Virtue at Work: My Experience Working at a Small Start-Up

For the past two years, I’ve been employed in various roles for the job search start-up JobVirtue.com. As is often the case when working for a small business, my position within the company went through a number of big changes, so that I can happily say that the work I do now is nothing like the work I did when I first started—each season brings with it new duties, new tasks and new responsibilities, and my experience evolves in time with the company’s growth.

Perhaps readers know what I’m talking about. A hefty 46% of all businesses in Canada are small businesses (as of July 2011, the most recent date for statistics on the subject), so chances are high that a good percentage of you are employed in a company with less–maybe much less–than 100 employees. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about; we can’t all work for the Fortune 100.

But back to my job. The workload varies from week to week; I sometimes find myself completing tasks that feel way over my head; website development is ongoing and unending; and business pressures threaten to turn the staff and management into pudding at every sharp turn. But do I regret staying on-board for so long and through so much? Not on your life.

Over my brief career working for JobVirtue, I’ve done all of the following as part of my job:

  • Scripted and recorded a video resume
  • Written and edited a boatload of content and copy
  • Prepared reports and manuals
  • Drafted official correspondence and other documents
  • Sourced, edited and uploaded graphics and other art
  • Provided administrative assistance to management and co-workers
  • Translated from Russian into English
  • Completed SEO work that helped bump up the site’s online rankings
  • Edited PHP and HTML code
  • Created numerous Excel spreadsheets
  • Conducted B2B communications with companies in various industries
  • Provided my professional opinion on site design and development, among other things
  • Prepared and submitted press materials and releases
  • Worked on the site’s back-end using various database platforms
  • Connected and communicated with freelancers across the globe
  • Scripted (and re-scripted, multiple times) a Flash video about website features
  • Trained a potential replacement to do my work instead of, and/or as a complement, to me

And these were not even part of the job description.

It’s not a glamorous list, by any means. My unofficial job title may be “Floater” or “Gal Friday”, simply because I’m often asked to complete whatever work is needed at the moment–and it can vary a lot. But by sticking with this job over the long haul, I’ve managed to sample different kinds of work—from marketing, to writing, to editing, to coding—and find where my weaknesses and strengths lie; together, these experiences shaped me into the kind of worker (and writer) I am today. That’s the beauty of working for a small business.

The work is very flexible, and allows for many learning opportunities. I’ll never forget the day I approached my boss with a marketing idea based on a number of books I picked up at the local library. He actually gave me the opportunity to come in to work one day and sit at my desk and study these books and make notes on them. Just how many university students get paid to study?

I received a number of competing job offers early on in my time working for JobVirtue, but I decided to stick it out. And I’m glad I did; today I enjoy a healthy working relationship with the company, and the satisfaction of having solid experience working in an environment that encourages innovative and entrepreneurial thinking. The pay’s not too bad, either.

History and Vision

JobVirtue has its roots in the recession-shocked days of 2008/2009, and is part of a greater online trend of sharing information and resources with those affected by world-wide job losses and massive restructuring. My boss, Founder and CEO Andrei Dou, drew on over a decade of experience in the human resources industry when first launching the site. He spent years working in the field and learning about the ways employers search for employees, how job hunters look for work and how the intricate dynamics of the shifting labour market affect and are affected by human resources specifically and the economy in general.

I sat down to speak with my boss last week at his Toronto office, where he expressed his vision for the company and described just what, exactly, he plans to accomplish with the website.

He said, “The idea came from HR. Employers sometimes cannot get the right people and the main idea is this: we want to create a database for all the employers—they can come to one website and from any location find their required candidates. It’s the same idea as an employment agency, but it’s universal for all people, for everybody who employs other people.”

But what makes JobVirtue different from the mass of other job search and employment-related websites? How does it stand out and apart in the online arena? Just what does JobVirtue have on Monster, Workopolis and LinkedIn?

According to Mr. Dou, “The only competitor we have that has very similar features is LinkedIn. And LinkedIn is known as a professional website for professionals. We are trying to make [JobVirtue] accessible for all people, and we know that in the very near future, people who are involved with general labour, people from more and more classes will be using the Internet to find work. Our aim is to cater to their needs and for professionals as well, introducing new features like a video resume to all types of people.”

The company strives to be all-inclusive, to help those who need it most and who may not have as strong a voice and as large an online presence as the upper classes. Job hunting resources and communication opportunities with employers should be accessible to everyone, not just “the pros”. As a member of the job search site, a given user can have a professional online profile-resume while at the same time searching for work that is not traditionally considered “professional”. Waiters, janitors, cashiers, construction workers, personal support workers and other general labourers can all sign up free of charge and connect with the employers who are looking for them and communicate directly through JV social network.

“No other websites have features like ours, so far,” Mr. Dou adds. “Workopolis, Monster, and others that we know don’t develop [this aspect] in the same sort of depth in that field … There are always people who are unemployed, or who have a job and are open to better opportunities.” JobVirtue puts the focus squarely on them.

What is JobVirtue, Anyway?

JobVirtue provides a welcoming online space for job searching individuals, and serves to match them up with the appropriate jobs and employers. While still in the beta stage of website development, the site does currently have many useful and relevant features for the jobless, the worker-less or just those who wish to share information and learn about new opportunities at other companies.

“JobVirtue is a convenient tool to communicate between people who want a job directly with employers, and employers to find their candidates quickly and fast,” Mr. Dou says. “That’s a major goal. And the second thing is people who are sharing their info about companies including feedback about companies they worked for.”

Word Count: 1379; Arbitrage Magazine

May 26, 2012: http://www.arbitragemagazine.com/features/virtue-work-experience-working-small-start-up/

***

Cancer Cure Not Being Funded

Several years ago, University of Alberta researchers made the discovery of a lifetime: a colourless, odourless and readily-available compound that may be the ultimate cure for cancer. Researched since 2007, this compound, dichloroacetate (or DCA), has the fortune (and paradoxical misfortune) of being very inexpensive to produce.

“Companies are interested in producing a cure for cancer. However, they’re not interested in that drug being cheap.”

The compound went through clinical trials back in May of 2010 and is now tentatively being used on an off-patent basis. Since DCA cannot be patented, pharmaceutical companies do not stand to make a profit from it. Therein lies the rub; if Big Pharma cannot make a profit from a given medication, there is no incentive to market it or prepare it for widespread and public use. As a result, DCA is now used on a basis different from other cancer treatments. By individuals who somehow gained access to the compound, by doctors who administer it as a non-approved drug, or by scientists who test it in the lab.

Think of it as Bottled Water 2.0; try selling it high when everybody knows you can buy it ridiculously low.

The study and testing of this particular cancer drug runs primarily on donations rather than on capital. There is no “Dichlorathine Rx” sold in pill form at your local drugstore, and there may never be such a thing unless enough philanthropists and individual donors step in.

I spoke briefly with Dmitry, a biochemistry graduate student at York University last week to try and gain some insight into this puzzling but urgent issue. He had a fair bit to say about the business of pharmaceutical research and development (R&D), though he was not aware of DCA at the time of our interview.

“Companies are interested in producing a cure for cancer. However, they’re not interested in that drug being cheap,” he says.

“There is a certain antibiotic that was proven to be effective against cancer, but it did not get any research funding because it’s already on the market for about $2 a pack. It’s very difficult to take a lot of money for something that costs so little.”

According to Dmitry’s calculations, it takes on average 15 to 20 years to move a given drug from the lab to the drugstore, and all the costs associated with its development, production and marketing can reach up to $1 billion. Make no mistake; it’s big business.

“There are simply no investors for this class of drugs. New products that appear must be expensive in order to reimburse and return all the money that was initially invested and expended in previous, unsuccessful R&D attempts. So there has to be profit; if there is no profit, then there are more expenditures than profits, nobody invests in anything, and medical progress comes to a halt.”

Dmitry maintains that pharmaceutical companies run on principles similar to those in any other kind of business; to create a new product, it is necessary to take on a certain amount of risk, to invest in an idea and set up the conditions and environment for the project to come to fruition. Capital needed to invest in a standard laboratory for the research and development of a given drug can run up to the millions of dollars just for equipment and space. Add on maintenance and material expenses, among other things, and it becomes understandable why Big Pharma is so interested in making a profit.

Pharma’s scientists are a harried, hardworking bunch, relying on government and business funding grants to keep them afloat and on top of the research and development game. And they need their work to yield some kind of a return on all the effort and expense they go through. So don’t be too hard on Big Pharma; it represents innovation and scientific striving. And like any industry or system, it is far from perfect.

You want my opinion? I think we should bring DCA to Kickstarter, or a similar funding platform. Let’s launch DCA into the stratosphere. Let’s give cancer the middle finger. Let’s give to a cause bigger than ourselves. The health of our near and dear ones is at stake.

Word Count: 700; Arbitrage Magazine

May 27, 2012: http://www.arbitragemagazine.com/topics/science-technology/cancer-cure-funded164/

editor writer

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