Lee Biggins: Get your hands dirty and hire stars

Building the right team was crucial to turning online jobseekers database CV-Library into a success.


Lee Biggins hires only rock stars

Most technology entrepreneurs have some form of specialist knowledge, whether it's technical skills or industry knowledge. However, the case of Lee Biggins (now 36) proves that simply having a clever idea and dedication can be enough.

From the age of 13, Biggins helped out with his father's carpet-fitting business, first in the showroom and then later working as a fitter. Biggins emphasises that his dad believed in "customer service and a strong work ethic we didn't even have the radio on while we were doing jobs".

However, the break-up of his parents and the death of a brother put a strain on his relationship with his father. By his early 20s Biggins was looking for a new challenge. His then-girlfriend's father suggested they move to the Caribbean.

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While this plan eventually fell through, the experience of compiling a CV and dealing with recruiters led Biggins to come up with the idea for an online recruitment agency.

Inspired by the experience of such entrepreneurs as Martha Lane Fox, he decided to buy his first computer from Currys and also purchased a copy of The Internet Start-Up Bible. He also took computer literacy courses at his local technology college.

After asking around in the local pub for someone who was skilled in creating websites, he was introduced to Brian Wakem. Together they co-founded CV-Library in 2000, using a £9,000 loan from NatWest.

To get some experience and pay the bills while the website was being developed, Biggins joined a traditional recruitment agency, quickly assuming a senior role. With CV-Library still having problems getting off the ground, Biggins and his partner considered winding it up.

But in 2002 they got an enquiry from a firm wanting to buy their database. While the deal didn't result in any money, it "gave us enough motivation to carry on".

Shortly afterwards they got their first major paying customer when a film-production company ordered 12

CVs for a documentary on whether blondes or brunettes are better at getting jobs. While the order only amounted to £100, it was the start of a flood of orders. Within a year, CV-Library would have its own dedicated officeand several full-time employees.By 2007, it was employing 25 staff.

The recession that followed cut a swathe through the recruitment industry, with agencies closing nearly every week. However, CV-Library fared better and the business grew by 28%.

Biggins attributes this success to the company's insistence that clients pay up front, thereby avoiding bad debts.He also refused to cut the amount of money spent on customer service unlike his competitors, who took an axe to "the cheapest and most important part oftheir operations".

At the moment, CV-Library employs 90 people. However, Biggins has turned down offers for his company, instead choosing to buy out his partner. With a projected turnover for this year in excess of £11.5m, Biggins is focusing on global expansion.

He believes that entrepreneurs should "stay focused" and not be afraid to "get their hands dirty". He places tremendous emphasis on getting the right people, priding himself on "only hiring rock stars".

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri