The startup scans online profiles – everything from LinkedIn to Twitter to Facebook – to help companies source candidates for jobs
The internet is a fun place, but most people would hate to have potential employers looking at their online activity. That didn’t stop Vijay Sharma from launching Belong, though.
“We’re the company straight out of your worst nightmare,” he says. Like most nightmares, Belong is only scary until you take a closer look at it. The startup scans online profiles – everything from LinkedIn to Twitter to Facebook – to help companies source candidates for jobs.
It was an idea that came to Vijay while he was working with healthcare firm Practo. “There was this one time where they gave me a few assignments that I didn’t really understand. I was 23. In due time, I realized that the company would fail if I were to do all of these myself. I decided to take a backseat and find some people smarter than me for the job.”
This search is what helped the product that powers Belong take shape.
At first, Vijay tried to take the conventional route and look for candidates on job portal Naukri. “I think 20 million people applied for that job,” says Vijay. “I mean, I had people from the oil and gas industry applying to a healthcare startup. It was so frustrating.” Next, he started using Google to find people. “I typed in specific keywords which would lead me to blogs,” reminisces Vijay. “I found a lot of great people, but the people I liked were hard to get. I was reaching out to the marketing manager of Pepsi and asking him to work for Practo.”
By this point, Vijay had interacted with close to a thousand people. “22 people responded, but the amount of effort I had put into finding the other 980 had taught me a few things,” he says. “I started observing who was responding to my ads and who wasn’t. I also learned about quality – a guy who says ‘hey, I love startups’ but only follows TechCrunch on Twitter actually just likes funded startups.’”
The idea lay dormant for a bit, until Vijay co-founded Exotel, a cloud-based telephone system that helps businesses manage their phone calls. While at the company, he met a bright young intern named Sudheendra Chilappagari.
When Vijay felt the familiar winds of restlessness stir again, he decided to leave the company – but this time, with Sudheendra. “He was a really smart guy who was automating all of the stuff that I was doing manually. We felt confident enough to move on,” Vijay explains.
Your startup idea is right there, you just have to look
With that push, Vijay was shunted into the oversaturated world of hiring startups. But, like he explains, the idea was something that he’d been working on all along.
“Our first version was just that email I sent Practo with ten candidates who made sense,” says Vijay. “Of course, at that point, it was just an Excel sheet. For the first few months that we launched Belong, we were still entering stuff manually. If you want to understand how our algorithm was built out, here’s a basic idea: 24 people have applied for the job and 19 of them also follow Paul Graham on Twitter. What does that say about the type of people that are interested in these positions?”
Then, last June, a bunch of investors took interest in Belong. It raised $5 million in a round led by Matrix Partners and included Blume Ventures, co-founders of Snapdeal Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal, and co-founder of redBus Phanindra Sama.
Today, Belong has around 60 paying customers, including Snapdeal, Xiaomi, Ola Cabs, and Vijay’s old friend, Practo. Once Belong gets to know companies better, it works on launching customized algorithms for them. One way they figure these out is by analyzing leaders. “To a large extent, a company’s culture stems entirely from the way its leader acts,” says Vijay. “For example, if a hiring manager enjoys committing code on Github for open source, she’ll also appreciate people who do that in their free time. We can start looking for employees there. The essential goal is to make it so that these are quantifiable, tangible qualities.”
While one end of its offering includes figuring out what types of candidates a startup should be looking for, the other figures out whether an employee is looking for a new job.
“There was one guy who was uploading articles to Medium about how Google should do medical prescriptions,” Vijay reminisces. “He’d uploaded three or four of them. He was out there working for some multinational corporation doing something in accounting, so instead we got him to come build mobile apps for this healthcare tech company.”
And, if you really don’t want to be judged based on your social profiles, Belong offers an option to opt out of its services.
Lots of competition, but lots of candidates
Everyone wants to make hiring easier. ZenRadius uses data to help figure out who will be best at referring new candidates to you. ePoise lets candidates record and re-record interview videos before sending them to potential employers. Hiree is working on perfecting an algorithm for “speed hiring” and HackerEarth lets developers build out profiles and take coding challenges for specific jobs.
“Our competition is everyone, from everywhere,” says Vijay, but doesn’t elaborate any further. There’s one thing that’s for sure: With estimates claiming that India will have the world’s largest population of young people by 2020, it’s definitely the right time to launch a hiring startup.
So, what’s next once the winds of restlessness begin to stir again? Here’s one hint: Vijay’s LinkedIn says his eventual goal is “Indian football”.
This post was originally published on Tech in Asia.