In the Founders Series, Amazon Web Services’ Pieter Kemps interviews founders and CEO’s of successful startups on key topics that are relevant for startup founders, entrepreneurs and the wider startup community. Previous interviews include those with Luxola, PayrollHero, and Pie.
In this episode, Pieter speaks with Paul Rivera, the Filipino Founder & CEO of Kalibrr. Paul earned his education at U.C. Berkeley in California and worked for Google before starting his first company. Kalibrr, his second startup, was admitted into Y-Combinator last year. What’s even more special about Kalibrr is the balance it strikes between being a for-profit business, while also touting its positive impact on the societies in which it operates. Hence, this episode of the Founder Series will explore startups that have a positive social impact.
Pieter Kemps: Paul, can you tell us more about Kalibrr and how it got started?
Kalibrr started because I was looking to solve my own problem. I co-founded a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) company in the Philippines that worked with companies like Mint.com and Friendster and I became frustrated at how difficult it was to hire people. I also felt that it was unfair for people to show up at my office, with a college degree from an English speaking country, yet were unqualified for a data entry job. As I started to learn more about the problem, I discovered a significant skills gap that has resulted in entire populations of graduates around the world with diplomas, but without the skills useful in a technology-driven, 21st century, globalized economy. From the jobseekers perspective, this misalignment between education and employment leads to underemployment and unemployment. For example in the Philippines, unemployment was prevalent, yet there were hundreds of thousands of BPO job openings at the same time. So we set about to solve this massive problem – how to help people get the right skills to get jobs and how companies can better identify, assess and hire this talent. That’s how Kalibrr was born.
PK: And then you got admitted into Y-Combinator. How did that happen and what was you experience?
We were not planning on applying to Y-Combinator. One of our advisors, Kyle Lui, introduced us to Sam Altman, Founder at Loopt and also a YC partner. I met with him last October, really trying to get him to invest in the company. Instead of getting money, I got advice and that was to apply to YC. We had two weeks to get the application in, and Sam promised that we wouldn’t regret it. So, we applied, we interviewed and we ended up being one of a handful of startups from outside the U.S. to get into YC.
I think the ultimate lesson of YC is that startups are hard – even with the 46 startups in our batch, most statistics say that 9/10 of those startups will fail. So the only thing you can do is survive. AirBnB was one of those survivors. They were at it for almost two years and during that time every VC rejected them. Then, out of desperation, they made Barack Obama cereal for the 2008 elections and ended up making about $50,000 in sales. That funded their startup long enough to keep the dream going until they got into YC and then AirBnB took off in a major way.
PK: Within the program, did you meet other startups that are both for-profit but also deliver social impact? If so, what did you learn from them?
We met another startup called Watsi. They are YC’s first non-profit startup and they crowdfund medical procedures for people in the third world. If an eight year old girl in India needs $1,500 for a heart procedure, anybody around the world can donate to that procedure. It is an absolutely brilliant venture that changes lives.
PK: Talking about social impact, can you give us examples of the social impact Kalibrr delivers? How does it improve lives or societies?
Our mission is to help people get jobs. During our time with YC, we built a recruitment business to replicate what we would need to serve companies in the BPO industry that need to hire hundreds of people per month. What we discovered is that many of our jobseekers and those we eventually got employed fit a profile. With this knowledge, we were able to get more than 100 people jobs during our three month-test with YC. The jobseeker profile we identified shows:
The jobs we helped these jobseekers find nearly doubled that salary and included generous health benefits. Furthermore, these jobseekers received longer term opportunities to grow their careers, working with Fortune 500 companies, in the fastest growing industry in the Philippines. By getting Kalibrr users into these jobs, we’re helping to create an emerging middle class in the Philippines that did not exist even as recently as a few years ago and was previously unattainable. By using technology, we can do this at scale – helping millions of people all around the world transform the way they get a job.
PK: Those are great examples. How does Kalibrr balance this social impact with driving revenue growth and profits? How do you avoid compromising between these two aspects?
We focus on solving the core problem, which is to build tools that help people get jobs and help companies hire the right talent. We can drive the business without sacrificing our social impact. As our revenue grows, it means we’re helping more people get jobs.
PK: The fact that there is a social impact could also affect other areas, e.g. customer acquisition, fund raising, etc. Have you seen such an impact, and if so, how does it manifest itself?
No we haven’t. We’ve got a great set of investors on board. I think if there is a bias, it’s because our beachhead market is in the Philippines and there’s not a lot of knowledge about the Philippines in the startup investment community.
PK: Finally, what advice would you give other startups that combine profit-seeking with making a positive contribution to people’s lives?
Set out to solve the business problem first, then figure out how to scale your social impact.
Kalibrr leverages EC2 for their web and application services, and uses Amazon RDS for their managed MySQL database. Amazon S3 is used for storage and CloudFront for Content Distribution. They have built a Highly Available architecture across multiple Availability Zones using Amazon’s Elastic Load Balancers, as well as Amazon’s Simple Notification Service (SNS).