Kormo, Business of Online Job Portal, And Lessons In Leadership: An Interview With Bickey Russell, Founding Member, Area 120, Google

Kormo, Business of Online Job Portal, And Lessons In Leadership: An Interview With Bickey Russell, Founding Member, Area 120, Google

Flight Expert Credit banner

 

Bickey Russell is a founding member of Area 120 at Google, where he helps build products for emerging markets and leads Kormo, a new kind of jobs and career development service for emerging markets. Kormo was first launched in Bangladesh in September 2018 as a marketplace for urban jobs with an ambition to fix the problem of hiring for both employers and job seekers. Over the past months, the platform has evolved and now claims to have thousands of users who rely on it for finding jobs and getting necessary career-related information and hundreds of employers who rely on it for managing their recruitments. After its success in Dhaka, the platform has launched in Indonesia in March 2019.

Prior to his current role as General Manager of Kormo, he worked across a couple of Sales Leadership and Partnership roles in Google’s Ads business, at Google HQ in Mountain View, CA. In his immediate past role, he was the Head of Agency Development, Google Marketing Solutions at Google.

In this excellent interview with Future Startup, he walks us through his journey to what he is doing today, his passion for technology and applying the power of technology for social good, how Kormo came into being, Kormo’s ambition to fix the problem of hiring with the help of technology, how Kormo operates as a platform, how Kormo stands out in a crowded online job portal market in Dhaka, shares about his thoughts about leadership and management and reflects on the lessons he has learned from his journey so far and much more.

Future Startup

Could you please tell us about yourself, your childhood and upbringing, and how your upbringing shaped the person you are today?

Bickey Russell

I was born in London and spent the first 5 years of my life in Dhaka with my grandparents. When I was 5, I moved to Milan (Italy) to live with my mother where I lived till 11 years old. Then I moved back to Dhaka with my mother and joined Scholastica in Jan 1994 (Class 6).

I was fortunate to travel a lot from a young age. Spending a lot of time in England and France where my mother’s sisters lived. That was great exposure for me.

My mother is a creative person – she always encouraged me to watch films, read books, listen to different kinds of music and even play video games. She wasn’t a controlling parent at all, and instead pushed – sometimes literally – me to go outdoors, play sports and meet people from all walks of life. It was funny because she always let me skip formal family events (“dawats”) if I had a cricket match, football practice, etc. I was fortunate too to travel around Bangladesh with her as a youngster, and through playing sports.

I learned a lot about the world through her exposing me to lots of art, culture, and history. She always encouraged me to be independent and not feel any pressure to conform. She is a very strong, independent person herself so was a great role model in that way.

It’s fair to say, my time spent in Dhaka living in Old DOHS (the best area in Dhaka in my opinion!!), shaped me a lot. Another big influence in my life was my wonderful grandmother. She was ahead of her time as a liberal thinker and parent to her children, and her grandchildren. She really took care of me throughout my life. I learned an infinite amount from being able to spend so much time with her growing up.

Future Startup

When and how did you start your career? Could you tell us about your journey to what you are doing today?

Bickey Russell

I did a Geography degree at King’s College in London. I was very curious about the world around me and how society forms around the physical environment. I liked history and anthropology, a lot. I was lucky that my mother and grandmother let me study whatever I wanted, so long as I went to a decent university! I worked part-time throughout my university years. I worked at a department store in London for a year and a half, a couple of other stores, and even at a stall in Camden Market selling band t-shirts. I played for my university football team and was captain of the King’s cricket team too.

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in life in those days but I was interested in advertising and got an entry-level job as a Researcher at Millward Brown, global market research and consulting firm. I did that for 2 years and then was recruited to EDS (now a subsidiary of HP) to work as a Business Analyst. I was always quite analytical and good at looking at data and developing insights.

After doing that for a couple of years, I really wanted to get into the internet and tech. Google was the dream company for me – it combined my experience in marketing and technology. I eventually landed a job as an Analyst at Google London, working on how we should shape our business and advising our clients on their digital strategy. I covered a few verticals and it was an awesome experience.

Since then I worked across a couple of Sales Leadership and Partnership roles in our Ads business, at Google HQ in Mountain View, CA. Amazing experience because sales are such an important skill to develop and I was able to really learn a lot as part of Google’s business organization and working with clients and partners across North America. I was pretty good at it I guess and it helped me develop a lot as a leader. I had access to really incredible mentors and worked with super smart, motivated peers. Of course, I was exposed to cutting edge tech throughout and one of the best working environments and cultures you could wish for.

Together With Flight Expert

Flight Expert new ad
A Message From Flight Expert

Flight Expert, being the most prominent Online Travel Agency (OTA) in Bangladesh, is making life easier for every traveler around the globe. From booking domestic and international flights to reserving hotel rooms for your trip, Flight Expert has it all in one place, within the reach of your fingertips.

We Provide: Flight Booking | Hotel Reservation

Enjoy: Instant booking | Book Now Pay Later | Pay with EMI | Get 365 Days dedicated Customer Support

Contact us: Call: +88-09617-111-888 | E-mail: [email protected]

Flight Expert – all about your journey!

Please visit us here!

Future Startup

Please tell us about your work at Google and Kormo. How do you approach your work?

Bickey Russell

Since late 2016, I’ve been leading Kormo. My role is more like that of a GM, where I manage all functions related to our new product development and go-to-market. We are a 12 person team right now, 8 people on the product/engineering side, and 3 on the business/operations side (and me of course). I am lucky to have an excellent team – all super smart and passionate about the problem we are solving.

I see my role really fall into 3 broad areas –
Serve the team – supporting the team, providing guidance and coaching where needed and driving the cultural side. One example is that given we operate more like a startup, as needed I am the “gap filler” and will often be doing the jobs that we don’t have anyone else to do.

Chief customer experience officer – I like how Brian Chesky assumes this title at the helm of Airbnb. I spend as much time as I can learning from our user community and representing their needs as we build products for them.
Growth – always looking at new opportunities for our product, business, and team. I really enjoy leading from the front, identifying new growth areas, qualifying them and then figuring out how to solve for them.

Future Startup

How does Kormo work as a platform? What are some key features that differentiate Kormo from other job marketplaces?

Bickey Russell

We’re building a two-sided marketplace that enables end-to-end job posting, matching, and fulfillment. Our focus is very much on building Kormo for people in emerging markets, especially in cities like Dhaka and Jakarta where our service is live today.

For job seekers, Kormo acts as an assistant, serving up personalized job and training recommendations. The product is based on these 3 key principles-

Help people create and manage a digital, and portable, reputation. Like a CV but 10x better.

Make job discovery easy and relevant. Kormo recommends jobs based on user needs and suitability and helps with the application process.

Kormo helps job seekers improve chances of getting jobs and learn new things by nudging relevant training in the form of articles, videos, and courses.

For employers, the value proposition is straightforward. We want Kormo to help them hire talent into their businesses faster and more reliably.

Kormo in Indonesia

Kormo in Indonesia | Photo by Kormo

Future Startup

You wrote in a medium post that hiring remains a pretty old school thing and with Kormo your ambition is to fix it with technology, specifically, how are you doing it at Kormo? What are a few things you do differently?

Bickey Russell

In a city like Dhaka, you can order a pizza and get it delivered to your home with the tap of a few buttons. That used to be a challenging process before, and in some cases impossible. Now a bunch of companies have blended technology and human operations to solve it… and it works pretty great.

Somewhat strangely though, even as lots of sectors and market segments have been disrupted by technology, how you find a job is probably harder today than it was 10 years ago. We’re building service from the ground up to cater to this need and we’re approaching it with a view to simplifying the process, not complicate it further. Of course technologies like smartphones, notifications, AI and so on are making this possible, as is the need to combine this with high quality, human-centric design, and customer service.

Future Startup

Could you give us an overview of Kormo? How big is your operation in Dhaka in terms of users, business, and operations?

Bickey Russell

Kormo connects thousands of people in Bangladesh to jobs – mostly in Dhaka – every week. Most of our users are 18-27 age bracket and looking for early-stage career jobs in the Services sector. We primarily serve 3 broad job categories across 300+ active employers.

Logistics – Warehouse jobs, delivery personnel jobs
Retail & Hospitality – Store sales associates, waiters, etc
BPO – Call center representatives, Data entry
Operationally, we work with many local partners on building the job seeker community, training content and delivery and more.

Future Startup

What’s your business model?

Bickey Russell

The focus today is solely on creating value to Kormo users. Help job seekers secure jobs and employers hire faster and more reliably. There is nothing to share on the revenue model side at this stage.

Future Startup

You started with serving a specific segment, which is urban jobs, and surely you are going to expand to other verticals in the future, what are some verticals you plan to cover in the near future?

Bickey Russell

We’re pretty focused on this space right now and think that there is still a long way to go and lot more untapped potential. For instance, helping the same businesses higher more experienced workers, supporting more on the training (both online and offline), and so on.

Future Startup

As you mentioned you connect thousands of people in Bangladesh with jobs and over 300 employers now use your platform, which means you have seen a pretty good growth within a short period of time, what have you done to grow?

Bickey Russell

The single-minded focus on generating value to our users – both job seekers and employers – and not focusing on one at the expense of the other. We’re still very early, but this principle is critical to enable further growth. We’re very metrics driven so having the right – actionable – data to inform specific go-to-market approaches and product decisions have been huge for us.

We have great partners and while it’s not always easy, collaborating well with external partners can add tremendous value, particularly when the motivations are deeply aligned. In our case, all our partners are very passionate about helping empower people in Bangladesh through improved access to jobs and skills development resources.

Future Startup

What are the challenges for Kormo now?

Bickey Russell

There are so many challenges. Taking something from an idea to an actual product, finding the first users, then growing and improving, are all super, super hard. Kormo has a bunch of complexities to it, not least that we’re dealing with a marketplace that is far from commoditized. An example is that we still face issues with getting people to show up for interviews. It might sound odd, but it’s an industry-wide problem. We’ve mitigated this a lot but still face this problem today. So there are a diverse set of challenges and we are addressing on the challenge at a time.

A few members of Team Kormo speaking with users in Bangladesh

Future Startup

How do you think about the competition has given that there are a few local players in the space?

Bickey Russell

This is a big, big space, with many niches and various methods that could be adopted to solve it. I would say, there are still many things that need to be learned before it can be truly solved. I feel we’ve done OK so far and we learned a ton through our many failures. Our focus is to keep learning from our users and research and continually iterating.

Future Startup

You have not opened up the platform for businesses yet, do you plan to open it up anytime soon?

Bickey Russell

Kormo is available for businesses since October. If you’re interested, please go to Kormo.com and complete the interest form. We hope to fully open it up soon but at this point, we feel that it’s important to get to know a business first, prior to letting them using the service.

Future Startup

What are the priorities for 2019?

Bickey Russell

Connect more people to jobs and contribute further to improving people’s livelihoods.

Future Startup

What is your management philosophy?

Bickey Russell

Work hard, support the team, get out of the way as much as possible!

Future Startup

Your thoughts on leadership.

Bickey Russell

Build bridges, not islands.

Future Startup

How do you think about life?

Bickey Russell

Deep question! But I guess I’d say that it’s important to care about real stuff, and not worry about everything you see on Instagram.

Future Startup

How do you work and operate on a daily basis? How do you prioritize and manage your time?

Bickey Russell

I’m terrible with routines and time management and my advice would be not to learn from me! In all seriousness, one thing that always helps is to write notes and make to-do lists. If anyone has any other tips please let me know! You can tweet me at @bickeyr.

Future Startup

Best advice you received?

Bickey Russell

I love the quote from Mike Tyson, “everyone has a plan till they get punched in the face.

Future Startup

Your favorite books?

Bickey Russell

I tend to read non-fiction, particularly stuff related to history. I wish I read more books as opposed to articles and blog posts. Satyajit Ray’s biography by Andrew Robinson had a profound impact on me while I was in university. I recently read the journal from the creator of the 90’s video game, Prince of Persia. I loved it.

Future Startup

What advice would you give to people who are just starting out?

Bickey Russell

Become good at learning. Explore and be curious. Meet lots of people from different places and walks of life.

Together With Flight Expert

A Message From Flight Expert!

Flight Expert, being the most prominent Online Travel Agency (OTA) in Bangladesh, is making life easier for every traveler around the globe. From booking domestic and international flights to reserving hotel rooms for your trip, Flight Expert has it all in one place, within the reach of your fingertips.

We Provide:

  • Flight Booking
  • Hotel Reservation

Enjoy:

  • Instant booking
  • Book Now Pay Later
  • Pay with EMI

Support:

  • Get 365 Days dedicated Customer Support

Contact us:

Flight Expert – all about your journey!
Please visit us here!

We Recommend

Type to Search

See all results
Shares