An AUC Political Science graduate, with a specialization in International Relations, Omar Khalifa clearly saw the inequalities rampant in Egypt. “It was always easy for us. We had a bi-annual employment fair that brought huge companies to us,” he says, “but I always wondered how people who weren’t as privileged found out about or got employment opportunities, because in many cases, it is contingent about knowing someone somewhere who’ll drop a word for you or give your résumé a push”. It became his passion from then on to find a solution for this. With a business that almost died and was then revitalized, major debt problems, and at least three different rejections, Khalifa finally witnessed his dream come to life; Shaghalni.com, a forum where blue and grey collar job seekers can publicize themselves and employers get access to large numbers of candidates.
With one of Egypt’s most famous billionaires recently investing in the company, we met with Khalifa to hear the story behind Shaghalni, how it came to life, its future plans and the amazing job it’s doing for the community.
Khalifa graduated in 2008. After six months of working at the World Bank, he quit to fulfill his dream of owning his own media and magazine publishing company, Omedia, and set out to get local franchises of international magazines. Still wanting to create a link between companies and job seekers, Khalifa initially started Shaghalni as a publication, but it didn’t pick up. He pitched it as a website to different venture capitalists at the time, but was rejected all three times. 2011 brought the market to a halt and Khalifa found himself in deep debt. It took three years for Omedia to pick up again, pay off all the debts and restart Shaghalni. By 2014, Khalifa had emerged on top again.
Shaghalni.com was launched at that time, with the purpose of providing the large underprivileged sector of Egypt with a chance, and fix the employment application system. The website specifically caters to blue and grey collar jobs. Hence, it fully operates in Arabic and demands no money at all from job seekers. It reaches its target through social media and advertisements that they can easily spot, like on their daily commutes on the underground, for example.
Shaghalni allows seekers to write a few lines about themselves, while companies headhunt from among them. There is no possibility for brokerage in the middle. The website provides its job seekers with tips as they build their profile, to help them give the best impression they can. It also continuously follows up with its users, on both ends, to understand problems and improve the service. One example of this has been their introduction of in-app messaging and an SMS messaging service to notify job seekers when they have an opportunity. This was developed when they realized many users did not regularly check their emails and were missing opportunities and interviews as a result.
Khalifa already had between 40 and 50 companies and 500 job seekers registered on the website in September 2015 when he decided to reach out to Naguib Sawiris, one of Egypt’s richest businessmen, for marketing support. He now has over 13k job seekers and 1400 companies, including major players from different industries.
“I sent him an email to the address he has specified for pitches like these, but I never imagined I would get a response, let alone a meeting! I was invited to pitch my idea to him, and he appreciated the fact that it was for the general public that he decided he wanted to invest in it, not just support our marketing,” explains Khalifa, “It’s great because he really believes in the project and is passionate about it. It’s about more than just the money.”
While free for job seekers, Shaghalni will start to charge companies next month. It will offer companies 10 job seeker profiles for free and charge for the rest. According to Khalifa, this allows smaller companies the service for free and offers more precise services to larger ones. The bundles, one for 1,800 EGP for 3 months or 5,000 EGP a year, provide companies with unlimited access to job seekers’ profiles as well as an option to broadcast messages to large amounts of seekers from the same category/sector. The website also plans to introduce a rating system for job seekers, whereby companies can flag them for failing to attend an interview, not responding and so forth. After five strikes, a job seeker is banned from using the service, unless they provide support for why they weren’t available. 4,000 job seekers have received employment opportunities through Shaghalni since last September.
Shaghalni’s future plans also include going regional in the Middle East and North Africa. “We already have users from different places in the region, and the language is a huge plus, because it’s more or less uniform,” says Khalifa.
In addition to being a successful entrepreneur who’s managed to rebuild his company after a hard time, Omar Khalifa is a self-proclaimed patriot. The purpose of Shaghalni for him remains firmly rooted in his desire to do something for those in need by helping bridge socioeconomic disparities. When discussing competition, he described it as “healthy”. “The market is very big and can accommodate everyone. Job seekers will use everything. They won’t use just one website, because they want to increase their chances of getting an opportunity. At the end of the day, we’re all doing it for the same thing. We all want to fight unemployment.”