This Article was originally published on TECHINASIA, in Sept 2014.
Hiring is often a sign that good things are happening in a startup, whether it be that they just received funding, or have just gotten the go-ahead to expand their operations. On the other hand, it is also a very tiresome and excruciating process to undergo. An index created by University of Chicago economist Steven Davis revealed that US employers spend 25 working days on average to fill a position. That is essentially a month of under-productivity, and can cause a startup’s progress to sag in the meantime.
That’s not all. According to Tushar Tejuja, who has hired over a hundred people across several multinational corporations in different countries throughout his career, the recruitment landscape is chock full of problems:
"Firstly, candidate resumés look so similar, which makes it tough to distinguish actual skills, leading to false positives and false negatives. Secondly, it can be a very expensive process for employers who end up hiring a recruitment agency and paying them a fee of 15 to 25 percent of the hired employee’s annual salary. Thirdly, the entire recruitment process lacks transparency and engagement for the candidate and the employer, making it a ‘hit or miss’ for both."
Having faced this problem for years, Tejuja eventually decided that enough was enough. Like many before him, he turned to technology to solve the problem of effectively sourcing and assessing talent – and so HackerTrail was born.
“We believe that one of the most critical challenges in the recruitment process today is the ability to match the right candidates to the right job,” he emphasizes. “At present, there is a fair bit of ‘noise’ in this area that ultimately impacts business productivity. In order to alleviate this noise, our focus has been on sourcing and selection of the right candidates.”
Putting the fun in hiring
HackerTrail is by no means the only recruitment-based startup out there. Locally, startups such as Glints and Ideatory are working hard to solve this issue as well. However, Tejuja says that they have set themselves apart from the rest with an emphasis on gamification in their recruitment process.
Here’s how it works. The HackerTrail team works with clients to translate the typical dry job descriptions into custom, gamified challenges, and candidates are then invited via social media to complete them. By reviewing the challenge outcomes, Tejuja claims that employers will be able to narrow down the right candidates and eventually find that perfect one.
Tejuja calls it a “win-win situation for both employers and candidates”, largely because gamification attracts more candidates to take up the challenges, as opposed to legacy job descriptions. “We focus a lot on the ‘Gen Y’ mindset. If you want more millennials to join your company, you need to get into their heads and see what excites them,” he emphasizes. “You need to find a way to get them interested.”
Here’s a peek at a recent campaign that HackerTrail created for the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), in which they gave away a MacBook Air to the winner:
“The 15 to 20 percent fee that our clients save on recruitment usually goes into prizes that further entice candidates to give the challenges a shot,” Tejuja reveals with a smile.
At the moment, candidates can be assessed via objective coding challenges and/or subjective scenarios. “We work with our clients to translate a job description into challenges that make sense for that role,” Tejuja says.
From zero to hire in 10 days
Since launching in June, their client list has been growing steadily, including both early-stage startups and established MNCs alike. Their most recent client was the IDA – their biggest catch so far.
Things had initially started off slowly for them, though. Without proof of their prowess, their first clients had to take them on by faith. One of them was Singapore-based travel startup Flocations, which was looking to hire a web developer in Indonesia with a very specific set of skills – Python, Django, and AngularJS. “They had previously tried conventional methods of hiring, such as posting on job boards, to no avail – they had zero leads,” Tejuja explains.
Flocations managed to land a hire in just 10 days using HackerTrail. “Within a week, we had reached out to about 2,200 potential candidates, of whom 181 engaged with the social media campaign we had launched,” he recalls. “Of those, six took up the challenge, and we picked the best one.”
Tejuja adds that the team was able to set up the recruitment challenge in HackerTrail’s Job Campaign platform within just 10 minutes, and he claims that this is the norm for all the clients that they service. “We estimate that it takes about 15 to 20 minutes for recruiters to fill out a typical job description. We want to take even less time than that,” he says.
Creating a self-serve platform
In the near future, Tejuja wants to make this model scalable by creating a self-serve platform for HackerTrail’s clients where they will be able to create and control their own campaigns. For more complicated hires who would need to possess a variety of skills, the team will still have to work closely with the client to create a custom campaign.
Customization necessarily requires a certain amount of labor, and that’s typically hard to scale. However, Tejuja says that the team is structuring their current campaigns very carefully with the aim of creating templates for future clients.
As it is, the solution is tailored to sift out the best technical talent for the respective roles. How about other soft skills, such as communication and leadership, that are becoming increasingly more important in startups where most employees have to ‘double-up’? Tejuja assures Tech in Asia that challenges factoring in a soft skill component are currently in the works, and will indeed be included in campaigns very soon.
HackerTrail currently earns revenue by charging a flat-fee per campaign, or a ‘spec’ fee, which comprises of a lower initial fee with the rest coming in when the campaign is successful.
While the team has picked up some seed funding earlier this year, the startup is looking to raise another round to expand to the rest of Southeast Asia. Tejuja reveals that he wants to expand to Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines first as he sees a lot of opportunity there.