Exiting City Recruitment

Hi and welcome to the site, Eric here,

chris-masonThis site is all about creating a balanced life to include work, family and social. Today I talk to Chris Mason from uber successful Digital Marketing recruitment agency Intelligent People. It’s an interesting story that I hope you will find useful.

So, how long have Intelligent People been recruiting online marketing staff?

“We started in 2002”, says Chris, “I genuinely think we were the first recruitment company to focus solely on digital marketing, which if you think back 14/15 years was very definitely nowhere near as advanced as it is today”.

Yes, very much so, I don’t think Amazon was much more than an online book shop at the time and traditional retailers were laughing at Bezos…who’s laughing now.

A Generalist Market

“Yes, indeed”, laughs Chris, “the market wasn’t really formed and most of the vacancies were generalist, whereas today we see vacancies that are very specialised. The job functions have been chunked down into true specialisms like for example multi channel strategy jobs or email marketing vacancies“.

We do digress here though, so I must bring Chris back on subject!


So, Chris, tell me about your start up because this is the crux of the issue I want to get to. The motivations and reasons you and Doug (Bates, his co-owner and director) started Intelligent People in the first place.

“It’s an interesting story for sure”, he says, ” we were both working for a recruitment agency in London serving the banking community of the City of London. If you’ve ever worked in that market it’s cut throat”!

I can imagine, but never worked there.

“We were doing really well but working crazy hours. The City was awash with money and they needed IT technicians to make the trading systems ever more complex and faster. We were placing programmers with huge Mathematics skills – rocket scientists. They used the same maths to build trading systems”.

Commuting Hell

“But, we hated the market and hated the long hours and commute into the City. It was dirty, hot and ripped three 28469404_shours out of our days. We were earning big money, but got home late at night, knackered only to crash out, get up aty six the next morning and do it all again”.

So, it wasn’t really any sort of life?

“Absolutely, no quality of life”, he says, “don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind working hard especially when the rewards are there, but there is definitely a quality of life issue when you spend three hours a day commuting. So, over a beer one Friday after work, Doug and I hatched our plans!”

“It sort of started as a joke, a kind of “what if”, and it was what if we could plan our ideal life. We both loved recruitment, we were big headed enough to think we could do it on our own, and we wanted to stop wasting those precious three hours per day”.

The Criteria

So, that was the basis of Intelligent People, the criteria it had to fulfil.

“I guess so”, he replies, “it really was just a sort of joking about session to start with, but then we both went quiet, and realised, why not? It was a “light bulb” moment. So, we decided to both think about it over the weekend and reconvene over lunch on the Monday”.

“When we had lunch on that Monday where we realised instantly we both had the same vision, so over the next few months we set about making it happen. The basis was simply more of an accent on lifestyle for us and any subsequent hires, an office in our home town (St Albans) and outrageous customer service”.

A great basis for a business, how long did it take you to get going?

The First Big Challenge

“Not long, we knew our client base well, so we gave our notices in one month after conception and started almost the day after our notice expired. With just the two of us, we immediately hit a wall. Our client base turned out not to be as loyal as we thought. People wanted to talk to us, but in the Banks it was very corprate and run by HR departments. We weren’t preferred suppliers so we had to work on scraps to start with”.

Not good?

“Well, it focussed the mind for sure”, he smiles at the recollection, “the market was changing to an outsource model so we immediately started looking at alternative markets. Call it lucky, maybe, but with digital marketing appended to IT at the time, we managed to pick up some vacancies that none of the IT agencies seemed to be able to fill”.

Looking For New Opportunities

“This made us research what digital marketing was all about and we realised that it was a potential goldmine. Technology waqs going to drive it, but even we didn’t realise to what extent the market would grow. So, we were the earliest adopters of internet marketing as a niche for recruitment”.

“This if course gave us a great USP when pitching for more online marketing business and soon we were gettinga¬† reputation as a good place to go”.

Was it luck? Or something more?

“A bit of both I think in all honesty”, he says, “it was sort of by default, but we had to understand and recognise the opportunity and go through the door. Doug did an amazing job in starting to make sense of the market and to see the potential. So, we gradually transitioned and by the end of 2003, we were solely Digital and had hired our first consultant. It was an exciting time”.

Going Strong

And, here you are all these years later with a vibrant lifestyle recruitment business?

“Yes, it’s gone well. We still have offices in St Albans where both Doug and I live. Yes, we work hard, but it’s a ten minute commute home and we make sure we finish by 5.30 to 6pm most nights. We ask the consultants to do the same because we want them to have the same quality of life as well. It’s an important strand of what we are about as a company”.

I really like what Intelligent People are doing in terms of offering a career, high earning potential coupled with the right attitude to lifestyle. You can find their website at www.intelligentpeople.co.uk Look them up!