Cape Town brothers Philip and Malan Joubert have harnessed their Silicon Valley experience to disrupt local IT recruitment and move away from firms spamming professionals on social media to attract scarce skills.
Unlike other sectors where firms hand-pick the crème de la crème from a mass of unemployed jobseekers, Philip (28) said the recruitment industry had such a poor reputation among developers for spam, due to the massive skills shortage, that a redesign of traditional recruitment methods was necessary.
Enter OfferZen, the entrepreneurial brothers’ latest innovation, an online recruitment service which allows firms to invite developers to interviews rather than developers applying for jobs.
He said during their one-year stint working in “the holy land of developers”, Silicon Valley, in 2014/15, they saw how responsive the industry was to market needs and they wanted to bring similar innovations home.
Both brothers graduated from the University of Stellenbosch, where Philip obtained a degree in industrial engineering and Malan (31) a degree in electrical engineering.
Both went on to make their mark designing software applications to meet socioeconomic needs.
Philip founded AppsAgainstEbola, a not-for-profit project which provided data-gathering technology to NGOs in west Africa during the Ebola crisis. The project received donations worth over $500 000 from companies like Amazon and was recognised globally by Forbes and CNN.
The brothers built an incubator business, FireID, and Philip co-founded JourneyApps, a platform that allows companies to easily build turnkey mobile applications.
He also founded social-media marketing research firm Pondering Panda.
Malan was involved in the founding of start-ups, including JourneyApps; the mobile payment application SnapScan, which is used by Standard Bank and around 34 000 merchants in South Africa; and BitX, a company that facilitates Bitcoin storage.
Malan believes South African developers can easily compete with those in Silicon Valley and he wanted to bring home the efficiency of businesses there in attracting talented developers.
“Where we are not as strong is in getting developers to work on worthwhile programmes. We have developers working in boring jobs not doing something interesting, and companies that are solving important problems but battling to attract talent,” he said.
Malan said experienced software developers “have the keys to the kingdom” to the point that head-hunting recruiters, unaware of the distinctions between IT skills, were spamming them on LinkedIn.
“Recruitment is not a sexy industry and it has a very bad reputation among software developers,” he said.
But with OfferZen the game has changed.
The brothers employ 14 staff, including developers, hiring advisors and talent advisers, who assist developers to build professional profiles, similar to LinkedIn, but without the social networking aspect. They have also developed a coding test to verify skills and assist diamonds in the rough who can code but don’t have qualifications.
“We can identify people who are being ignored by recruiters and job boards and they now get treated the same as other applicants,” he said.
Companies can send a message inviting a developer to an interview, which the recipient can, in Tinder style, accept or reject.
The service is free to developers while companies pay 12.5% of a successful candidate’s annual salary.
“We are like Airbnb for software developers but, instead of travellers and hosts, we have companies and developers. It is kind of disruptive. I think this model is going to destroy traditional recruitment processes because this is so much more efficient for both parties,” he said.
Since the platform launched last November, 277 companies have signed up to source talent and the number of interview requests is growing 40% month on month with more than one developer placed daily.
OfferZen is now the brothers’ core business, but “it would be great” if copycats used the model to recruit scarce skills in other sectors.
“At the moment we are working with South African developers or people who are physically in South Africa. There is lots of room to expand and we are at some point going to build things on top of it, but only in the next couple of years will we think about expanding internationally,” he said.