Marja Verbon

Founder of Jump

Marja Verbon is the founder of Jump – a job recommendation platform that helps job-seekers navigate the confusing job market and get the right job recommendations based on their experience and ambitions, and in turn, helps businesses attract the right talent for them.

Prior to setting up Jump, she worked in Venture Capital investing in Series A & B marketplaces, and at McKinsey & Company, focused on strategy and operations. She has an MSc in Sociology and a BA in Economics from the University of Oxford. She sits on the Oxford University Business School Alumni Advisory Council.

She has been featured in publications such as Management Today and regularly contributes on topics such as entrepreneurship, women in business, COVID survival and provides regular comments on these topics.

In her free time, she loves writing and posting about topics that empower women, including career advice, positive psychology, entrepreneurship and how to dress for success.

Where did the idea for Jump come from?

For me, taking the next jump in your career is an exciting but quite scary prospect! That’s why I loved the name Jump from the start – it’s something that you’re really keen to do, but you’re a bit anxious at the same time.

That’s the challenge that we are really keen to help people with at Jump!

Of course, is super hard to get, so when we saw Jump.Work was up for grabs we went for it. Plus, it’s a recognisable, fresh name, so perfectly fits with what we’re trying to do.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

A typical day doesn’t really exist as an entrepreneur, but let me at least give an honest view of how I try to make stuff happen.

I love starting a bit earlier than my teams, and the first hour and a half of my day is normally spent on catching up on urgent tasks that I have to do by myself, for example giving input on a new content campaign, product feature, replying to investors, or sorting out some urgent financial administration. Morning is perfect for this as they unblock others to deliver their best work, and after meetings start these things will fall through the cracks.

From 9-10 am we have various stand-ups and check-ins and depending on the day an OKR strategy planning. At Jump, we have been working with OKRs over a year and they’ve really transformed our management style for the better. They allow us to set clear goals, align teams around them, and plan ahead for 2 weeks. This keeps us agile but focused.

I normally have an early lunch break if I can, and then spend my early afternoon on a more complex topic that needs my attention. This may be going into the details of new fundraising we’re doing, writing a grant application, scoping an entirely new part of our product plan or devising a new PR campaign.

In the late afternoon, I’m normally taking a call or troubleshooting an issue that’s come up during the day. I like to sign off on time, but don’t always manage. When I don’t, I nip to the gym as it’s “me time” and helps me stay productive in case I need to get back to work in the evening!

How do you bring ideas to life?

With a lot of hard work, trial and error, and failure!

Great ideas don’t just execute themselves, nor do they often stay the same as you initially thought! The way to get a (what you think is a) great idea into execution is to start lean. Scope the smallest possible test/experiment of this idea, and bring it to live as quickly as possible. Of course, make sure it’s “MVP” aka “Minimum Viable Product” – it has to be at the minimum quality level that you think is required to properly test it.

For example, if it’s a new content campaign of testing videos, you don’t need to release a professionally shot video of 30 minutes, you could start with a short snappy video that tests the concept. However, you have to make sure it’s executed well in terms of video quality, content and editing. If you don’t ensure a minimum level of quality, you can’t be sure whether it works because of that or the content itself.

After, reflect on your first experiment and learn from it. Then try again. And again, and again. Bit by bit you will build a more comprehensive execution of your idea, and I can assure you the way it will take shape will change over time, as you iterate on it. Get feedback from others on what works and doesn’t and look at the data if you can.

By the way, I like to focus people on problems, not ideas. If you can really understand and define a problem well, and you know people are willing to pay you to solve that problem, you can then test which ideas will work to solve it. Simple concept, but rather life-changing once you get that!

What’s one trend that excites you?

One trend that really excites me is that consumers are more and more keeping companies responsible for their social impact and values. This is also reflected in the kind of marketing and communication they want from companies. On social media, you see that people are rewarding more honest interactions and messages, not just perfect marketing material and slick videos! This is a super exciting trend in my view, as it allows us to move to more genuine interactions between our end-users and what we are creating for them, as we have to use their honest feedback to build a tool that will be really valuable to them.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

It has taken me many years to learn, but for sure, the one habit that makes me more productive as an entrepreneur is to take the weekend off. This may sound rather controversial in the “work hard, play hard”, “work 100 hours per week”, “it’s cool to be tired” culture that we grow up in (especially myself, being surrounded by overachievers since school!).

I used to believe that working more is better and that productivity is a linear thing – the more you do, the more you get done. But in recent years, upon reflection, my best work and best decisions have been when I was well-rested. I now plan my weeks in such a way that I focus only on those things that I really think will move the needle, and I spend the majority of my energy on those.

Learning to say “no” has definitely been a big part of that learning curve, and learning to cope with “letting people down”. At the centre of my priorities has to be my own (mental) health, and my own business, as I’m the sole person responsible for those. And I can’t run my business and make the right decisions if I’m not in the best shape myself.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Not to worry too much about what other people think. I think the earlier part of my career was definitely shaped by the need to prove myself to others, rather than the need to build something I believed in. Of course, often those things aligned, so then it was easy, but sometimes I made decisions that were more for the benefit of others, than in line with my bigger vision or ideas in life.

If you want to do something new and innovative, you’re going to need to do things differently. That means going against other people’s opinions and expectations, and that’s ok.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Peter Thiel’s question! A great one, and super hard to answer.

I would say that one of my fundamental beliefs is that it’s impossible to find truth in social problems, which I guess in a way becomes a truth I believe in.

What I mean by that is that if you want to analyse a complex social problem, it’s impossible to say something is “true” or “right” using data. After all, our view on what is right and wrong, and what is the best course of action when resolving or assessing a social issue, is shaped fully by our own perspective and interest. We all live in our own social construct, that is shaped by where we were born, how we are raised, and what our economic interests are.

This is why sociology (which I did my Master’s degree in) was so fascinating for me.

Take my thesis for example – I wanted to examine whether the structure of an employee’s social networks and connections within the company they worked in impacted their career progression in an organisation. Indeed, data showed it did, and in particular, women were disadvantaged because they had proportionally fewer ties with men, who made a more rapid career progression.

However, it’s impossible to state this conclusion, even if it is based on data and proper statistical techniques, as a truth! We are not considering many other factors here that could impact the outcome of career performance, as it’s impossible to control for all variables – ranging from people’s perception of the world to their educational attainment – in your dataset. Plus, even if you may have done so, why would this one organisation be any similar to others?

Understanding humans is immensely complex, and what I see is that we all would like to believe that we’re right. It’s hard to understand that on many topics there will be no truth, just differing interests, and rather than arguing about who is right or wrong, we should spend our energy trying to find a solution that will benefit everyone or at least balances interests.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I ask myself – what do I want to achieve with this initiative/task/work/feature, and continue to ask myself this as I/our team complete(s) it. Then, after completion, measure the impact of the work done against what we set out to achieve, and iterate on it if necessary until we achieve our objective.

There’s something very dangerous in this process that can derail you, called “scope creep” – the fact that once you start a task/feature/initiative, you start expanding the scope of it, and start doing additional work that’s not necessarily needed to achieve your goal. To avoid this, I remind myself and my team of the goal we want to achieve and ask if what we are doing is really needed to achieve that goal.

Perfect is the enemy of good enough, and this little trick helps us stay focused on good enough rather than perfect.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Building something that really solves my users’ problems, and that they love using so much they continue to use it, and recommend it to others.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

To point out one in particular, I think the biggest challenge as an entrepreneur is always to attract the right talent for your business to help innovate and grow.

Definitely, at the beginning of running the business, we were not clear enough of what we were looking for in the people we were hiring, and in our hiring process, we didn’t give the right information to them about what life in a fast-paced tech company is really like.

It’s very different to work in a corporate vs. a start-up and it takes a particular kind of personality to thrive in this environment.

After people start, you can pretty much see in the first few weeks if they love the role, or they’re just scraping by, and that’s when you should have an honest conversation with the person about whether this is really the right place for them.

One of the failures I had early on was to continue to push these honest conversations back, waiting to see another few days, or weeks, or even months. But eventually, if it’s not the right fit, that conversation needs to happen.

So a big tip I would have for new entrepreneurs is to stay honest with yourself and hold yourself accountable to this – if someone is not enjoying the role, or not working out in the first weeks of a role, it’s important to address that immediately and find a solution, or part ways. Plus, in your recruitment process, try to be as upfront as you can about your work culture, what the role is like day to day and the ambitions you have for the company so that you can ensure the right candidates say yes to the challenge you have on offer.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

So many! I think once you get started as an entrepreneur, you come across so many problems you’d love to solve for yourself, or for others.

Rather than giving away one business idea, I’d love to give away some problem that would be great to see solved. Then from there, build and test ideas to solve this problem.

The problem I’d love to see someone solve is to keep people who are middle-aged and older more physically active. We have access to so many great fitness apps, but none of them is really geared towards building healthy habits for people who may be a little older and are used to a sedentary lifestyle. At that point, it can be hard to get started, and it has to be at the right level. It’s so critical for people’s physical and mental health to stay active and would be of such value to both individuals and society to solve this challenge.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Less than $100 even! I bought a tripod and a wide-angle camera lens for my iPhone to record educational and informative Tik Tok videos. So far, all our content strategy has been written, but to reach younger audiences I think it’s critical we start with creating fun, interactive, yet educational videos! So I’ll be spearheading this new initiative, and am very excited to reach new audiences in this way.

You don’t need much, just some good expert tips to share, a tripod, a decent phone camera and off you go!

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

At Jump, we’re big fans of Hubspot. We have tried various CRMs, and this has been the only tool that has been able to grow with us, from providing simple tools when we got started to more complex enterprise systems once we got into automating emails.

It’s by no means perfect (yet) but given that we’re a two-sided marketplace, it helps us keep all communication in one place, integrate with our technology, and it’s user-friendly to use. It’s been a real game-changer to have a CRM properly integrated and set-up as email communications are still at the core of the job search.

It’s so critical to keep people up to date on job applications, and share as much information as possible to keep things transparent. So, I would say that Hubspot has been invaluable in solving at least part of that problem for our users.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I really enjoy reading historical books, as there’s so much to learn from the strategies people took, and it’s amazing to understand how the different personalities and actions of individuals influenced the outcome of events.

A great introduction to history which is also very pleasant to read is the ‘A short history of’ range by Simon Jenkins, and I particularly enjoyed reading “A Short History of Europe: From Pericles to Putin”.

I like to read widely, much beyond business, on topics ranging from octopus intelligence to social inequality, as I feel that getting out of your usual context and comfort zone is much more helpful in generating new ideas and different perspectives, than just focusing down on 1 topic. That doesn’t mean I don’t read business books at all, but I see them more as functional tools that I need to use for my job, rather than something I enjoy doing in my free time.

What is your favorite quote?

“You are braver than you believe, smarter than you seem, and stronger than you think.” — Winnie-the-Pooh (A. A. Milne)

I have loved Winnie the Pooh since I was little, and growing up I realised that he teaches so many great life lessons, accepting the animals in the forest for who they are, and helping them with positive psychology. He was ahead of his time and is still so very relevant today. I think we can all use a little positivity and love in our lives, and Winnie the Pooh is the embodiment of that for me.

Key Learnings:

  • When innovating – focus on the problem, not just the idea. If you can really understand the problem and whether people (or businesses) are willing to pay you to solve it, then you can test which ideas will best solve it for them.
  • There is no average day as an entrepreneur and days can get busy and overwhelming. Try to put yourself and your health first, and design your day in such a way that you focus only on those things that are critical for that day and week. After all, no-one else but you is responsible for your business and your (mental) health. One will not work without the other.
  • Tap into the new trend of having an honest conversation with your users, clients and customers. Being authentic is so important in our new age of social media and online communication, and a huge opportunity for your business