Start-up snapshot: Taking time and stress out of hiring staff

Hassan Elmi

Hassan Elmi

Start-up: (Kenya) is a Kenya-based company that seeks to make the hiring process less time consuming. It has developed a job applicant tracking system that helps HR managers and recruitment agencies to track, manage and report the job hiring process. How we made it in Africa talks to CEO Hassan Elmi.

1. Tell us more about your start-up. seeks to reduce the hassle involved in hiring. When a company places a job advertisement they receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of applications. They receive CVs via email and some as paper. Managers then spend up to several weeks sifting through them all. Then they have to short-list, interview candidates, then short-list again for another round of interviews. It is a hectic process. makes it possible for recruiters to run the entire recruitment process, from shortlist to picking the top candidate, on a single dashboard. When posting a job, companies that use will not give their email address, but use a link directing candidates to our website where they will create a CV. An HR manager will then use our platform to go through the CVs, shortlist, arrange interviews and write reports about the candidates.

Other staff members can also look at the CVs and comments made by the HR team and offer advice on who seems the best candidate. It is an efficient process which saves time and allows several people to be involved in the hiring process. It is also an open process, and even 10 years later one can go back and review all the steps taken.

2. If you were given $1m to invest in your company now, where would it go?

I would gradually expand our team, particularly the sales and technical sides. We would set timelines, select specific companies to approach, and sign up more paying customers. I’d be very careful with spending, taking a small portion of the money and see if we can make a profit out of it. I would run a lean operation because I know how hard it is to get funding and paying customers. Once you get funding you have to be careful and make sure it results into more sales and profits.

3. What risks does your business face?

When I explain to people what we do their faces light up. But the challenge is getting them to actually use the service. Getting customers on board is the hardest part. Even though HR managers and recruiters know will solve a big problem, and they even sign up and get training, they are still resistant to change. They are used to the usual way even though they complain about the long hours that come with it. I find it amazing that people are comfortable with the nightmare of recruitment as it is. One recruitment agency we interacted with had a wardrobe in their office with many hundreds of paper CVs. So we digitised 1,800 documents, but even after that they were slow to use our service. Potential users are reluctant to change.

4. What has been your biggest mistake, and what have you learnt from it?

I spent a lot of time and resources building the idea while locking in myself and my team and not engaging the target customers. It is a mistake many entrepreneurs make, and one that is very costly. I’ve had to tweak the model several times. It took us three years to finally have a model people are willing to pay for. I learnt that before you go wild about your ideas, it is important to first understand who your target customer is. Understand their pain, come up with ideas and find out if they like those ideas. Time is the one resource you can’t get back. So don’t waste weeks building something you are not sure your target customers will pay for.

After more than three years at this I have learnt so much. Entrepreneurship makes you lose weight! In those early days I did not have enough money. I was living on one meal a day and became skinny. It makes you lose sleep because you face so many roadblocks. You really need to think hard and plan before you jump onto the bandwagon of entrepreneurship. If you can’t see your idea generating some money in the short-term you need to think again. It is important to figure out the money aspect right from day one. Are people going to pay for your services? Will it be enough money to at least sustain you?

You should also have the right co-founders and they should all meet set targets to own shares in the business. Don’t go for ideas that rely on traction. In Silicon Valley investors put money into ideas that attract huge numbers of users, but here people want to invest in ideas that generate money in the short-term. Having thousands of users and no clear income-generating model is not appealing.

5. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

When international medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) used our solution to post jobs and manage its recruitment. They were the first organisation to actually use the service. I felt like I had accomplished something. It was an exciting moment.