How one guy who broke into investment banking with no finance experience and a low GPA is now changing the world of recruiting with his app Employ.
At 31 years old, Sherjan Husainie has certainly racked up more than his fair share of air miles. From 2011 to 2015, his weeks consisted of burning the midnight oil at both ends, working by day as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley and then an investor at CapitalG (Google Capital) in the San Francisco Bay area, whilst spending his weekends running a series of campus-based career and motivational workshops in cities like Hong Kong, London, and New York. 12 cities and 20,000 students later, Sherjan shows no signs of slowing down. Now based in Hong Kong, his latest project, the innovative B2B2C mobile recruiting app Employ, was released in March 2018 with the mission of making resumes a thing of the past by connecting job applicants and businesses via video. “Hiring people who fit your brand can only be possible if you see their personality,” he explains. “Similarly, on a business side, a lot of these companies are hiring from a text-based job description, and it doesn’t showcase their brand. Having a video can showcase a lot more. That is how Employ came about.” Fast Forward to its launch last month, and Employ aims to provide a full, end-to-end recruiting solution where employers can find, interview, hire, and manage their employees, and all through the convenience of their phone.
It was Sherjan’s own uphill battle to forge the career he wanted that led him to look at overhauling the recruitment process. During his undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto back in 2009, he realised he wanted to become an investment banker. However, as an aerospace engineer with a GPA of 3.0, at first glance, this seemed an almost impossible task. “The only way to bridge the gap was to go business school, but I couldn’t get in there either because I was straight out of college with no experience. However, I could get into Masters programmes, so I started one in Financial Engineering at UCLA. I then hustled and networked.”
The hustling paid off, and soon he landed his first full-time job at Houlihan Lokey, a boutique investment bank in Los Angeles. “When I did that, I was like, ‘If I can get here, I’m sure there are 50,000 other people who have similar obstacles and dreams.’ So I started this small workshop series called ‘Leaders’ in 2010”. His first event took place in his hometown of Toronto, covering topics ranging from how to build up a great resume and how to behave in an interview, to how to answer different qualitative and quantitative questions. It received an overwhelmingly positive response. Inspired, Sherjan set himself the ambitious goal of speaking at Harvard within 10 years. He reached that goal within a month.
After Toronto, Sherjan immediately went on to speak at his alma mater UCLA, drawing in an audience of 150 people. On the very next day he signed up workshops at UC Berkeley, then Stanford, and ultimately Harvard. Within a month, he had 5 workshops under his belt, all of which would soon become annual events drawing in crowds of hundreds to thousands. By 2012, there were 12 chapters of ‘Leaders’ spanning 3 continents and cities including Singapore, Hong Kong and London, and it wasn’t long before Sherjan realised he wanted to make the initiative more digital.
The majority of the people who attended his various workshops worked in industries with low turnover rates like finance, consulting, and law. So when it came to starting his recruitment-focused startup, Sherjan began by looking at the service industry. “That’s the bigger side”, he explains. “Number one, there’s a much higher turnover, and number two, these folks don’t tend to use LinkedIn profiles, and they don’t really need resumes for these jobs. It’s their personality and vibe that’s important, and a video can showcase that more powerfully than a written description”. And that’s where Employ comes in.
Founded in the summer of 2017, the app was released last month. “We wanted to get rid of the resume from the world — that’s obsolete. That was one goal. The second was to focus on video. Millennials are a lot more comfortable with video and brands are already using a lot of videos in their advertisements. Right now, we are focused on five industries — startups, health and wellness, food and beverage, retail, and hospitality. We want to help both parties connect through video, schedule interviews, and ultimately help businesses manage teams on the app. Right now, nothing like this exists.”
In starting the company, Sherjan went through 25-30 potential co-founders before he landed on Amsul Naeem, a winner of Top Developer 30 under 30 and former lead developer at PumpUp he had previously worked with at Google. “This guy can do front-end & back-end development and design! That’s rare!”, extols Sherjan. “While we don’t agree on all things, we make it a point to discuss everything into the little details and go with whichever idea makes the most sense. There’s no ego”.
Given that they are in the business of recruitment and on a mission to make resumes obsolete, it’s only fitting that Employ’s own recruitment process takes a rather unique approach. They currently have 11 employees spread across their Toronto, Hong Kong and Singapore offices, but in order to get to those 11, Sherjan interviewed a whopping 350 people – all without ever looking at a resume. Counting off his fingers, he explains, “I break it down to personality, skill, and will”. He argues that, whilst a lot of people have the skill or personality, it’s a rare thing to find someone who truly has the will to face the challenges that come with building a startup. “This is a very risky business. 99% of startups fail. You can’t appraise their willpower through resumes. You get this from talking to them and seeing how passionate they are about what we’re trying to do”.
As we’re talking, Sherjan’s passion for his team members is evident, as he never fails to credit them for Employ’s various successes, big and small: “I think of startups as a rocket ship. If you want this rocket ship to go to the moon, you need 3 engines: a great product, sales and marketing, and fundraising. If you don’t have any of these 3 engines, none of the other things matter. But what runs these engines is the fuel, and our fuel is good people…great people. As long as I can find the best people and put them into the engines, we’re on the right track!”
Despite the late hours that came hand-in-hand with his demanding career in investment banking, not to mention the weekends spent jetting off all over the world, founding a startup has been no cake walk. “In a corporate job, you just do the job and go home. In this situation, from a CEO’s perspective, you’re responsible for everyone and everything, and it seems like you’re always playing catch up.” From legal to HR, he says, it all comes down to you. It’s up to the CEO to put out all the fires, and aspiring entrepreneurs should be ready for that challenge. On top of that, he adds, the hours are insane, and you’ve got to be prepared to make way less money. “I had to take an 80% pay cut, so you’ll have to make lifestyle choices, no more dining out at Carbone on a random Monday and Yardbird on a Tuesday.”
When asked for advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, Sherjan answered, “the best time to start a startup was yesterday. Yes, 99% of startups fail, but if you do fail, you can easily return to your former industry. It’s not like you get downgraded or anything.” Despite facing strong headwinds since he started Employ, it’s clear that Sherjan wouldn’t change a thing. “Founding a startup is like doing an MBA, but 10x better. I have more knowledge now than I managed to acquire in the past 5 years. From hiring and setting up payroll, to understanding each and every step of the creation of a beautiful mobile app – it’s a constant learning curve. I didn’t know this stuff going in, but I’m learning and absorbing every day.”
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