This startup is a year into an employment experiment - no perks, lower pay, and you're free after 2 years
- Jolt is a career development startup with employees in San Francisco, New York, and Tel Aviv.
- About a year ago, Jolt started an employment experiment called "chapterships."
- The program offers few perks and the pay isn't as high as at Google or Facebook, but it's designed to teach employees what they need to know for their next jobs.
- The program didn't worked out as originally intended, because Jolt's millennial workforce didn't know what they wanted to do next.
About a year ago, Jolt, a career development startup with offices in California, New York, and Israel, started an experiment with how it employs its workers.
Rather than provide snacks or sky-high salaries, Jolt instead offered to help employees prepare for their dream jobs, whatever those would be. Under the program, which it called "chapterships," workers' jobs would end after two years. At that point, they could leave or find a new role at Jolt that was closer to their eventual goal.
Underlying the new arrangement was the belief that millennial tech workers weren't really looking jobs they would stay in for the rest of their lives. Instead, the company believed most millennials were looking for jobs they'd only stay in for a year or two and then move on after learning all they could from them.
But things didn't worked out exactly the way Deutsch thought they would.
It turns out that millennial workers often don't know where they want to end up, career-wise.
"People have no idea what they want to do next," Deutsch told Business Insider in a recent interview. "Therefore, it's hard for them to prepare for it."
Jolt hasn't given up on chapterships. But that realization has prompted the company to modify the program to help employees figure out what they want out of life.
The insight also inspired some big changes in Jolt's business.
The "chapterships" principle
The "chapterships" name comes from the idea of helping employees "better prepare for [their] next chapter," said Deutsch, who expounded on the principle in a book he wrote. Chaptership has two key tenets:
- Jobs are over after two years, no matter what. At that point, employees can find a new two-year "mission" at the company or leave, with no hard feelings.
- Jobs don't come with cushy, Google-esque perks, and salaries are typically below market rates. The company takes the money saved on salaries and perks and invests that into employee training, providing workers with the skills they want or need to learn for their next career moves.
Jolt is standing by those tenets, Deutsch said. And the program seems to be attracting employees; the company has grown from 14 people in February to 19 today. But the company has had to make some adjustments along the way.
Originally, Jolt's managers were responsible for making sure that the workers who reported to them were sticking to their career development plans. But the company came to believe that arrangement was unsustainable. The company was essentially asking managers to prepare employees to leave the company for their next jobs at the same time it was requiring them to get the employees to do their current work.
"There's a built-in conflict of interest that makes helping your employees prepare for their next chapter harder," Deutsch said.
And so Jolt has started experimenting with bringing in outside career coaches. Every two weeks, each employee meets with a career coach in a confidential session subsidized by the company.
Jolt also is giving employees more time to figure out their career goals. They now have a year after being hired to put together their personal development plans, up from just three weeks initially.
"Basically, a huge part of helping millennial employees is actually helping them figure out what they want to be," Deutsch said.
The big lesson
The process of evaluating and adjusting the chaptership program gave Deutsch and his team some important insights into Jolt's business.
Jolt connects people looking for mentoring or training with experts in particular areas, setting up videoconferences between them. Originally, it sold its service to corporations, which paid a la carte for training sessions for their employees.
The problem with that model was that employees weren't super-excited about attending the sessions. That's because they were designed to help employees get better at the jobs they had, not the jobs they wanted, Deutsche said.
Demand was tepid: Customers only purchased an average of one session a month.
But Jolt drew on the insight it gained from its own employees and its chaptership program and changed its business. The company is now targeting workers, not employers. And its training sessions and programs are designed to help workers figure out where they want to go with their careers and help them prepare.
Jolt now offers what Deutsch likens to a gym membership. Customers pay a monthly fee to attend an unlimited number of career development workshops that it offers in different fields.
Although Jolt still provides its training sessions via video conferences, customers can't just tune in at home. The company believes in in-person networking. So it rents out office conference rooms after working hours to host its teleconferenced sessions.
Right now, the company is only offering its service in New York City. In early tests, each location is booking 100 to 200 subscribers, Deutsch said. Jolt is testing a system that could turn a conference room into a Jolt "microcampus" - teleconferencing system and all - in a matter of minutes.
"It allows people to take a taste of different things and build their own path to success," he said.