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News 4 May 2022 - 5 min read

The Iconic, Hatch co-founder Adam Jacobs: Media harder, more expensive, tech easier for ecom start-ups but workplace flex rules gone too far

By Sam Buckingham-Jones & Paul McIntyre
Adam Jacobs from Hatch, The Iconic

“The employers are people too. I mean, they're also candidates... What I'm observing is the give is on the employer side, not on the candidate side..." Adam Jacobs says of changes in workplace dynamics.

Adam Jacobs, the co-founder of early ecom success story The Iconic and meaning-driven talent hiring site Hatch, reckons the workplace has gone from “rigid rules to no rules” after a two-year, Covid-inspired free-for-all that is now swinging back to the middle. Jacobs, who still advises The Iconic, says online pureplays have a tougher job today because cheap digital media to acquire customers is no longer cheap. Tech stacks, however, are far easier to build off-the-shelf. It's a Catch-22.

What you need to know:

  • Adam Jacobs, the cofounder of The Iconic and Hatch, says the workplace has gone from too rigid to “no rules”, which is now finding equilibrium. People doing the employing are compromising – because they’re people too.
  • Hatch has placed 30,000 people in jobs based on what they’re passionate about, rather than what’s on their CV. He’s seeing different norms emerge in different industries, like software, finance and law.
  • Jacobs explains what he would do differently launching an e-commerce play in today’s market: Start niche, dominate the sector, expand.

The Iconic invested into a bunch of outdoor media. Buses, trams, billboards, alongside some other above the line like radio and a little bit of TV ... it was probably what gave the brand credibility in the mainstream consumer perspective and helped build the trust required to get people shopping online for the first time.

Adam Jacob, Co-Founder, The Iconic & Hatch

Building an icon

If Adam Jacobs, one of the founders of e-commerce fashion retailer The Iconic, was to start a new online store, it would be both easier and more difficult than the first time around.

On one hand, he says, he wouldn’t need to build the marketing technology from the ground up – it’d be readily available off the shelf. “People can put together a model quite quickly using third party products,” Jacobs said.

But on the other hand, it’s a much more crowded market than in 2011, when The Iconic launched as a second wave e-commerce platform delivering a better shopping experience.

“Media is more expensive and certainly more competitive. I think that a lot of the Web 2.0 categories – and e-comm is one of them – have become more mature and, becoming more mature, they've become more competitive,” he said.

Jacobs spoke at the ADMA Global Forum last month, outlining the delivery strategy The Iconic built when it first launched. It started with a broad market goal, which he says wouldn’t be possible today. “What that means and how you go to market now is I think you've just got to have a more concentrated segment focus. When we launched The Iconic, it was a pretty broad proposition: 'This is going to be fashion and footwear for half of Australia'. And if we did it again today, we wouldn't be able to start like that. We'd have to start with a much narrower segment focus and say, ‘this is athleisure for 10 per cent of Australia’ and then incrementally build out.”

Win a small segment, then start growing, Jacobs says. Carving a clearly differentiated position that stands for something, rather than relying on pure performance marketing, is what all brands need to get cut through.

In the early days of the The Iconic, the company had very little money to spend on media. What they did have went to digital platforms and a little to Out of Home.

“[We] invested into a bunch of outdoor media. Buses, trams, billboards, alongside some other above the line like radio and a little bit of TV – but not too much TV, because we were trying to be quite efficient with spend. So it was more outdoor billboards and street furniture. And it was probably what gave the brand credibility in the mainstream consumer perspective and helped build the trust required to get people shopping online for the first time. So that was a very effective marketing strategy at the time for us.”

Start-ups nowadays are going the opposite direction to the major brands, Jacobs said, crossing the media divide to spend with traditional media – and seeing results – while legacy brands experiment with new digital platforms. “My experience with that at The Iconic was that it was super effective,” he said.

We've actually gone from quite rigid rules to maybe no rules at all, and we actually need to find a bit of a middle ground. We're still in the teething process of what that middle ground is.

Adam Jacob, Co-Founder, The Iconic & Hatch

Covid and the workplace

Jacobs now runs Hatch, a platform that connects people looking for jobs they’re passionate about with companies looking for motivated people. More than 30,000 people have used Hatch to find work, along with 200 employers – including Nine, News Corp and agencies like Ogilvy.

“Of the people who get placed through Hatch, 95 per cent of the managers say that they’re very high performers,” Jacobs said. He still advises The Iconic part-time, but the bulk of his time is spent looking at the future of the workplace.

And that future has been up-ended over the past two years. Hatch had a “flash in the pan” moment when, almost overnight, the team built Hatch Exchange, a site that connected workers who had been stood down during Covid to employers desperate for staff. They gave about 1,000 people temporary new work, including a Virgin Airlines pilot who was employed in a government contact centre.

The Great Resignation is a short-term trend that is being fast-tracked by understanding employers, Jacobs said, and that’s a good thing. It was a ‘one size fits all’ approach before, which didn’t fit everybody.

“The employers are people too. I mean, they're also candidates. They're also thinking about their own work and they're thinking about their next job,” Jacobs said.  

“And to be honest, they want the same things. They want flexibility, they want to chase a sense of purpose. They want an organisation that supports the values they care about. What I'm observing is the give is on the employer side, not on the candidate side, because there's almost like shared incentives.”

But there are limits. Being too flexible means some workers are “at work” all day, which can be unhealthy.

“We've actually gone from quite rigid rules to maybe no rules at all, and we actually need to find a bit of a middle ground. We're still in the teething process of what that middle ground is.”

So where does it end up? Hatch is seeing different trends in different industry verticals.

“I think software companies will probably land on flexible-first policies where they'll have hubs, and you can go to a hub if you wish, but you don't have to,” Jacobs said.

“I think other organisations that require more in person interaction – and for whatever reason, law firms and investment banks seem to have that preference – will probably do the opposite and they'll say we have default days where we expect you to be there, and outside of that, it's flexible. But I think we'll see templates emerge for different industries.”

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