business where I could really make a difference and show that I do care.”

With ambitious growth plans from the outset, the pandemic may have stopped some infant businesses in their tracks but, for nufuture, the plans didn’t change – the way in which they materialised just started to look different. “The business was only six weeks old when the lockdown started,” says Johnny. “As many organisations saw, especially in recruitment, a lot of businesses put an immediate freeze on all hiring so overnight I went from having a great start to panicking a little!”

However, having a wealth of experience which has spanned recessions and difficult periods previously, Johnny was well-armed to continue the success that nufuture had experienced in its earliest days. Whilst some businesses struggled with a long adjustment period to lockdown in terms of infrastructure and operations, nufuture had the key advantage of being a start-up – which meant there was an inherent agility to tap into.

 

Working through

Speaking of lockdown, Johnny says: “Like most people, I certainly wasn’t expecting it! I left my previous role in December 2019, and worked through January 2020 to prepare for a February launch. We had a fantastic first month, building on relationships and putting all of our processes in place, before we were hit with lockdown restrictions.” Fortunately for nufuture, the costs of being such a young start-up were low, and Johnny bought a particularly agile nature from his previous roles in being able to navigate quick changes and obstacles.

“I did have some experience in navigating difficult situations, but a lockdown was definitely a different kind of challenge,’ he explains. “When starting the business, I’d already noticed that processes in the market were shifting pre-Covid, so I invested in a video interviewing platform. This enabled me to continue those important conversations I was having in February and March, and keep up the momentum with building key relationships.”

Speaking of his previous experience, Johnny placed particular importance on the interpersonal skills he had built throughout his career, which helped him to navigate nufuture’s operations through the initial lockdown and beyond. “It’s well documented that the first year in businesses is always hard, and with the outlook of a global pandemic, I knew that it was those interpersonal skills that would be vital to the business’ operations. I had to draw on my experience, and all the things that I think make a great recruiter: empathy, commitment, resilience, drive, and passion.”

 

Learning experience

Looking back on nufuture’s first year in business, Johnny recognises that 2020 was ‘probably the most important period’ of both his personal life and professional career. “The last year has not only taught me how to be a better person, but also a better recruiter. It was important for me to build on those key skills we need when working with people – after all, people are at the very centre of recruitment, so as business leaders in this industry we should always be looking for ways to support individuals in better ways, through difficult periods and beyond.”

Business leaders across the globe learnt many valuable lessons throughout 2020, but for Johnny, the most important was: ‘embrace the uncertainty – it leads to growth’. Supporting candidates was key for nufuture, but also learning how to support other businesses was vital to the business.

Across the recruitment sector, we saw a number of headcount freezes, budget constraints and businesses showing reluctance to hire without physically meeting candidates. To help clients combat these challenges, nufuture took a consultative approach. “I have always been a huge believer in the value that this type of approach can bring,” says Johnny. “I’ve never been interested in short-term solutions – I aim to build long-lasting relationships, so it was even more important for me over the past year to support clients by listening to their concerns, problems and fears, and share the responsibility in helping them to overcome challenges.”

Whilst these conversations were indeed important, nufuture’s support for clients went further than words. To help overcome the concerns which hiring managers had around placing candidates in their businesses without face-to-face meetings, nufuture extended their offering across their video platform, to include personality testing which reduced the risk of what Johnny coins the ‘unknown factor’.

“Key decisions makers were undoubtedly worried about placing people without first meeting them, so our video platform and interview testing allowed them to get the best insights into the candidate that was possible at the time,” he says. “We were committed to helping clients spread the risk, so we also offered extended rebate periods and options to split invoices.”

Like many businesses, nufuture found unexpected opportunities which came with the new ways of working which lockdown bought. “Collaboration was key for us,” says Johnny. “With a connection I met via LinkedIn, we offered a free six week mindfulness course, to help people who had been made redundant manage their uncertainty, stress and anxiety. We aimed to provide practical advice in navigating these circumstances, which people could easily use.”

Between workshops and video interviews, Johnny found an entirely new expansion opportunity for nufuture: “The new ways of working brought on by lockdown drove me to look at how we can do things differently, particularly when helping companies to deliver full-scale projects. As a result, we’re expanding our offering to include ‘nufuture Consulting’, which will be launched in March, and aims to support companies with delivering specific pieces of project work, saving them time and money, whilst sourcing experienced IT professionals who get the job done, and do it well.”

Looking forward to the next 12 months, Johnny considers how far the business has come in its first year. “Whilst I could have potentially timed the start of the business better, it taught me to focus on what I could actually control: my outputs, my attitude, and the business’ growth plans.”

2021 promises to be an exciting year for the nufuture brand. With new services and relationships emerging, Johnny is confident in the lessons he has learnt to help the organisation’s growth: “Ultimately, I want to invest, grow and win new business. To get there, I’ll be constantly looking at ways to improve my service and make things easier for my clients, whilst keeping that human element of recruitment front and centre.

“Getting things done is better than getting this perfect,” says Johnny of his approach, “perfection is unattainable a lot of the time. Instead, steer your focus on managing your own expectations, don’t procrastinate, and ultimately: if you aren’t evolving you’ll be left behind.”

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