James Lesner: “I expect Amsterdam’s tech scene to thrive even more”

For those who don’t know him, James Lesner is frequently described as a smiley person who is always keen to help and has an extremely good sense of humour. Taken together, these characteristics probably go a long way to explaining his success as a tech recruiter. Originally from London, he studied Graphic Design at The University of Leeds. He made his switch from pixels to people by chance when working for a recruitment company to save up some money to go backpacking. That was when he realised that he enjoyed helping people find amazing jobs in cool startups and tech companies. When he returned from his 6 month trip around South America, he began working at the same recruitment company and stayed there for the next 3 years.

He then made the move to Amsterdam to take his first internal recruitment position with TravelBird, before eventually moving to Catawiki. He is currently responsible for Technical, Product and Data Recruitment at Catawiki, a global eCommerce business with offices around the world and its headquarters in the Netherlands.

When did you come to Amsterdam? How is life here so far?
I moved to Amsterdam in May 2015 and life here has been great since day one. My favourite part about living here is being able to cycle almost anywhere within 20 minutes. We have a rare mix of amazing restaurants and bars, beautiful views and a thriving tech scene.

How come you swapped London for Amsterdam?
As my career advanced in recruitment, I realised that to really impact companies directly and help them grow, it would be more beneficial to be an internal recruiter rather than work for an agency. When I was presented with the chance to live in a new city, gain international experience and work for a thriving tech startup I had to say yes!

How has Catawiki evolved since the $94.43 million investment?
We have used the investment to grow internationally (now active in 12 countries including China), to improve the website and mobile apps and invest in talent. In the last year alone we have nearly doubled in size and made giant leaps in optimising the user experience.

Hiring 100+ people in 12 months sounds like a big challenge. How do you attract talent to Catawiki?
If I look at how we attract technical talent at Catawiki, we use a combination of headhunting, advertising on the right channels (we see Marketplaces like Angel.co, HoneyPot, Workshape etc becoming more popular) and proactive networking. We host our own CataTalks events (mini tech conferences) which have also been a great way of showing the local community how cool it is to work here. Our referral scheme is also a successful way of leveraging top talent. On top of all this, we try to run a fast and highly personal recruitment process which sets us apart from competitors.

According to Honeypot, in 2020 the projected demand for developers in the Netherlands will be 34,000 when in 2015 it was 23,000. How important will it be to have sorted out problematic visa issues by then?
The Dutch government has already been proactive in trying to encourage the migration of highly skilled migrants, especially in the tech scene. As such, we can already see the international engineering community growing here, and I expect this to continue in the coming years and Amsterdam’s tech scene to thrive even more.

Uber, Google, Booking, TomTom… how do you compete with these big names to bring in developers?
Amsterdam is indeed home to some amazing companies, but Catawiki too is a really inspiring place to work right now. Our product is at an earlier stage which means as an Engineer, Product Manager or Data Scientist (in fact anyone), you really get to build things from the ground up which can be an even more exciting challenge than working on smaller fixes for a larger company. What’s more, the product itself is super interesting; you get to help people buy and sell amazing items ranging from classic Porsche cars to real Dinosaur bones!

The Global Startup Ecosystem research, conducted by Compass, ranks Amsterdam as the 3rd European capital in terms of Growth Index right after Berlin and London. What can Amsterdam offer that these other cities can’t?
From a financial point of view, Amsterdam has a special tax break for highly skilled migrants called the 30% rule (30% of your salary completely untaxed). This combined with human factors like a good work-life balance, a diverse and open community and a never ending list of tech conferences, music festivals and events makes Amsterdam a very attractive place to be.

How would you describe your workplace culture?
We have a social and international working environment that encourages anyone in the business to come up with and then test new ideas. The rapid growth of Catawiki means that no day is the same!

Miranda Kalinowski’s favourite interview question is: “On your very best day at work — the day you come home and think you have the best job in the world — what did you do?” What’s yours?
The day I come home and think I have the best job in the world… I probably had lunch with one of the people I helped hire who moved to Amsterdam from another country. When people tell me that they’re delighted to have made the move and join Catawiki, are excelling in their job and are happy…. that makes me proud.

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