Case Study: James Caan

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One of James’s early jobs was in recruitment. When he worked in recruitment he would find out who the top recruitment agents were and ask if he could work along side them to learn as much as possible. One of his interviewees was a woman called Aisha (his future wife). She was into fashion and wanted to start a boutique. James offered to finance her new venture but didn’t have the money. He borrowed £30,000 by getting 3 credit cards which had a £10,000 limit.

He eventually left his recruitment role and worked full time in the boutique. However, he became restless and wanted to start his own recruitment company. He started an agency called Alexander Mann. For him it was very important to have a prestigious address, he wanted an office in a high end area. He went around knocking on doors in Pall Mall looking for office space. Everywhere he went the rents they wanted were far outside his budget so he asked if he could rent a storage closet. The room he rented was so small when he open the door it would bang off his desk.

Initially he started cold calling companies asking if they had any vacancies. And every time they would slam the phone down. He talks about how difficult and soul destroying it was to cold call. He recalls the time when he was sitting in the park thinking what could he do differently that would grab the attention of the person on the other end of the phone. To the other person on the phone he was just another agency looking for business. But this was when he had his eureka moment.

He asked himself, if I was the other person on the end of the phone what would I like to hear? Instead of asking for something like a beggar he instead wanted to offer value. He sat down and wrote out the description for the ideal candidate. He detailed every aspect of their education and work experience. Now he would call the company telling them about this great candidate who just walked in the door. And it worked, companies were interested and they described suitable positions available for their ideal candidate, his name was Craig.

Now the problem was finding these candidates. When he was hiring top sales reps he’d contact a competitors firm telling them he had tickets to a show being run by Porsche and he only had 5 tickets to give away and he needed the names of the top Porsche enthusiasts. In most cases they’d give him the names of their top sales reps. He’d then contact the sales reps about the opportunity he had.

When potential candidates would call to his office to be interviewed  obviously he didn’t want to bring them to the broom closet, that would destroy the perception he had built. So he’d meet them in the reception area and tell them, “Listen, we’re running a massive ad campaign, all the meeting rooms are chock-a-block (busy), why don’t we grab a coffee around the corner”. He’d explain the opportunity and if they were interested he’d get back onto the company he had contacted with their ideal candidate, Craig. “Hi this is James, unfortunately Craig has accepted another opportunity but I didn’t want to come back empty handed so I have another candidate Stewart which I think would be a good fit”. If they were interest they’d book an interview and if Stewart was successful James would get his commission. He repeated this process for a number years and taking on new agents, eventually selling his recruitment agency and then moving into investing in companies.

His story really illustrates you don’t need much money to start a business. I would highly recommend you read his book The Real Deal by  James Caan.



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