NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 17 – As the world battles the coronavirus pandemic and its impact, one challenge has really stood out: loss of jobs.
Capital Business speaks to Paul Breloff, CEO and Co-Founder of recruitment technology firm Shortlist, which is striving to connect potential employees to employers, as below:
Please introduce yourself, your company, the founders, and what they do.
Thanks for having us. I’m Paul Breloff, the CEO and Co-Founder of Shortlist. We’re a recruitment technology firm, helping companies across East Africa, India, and now 30 countries build great teams. We offer executive search services but also technology like chatbots and skills assessments to power mass recruitment for internship programs, campus recruiting, and donor-funded youth employment campaigns. My co-founders Simon, Matt, and I all come from entrepreneurial and investing backgrounds, with a focus on emerging markets (and Kenya in particular), and all of our companies were facing challenges growing their teams. We saw a great opportunity to build a better way to hire combining technology, data, and human touch.
How do you make money? What gap are you filling in society?
Our mission is to unlock professional potential: the potential of companies by building better teams, and the potential of young professionals by broadening access to new career paths, training opportunities, and jobs. I think this is particularly powerful with the work we do on a mass recruitment side is also really unique, and we believe is a critical piece of the puzzle in addressing youth unemployment.
In Kenya, some reports suggest that 30%+ youth are unemployed, which is nothing short of a crisis. One of the barriers is actual work experience, no matter what training programs people have done. To address this, we’re now running programs in partnership with training organizations where we engage thousands of young people and assess them for fit, get them trained in the necessary skills, and then assemble employer networks to hire these grads for 6-month subsidized internships, providing career on-ramps with some of Kenya’s leading companies. Programs like this can support on-the-job experiences for tens of thousands of young people in the coming years, and across a range of sectors like clean energy, fintech, software development, cloud work, and more.
What do you do differently in comparison to other recruiting agencies/bodies in Kenya?
Many things. First, we pride ourselves on amazing service but also leverage tech in unique ways, which gives us an advantage for reach, efficiency, quality, and insight. Second, we focus on data beyond the CV, whether that’s a skill and psychometric data from our assessment platform or a more holistic search process with senior leader hires. Third, we’re built by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs. We come to this as executives and investors eager to partner in companies’ growth, not with an HR administrative approach. Last, we have a global orientation, leveraging a team across Kenya and India but also looking for opportunities to support global companies entering Kenya as well as Kenyan talent looking to build their careers overseas as part of the “remote work” revolution.
Since its inception, how many people have used your firm to find gainful employment?
We’ve directly placed thousands of young professionals into careers, and at this point have engaged with well over 1 million young professionals, primarily concentrated in Kenya and India. Even for candidates who don’t get hired from our platform, we offer a range of free content to help with the job search including best practice tips, weekly newsletters, free events, and a completely free online course called “Career Success.”
Impact of COVID 19 on your business?
As for many companies, it’s been a roller coaster! In the early days, frankly, it was scary as most companies completely froze their hiring and business slowed down. However, I’ve been surprised by how resilient local firms have been, and how companies have hustled and found ways to continue growing.
Now we see the future brighter than ever. COVID has accelerated trends like remote work, which we think presents big opportunities for local firms and professionals, and for us as a business. For example, if you’re a young person with digital skills, you can plug into platforms like Upwork and Toptal and find work with companies anywhere in the world. So we’re bullish on the future of work and the ways Kenya can benefit. We’re looking for ways to shape our business to help companies and talent tap into these opportunities, and of course grow alongside.
What about remote working? Is it gaining acceptability, and how will it eventually affect businesses?
I think the world has been surprised by how well remote work has worked, for many jobs. Before COVID, I wouldn’t have thought work-from-home would be functional for us. Now, after a solid year of having our offices shut, I don’t think we’ll ever go back to normal. We’re just starting to grapple, as a society and globe, with some of the implications on company culture, commercial real estate, the role of cities, and how talent flows cross-border. This shift will represent a huge change for how many companies get stuff done, and I don’t think it will ever fully go back to business as usual.
This is a big opportunity for companies and for talent, for sure. It’s also going to be scary at times. Everyone is going to have to get creative, finding ways to sustain remote teams, even if it’s just WFH. Done well, this could give a new lease on life to the state of the global workforce, forcing us to put in place sustainable structures and practices to promote balance, wellness, purpose and motivation.
What is your relationship with the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation Kenya Chapter? And the value of this relationship to your business?
I’ve been a member of EO Kenya for nearly two years, and it’s been terrific. As an expat founder, it’s at times challenging and alienating to find my place here and figure out how best to navigate. It’s been incredibly valuable to plug into a strong community of fellow entrepreneurs, about 100 local entrepreneurs and a global network of nearly 14,000, tapping into peer-to-peer expertise, networks and local know-how that would otherwise be hard to find. This has been particularly valuable during COVID, when things have been challenging and isolating.
Despite the fact that in-person events weren’t possible, EO adapted quickly with a range of great virtual events from speakers to smaller group discussions to occasional surprise gifts delivered home that remind you that someone cares.
I’ve also personally enjoyed serving on the board of the EO Accelerator, supporting businesses with under $1M of revenue but eyeing big growth. It’s also a community that values openness, curiosity, and boundary-pushing, which drives a deeper sense of connection and growth beyond just business. I think I initially joined looking for more of a network and commercial opportunities, and have found there’s really so much more possible, with amazing events, speakers, and a whole new side of Nairobi and a group of friends.