It’s Friday 3rd November 2017 and once again my sense of direction has let me down.
Despite the fact I used to work around the corner from Soho House, the whole private members club thing (which let’s face it, equates to glamorous yet poorly signed building) means I’m at a loss yet again as to where today’s interview destination actually is. Arriving flustered and sweaty a few minutes later therefore, it’s not exactly the endearing first impression I had in mind.
Fortunately for me though, Anouska Mond and Judy Ingber aren’t the judging type…
Having founded The Office Club in summer last year – a recruitment agency that is daring to break away from tradition and as a result is growing at an unanticipated rate – the two readily admit that had you asked them a few years back where they’d be in life by thirty-four, it wouldn’t look anything like the reality that they’re living today.
But that’s what I love so much about this week’s interview. When life doesn’t always go according to plan, unforeseen opportunities waiting to be embraced can emerge…
Judy Ingber. We’ll start from when we were aged 12!
She can. She did. 12?!
Anouska Mond. We’ve known each other since we were 12!
Having grown up in the same area of Manchester and socialised as teenagers, the girls share a twenty-two year friendship between them. Yet despite going into business together last year, their career paths for the past decade couldn’t have been more different. With a first class degree in geography from Kings College London, it would be fair to say Judy followed the more traditional path…
JI. After uni I fell into PR and ended up working for big creative agencies in London and then when I was in my late twenties, I moved to Sydney for a further four years, still working in PR. Meanwhile, Anouska was pursuing her own journey…
AM. My own whirlwind of a journey..!
Having dreamed of being an actress since she was a little girl, Anouska delayed her entry to Leeds University for a year. The condition, set by her parents, was that if she didn’t get accepted to drama school before year end, she had to formally accept her place at Leeds to study broadcast journalism the following year.
AM. So I moved to London, got a job as a waitress in a cocktail bar as you do and I auditioned in all of my spare time… By fluke, after ten auditions to different drama schools, I got into ALRA and started the following year. Acting was my passion; it’s all I wanted to do! I lived in New York for a year and then I lived in LA for two years, I auditioned and auditioned and I got bits here and there…
On returning to London, Anouska secured the lead in ‘Ill Manors’ – a film written and directed by Plan B which also starred Riz Ahmed and Ed Skrein.
AM. I thought ‘this is my moment’ but unfortunately things don’t always work out as planned and I kind of just fell out of love with acting…so now my co-leads are in Hollywood and I’m in recruitment! I wouldn’t have it any other way though!
SC.SD. Why so?
AM. It kind of got to the point, after you turn 30, where you think ‘what am I doing with my life?’ I had no idea what I was going to do. All my life it was acting, acting, acting and on the other side when I wasn’t in work, I did a lot of EA and PA work – just to tide me over and help pay the bills…
JI. For me, I fell into working in PR after doing various internships whilst at university and slowly worked my way up the ladder… I loved it in some ways because it’s such a diverse job with so many skills involved. It’s creative, commercial and strategic. I loved managing teams and I worked on some incredibly interesting and challenging campaigns for big brands but I found my heart was less and less in it as the years passed and the higher up I was getting within the industry. So when I moved back from Sydney, I made the conscious decision to have a career change and try something new.
AM. It might be worth mentioning here that we were living together by this point…
By coincidence, two years ago both friends found themselves single again and living in the same area of London. When Judy moved back to London and bought a house in Hampstead, Anouska reached out to ask if she could move into the spare room…
AM. When you’re in your twenties, you think you’ll be married with kids by this point but we found ourselves almost restarting at thirty-two… We moved in together in February 2015, I’d walked away from a six-year relationship, I’d quit acting and started a whole new career…
It was in this period that both women stumbled upon recruitment…
JI. A friend of mine helps to run a graduate recruitment business and his team gave me the opportunity to help set up and run the senior search side of the business. He felt I had transferable skills to do this and asked if I was keen to give it a try. So, of course I thought it was brilliant, it was a great opportunity and totally different – which is what I was looking for at the time…
AM. Meanwhile through Judy, I was introduced to a recruitment agency that specialised in recruiting for EAs and PAs. I went down thinking I’ll just get some temp work as an EA and after being in the room with the MD for two hours, she just said, “I want you to come and work for me!” I had no experience in recruitment, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing but lo and behold, Judy started recruiting, I started recruiting and from my point of view I realised actually, I’m quite good at this!
Recruitment is about people, it’s about interacting, it’s about communication and it’s about networking… and let’s be honest I’m not shy!
JI. It’s also about understanding people. We say all the time recruitment is like dating. In a way, it is matchmaking! What do relationships require? Chemistry and the right timing. This is part of the reason we’re different to other recruiters. We genuinely care about who we’re working with and we both want to do the best possible job by connecting the right people together.
SC.SD. Was that not the case then in the companies you were working for?
AM. Don’t get me wrong because I’m grateful for the experience and I learnt a lot but it was just about numbers – so many agencies are like this – they’re like a machine. They don’t care about the people!
For me, once the buzz wore off about learning the game and what you need to do, I realised that I was very good at bringing in the business. I wasn’t aware that in some agencies, when you start out you get given a whole list of clients. I was given a cold desk and had to build my whole list of clientele. Judy and I would come home to our flat in the evenings and talk about work and the future and there was a turning point where we felt that maybe we could start something really special ourselves and create our own consultancy with our own vision.
JI. I also think what’s really important in our journey is our age. Maybe five years ago we wouldn’t have had the same confidence or drive to say to each other, “do you know what, we could totally do this ourselves”. I’ve always wanted to have my own business. Throughout my whole career, when I wasn’t 100% sure about my future working in PR, if anyone asked me: “if you could do anything, what do you want to do?” I’d always say: “I’d love to work for myself one day; I’d love to have my own business!”
SC.SD. I definitely think that having your break-ups, age and such drastic career changes in common was always going to shake things up a bit! It’s almost like timing was telling you to do it…
JI. It was perfect timing yes!
AM. Perfect timing but also, it’s honestly never too late to start. My dream was to be in Hollywood and work with Steven Spielberg and yes I lived there for a few years but sometimes dreams can change direction.
The reality is, if you’d have said “you’re going to own your own recruitment business” to me five years ago, I would have laughed in your face. I wasn’t business savvy, I’m awful with numbers but if you really put your mind to something it comes down to transferable skills and for myself and Judy, our skills compliment each other…
SC.SD. I wanted to ask you about this so let’s discuss! Who does what in the partnership?
JI. If we had to define it, Anouska very much drives business development. She’s an amazing networker; she will work the room giving business cards out to everybody…
AM. I pick people up in taxis, in the nail bar…!
JI. She’s got this northern, cheeky charm and honestly people are drawn to it! It helps that she’s obviously stunningly beautiful as well!
AM. It’s make-up!
JI. I come from more of a commercial background so I have had more operational experience. I’ve managed teams, I’ve worked with senior stakeholders, I’ve worked under pressure, I understand how budgets work. I like the business and operational side of things…
AM. She’s definitely “the operations”; she knows how we’re going to grow the business!
SC.SD. So the perfect balance then?
AM. Completely! If I’m having a bad day, she’s normally having a good day and will help me and if she’s having a bad day then vice versa. We haven’t had days yet where both of us are pulling our hair out yet, but it’s a process and it’s a journey so there’s still time!
SC.SD. Let’s talk about the early days of that journey… what were the initial steps you took to get The Office Club up and running?
AM. After leaving our previous jobs, I had to take gardening leave which meant we officially launched in July 2017…
JI. We sat down and worked out what we needed to do to get the business off the ground and obviously one of the first things we discussed was investment – how much money we needed. We put together a really detailed business plan including a thorough P+L, a forecast for the next two years that looked at all the outgoings we imagined spending, and a forecast based on our previous track record of bringing in placements … We were very realistic! For instance, we said for the first three months we probably won’t make any placements because we’ll be getting things started; organising the website, marketing, business development etc…
Because we were both investing in the company, we felt that it was really important to do this together and be able to say “this is our plan. Let’s refer back to it every few months and see where we are going and where want to be.” But every start-up that makes a business plan knows that it rarely works out the way you initially plan!
SC.SD. It’s so funny because out of the twenty plus interviews I’ve done now, you’re probably the third to have made a business plan…
SC.SD. Yes! And the two that did, didn’t stick to it!
JI. I think we needed to do it for peace of mind…
AM. And also to work out how much money we could live on! The money that is invested is our own money and so we had to be realistic about how to run a brand new start up and how this would affect our lives and the way we live. We wanted to get the backing from our families that it was a good idea… you want to have guidance and make sure you’re doing the right thing! What’s interesting though is that some areas of the budget weren’t as essential as we thought…
SC.SD. Such as?
JI. We budgeted that by September we’d need an office space but at that point we didn’t need it!
AM. When we grow the team we’ll need a dedicated office but for now, we are enjoying co-working. We can be sitting in Soho House as we are now, the person next to me could be the COO of a big company and next thing we know we’ve got a new client from just talking! I think nowadays people hide behind their computers but you need to get out there and meet people!
SC.SD. There’s reluctance to with a lot of people nowadays though isn’t there?
AM. Completely but we won’t work with anyone unless we’ve met them! We go into our clients’ offices to get a feel for the space, their culture, their vibe, their personalities…
SC.SD. Did you under budget anything?
JI. No, but we have delayed a few things such as we were going to hold a launch event in Autumn but we decided to push that back until June 2018 for our one year anniversary. We realised that it’s not essential and actually we have built some real momentum so we should spend our time ploughing forward… the event in June will be a good opportunity to put our name out there and do some new marketing…
AM. We haven’t actually done any serious marketing activity other than reach out to our close network and already we’ve got a brilliant client portfolio. We have to keep remembering that it’s just the two of us at the moment so we have to be careful and selective about how many clients we work with at one time.
SC.SD. Exactly! You’re so new in the grand scheme of things!
AM. Yes, we’re still very new! We’ve only been trading since July and everything’s going brilliantly well so far.
JI. Recruitment is a cycle though. You’re working, working, working, you have all your roles to fill, you’re setting up interviews but you also constantly need to be sourcing new business to keep your pipeline going…
SC.SD. Were you prepared for that do you think?
AM. No! As amazing as it was, we definitely didn’t anticipate we would have so much to juggle and prioritise so early on in the beginning stages. It can feel slightly overwhelming at times but we always manage to multi task and get everything done efficiently and within the timeframes!
JI. It’s definitely been the biggest surprise so far – the constant stream of work we’ve had!
SC.SD. Why do you think you’ve been as successful as you have been?
AM. I think because our whole USP is really listening to what our clients and candidates want. If we have a meeting with a client and they say “we want someone with 5 years’ experience, they have to have studied English Literature and they’ve had to have worked at these three specific companies”, I’d turn around and say, “listen, I’ve met a candidate who’s perfect. They might not have that exact experience stated on the job spec, but I know you’re culture and you need to meet them and at least have a conversation because I know their energy and aura is right for your business”. They listen to us, they’ve got that relationship with us in that they trust us and they’ll go beyond the realms of what’s normal…
It’s not always going to work, we’re not superwomen (!) and you meet so many people but there are always ones that stick out in your mind! We just placed a girl this week who I first met two years ago and I just remembered her on my radar… For those two years I was saying to her: “one day I’ll get you you’re dream job” and she emailed me yesterday saying: “I can’t believe you’ve actually done it, thank you so much!” It’s so rewarding!
SC.SD. That’s amazing!
JI. Yes it can be time consuming and complicated but once you get there, it’s so satisfying!
AM. I mean look, I was an out of work actress who’s now a Director of a company, Judy was in PR… If someone hadn’t given us that chance where would we be now? It’s difficult because a lot of large companies do have very strict processes but we honestly believe it’s about a transferrable skillset.
SC.SD. It’s so true. I’m so grateful for my old job but in the last twelve months I felt so trapped. Any job that actually appealed to me needed X number of years’ experience in that industry already or a certain degree which I didn’t have and because I was being promoted my salary was obviously becoming harder to walk away from. I completely understand that the jobs I was interested in were fiercely competitive but it was so frustrating knowing I’d be able to do that job well but wouldn’t get a look in because of fixed criteria…
JI. I know exactly what you mean! I remember being in that position. It’s easy to feel stuck in what you are doing. The point is, you can make a change. It is possible!
Judy and Anouska split their time between co-working spaces in Soho, Shoreditch and Holborn spending the rest of their time out and about meeting clients over coffee…
AM. We always choose relaxed yet dynamic settings. I think my favourite part about our job is going in and meeting clients and dazzling them with our uniqueness! Our whole approach is about thinking outside the box and funnily enough, I think it’s why a lot of clients want to work with us…
SC.SD. It’s so funny because recruiters used to go after my whole team and within the space of 5-10 minutes, every producer had the same message in their Linkedin inbox saying they were impressed with our CV and they’d love to chat…
JI. Exactly! We’re selective and we’re an owner led service so you work directly with Anouska and I. We’re honest, we’re transparent and we have an extensive network in the areas we specialise in…
AM. And we manage expectations! We’re not going to sugar coat things so if someone wants to jump ship to a completely different industry, we say yes it’s doable but you’re going to have to make some compromises to work your way up. We’d rather be honest so we don’t waste their time.
JI. It’s much better getting it right from the outset and saying to the client “listen it might take a few more days…”
SC.SD. Because they’ll be worth waiting for?
SC.SD. Obviously you’re still in your first year but where do you look for inspiration to make sure you’re constantly moving forward?
AM. Every day, wherever we go, whoever we meet we are always learning and seeing new things. Judy and I are always emailing inspirational articles to each other or hearing about new companies and their ethos and structure.
JI. It’s a core part of growing a business. We meet so many interesting people on a daily basis with their own stories and advice so it’s constantly making us reflect on how we run the business and how we grow. We also have regular meetings to process all the ideas and work out how we can implement them into our day to day practices.
AM. I don’t think we will ever stop looking for new ideas!
SC.SD. That can only be a good thing! What about business advice… Other than each other, who do you turn to?
JI. When we were setting up we had some really good mentors…
SC.SD. Recognised industry mentors or you call them mentors?
JI. We call them mentors! They basically said “we love what you’re trying to do and want to help you!” They are people that have been in business for a while and have gone through the start-up thing…They are another reason why it was so important to us to have that business plan and budget so we could explain our vision and plans to them.
We were really nervous about the launch and they helped us to see that it is possible. We come across lots of people who say to us, “it’s so amazing you’ve set up your own business! I’d never be able to do it” and we think, “why not?” We were in a position where we felt we’ve got nothing to lose, let’s go for it.
SC.SD. This project has really drilled that in for me… people make it work if they want it enough.
AM. Absolutely! You’ve got to put the work in. Listen, in the past I thought I’d be married with four kids by now but my life is absolutely great! I’ve got a new puppy and a wonderful new boyfriend … maybe this is cheesy but you are in control of your own destiny and anything can happen in life. You’ve got to go for it and if you fail you fail but at least you tried!
JI. Even hearing small things like, “love the business cards” or “love the website” feels so rewarding!
JI. We saw five graphic designers who charged various rates depending on how much experience they had but we had a clear idea what we wanted our branding to look like… Liam runs a start-up himself now, he gave us a great deal and he really understood the sort of brand we were trying to create; something very premium, modern and professional…
AM. It represents our personality! Some people have said “oh your websites not the typical recruitment website is it?” but that’s what we want!
Given that the company has gone from strength to strength since launching last summer, I was intrigued to find out what – if anything – they’ve struggled with most…
AM. It’s really hard work!
JI. People say when you have your own business you don’t switch off and it’s genuinely true – it’s 24/7. We are working every hour we can at the moment to keep things moving! We care about it so much, we want to put everything into it and try and get as many deals done and network as much as possible but you also want to have a life… It can be really draining!
But saying that, we’re both in tune with how we feel and know how important it is to have some down time to recharge. We’re both very sociable and close with our friends and families so we try to make as much time for them as possible and I’ve learnt to not say “yes” to every invitation so I keep some precious time free for myself!
AM: Absolutely! It’s tough though. I feel like I’m constantly having to balance seeing friends, my family, looking after my puppy and running The OC! You also want to exercise and eat well and have time to relax! Each week brings new challenges but I don’t think we would change this opportunity because we’re working towards a bigger long-term plan! I can’t wait to look back in 5-10 years and see where we will be and what we have achieved!
I think it also helps that we’re doing this together as best friends though… If I’m having a low day Judy’s the first to say “go for a run” or “read this book” or “let’s go to yoga or pilates!” In the early days when she used to work in PR her motto was “It’s PR not ER!” and that just sums it up for me entirely! Whilst this business is so important to us both and we have crazy deadlines and days where we can’t even breathe due to the workload it’s not a life or death situation. It’s about enjoying the moment and for every down day there will always be an up day to follow!
JI. One of my close friends in Sydney has a food business that she launched on her own several years ago and she’s very successful but she said to me recently: “it must be so good doing this with someone else and having someone by your side every day.” This is very true…
SC.SD. Do you ever clash?!
AM. She’s my wife! We are very similar but we’re also very different and don’t get me wrong, we’ve had a few little arguments here and there…
JI. Of course that is natural and will happen when you work so closely with one person. I think because we lived together before we went into business together it prepped us for the confrontational stuff. Obviously we’re not going to agree on everything – we’ve both got opinions but we always communicate directly…
SC.SD. So nothing bubbles away underneath?
AM. If I’m in a bad mood you know and vice versa! I just say: “Judy, what’s wrong!? Tell me now!” We’re human! I think people sometimes think at work you have to be robots but we’ve all got problems and distractions outside of work – we have to be real.
JI. Communication is so important, not just between the two of us but with everyone we work with. You have to be honest and nip it in the bud straight away. When I was younger and starting out in PR, if anything was going wrong in one of my campaigns I’d be so nervous to flag it but once you build that confidence to deal with things straight away, it’s half the battle done in life!
AM. I think it goes back to transferable skills… just because you didn’t go to the best university or have the best opportunities earlier on in life, it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to do something. I genuinely think it’s 90% personality and gut feelings! If we’re ever on the fence about something, I always say to Judy, “what does your gut say?”
JI. That’s a big lesson we’ve learnt in life. Listen to that gut instinct because you know deep down what’s right- follow that!
SC.SD. 100% Let’s talk about relationships… You mentioned that you wanted to convince family with the business plan that this is the right thing to do… how have they reacted since you launched?
JI. Everyone’s been very supportive from day one. The minute we started talking about it they said: “we think it’s a fantastic idea, go for it!” We had so many “you go girls!” and people just started popping up out of the blue on LinkedIn saying “congratulations, I think it’s absolutely awesome!” Would you say anyone’s been negative?
AM. No one’s been negative per say… I think it’s obvious when people have stayed silent and haven’t said anything though… I don’t know, maybe life experience has taught me that I have no expectations with people! Truthfully we were doing this for ourselves anyway so yes it’s great to have support and encouraging words but fundamentally it’s about us and what we want to do…
JI. That’s true! If someone is going to judge us their opinion isn’t worth it. The only opinions we care about are our clients and candidates because we’re doing this to build something really awesome for ourselves but also to build something that really helps them…
AM. I’m so sad because every time I get a deal I still ring my Dad up and say, “guess what? We got a deal!” I’m thirty-four and I still want that praise!
SC.SD. I’d be the same! Let’s talk networking- how much are we talking?
JI. We go to LOADS of networking events; we try to go to something once a week and just go along with hundreds of business cards!
SC.SD. Do you work the room separately?
AM. Sometimes! If it’s a big room we’re like “meet you over there in half an hour!”
JI. It’s about being efficient with our time! If we’re constantly networking no one is sitting down doing work so it’s a fine balance! We’re also members of various women in business groups like Ladies Who Launch and Ginger…
AM. I was laughing at myself the other day because we had a meeting in Highgate so I was on the bus, I had a laptop balanced on my legs finishing a presentation for the meeting, putting lipstick on in one hand whilst I’m on the phone to a candidate who’d just come out of an interview in the other hand and there’s a woman staring at me… I just thought ‘this is multitasking to the 9th degree!’ We’re the modern day working woman.
SC.SD. It’s one big juggling session isn’t it?! Do you have favourite quotes?
AM. We’re constantly sending each other quotes on Instagram to motivate us…
JI. ‘Focus on the Good’ is a simple but important one for us… We’ve both been touched by people close to us that we’ve lost, we don’t know what’s round the corner and so we make the most of every day.
AM. Let me show you my Pinterest page with quotes – I have so many inspiration boards!
She really does..!
JI. Positive thinking is massive for us. We’ve both been through challenging times but I think if you stay positive, you exude honesty and confidence and people respect you.
AM. And you’ve got to help yourself as well! Yes you have friends and family around to support you but fundamentally you’re responsible for your own mind set…
SC.SD. I couldn’t agree more! Last question then, is this your forever job?
AM. We’re definitely in this for the long haul! We want to grow it so we have a team where we can oversee everything but still have projects on the side…
JI. I’d love to see my dream come true of setting up a beautiful retail store with a coffee shop and yoga studio upstairs one day too!
AM. And because of my background, I’d love to hopefully be in a position where I can invest one day in TV or film… who knows!
SC.SD. If someone came along right now and offered you your dream role in Hollywood what would you say?
JI. That’s a good question, what would you do Anouska?!
AM. I would ask Judy to hold the fort! …But only for Steven Spielberg! But I think she’d say “go for it and then bring money back to pump into the business!” Truthfully though, I’m really passionate about this now! You never know what’s going to happen but right now we’re trying to just grow this, this is where our heart is and the most amazing thing of all is that I get to do it with my best friend every single day so we are on this rollercoaster journey together!
It was quite odd listening to this chat back at times and I’ll let you in on the reason why.
I remember questioning my decision to quit my job and launch She can. She did. the week I met Anouska and Judy and I could hear the fluster in my voice at times as I listened to this back. (The post I published a few days after this interview took place pretty much sums up how I was feeling at the time..!)
In hindsight however, they were probably the best women I could have chosen to meet on that day.
(Not just because they’re infectiously positive company and have created a business that they’re clearly passionate about; but you can tell that they’re women that really do care about others and when the recorder was switched off their support continued too.)
I think a lot of us can relate to feeling like we should be at a certain point in our lives by the time that we reach a certain age but these two prove that it’s ok if plans fall through. Dreams evolve, relationships change, and that career that you spend so much time in that’s making you miserable? That can jog on and be replaced by something sparkly and new too.
As both women confess, it’s never too late to start again but ultimately the decision to do so comes down to you.
Having made the conscious decision to embrace their new reality, their story proves how much joy can result from change. Has it been easy? Evidently not. But their shared vision for what they want their business to become and mutual trust in each other’s abilities to follow through, has resulted in a partnership and company culture that has surpassed expectations and is a testament to their twenty-two year friendship that underpins it all.