Many girls might hope for something sparkly on St Valentine's Day. But last year, Anna Taylor, 24, got a different kind of proposal. Her entrepreneurial boyfriend, Jamie Mistlin, 27, presented her with a business proposition instead. "It was half-term, and we had gone away for Valentine's weekend," remembers Taylor. "So most people would be expecting the big question and a diamond ring. But instead, Jamie said, 'You know, I still fancy that idea we talked about - setting up an online recruitment agency. What do you think?'.
" Starting a fledgling business is always tough, especially for young graduates. "It was terribly daunting at first," recalls Taylor, "and it's certainly been stressful. We lost our social life - our friends would call up on Friday night, and we'd still be in the office." But the couple felt that they would make good business partners, and were keen to try something new.
Taylor had graduated in 2003 from Royal Holloway, where she had met Mistlin, and was working as an English teacher. Mistlin graduated in 2005, having worked in business before doing his degree. "I'd gone a more traditional route, whereas Jamie had always wanted to get into the business world," explains Taylor. "But we're both ambitious, and our differences make us work well together."
Taylor and Mistlin had firsthand experience of the recruitment industry, as both were temping veterans. They had temped their way through university, picking up much-needed cash and business experience along the way. Frustrated with what they saw as the shortcomings of traditional high-street recruitment agencies, the pair decided that there was a gap in the market for a new kind of temping agency. "We felt that we weren't getting the best deal from recruitment agencies," says Taylor. "We had good qualifications that weren't taken into account - for example, Jamie often got contacted for manual work while doing his degree. And we were fed up with the cut that agencies were taking."
On the day after Mistlin finished his degree, he and Taylor started to sketch out an online agency, with tighter margins and a system tailored to match candidates with jobs. "We both sat down and wrote a 250-page business plan," recalls Taylor. "It was almost as big as the Yellow Pages."
They worked with web designers to create the perfect website, talked to universities, and made sure that they were up to speed with current business legislation. The company is a member of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), which represents the UK recruitment industry. "We're not a couple of kids messing around in business," stresses Mistlin. "We spent a lot of time tweaking the business plan, to make sure we got it right."
Mistlin describes their just-launched company, Recruitment Revolution, as "a hybrid between a high- street recruitment agency and an online jobs board". The company was set up exclusively for students and graduates, who can register for free to post a CV on the website.
Employers may scan the online database themselves, or pay a £10 fee for the agency to put together a shortlist of suitable job candidates. If an employer decides to invite a candidate for an interview, a simple click of the mouse will inform the prospective candidate by text message.
The website also offers free online courses so that registered candidates can spruce up their computer skills. And there are alluring discounts and special offers, including a clever "turn your friends into cash" scheme, in which members who recommend friends to the agency are rewarded with 50 pence for every hour their friends work. "We wanted to make things more interactive and fun," explains Mistlin.
The couple also wanted to give temps more control over what they earned, so candidates are free to pitch a higher or lower rate of pay for their work, if they don't want to accept the original rate proposed. The advantages of negotiating more money for your services are pretty clear - you earn more. But, as Mistlin explains, proposing a lower rate is also a smart strategy, as it gives candidates a chance to negotiate with employers and perhaps nab a great job aimed at someone with more experience. "It's a competition system - candidates can just sit back and wait for the offers to come in," he says.