In a country with increasingly alarming unemployment statistics, any system that addresses the problem is a welcome relief. So welcome, in fact, that South African recruitment startup Giraffe has just closed its second successful funding round while building possibly the country’s largest database of low- to medium-skilled candidates.
Founded in February 2015, Giraffe uses artificial intelligence-powered algorithms to enable businesses to hire large volumes of candidates. The company’s mobile site is completely geared towards job-seekers, who often don’t have access and visibility to opportunities.
According to Statistics South Africa’s latest figures, a whopping 51 percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are unemployed. While that number looks slightly better for 25 to 34-year-olds, it’s still 33.4 percent. What’s more, Mail & Guardian reported last year that 39 percent of all unemployed South Africans and 60.3 percent of unemployed youth, have never worked before.
In other words, the vast majority of unemployed South Africans fall into the low- to medium-skilled segments. Giraffe is tapping into this group to help recruiters fill positions for call centre agents, field sales agents, bank tellers, cashiers, shop assistants and drivers, among others.
“We have adapted our product to work specifically for recruiters hiring high volumes of staff in these roles (10 or more per month) and our platform now gives them on-demand access to large numbers of screened candidates that meet their requirements at the click of a button,” Giraffe marketing manager Nicky Turnbull (LinkedIn profile) explained.
But a platform alone isn’t enough to solve South Africa’s unemployment problem. What makes Giraffe unique is its ability to reach job-seekers in a way that’s most convenient for them. While many South Africans still don’t have access to internet, mobile penetration is high. Founder and CEO Anish Shivdasani (LinkedIn profile) believes Giraffe’s use of mobile technology is what’s made it so successful.
Designed for job-seekers
“When we built the job-seeker site, we went into the townships and sat down with people to understand how much airtime (data) they have, what kind of devices they use, whether they can use browsers on their phone and how internet savvy they are.”
Shivdasani points out that not all medium skilled job-seekers have smartphones; spare data is even rarer. Most South African mobile companies offer package deals that give customers access to regularly used, popular apps, like Whatsapp, for free. The result is that job-seekers don’t have the data necessary to download an app. That’s why job-seekers on some networks can access the Giraffe mobisite for free. “It’s totally free. You don’t need airtime and it works on any cell phone.”
Once registered, candidates are guided through the process of setting up their CV on their cell phones. They’ll then a get an SMS when a suitable position becomes available.
Giraffe works with employers and recruiters to define their hiring requirements before running its matching algorithm. Suitable candidates will get an SMS with details about the position and screening questions, determined by the employer. The company also schedules interviews, should it be required.
The site currently holds a database of just more than 600 000 registered users, but both Turnbull and Shivdasani say this number is growing by around 500 to 1000 users a day. Besides a few Facebook ads, most of Giraffe’s growth has been organic. The company has invited 200,000 candidates for interviews so far. Half of those invitations were sent out in the last six months.
In terms of clients, Giraffe is currently working with around 200 businesses who hire up to 100 employees a month. Some of these include Standard Bank, Clientèle, Uber and Metropolitan. According to the AIM Group’s 2018 Recruitment Advertising Annual, South Africa’s No. 1 recruitment vertical (in terms of traffic) PNet.co.za has 2500 recruiter and company clients. The second place vertical Careers24 has 683 clients while third-placed JobMail.co.za has 1000.
Shivdasani admits that he’d like to grow the company’s customer base to be able to help more job-seekers. “We just need large businesses to get more scalable.”
This will be part of Giraffe’s plan moving forward, thanks to its fresh cash injection.
The company bagged its first funding in April 2016 as the winner of the Seedstars World Summit in Switzerland; bringing home $500,000 U.S.. This was swiftly followed by an undisclosed investment from Silicon Valley-based Omidyar Network — the venture capital firm set up by EBay founder Pierre Omidyar (LinkedIn profile). The money funded Giraffe’s expansion from its base in Johannesburg to the rest of the country.
Although there was interest from local investors, Shivdasani says the company consciously decided to go with an international investor to be able to tap into Omidyar Network’s skills, expertise and contacts. “We would have been foolish not to take it.”
It’s the same reason why Giraffe decided to include local investors this time around. The company’s latest funding round was led by FirstRand’s Vumela Fund managed by Edge Growth and Forever Young Capital, with participation from Omidyar Network.
Shivdasani said there aren’t all that many venture capital investors in South Africa, but the company considered all the available options before making its choice. “It’s not just the money that you’re taking, you’re bringing people onto the Board, people who can give you access to contacts and markets.”
Giraffe will also be using the latest investment to grow its team; although this is proving challenging. “We’re looking for top talent, especially full-stack developers who are interested in artificial intelligence,” Shivdasani said, adding that there don’t seem to be too many in the country.
“Don’t get me wrong, we have ace developers, but we need more developers in South Africa.” Shivdasani believes more developers will lead to more tech startups — including marketplaces; which are good for the economy because they drive transactions and job creation. “Marketplaces are becoming powerful drivers of economic potential, and South Africa needs economic growth.”
In the future, Shivdasani hopes to turn Giraffe into an international brand. For now, he wants to build a scalable business and iron out all the kinks, before taking the business blueprint to other countries.