By Rob Orchard, Co-founder and editorial director of the Slow Journalism Company
When scanning online job searches in Nigeria a decade ago, YPO member Ayodeji Adewunmi , then 25, spotted a business opportunity so extraordinary that he traded his just completed medical training for an entrepreneurial startup.
Adewunmi and two of his friends set up Jobberman.com, a recruitment website meant to address what they found lacking on other job sites. “They were structured like glorified blogs, just a long list of jobs,” Adewumni recalls. “There was no opportunity for employers to have things like database access or applicant tracking systems. There were so many things missing from the product standpoint, that we felt something could be done differently.”
Today, the company employs a team of 200 working across six African countries, and Jobberman has become Africa’s most popular and profitable job search engine, placing 120,000 people a year in new jobs.
The business model was clear from the start. “When we launched the platform, we knew we wanted to become the best destination, whether online or offline, for all forms of recruitment in Nigeria,” says Adewunmi. “We spent a lot of time doing global benchmarking, from Naukri in India, to Seek in Australia and Monster in the United States. We really wanted to understand their models and how they make money.” The potential opportunity was immense: Nigeria has a population of 186 million and a booming economy, with vast numbers of job opportunities in lucrative, skilled industries.
The Jobberman trio of friends set up a first version of the site and filled it by laboriously copying out job listings from the classifieds sections of newspapers. “After putting the listings online, we’d call the employers to say, ‘Hi there, we’ve posted your vacancies at no charge, do stay in touch with us so that we have an idea of how many job applicants we are sending your way,’” says Adewunmi. After a long and tense wait, the gamble paid off. “Our first check from an employer came in about seven months after we started Jobberman,” says Adewunmi. “That was wonderful. People started to see the real value of what we were offering.” New services were swiftly added: résumé rewriting, bespoke training courses and online career advice.
The site took off thanks in part to a relentless focus on innovation. “We do embrace new technologies,” says Adewunmi. “Very early on, for example, we saw that mobile technology was going to play a major role in our markets. So, our websites were made mobile responsive with dedicated apps almost from the start. When it comes to data, we leverage the information we have on the 10 million professionals in our database to provide analytics to our customers on things like gender compensation gaps.” Adewunmi has also started licensing Jobberman’s own tech. “We’ve been able to build solutions and applications for our own needs — things like applicant tracking systems — then develop customized, white-label versions for some very big corporates.”
Jobberman’s expansion across sub-Saharan Africa from its base in Nigeria involved a steep learning curve. “Some of the most successful products in Nigeria may be some of the least successful in a place like Ghana, even though it’s only 265 miles away from Lagos,” he says. “In Nigeria, recruiters and hiring managers are often interested in whether we can find them the right candidates in a very short period of time, so we have a product called Quick Recruit, which allows us to go back to the clients in two to five days with fully-screened candidates ready to go. In Ghana, meanwhile, they’re much more interested in the process; they want access to the database so they can research and check the candidates themselves.”
Adewunmi has exciting plans for the coming years. “There are a lot of markets that we can extend our services to,” he says. “We are poised to become the key brand in recruitment in a series of countries, and we’re aiming to double our revenues in the next three years.”
Such ambitious aims are made possible by the positive broader business environment. “Across much of Africa we’re seeing a more stable political climate, which is always good for business,” says Adewunmi. “There are a lot of young, extremely vibrant, mostly urban populations which are looking for employment.” One thing that’s holding back even greater growth for tech companies, however, is infrastructure. “My view about consumer internet services in Africa, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, is that we’re about 15 to 20 years behind where India is today,” says Adewunmi. “There’s a lot of opportunity on this continent. But there are still also enormous challenges.”