Finding a job can be a tedious and frustrating experience for many graduates in Africa. Employers, too, struggle to find the best candidate in the continent’s ballooning pool of job seekers. Kenyan startup Duma Works hopes to reform the labour sector in emerging economies by helping employers and employees effectively navigate the recruiting process.
The startup was established by US entrepreneurs Christine Blauvelt and Arielle Sandor after a short stay in Kenya where they encountered many young people who were struggling to find jobs. When they graduated from Princeton University in the US the duo chose to return to Kenya to build Duma Works.
“We are not the kind of people that were interested in the good jobs. After we graduated we decided to do the project together and there were a lot of funding opportunities at Princeton, [which], thankfully, is well endowed. We were able to get a lot of momentum around this idea and eventually raised a private round with investors,” says Sandor.
Duma Works enables job seekers to create profiles describing their skills, location and professional network via the web and mobile phones. The mobile phone platform is SMS-based, meaning anyone with a basic phone can sign up. Employers gain access to the most appropriate candidates and avoid being bombarded by a flurry of applications from unqualified or unsuitable candidates.
“It does job matching for people,” explains Sandor.
She says Duma Works is more than just a job dash and offers a wider reach than a traditional human resources (HR) agency.
“Most HR companies are manually done so in terms of scaling and having it reach populations that don’t have access to the internet to email their CVs to the HR firm is one big gap. HR firms also typically deal with executive level positions and that is not our market. We are going for the entry level and lower management positions.”
Duma Works has signed up more than 7,000 active job seekers and conducted hiring for over 100 employers in Kenya. Sandor notes that in the future the service will be replicated in emerging markets across Africa and later to Southeast Asia and South America.
Sandor says running the startup has been a great learning experience, although the business has not grown as fast as she thought it would.
“But I guess that is the experience with most startups. You always think it is going to take off. You think it is going to be the next Facebook or LinkedIn in two months.
“It has been a rollercoaster. It’s the best learning experience I could have ever had in my life. It has given me a lot more confidence and it’s changed the way I think about things. The best thing that I love about it is I get to interact with many people from different backgrounds.”
Sandor advices other entrepreneurs to take advantage of capacity building and funding opportunities offered by incubator programmes. Last year Duma Works won a US$100,000 grant from The Rockefeller Foundation Centennial Innovation Challenge targeted at organisations with the potential to transform the lives of people working in informal economies across the globe.
“Do your own research because you want to make sure that if you are going to cut a deal with anybody you want to get a fair deal,” says Sandor.
“I have been seeing some trends in the Nairobi market of startups that are doing really well versus startups that are struggling and the difference is the access to capital. I think in the Kenyan market there is not enough access to funding. I see small peanuts being given to a few startups for too much equity. Honestly, the thing that startups really need to get to the next stage is that funding. So startups need to look outside for international opportunities. They need to have a business partner that is a really good writer to apply for [opportunities].”
One of the challenges Duma Works faces is getting people to understand the new service.
“It’s a new concept. When people are thinking about jobs they are thinking about the traditional word of mouth, recruiting agencies and job boards. So part of our marketing strategy is to do training and get people to understand the concept.”
Making a choice
Other hurdles revolve around internal management systems and the firm’s team but Sandor says she has no regrets about choosing this path.
“I turned down a job to come here. I could have been living in Tribeca (New York City) but I didn’t want to because I would be a cog in the wheel in a consulting firm making PowerPoint presentations and holding my breath until my two year contract ends so I can leave. I didn’t want to do that. This is more interesting. You get more personal and professional growth from it.”
That choice, she says, has come with some sacrifices.
“The money thing is a struggle. I definitely don’t have any savings and if I ever did it would go to the company, but it doesn’t matter [because] I am not in my late 20s, I am not thinking of having a family [and] I am not saving up for diapers,” she says. “The concept of being a life-long employee is no longer a thing. It’s more about doing what you are really passionate about and creating your own way, for instance, building a company.”
Sandor says being an entrepreneur is the new ‘it’ thing but warns that “entrepreneurship is not for everyone”.
“I think you need to know yourself. Some people are inclined towards employment. Entrepreneurs need to know that you need to be able to pave your own way through things. I think the worst part about entrepreneurship becoming sexy is that a lot of people who don’t have the entrepreneurial thing get into it and it doesn’t work out. Don’t get into it because of the flashy [stories] you hear.”