Duma Works carves out niche staffing Kenyan SMEs

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After a couple of false starts, Kenyan startup Duma Works has found itself a productive niche, connecting SMEs with jobseekers in a way that differs from traditional jobs boards.

Duma Works was founded by American entrepreneurs Arielle Sandor and Christine Blauvelt after their graduation from Princeton University. Having previously visited Kenya for a research project, they had noticed the large gap between employers and jobseekers.

The startup was born as an SMS-based social network for recommendations, which Sandor and Blauvelt struggled to monetise. It prompted a move to Nairobi and a rethink, with Duma Works starting to focus on the company side. SMEs provided the niche the co-founders were looking for.

“SMEs don’t have a place to go to recruit effectively, if they don’t want to pay a huge fee to headhunters,” Sandor told Disrupt Africa.

“We found it was more the screening of viable candidates at a low-cost.”

The startup allows jobseekers to create a profile describing their skills and location via SMS, WhatsApp and web. Depending on their package, employers are linked to the most appropriate candidates and avoid having to deal with a huge number of unsuitable applications.

Duma Works in its current guise was launched last year, funded by a seed round with angel investors and the Rockefeller Foundation. Almost a year on, it has already signed up 250 paid employers, and adds between 30 and 50 listings per month.

“People love it. We’ve gone from 13,000 jobseekers to 23,000 since November,” Sandor said. “For jobseekers, getting alerts on jobs on their phones is a huge thing.”

The way Duma Works differentiates itself from traditional jobs boards in terms of cost and the way it matches candidates to jobs has no doubt assisted in this growth, with the startup adding clients not just in Nairobi but in the likes of Nakuru, Eldoret and Mombasa as well.

“We don’t advertise the jobs publically. We have a matchmaking algorithm and the skills will come to the top,” Sandor said.

“The big value is the screening that we provide, and there are a couple of tiers for that.”

The basic plan on Duma Works costs KES7,500 (US$80) per job, allowing an employer to see between 10 and 20 relevant candidates and evaluate them from start to finish. The express plan, at the cost of KES20,000 (US$210) per job, presents the employer with only the final round candidates who have already had their skills tested, while the elite plan at KES50,000 (US$520) per job offers a customised, intensive recruiting solution to find candidates for a more complex role. Duma Works carries out all the testing itself.

The startup is close to breaking even right now, but looking for more funds to expand.

“We do have a bit of a strategy, we’re not looking at VC right now. We’re a bit early stage for VC, so we’ve looked at angels and growth funds. Typically we work with people who are going to be strategic investors and have contacts in regions that we want to expand into in future,” Sandor said.

Though international expansion is on the agenda – Sandor says Uganda and Rwanda are likely destinations – Duma Works is focused on Kenya for now.

“Kenya’s the biggest market in East Africa and we want to become number one here before anything,” she said.

“We’re trying to get in more with the hospitality and construction sector.”

The money, when it comes, is likely to come from abroad, as Sandor says local investors prefer to invest in infrastructure and have yet to be attracted to the tech space given there have been no significant exits yet.

“The people that are getting in are probably going to exit massively because it is the beginning of the market,” she said. “It is in its immature stage.”

She said most of the company’s competition is in the traditional recruiting space, but in terms of recruiting for entry level and middle management positions, Duma Works is in a space of its own.

“Brighter Monday is the biggest player, but it is actually helpful for us because it helps educate people that they can put a job online,” Sandor said.

As an expat running a business in Kenya, she said she had experienced some challenges.

“A big challenge that expats face is being trusted in a sense that you’re going to stick around and not desert the company and go and do an MBA. Part of it is keeping your promises.”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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