Gravitywell Meets: ISL Talent

In this series, Hugo chats with some of the tech world’s most exciting startups and services. Next up is Freya Pearce, Head of Engagement at ISL Talent, an award-winning talent consultancy that partners with ambitious startups and scaleups.

Hey Freya, pleasure to meet you! So, why should a startup founder take notice of ISL Talent?

The hiring challenges that a startup faces at every stage of its evolution are exactly what ISL Talent is designed to fix.

Early-stage founders generally come to ISL for answers when they're first building their team (and not just the usual "CV-hunting" bit). That might be: who you hire next, how you attract/assess/pay them etc., as well as long-term talent mapping.

For a startup that is scaling, ISL is a trusted partner that delivers great talent across the board: tech, sales, product, marketing, C-suite, you name it. And in the last 12 months, we have filled every single one of our partner’s vacancies — I challenge you to find another recruiter who can say the same!

Impressive... What has been the biggest milestone in ISL's journey so far?

We brought out our Partnership Products for startups alongside our rebrand to ISL Talent last year. We still offer the old-school % fee contingency model, but it’s dying out. May this year marked our first month of 100% revenue generated from Partnership clients.

Love the innovation. In your opinion, what does a great workplace culture look like?

This is a big question. There’s so much I could talk about.

For me, it’s about psychological safety. It’s about having an environment that allows everyone to feel empowered to contribute (and not just by speaking up in a meeting in a board room!) and their opinions valued. There’s some interesting research that shows that the diversity of a team alone doesn’t necessarily lead to “breakthrough” productivity, but when you add in psychological safety, the correlation skyrockets.

People thrive in different ways, and a truly “great” workplace culture will embrace that. I hear all the time people say “Can you find us another [insert name here]”, but I challenge that way of thinking. Rather than choosing people who think the same, bring people who can give a different angle to the table.

Oh, and trust is super important. When people feel trusted, they feel empowered, their well-being goes up and so does their productivity.

This is such an important topic for me so if anyone reading this wants to ask me more, please message me!

I'm entrusted with Gravitywell's Twitter account and probably feel too empowered. Dangerously so. Okay, what are some of the plans and products you offer your clients?

Each proposal is bespoke, but they all fall under one of our two Partnership Products:

1) Build_up

a. This is a subscription-based model: a fixed monthly fee based on your forecasted hires. It has the potential to save you a lot of money and is usually most relevant for startups forecasting 5-10+ new heads a quarter.

2) Base_down

a. This is for one-off roles or smaller-scale recruitment projects. We’ll work out a fixed fee broken down into Launch fee (paid upfront) and Success fee (which could also be staggered if cash flow is an issue). The more roles forecasted/the more committed upfront, the more savings to be had overall.

Nice. Can ISL Talent help any tech company, regardless of industry?

Yes! You hear of recruiters that have niche specialisms (I used to only focus on the .Net stack) but I am a believer that while it sounds good, it doesn’t give much of an advantage to the client.

When you consider location, budget, industry, skills level, attitude, company size, seniority, responsibilities, ambitions, interests, start date, package, benefits, onsite/hybrid/remote etc., it’s totally unrealistic to expect that talent you represent to one company can easily slot into the next one.

This means that most campaigns nowadays are headhunts, and not just a matter of dipping into a vast pool of eager awaiting candidates. And if you nail that, along with the power of persuasion, then you can pretty much recruit for anything.

That’s partly why our startups love us – as much as we can help with their Marketing, we can also find them great Developers. We’ve even placed a Legal Counsel for one of them!

The whole shebang! Now, what's the difference between a talent partner and a standard recruiter?

We don’t operate like a typical agency recruiter – we think that model is broken, and incentivises the wrong things. No, we work as a Talent Partner (you’ll see me use that word a lot!). We have fixed fees (not a % of salary) broken down into manageable instalments, with commitment upfront.

What it means is that we act as an extension of our startup partners. We can design them a careers microsite, announce our partnership on LinkedIn, and leverage their branding throughout the process (no anonymous recruiter messages!). The data shows we get >4x more engagement with candidates and fill roles 30% quicker. It also means that we are in it for the long run and won’t just tell you what you want to hear, and then ghost you as soon as it gets challenging.

Here's to no ghosting. How damaging can a bad hire be for a startup or scaleup?

Well, Forbes pretty much named it as reason #2 for why most startups fail (lack of Product Market Fit being #1). So it’s pretty damn damaging.

Early on, a bad hire has a proportionately higher exposure to the rest of the team compared to a large company. This can obviously have a huge effect on how quickly you achieve PMF and launch, but can also influence other talent in the team to leave (which you really don’t want).

You probably already know that many startups don't think through their people strategy early enough. And by the time they’ve built a core team of even 5 or 6, it’s really hard to go back and undo what has been done.

It takes deliberate planning to be an exception to that. Usually, founders don’t know what they don’t know, which is why they should ask us!

Silky smooth segue right there, Freya. I'm sold. Speaking of companies, what’s the best thing about working at ISL Talent?

You know how I was talking about psychological safety and trust? I have buckets of that here. Everyone has a voice, super flexible working, Friday afternoons off, and I am in control of my work in a “high-challenge, high-support” environment.

Plus I get to meet loads of cool people achieving amazing things every day.

Finally, what’s the best-kept secret in Bristol?

Smoke and Mirrors comedy night every Monday for £3.50. It’s tucked away behind the Hippodrome, run by one of my best friends 😉



A huge thank you to Freya for being interviewed.

You can find ISL Talent on their websiteLinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Alternatively, get in touch with them directly via email.

Written by Hugo Walker (Head of Marketing & Digital Content). Read more in Latest by Hugo or check our their socials , Instagram