Marja is co-founder of Jump, an online platform and marketplace helping jobseekers find the right employment, and businesses find the right employees. She and her colleagues use data to build algorithms which match professionals to the right position, helping them to navigate the market and helping businesses to attract the highest-quality applicants more efficiently than traditional job boards.
After gaining a B.A. in Economics and Management and then an MSc. in Sociology from the University of Oxford (Hertford College) in 2012, she spent two years as a business analyst for management consulting firm McKinsey and Company. Marja then worked for venture capital company Piton, before founding Jump with business partner and CEO Andrea Consonni in 2016.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
At Oxford I was very interested in economic sociology, which is related to labour markets and why there’s so much inequality in job-finding. In my thesis I found that those with bigger social networks made much more career progression. I’ve always been interested in how to use that data for positive things, both for the economy and for people.
When I worked in venture capital, we invested in platforms and marketplaces which had network effects, meaning they became more useful by bringing more people together. As an associate you would see up to 10 businesses per day, and it was really interesting to see how digital firms solved information problems to make markets function better.
I loved the energy of those entrepreneurs that were having an impact, but I felt that I was on the wrong side of the table in a finance role. I loved the fast-paced, no-nonsense culture of these companies. From my work at Oxford I knew there was a real information gap in the jobs market that I would enjoying working to solve, but couldn’t see any company solving that problem. That’s how I came to start Jump, it was more through curiosity than anything else.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
It’s more a mindset than an achievement. There are entrepreneurs and people with entrepreneurial spirit everywhere. People can be entrepreneurial even if they are employees. Perhaps people who set up a community initiative, or raise money for a local playground – that’s all entrepreneurship. It’s about people who want to make a positive impact, and take the initiative and are the driving factor behind that change. It’s you, thinking about other people’s problems and the solutions and actually putting them into action. That for me is being entrepreneurial. No one else but you is going to make that happen.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
First of all, I never think you should use the word ‘idea’, I would always use the word ‘problem’, because the idea and the solution will change. I did not build what I thought I would build, and I still change how I work every day – it’s iterative. You need to be obsessed with a problem; else you’re going to build the wrong solution.
Then there’s two elements of timing. The first is the problem: is it big enough? Do enough people care about it and are they willing to pay for a solution? Does someone else already solve that problem? You need to test the problem with your users before you dedicate 5, 10 or 15 years of your life to solving it.
The second is yourself. Are you passionate enough to dedicate years to this? You need to be excited to work even on the bad days and be willing to take an initial financial hit and uncertainty on the way. Do you have enough experience? You’re going to make mistakes along the way – it might be better to make them on someone else’s payroll for now.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
I wouldn’t so much call them skills as traits. Some of them you can learn, but most of them are innate.
You firstly need to be incredibly determined and self-driven. So many people are going to say no – you need to be able to take that and turn it into a positive. If your team has a problem, you need to be the optimistic one. You need to wake up thinking ‘I have so many interesting things to solve today’ and not ‘I have so many problems’ otherwise you’re going to be miserable.
The second is to be able to distance yourself from emotions, as with any business leader. You’re going to have tough conversations. If you’re emotionally driven it’s going to be more difficult.
The third one is being innately curious. You need to see things other people aren’t seeing. You need to hire people like you – that’s how innovation happens. It also helps when it comes to learning new skills.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
Because I’m in a product-driven business, it’s when you have users that are happy with what you’re delivering. You have a feeling that you’re creating value and having a positive impact. It’s when users say ‘yes, that’s what I wanted’, and you see that in both quantitative and qualitative feedback.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
I think different people inspire you in different ways. What inspires me in the people in my team is that they have different ways of thinking and they’re not afraid to challenge the status quo. Every person has something valuable to bring in the way they approach problems. You need to find inspiration in the small things, everyday things and every person, not with some grand person that you’ve never met.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
One of the difficulties is that sometimes things don’t work or are harder or take longer than you thought. Time is money, so that failure impacts your entire business. We now involve tech, design and end user services into the whole process, scope our features down and implement them as soon as we can. Being ‘lean’ is hard to do, if I could go three years back, I’d do a lot more of it.
As an entrepreneur is easy to make all problems your problem. That’s a really bad habit because you don’t enable other people to solve problems and achieve their goals. We approach that by setting objectives for each team, who own their key results in each two-week period.
How have you funded your ideas?
We have been very fortunate to receive external funding through government grants and equity finance. The UK is a great place to found a company – there’s the SEIS and EIS schemes for example. On the equity side, by far the most useful people have been current and former entrepreneurs. They’ve been through it and they just get it.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
We’re been part of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Group and have regular dinners there, which gives you access to the community.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
I speak to a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs and I’m always happy to have a chat. Speak to your potential users and understand the problems. People are often afraid to do that, but it’s what you have to do and it’s what most of my chats come back to.
There’s a good book about how you can test entrepreneurial problems called ‘The Mum Test’, and another about solving entrepreneurial problems called ‘The Founder’s Dilemma’ that talks a lot about finding good co-founders. My co-founder complements my skills, and that’s very important.You can have a reading list of great books, but at the end of the day without doing anything for real you won’t learn.
Any last words of advice?
I hope we get more entrepreneurs! Back in my day it wasn’t something people thought about at all. I hope people focus on problems they’re passionate about and have an impact.