Four years after the start of NextWave Partners, the Founders - Alex Bacciarelli and Adam Wade, take stock and discuss the past, present, and future of the company.
First of a 3 part series, in this interview, they come back on the origins of NextWave, their journey as entrepreneurs and establishing a successful recruitment brand.
Do you remember how the idea of NextWave was first discussed?
Alex: Both Adam and I worked together previously and often bounced ideas about clients and business strategies. Sat around a beer after work one day, we felt that there was a real gap in the market to position ourselves as a market commentator and a broker of information; providing value beyond the traditional recruitment service offering; helping to create the market rather than just follow it. We both felt that our industry knowledge and recruitment skillset could make a real difference to the markets we covered and that was the push for us to do it on our own.
Adam: At that time, Alex and I started looking at the finance side of the industry, discussing with actors that were investing in the energy and infrastructure space. We realised they were the ones making all the decisions and we really needed to be spinning around at that level to capture the value along the entire chain, rather than simply focusing on projects and engineering roles.
We were discussing how to integrate a service offering as industry specialists at all stages of development life cycle. We knew the market was there given the engagement we were experiencing. Alex and I were always working through the night and burning the candle, so it came to a point where we knew we could do this better ourselves.
Did you ever think about becoming an entrepreneur in the past?
Alex: I actually did a degree in entrepreneurship which was focused on small business studies. I’ve always been involved in small entrepreneurial endeavours like buying and selling on eBay, things like trainers and sports kits. I had a clear life vision of wanting to create a legacy, leaving something behinfyou are proud of. I feel that creating a successful business is one of the best ways to do that.
Adam: It was obviously pretty risky but ultimately you are your own boss and the buck stops there. With that comes a fair bit of pressure but also a fair bit of freedom. If you’re unhappy with the direction you are going, you’re in full control and not at the mercy of a boss above you. A few times throughout my career, I wouldn’t have made the same decision as my manager, but I wasn’t in a position to pull the strings which led to frustration. So entrepreneurship seemed obvious to me.
We wanted to catch this next wave of projects in the industry and the next wave of money coming in. So why not NextWave?
What was the moment you agreed on starting the company?
Alex: There was a long lead up to it, stemming from the Oil and Gas industry collapsing - which we were covering at the time. At that time, both of us decided to diversify into other related areas like Renewable Energy, Power and Utilities where we saw a huge demand for technical and finance professionals in Asia – especially given the paradigm shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. There was no better time for us to capitalise on it for ourselves.
Adam: The big thing is that we had already built these areas from scratch previously and we were confident that the moment was right to capture the market for the next 15 year run with our recruitment track record. We were already frustrated with the way traditional recruitment businesses were operating - so why not take the plunge? I think we had the right attitude of being resourceful and not shying away from seeking help. We accepted that we didn’t know everything but were ready to learn and find mentors who had done it before us.
Alex: It all came down to moving quickly as we saw the opportunity and it would have been a shame to pass it . Ultimately, the joy of being an entrepreneur is learning as you go along. There are lots of things that go well, some don’t go so well but that’s what makes it really fun. Importantly, our decisions along the way were formulated from a strong set of core values and beliefs, leading us to where we are today.
Why the name NextWave?
Alex: The name was tough at first. We knew what we didn’t want - not a cliche recruitment name with our last names. It actually came up over a beer - common theme now.
Adam: We were asking what do we want to be seen as. We wanted to be first, and ahead of the market - this ended up being our tagline “ahead of the curve”. We wanted to catch the next wave of projects in the industry and the next wave of money coming in. So why not NextWave?
What were you seeking when you established NextWave as a recruitment brand?
Adam: The long term impact was what motivated us to establish the brand - we wanted to be the best in class recruitment consultancy for what we do globally. And that vision was what we were seeking when we started.
But we also had in mind what type of employer we wanted to be. I’d like to think NextWave was a game-changer for the career of people with us. We gave the opportunity to young bucks to be leaders of the business and enabled people that we employ to reach their full potential without any glass-ceilings. It was important for us to give back and I think that inevitably made us a better business in the end because that allowed us to grow quicker and more sustainably.
What were the challenges you had to overcome in the early days?
Adam: Alex and I knew how to do recruitment - that was hard but well within our remit. However, the human resources and operations of the business were not something we were used to and that was the most challenging part. Luckily, we were able to attract someone who is a lot better at this than us, which is great as it plays an important part in the growth of our business.
Alex: Especially in the earlier stages trying to balance generating revenue, building the client base with the added piece of managing the operations, finance, admin and the stresses of a new start-up; as a whole, that was a big challenge.
How did you overcome them and what motivated you to push through?
Adam: In the beginning, because it was new, it was interesting learning all of those pieces and upskilling each other along the way. Curiosity was a real driver. But the real question was whether it was the best use of our time and that’s when we started seeking out people who could do it better than us.
To hire great people and retain them is why we have been able to grow so quickly. It also helped to attract even more great consultants - good people attract good people.
How did you hire your first employee? And how did that impact your business going forward?
Adam: Chris - our first employee - was working with a friend of ours. As soon as the situation changed, we swooped in for the kill and invited him to join us. For us, he embodied all the values we wanted to instill in the business from the beginning and he has been a champion of our culture since day one.
With him came a tremendous amount of trust and we wanted to see that across the business. He was a great enabler and a case study to attract other talents. He did really well in a short amount of time and he was the catalyst to hire a second person in a de-risked manner.
Alex: There couldn’t have been a better time honestly. As a startup, those first hires are incredibly important to the trajectory of the business. Chris came to our very first office opening party for NextWave where Adam and I were working on opposing sides of a ping pong table, and without him knowing it at the time, we started interviewing him.
Chris represented the humbleness we were seeking as part of our culture. He was a huge help to the business as after 9 months we almost had too much work on our plate and he was an essential part of making sure we delivered and built relationships in the long run. Without him, we wouldn’t be where we are today with a number of our key clients.
How did starting and building your own recruitment business change you?
Alex: Personally, it made me a lot more proactive, because the buck stops with us and we’re responsible to find solutions. It had made me think forward more which was really rewarding as I am seeing it to fruition now. Outside of that, I gained a newfound frugalness, especially in the early days when I was living out of my girlfriend's parents' house, which was an interesting experience, to say the least.
Adam: I think I’ve aged 10 years in the span of 3 years. Although not much more maturing happened, I just feel older, unfortunately. But I think I’ve become more patient and I accepted that it wasn’t going to go perfectly. We were going to break eggs along the way and that’s ok, we addressed it and we moved on. But in the early days, learning to be more accepting and paced rather than having the foot on the accelerator all the time was a hard lesson.
Alex and Adam celebrating their first deal in March 2016
What was your idea of the NextWave culture you wanted to build?
Adam: To me, Alex was the best recruitment consultant in the market. I was wondering what were the things that made him better than anyone else I have ever worked with. A couple of words came to mind, and one of them was elite - giving the best possible service to a client and a candidate. That is something, we tried really hard to scale and multiply when building our business. The other one is motivated - we worked extremely hard just for the sake of creating something for ourselves. And those two words are now part of our main values for NextWave, pasted on our wall in the office and embodied by our consultants in the room.
Alex: Both of us were incredibly passionate about recruitment and the Energy industry. That led us to take more care and really dig deep to deliver a better service because we loved what we did and the industry were a part of.
In terms of how we work together as a team, we are very much used to being collaborative, shouting across the room to share information and using each other’s knowledge to our advantage to deliver the best service possible. This is something that I see replicated by our consultants today as a core value and also to what I attribute a lot of our success.
To what would you attribute the success of NextWave taking off?
Adam: Rather cliche, but I would attribute it to our tagline - ahead of the curve. We have hired people who are better than us, can see opportunities that we would otherwise miss and have allowed the business to capitalise on the next wave of openings.
Alex: I think that’s well illustrated by the fact that we started in Energy and are now covering the Technology market as well - which is hugely exciting for us. Ahead of the curve is also about the actual markets we work with and Technology was one that we identified that fitted the bill.
Adam: I would also attribute our success to the people part of NextWave, not only the individuals but the collaboration of everyone coming together. We have a lot of different personalities - Alex and I are very different, even opposites but the combination works. Everyone is great, but what is pushing them to outperform is the combination of everyone together driving the business forward.
Alex: It has been a snowball effect in that sense. To hire great people and retain them is why we have been able to grow so quickly. It also helped to attract even more great consultants - good people attract good people. We have been fortunate along the way and paid attention to what people within the business wanted to do and supported them on that journey; likewise, they have been loyal to our adventure. The business is more than Adam and me, we are scaling around everyone else sharing our journey.