How Giraffe is Using Mobile Technology to Fight Unemployment in South Africa

Aug. 20, 2019

We continue our alumni story series with an interview with Anish Shivdasani, CEO of Giraffe, a fully-automated digital recruitment solution that gives medium-skilled job seekers access to opportunities for free, and enables businesses to recruit high volumes of medium-skilled employees in a fast and efficient way. Anish shared with us their progress and plans for the near future, told us more about the team and company culture, and gave us more insights about the entrepreneurial ecosystem in South Africa.

What’s the story behind your company?

Between 2010 and 2013, I was working in South Africa in the telecom industry. I was advising companies on various strategic issues. 2013 was the year when more than 50% of South Africans gained access to the internet, predominantly through mobile. That was quite a crucial moment because suddenly you had a large proportion of the population that were active online users. At the same time, South Africa had one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. A lot of people in the medium to low skill segment didn’t have access to many opportunities because they didn’t have PCs or the internet, and they didn’t live close to business areas. The increase in mobile penetration opened up new opportunities. We decided to catch this moment and leverage cellphones to give people access to job opportunities.

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Does the name ‘Giraffe’ have any metaphoric meaning?

Being a tech startup means that you need to build the brand very quickly without a big marketing budget. We wanted to choose the name that people would remember, that sounds different, that is interesting. We debated about the name for quite a long time but ended up with Giraffe. First of all, we are an African startup, and the giraffe is an African animal. We had global aspirations, but we wanted to maintain African roots. The other reason is because of what we do. We help job seekers get access to opportunities and employers find the best staff. The giraffe has a long neck and can reach the things that are not easy to get. The final reason is that Giraffe is a friendly, amiable creature, and we want to have a brand that projects an image of warmth, trust, and reliability.

Could you please tell me about your company culture and dynamics. How would you describe your team?

Right now, we are twelve. My two co-founders and I are still working together. We have five developers, a couple of salespeople, and a few operations professionals. It’s quite a small but a very diverse group - males, females, black people, white people, Indians, and many more. We grow the team slowly on purpose because of the culture, which is very important to us. We want to make sure that when we hire people, that they embed themselves properly into our culture. Scaling a startup is very difficult and stressful, and if you don‘t know your culture, it's not easy to do that. We have five core values which effectively form the bedrock of our company.

The first core value is care, to care about the job seeker and employer. We are a social enterprise, and we try to build a tech platform that has a positive impact on society. We want to help job seekers to get a job, and at the same time, help businesses improve their operations by matching them with the right people.

The second value is to communicate openly. Obviously, with the speed with which startups operate, if you do not communicate openly and regularly, then you make mistakes and drop the ball. Communication is key. The third value is to think critically and decide with data. What we realized, in the beginning, is that we were able to make proper decisions if we analyzed customer data. Only then we were able to decide on how we could improve our business. The fourth value is to be excellent and to be your own manager. It’s crucial that everyone who works here is a high performer and can manage himself/herself because we don't have complex management structures. The fifth value is challenging the status quo and always keep asking: “How can we do it better?”.

A lot of companies have values. Unfortunately, many of corporates have values that are b***it; banal phrases that people do not really live by. We really worked hard on our values, and we try to live by them.

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Let’s talk about the product itself and the feature that you have launched recently - the automated voice screening. How did you come to the decision to enhance the product with this specific feature?

We started to work with call centers soon after we launched the product back in 2015. The call center industry in South Africa is growing and is one of the biggest employers on the market. After working with some of them, several companies left us their feedback: ‘’Your product is very cool, but what we would really like is to be able to listen to the candidates before we choose them for the interview’’. One of our big clients who suggested this last year asked: ‘’Can you give us a kind of a voice screening feature?’’ We thought that this thing was complicated and would take us a long time to build. One day, our sales manager came back from the meeting with a client and said: ‘’We need to try to build a voice product’’. So we started with the dev team, and they created a prototype in one week. We showed it to the customer, and they were impressed: ‘’This is exactly what we need’’. That’s how we started with it. It has become one of the main features not just for the call center industry, but many other ones. Thanks to it, the companies can listen to how candidates express themselves and be able to use that knowledge in making better decisions in the recruitment process.

What are your key numbers right now, and what do you consider your most significant achievement so far?

We have around one million candidates in our base, and we’ve had more than a thousand businesses using our platform to recruit staff. We have invited around half a million candidates to interviews and job opportunities, and we have already helped hundreds of thousands of people to get jobs. I think those are some of the achievements in a relatively short period, with quite a small amount of funding, and in a quite challenging macroeconomic environment in South Africa, and for me, that is something to be proud of.

Do you have any story of the platform user when Giraffe changed or impacted his/her life?

This comment below will answer this question better than a thousand words:

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It’s quite impressive. Thanks to the Giraffe, he got his first job, and right now, he is hiring and training other people.

I am happy that there are thousands of such examples, and it perfectly showcases how we use technology to give people access to opportunities which they might have missed.

What do you plan in regards to employee’s training? Are you going to or, maybe, you are already organizing any programs helping job seekers prepare for the recruitment in a better way?

We don't interact with candidates or businesses face-to-face. We just built the technology, and they interact with each other. We don't offer any training courses. We plan to offer courses or training material online on our app where job seekers can begin to learn. How much training could you really do on an app? It's not a substitute for face-to-face teaching. What we want is to start giving job seekers information, educational content, original training content that makes sense on a cellphone.

Human resources market in SA: before and after Giraffe? What has changed since you launched Giraffe? (e.g., the employee retention rate has raised)

We are the biggest platform in South Africa in this particular area for professionals with junior and medium skills level. I think South Africa has changed in various ways and not necessarily in good ways. When we launched, the South African economy was doing ok, now we are in a recession. Unemployment is increasing. Companies do not invest as much as they used to and don’t hire as much as they used to. The macroeconomic situation has become more challenging, but at the same time, I think HR departments have become a lot more open to using technology solutions for recruitment. Typically, HR departments are quite old-fashioned and late in adopting the technology. Today, we can witness the willingness to use technology as a way to improve the processes, but I think we still have a long way to go.

How do you envision Giraffe’s future and its role in shaping the future of work globally?

We have seen a lot of demand from corporates in South Africa, but now we want to serve small businesses. We believe that a small business needs this type of solution. They are the ones that don't have full-time HR departments, and they are the ones that don't have time to do recruitment. We are going to launch the SME solution next month. We are very excited about it. We believe that we will help small businesses find the right people.

Besides that, we are planning to expand internationally next year, because we feel that our solution can be applied to other markets outside South Africa.

Do you already have a plan to which countries you would like to expand?

We are still debating. The original idea was to scale to other African countries, but we realize that it's not easy to go across borders in Africa. Africa is quite complex — every African country is different, has its unique landscape, unique languages, currency, regulations, unique label market considerations. So now we are considering other markets as well.