Dave talks to… Wendy McDougall – Talent Matters Podcast

by in Talent Matters

The One Where They Talk About…

  • The importance of continually evolving
  • Finding your MVP
  • Knowing your market
  • Adapting the structure of your teams depending on personas
  • Enabling communication across different divisional teams
  • Checking you align with a tech provider’s vision before you commit
  • The value of engaging a business coach
  • Offering support in a crisis
  • COVID as the ultimate business reassessment


In Episode 5, Wave CEO Dave Jenkins chats to the incredibly inspirational Wendy McDougall, CEO and Founder of Firefish Software. 12 years old, Firefish is a combined recruitment marketing and CRM software, set up by Wendy after recognising the frustrations within the tech in the market when running her own recruitment agency. As the brilliantly self-titled Chief Fish, Wendy leads 50 employees and has Firefish clients in 23 countries. The company achieves an average 30% ARR growth per annum and has won a huge number of awards.

Wendy chats to Dave about how she’s got Firefish to this point, what her early and more recent challenges have been, what recruiters should be looking for when buying tech, the value of investing in a business coach, knowing your market, and much more.

The podcast is well worth a listen for the myriad insights Wendy shares but we’ve pulled together our top picks here for a quick read in the meantime.

The importance of evolving in a fast-changing market

One of the biggest challenges facing both the recruitment and the tech space is that they are constantly evolving – and what clients want and expect is constantly changing with it so the tech has to keep evolving.

The world of recruitment hasn’t changed hugely but the way tech advances and tools and integrations evolve means no company can afford to sit still. As an SaaS – software as a service – company, Firefish needs to keep evolving and pushing boundaries every week. Recruiters, too, need to constantly adapt to keep pace with the market.

Find your MVP and grow it

In the first four years Firefish took on a wide variety of early beta clients who ultimately helped shape the product. What’s essential is to find your place and not try to be everything to all companies – and that is universal to all businesses. The first challenge is to establish that MVP – Minimum Viable Product – that has enough features to attract clients and validate your ideas, allowing you to improve and grow.

Wendy admits that one of Firefish’s initial mistakes was wanting to target in-house at a time when that market wasn’t quite ready for what were then fairly innovative marketing concepts. They tried to force it for a couple of years but it wasn’t until it was flipped to do what it was built for – target agency clients – that it flew.

What the in-house market wants and what the recruiter wants is very different. The features may fit for both but the priorities of the two are radically different. As a recruiter you need to find the tech that is right for your business. In recruitment, your MVP may look different but the concept still fits – start small, find what works, listen to your clients, and grow organically.

Know your market and what they’re ready for

In many industries, and certainly the fast-moving world of tech, companies think they need to be quick with getting a new concept off the ground to avid a competitor taking it. This is true to an extent but it’s also vital to ensure you’re not ahead of the market. Some will want to be part of innovation but many just want you to plug the boring stuff and make the day to day easier.

Firefish currently has 30 developers working on 5 different roadmaps but early in the company’s life they only employed a few developers so decisions on roadmaps were critical. Wendy’s drive was to keep innovating but initially they needed to focus on the purely practical. That challenge was hard to manage until Firefish grew to a size whereby they had multiple teams and could therefore have multiple roadmaps. Getting the timing right for the audience is business critical – again, an ethos that is relevant to recruitment agencies too.

Adapt your teams depending on personality types

Wendy quickly learnt not to form a tech team with more than 4 people as, in her experience, developers are incredibly smart and hard working but their strengths don’t lie in managing people. The commercial side of the company is different, the teams can be bigger as they tend to be good at managing people. This is a great general tip on adapting team structures depending on personalities.

Encourage communication across functional teams

Most companies will have functional teams – for example, Firefish has different teams for developers, sales, and customer support – but the key to making a successful product or providing a successful service is to have interaction across the divisional functional teams.  Enabling communication across teams allows you to get different perspectives from the different life cycles of each department and that creates the ‘why’ for, in a tech company’s case, the developers to build that product or new piece of tech. However, cross-team communication is key in any organisation to ensure successful output and client satisfaction.

Check you align with a tech provider’s vision before committing

If you’re buying tech you need to ask what the provider’s roadmap and vision is as that will tell you where the company is going. If you’re not aligned with that direction you’ll probably have to move on in a couple of years time. As it is expensive in both time and resources to make these decisions, taking the time to establish your prospective tech provider is on the path you want to take is vitally important.

Treat having a business coach like hiring a personal trainer

Wendy has a brilliant analogy when it comes to the value of a business coach, something many may think is self-indulgent. A huge number of people will go to the gym and be happy to hire a personal trainer to help them get the most out of their sessions, pushing them harder, challenging them, steering them in the right direction. So why not hire a coach to help with something of incredible importance – your career and entrepreneurial journey?

Having a strong relationship with someone that can question you and your decisions to make sure you’re going in the right direction is hugely valuable. As a leader, it’s easy to get caught up in striving for the next thing, always looking forwards, but it’s important to remember your own self-development. It’s natural to want to prioritise employee development/clients/keeping the balance sheet healthy, but ignoring your own development is detrimental to the entire company.

Recruiters can be closed to outside help and Wendy freely admits that was her in the early days but insists that if she had reached out she would have learned more quickly. You only learn by putting yourself into uncomfortable situations and that’s what drives you forwards.

Treat your clients well and that will be remembered

Like many businesses, Firefish were flying until COVID slammed on the brakes. Having been in business a long time, Wendy had been through through downturns and recessions and knew what to do to not only survive but eventually continue to grow. However, she realised that many recruiters wouldn’t have been through a recession and needed guidance and reassurance. Her response was to go on camera every day for the first three months of the pandemic with a CEO diary, talking recruiters through a plan to ready their business for when the economy began to reopen. She also helped users financially with a payment holiday. So many recruiters were struggling, it just made sense and it paid off.

COVID made us all reassess – and that’s a good thing

COVID was tough for us all but you really find out how strong you are when going through these things. What it has hopefully made us realise is that we are all human and everyone’s facing their own individual challenges behind the scenes. And it’s the challenges Firefish faced and responded to – the elements brought in to deal with communication challenges and a reassessment of where the company needed to go, leading to a restructure – that has allowed the company to fly. They focused on tightening the business, wanting to be ready to bounce out of survival mode into actively improving, innovating and bringing onboard new clients, and that drive motored them through the worst of the pandemic and led to further growth.

And finally… what would Wendy say to her 12 year old self?

It’s ok to just participate and not try and win everything.”

Keep your eye out for upcoming Talent Matters podcasts where you can expect more insights and advice from an incredibly diverse line-up of figures from the world of recruitment.