Social recruitment: interview with the founder of splinter.me: Ahmed El. Hussaini, Egypt


This interview originally appeared on Anya Schmidt’s blog AfricanStartupVoices and is published with permission.

The other day I had the great pleasure of talking to splinter.me founder Ahmed El.Hussaini. The idea behind splinter.me is to provide a system that automatically collects your personal information, available on different social platforms. splinter.me aims to provide optimized search results for recruiters, as the knowledge of individual users goes far beyond the average CV details. See the VC4Africa venture profile of splinter.me.

What is splinter.me about and who are you focusing on?

“splinter.me is a social recruiting platform. The idea started out when my brother asked me to update his CV for him in 2011 as he wanted to change jobs. The first thing I asked my brother was if he had a LinkedIn profile – it turned out he didn’t even know what LinkedIn was! When we set out to find another service that would generate his CV based on information in social networks he was active in, I was quite shocked when I realized that I couldn’t find any. That’s when the idea for splinter.me came up. And over the course of a year, doing research and reading about social recruiting the idea became clearer.
The difference between splinter.me and any other online recruitment platform is that the profile is different. The profile is not just an aggregation of information from other social networks. It goes beyond simply collecting information and actually learns what you are actively doing on these networks. Based on the links you share or tweet or mark as favorites, it learns and collects information on the content of the links. So as an example, if you share links on entrepreneurship and startups in Africa it learns that you are obviously interested in startups in Africa. It will be reflected in your profile, but far more it will help the splinter search engines and algorithms find you when someone is seeking someone with your experience in a specific area, your interests, knowledge with a specific tool or similar.
Our aim is, regardless of the number of users the system has, when searching for a specific talent, you shouldn’t receive more than 20 or 30 candidates. That wouldn’t be reasonable as who has the time to work through 100 or 200 results?”

How big is your team and what kind of people are in it? 

“After coming up with the idea of a profile that collects public information for you and gives you multiple options for personalization within the profile to choose from I took the idea and pitched it at a startup weekend in Alexandria. During the event I met some of my friends and we decided to launch a startup together, I think we were 7, most of them were still in college, computer science students, mainly a geek team, certainly no one to write the business plan. We were never aligned about the product and amount of risk required from us to take. So in July of last year the team broke up and that’s when I left my full-time job and started completely focusing on splinter.me before even talking to any investors. The first version we built had geek written all over it ☺. The value proposition wasn’t clear, what the product was to be doing. Almost everyone who used the product couldn’t tell what it was – is it a social network, is it a professional network, what value should it provide… we couldn’t answer this. I didn’t have a clear answer in my head myself. That’s why I quit my job and for a couple of months focused on understanding … and then I had to write the product from scratch, which is the current version. Before I left my job to focus on splinter.me I was a team leader at an incubator in Alexandria. Actually originally I’m an engineer, a nuclear engineer.”

Will you be looking out for an investor in the next months?

“The cash I had could only covered 6 months. I’m married and have two daughters and a lot of responsibilities so I came to the point that I’d need an investment. Or I needed to get a part-time job, but that would contradict with the whole vision because I left to focus on my idea and NOT get distracted. So I started pitching and looking for investors in mid October of last year. The first investor joined in December – which was great, because my cash was just about to end – he is a very good person and I trust him very much, it’s a very good relationship, he’s very well known here, the founder of a very successful startup in Egypt, recently acquired by a Vodafone company, and invested in various startups as a Business Angel (as well as MIT graduate with MBA from Harvard). He invested 10K US $ in splinter.me and currently we are in negotiations with a VC in Egypt.

I have a co-founder, Adelina who has spent some time interviewing startups and investors on how startups acquire customers, especially early stage startups. Both of us at the same time in different continents were thinking about almost the same idea, and while I was looking for a business co-founder, he was looking for a technical co-founder with a business background! It’s very difficult and rare to find someone who so passionate and aligned about online recruiting, but this was a perfect match. He joined to input his experience in building startups, and is a risk taker! Adelina was the first to join after the initial breakup. The first employee – but I don’t like the sound of the word employee – he’s a junior developer with 3 years experience building products for startups, a computer science graduate, and will be joining splinter.me next month. Additionally I am looking for one more developer. If we close the deal planned we will be able to run for a further 6 months.”

What are your ideas of marketing the product?

“If all goes well and an Egyptian VC backs me, my focus will be on the Egyptian market for the next 6 months. To be honest it’s a very hard time in our country right now, it’s not like startups don’t have enough challenges as it is, the country is also a problem.
The addressing of recruiters and professionals will have to be done in a different way in Egypt. Based on my research – I haven’t been there yet – in other places you can ask your customers to pay a certain amount at a very early stage because basically you are building the product for them, even if the features are not all completed yet. In Egypt this is not the case as the customer asks why he should pay if the product is not yet matured. You have to give him free access to the product, for a couple of months until you have a product that covers the entire workflow and then after that you would have the option to continue and pay for the product. Marketing-wise I am not going to spend a lot of money, on Facebook and Google Ads etc. My focus will first be on startups as I am well connected in the startup ecosystem. Also I am using my investor’s connections and we are trying to do a partnership with one of the big mobile carriers in Egypt. I do not have the money to spend 200 or 300 T $ on marketing and also I don’t want too many users on the system before having built the right product.”

What would be your advice to other entrepreneurs?

“The biggest mistake I made was being afraid and not having the guts to quit my job. If you’re not working full time on the product you are not really building a startup to change the world. You’re fighting for 15 minutes of someone’s scarce time so you have to spend all your energy to gain access to those 15 minutes. The second mistake was not taking the time to choose my co-founders and team and not handling that very well. When I look back the team was very good and very talented but for me as a founder I did not handle the situation in a way that I would be confident that the end result would good. I am very excited about my new team and about what we are going to change even if it is just a small bit of the world.”

See the VC4Africa venture profile of splinter.me.

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