When Covid-19 began raging in the U.S. during the Spring of 2020, Deborah Gladney was pregnant and working two jobs, while raising two children under five. Her sister, Angela Muhwezi-Hall, was in the hospital after contracting the virus. The last thing you’d expect these sisters to do was start a business – which is exactly what they did.
Motivated by the historic unemployment rates, Angela and Deborah launched QuickHire, a hiring platform focused on the skilled trades and service industries.
John Greathouse: Angela and Deborah – you started QuickHire against significant headwinds. What motivated you to launch a venture in the midst of a pandemic and a historic economic downturn? (Angela and Deborah’s remarks have been lightly edited for brevity and readability.)
Angela Muhwezi-Hall: QuickHire is an idea I’ve had for quite some time. With my experience in career and educational advisement, I’ve seen firsthand the struggles people face trying to find work in the skilled trade and service industry. Covid-19 was the catalyst for bringing this idea to fruition, as it was evident people needed to find work, and needed to find work quickly.
Deborah Gladney: The pandemic exposed a number of disparities, one being the digital divide amongst our workforce. There have been a number of technological advances and platforms created for desk jobs, but very few for skilled trade and service jobs.
Greathouse: Good for you. Workers need all the help they can get in this economy.
You’re both from and are currently based in Wichita, Kansas. I’m a long-time fan of startup ecosystems outside of the traditional Silicon Valley, New York and LA powerhouses. Tell us a bit about the Wichita startup scene and the degree the community has been supportive of your efforts.
Muhwezi-Hall: Wichita is small, but mighty. People here have a desire to make Wichita a thriving ecosystem for businesses, especially startups like ours. Wichita leaders want people to come here and are implementing a lot of strategies to attract talent. One of the main reasons why I moved from LA to Wichita is because of the unmatched support here. People from Wichita want to see their fellow Wichitans win. We’ve received amazing local press, inbound requests from businesses and support from other leaders in the community like Groover Labs.
Gladney: Wichita is a great place for us right now. Starting a business isn’t easy and there are a lot of bumps along the way. We’re so grateful to be going through these growing pains in a city that loves us through it all.
Greathouse: Sweet. You’re fortunate to have such a strong base of local support – reminds me a bit of Santa Barbara’s tech community.
You define your market as jobs with a “skilled-trade focus.” What types of jobs fall into this segment and what are the deficiencies of the legacy job-recruitment tools you compete against?
Gladney: Broadly speaking, our focus is on jobs that don’t require the traditional four-year college degree. We truly believe there are a lot of fantastic platforms that cater to that segment of the workforce. For us, we’ve seen a gap in not just connecting skilled labor and service industry talent to opportunity, but also helping them progress in their careers.
Muhwezi-Hall: There’s a stigma that these jobs are “dead-end” gigs. But the reality is that there are amazing opportunities in these fields. We want to help create pathways to success while also addressing the looming workforce shortages in these critical areas.
Greathouse: The only people that would call a trade job a “dead end” is someone who’s never gotten their hands dirty.
Congratulations on building an intuitive tool, including. the ability to upload a video, in lieu of a formal resume.
I realize you just launched in September (2020), but to what degree has the app’s ease of use translated into traction? More specifically, what metrics are your tracking and how are you doing against your Plan?
Gladney: Muhwezi-Hall: We launched the first week in September and are quickly approaching 2,000 users. So, we’re quite pleased with our fifty percent monthly growth rate.
Gladney: Nearly seventy percent of our users are millennials and Gen Z’ers. This makes us happy because as Angela mentioned early, we’re really focused on addressing the looming workforce shortage challenges in these industries.
Muhwezi-Hall: As we continue to grow, we’re keeping an eye on how many matches and job placements we’re landing as well as advancement success with our career development features.
Greathouse: I’ve also written a fair amount about the importance of mentors, especially to first-time entrepreneurs. I understand you’ve pulled an impressive group of advisors into your orbit. How did you go about getting these busy folks’ attention and then motivate them to join your team?
Muhwezi-Hall: One of our competitive advantages is that we have a lot of life and work experience. Both of us are in our thirties and have had time to develop relationships. When we decided to begin working on QuickHire, we were able to tap our established network that has a variety of talents and skills essential to helping us build our business.
As an example, one of my dear friends built LadyLab and had a lot of great insight to share on how to build a tech business from the ground up. Another friend of mine, Victoria Bell, founded the Black Women @ Facebook group and has extensive start-up and tech experience. She was the first one to tell us about accelerator programs and various options to scale our business.
Gladney: Yes, Angie is right. Many of the friends we’ve met throughout our careers have gone on to do amazing things. We have a mentor that works at Twitter and another one at Apple – both of whom we met during our time at Kansas State University. We also now have access to one of the cofounders of Blavity due to some of the positive press we’ve had.
Muhwezi-Hall: We’re entering a space that is lacking in diversity, so we’re lucky to have insight from mentors who are minorities and can help us navigate the unique hurdles we have to overcome along the way.
Greathouse: You’ve received an impressive amount of media coverage, given how nascent your startup is. Other than hustling, do you have any buzz-generating insights entrepreneurs with minimal resources can borrow?
Muhwezi-Hall: Tap into your skills and see what you can do first before spending any money. Being scrappy will get you far as an entrepreneur. Realize that you’re going to need to roll up your sleeves and learn how to do things on your own along the way.
Gladney: Yes, we’ve relied on some of the skills both of us have, but there are so many that we’ve had to pick up. It’s okay to not know everything, there are people and resources out there to help you. Research leaders in the space you’re entering in and learn from them – the good and the bad. Surround yourself with people who believe in what you’re doing and can help you pro bono. You’d be surprised by how much you can get done for free.
Greathouse: Correct me if I have it wrong, but at one point you planned on launching an enterprise product, for use by large employers. If this is still the case, I’m curious as to how you went about conducting your market validation, as it can be difficult for a small company to get the attention of the titans.
Gladney: Yes, we’re launching QuickHire for Business early 2021. We’re knee deep in finalizing our features and will begin beta testing with companies in a month or two. Honestly, we were surprised at how easy it was to connect with some top companies. We were able to conduct research with major brands including Denny’s, Five Guys and CVS.
Muhwezi-Hall: The reality is there is this perception that these types of companies have all of the resources in the world, but there is an existing gap in the market for a platform that meets the unique needs of their business. Companies are eager to collaborate when you are meeting a critical need of theirs.
Greathouse: Fast forward ten years – what is the headline that you’d like to see written about QuickHire’s legacy.
Muhwezi-Hall: That QuickHire is the platform that is helping a population of people who’ve been vastly ignored and underserved. We want people to feel that they finally have a platform they can go to that helps them connect and progress, regardless of their background and/or pedigree.
Gladney: Yes. And to add to that, we want to be at a point where we can share how two black women were able to build one of the most successful skilled labor marketplaces. We’re new faces in this field and we’re just eager to shatter preconceived ideas of who can build successful companies in this space.
You can follow John on Twitter: @johngreathouse.
Help us to become independent in PANDEMIC COVID-19. Contribute to diligent Authors.