Toronto’s HR software startup Kira Talent quests for the right staff
Emilie Cushman and Konrad Listwan-Ciesielski
Ryerson Media Zone, 10 Dundas St. E, Toronto, On, M5B 2G9
HR technology and human capital management
HR video screening software
Won the Velocity Venture Fund and the Slate Business Competition, awarded Most Outstanding Venture by the Next36, ranked among the 25 up and coming startups in Canada by Branham300
Emilie Cushman and Konrad Listwan-Ciesielski stand as a testament to what an effective mentorship program can produce.
The co-founders of Kira Talent owe much of their success to The Next36, a nine-month incubator program that mentors cohorts of 36 promising undergraduate students from southern Ontario.
Cushman, a bachelor of commerce graduate from the University of Windsor, and Listwan-Ciesielski, a math and computer science major at the University of Waterloo, both applied for the program in September of 2011. That happened to be the first year potential members were asked to send a YouTube video with their application, discouraging the less enthusiastic from applying and allowing the selection committee to get a strong sense of each candidate’s personality.
Both were selected, and both were impressed with the application process. So they decided to take the idea and create their own video screening software. Today, Kira Talent uses that software to help businesses of all sizes, as well as a number of prominent universities, streamline their recruiting process.
But the company has staffing problems of its own.
“At seven (staff), we are at maximum capacity,” says Cushman. Listwan-Ciesielski adds that its been months since their last hire, and positions that the company began interviewing for more than six weeks ago still remain vacant.
Cushman and Listwan-Ciesielski have yet to turn down any new business because of their capacity, but with everyone already overworked, they need more employees to lighten the load.
Luckily, the founders have nearly secured an additional round of financing and as such don’t think cash will be a problem. Their vision is to hire another 10 full-time staff by the end of 2013 to form the basis of a new inside sales and marketing team, and also bolster the company’s product development and direct sales teams.
The problem is that, despite getting plenty of applicants, the founders have struggled to find fully qualified candidates that they feel will help accelerate their business growth.
“We don’t want to hire someone who is good enough, we want to hire someone who is excellent, who is significantly going to raise the bar for the rest of the company,” says Cushman. “Sadly, it is hard to find those people.”
There is a slight silver lining though — the hiring process has proven just how useful Kira Talent’s software can be.
The titular program is a screening platform that allows employers to remotely ask applicants a number of interview questions by text or video. After logging in to the program, prospective hires have a precise time allotment to think about and deliver their response into their computer’s camera. This forces the candidate to think on their feet and provide a genuine answer on the spot, as if they were standing in front of a live interviewer.
All responses are sent back to the employer for review at their leisure. The idea is to get a more personal sense of applicants than what can be achieved on the phone, but without the lengthy process of scheduling in-person interviews.
It’s a useful program that’s already attracting some major brands — the admissions departments of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and the Western’s Richard Ivey School of Business use Kira Talent, as do a number of professional service firms such as Ernst & Young and KPMG.
But Kira’s founders have discovered that the experienced talent they need for growth, whether they be marketers, salespeople, or experienced application developers, are rare in such a new industry, and generally already employed. They’ve spent days browsing for talent and posting job ads on websites such as LinkedIn, AngelList, and GitHub, but the right candidates are still elusive.
“With a lot of job boards you get some volume of candidates, but it’s often people struggling to find jobs,” says Listwan-Ciesielski. “They generally aren’t the best candidates.”
Kira Talent does pay competitive wages, but still can’t afford to simply buy the best staff, so they try to emphasize the company’s culture as a selling point in job postings, which have a playful tone and promote the company’s unique office space in Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone.
“We’re a pretty tight knit team,” says Cushman. “We have board-game nights, we hosted a wine tasting company retreat in Georgian Bay, we have beer O’clock on Fridays.”
The founders are also tapping their networks for referrals, and are diversifying their advisory board to incorporate more members with a human resources background to get additional help with recruitment.
“That’s key — expanding their advisory board to people who have larger networks in what they’re looking for,” says Jared Tessis, director of talent for Klass Capital, a Toronto-based venture capital firm. “The challenge is that (the positions) they’re looking for is what every software startup is looking for.”
Tessis says Cushman and Listwan-Ciesielski would have more luck eschewing the major job boards and targeting websites frequented by the types of applicants they’re looking for, such as Indeed.ca or StartupNorth, a community hub, blog and job postings site dedicated to Canadian startups.
But, even if Kira Talent does land the perfect candidate, Cushman and Listwan-Ciesielski refuse to rush to make a hire. They both insist on vetting potential candidates thoroughly, and will spend up to three months conducting meetings, interviews, and informal get-togethers with before making a decision.
“It’s not a nine to five job, you’re always surrounded by the same people, and it’s a very tight knit environment, so we really need to make sure we find the right fit,” says Cushman. “In the context of a startup, one bad hire can make or break your company.“