Adam Bercovici of Luminari on building online communities and why young people are tired of the traditional corporate gig
Adam Bercovici is the co-founder of Luminari, Canada’s largest community of CPAs and CPA candidates which keeps them up to date on the job market, volunteer opportunities, part-time roles, startup positions and interesting and relevant content. Adam is a seasoned marketing professional and recognized technology leader who never passes up the opportunity to catch a great sports game.
Looking back ten years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career? How did you get here?
Growing up, I was always that kid who was coming up with crazy business ideas and pitching them to people so Entrepreneurship is something I’ve always been passionate about. Since I realized early on that I wasn’t the best at math (which generally takes you out of the running to go to business school), I tried to figure out how to create experiences that every business needs. That drive, along with my interest in marketing, led me to the advertising world for the first seven years of my career. However, I was constantly assessing when would be the best time to go and make the jump to starting my own thing. What got me to where I am now was continuing to build up my skills in understanding marketing and online community building, along with constantly searching out people who compliment my skill set. I knew I never wanted to build a business alone and I’ve always known how important it is to have great people who compliment you around. I actually jumped around a lot in the early days between different ad agencies and found myself doing a lot of work for financial companies like RBC and MasterCard. The best experience that prepared me for what I’m doing now was having the chance to run the Chevrolet sponsorship of Hockey Canada. They were trying to launch a grassroots hockey project and I was in charge of trying to set up that community.
Another really important thing was that Luminari’s other co-founder, who also happens to be my best friend, worked at a startup for three years. The startup actually failed, which gave us a lot of insight; I don’t know if we would have been able to do what we have done thus far if it wasn’t for that experience he had.
What gave you the big idea to start Luminari and how do you differentiate yourselves in the market?
Luminari actually came about as a result of trying to start another business that didn’t work out. At that point, my co-founder and I were pretty bummed out and were considering going back to the corporate world. Instead, we decided to give entrepreneurship one more shot and dreamt up this idea of an external employee referral business. After going on about 500 interviews of potential customers, we came to realize that the people we were interviewing actually just wanted better curation of jobs and jobs that truly applied to them on an online platform. LinkedIn just wasn’t cutting it for them. That is where Luminari was born and what dovetails into what sets us apart: we believe that there is no other platform out there that connects people with relevant jobs the same way we do for financial professionals. We bring together this idea of relevancy and community to deliver an experience to largely passive job seekers that no other career platform can. We also provide volunteer opportunities for CPAs along with networking opportunities to our community and are starting to get into education.
Why did you decide to focus on CPA’s and financial professionals?
We came to realize that one of the biggest issues with LinkedIn was that it was trying to be too many things to too many people. Therefore, in order to start, we wanted to go pretty niche and start in an area where we had some credibility. What’s also helped us is that the CPA is quite a technical designation and by and large, the people who have CPA’s are competent enough to do the job they are asked to do. Outside of that, it comes down to cultural fit and that’s not where we play. We want to be a sourcing tool for companies.
What is the biggest challenge that you face as a business today and why?
Marketplaces are hard businesses to start because you need to be focused on building both sides of the user base at the same time. It’s a constant effort to try to get more companies and users to join our platform. We’ve also had to do a lot of work around our messaging because when we started, we were known as a platform that was just meant for job alerts. The reality is that we are so much more than that, but educating our customers and users around that has proven to be a continued work in progress. It’s been a combination of general awareness problems along with effectively communicating our value proposition.
What are some of the most important business lessons you have had to learn the hard way? How have they enabled your success?
There is no question that I’ve learned more running a company for two years than I did while being in advertising for seven years. I would highly recommend working at a startup for any young person who is just starting their career. You often need to learn so much and solve a lot of diverse problems.
In terms of what I learned, I think there is an important piece around following your gut a bit more and becoming more efficient at devalidating ideas when they just aren’t working out. I wish I did more of trying to poke holes in ideas to see if they could really work or not. A lot of startup founders who I speak to think that they have a great idea and are well on their way to paying a development shop $40k to build their concept without having spoken with any of their potential users about what they plan to build.
One really needs to focus on the pain points that you are helping to alleviate and what the ultimate minimal viable product is. Focusing on solving a single problem is critical and you can expand out as you go along. I also can’t I can’t overemphasize the importance of going out and listening to your customers. There shouldn’t be a day that goes by without you being in contact with them.
What does leadership look like to you and how does the next generation need to start thinking differently about leadership?
What leadership means to us is giving people the power to be ambassadors for our company and go out to market to act on behalf of the company in a way they think is best. Empowering people to have influence over the future of the company no matter what position they are in is important, but what’s more important is giving them the confidence where they feel like they can go and do that kind of stuff. The younger folks don’t believe that they need to wait ten years before they can make a meaningful contribution to the organization or made into a manager and that is not going to change. What must change is a company’s ability to better foster the right environments which show that the right people are getting promoted for the right reasons which in turn motivates younger people to stick around. This this is the paradigm shift that is happening in the workforce and it’s not going anywhere.
For what is going to happen in the future, there is no question that people of the younger generation want to feel like their voices are being heard and their opinions are valued. This is going to be a very important aspect of leadership moving forward. Many don’t want to be a part of these large organizations where they feel as though they are just a number. A great example is that we were recently hiring for an Operations Manager role and I was speaking to an individual from Scotland who had just quit his high paying corporate job to move to Toronto in search of finding something to be a part of that he was passionate about. This individual was willing to entertain a $60,000 pay cut to do that and I think that kind of thinking encompasses people’s needs these days to find work they actually care about.
What would be your one piece of advice for those in the workforce today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?
Get out there and start side hustling. Go and find some startup that you can help out part time or start reading about different industries where you may discover a passion that you hadn’t previously considered. Become more involved in a community that interests you and things will evolve over time. Something we’ve done at Luminari is give the people on our platform the opportunity to volunteer their time helping early stage startups conduct things like financial projections and risk management which at the end of the day, helps those people explore different kinds of opportunities which previously may not have been as easily available to them.