Today we have another great VanHack Talent Success Case interview with Humaira, CEO at Locelle, a top startup from the Victoria, Canada tech ecosystem.
Check out her story below and if you’re looking to add more tech talent to your team, see how VanHack can help here.
Ilya: Hello, and welcome to another VanHack Success Case interview. My name is Ilya. I’m super excited today to be joined by Humaira, who is the CEO and founder at Locelle. And she has recently hired a VanHacker and is here to share her experience. Thanks so much for being here with us, Humaira.
Humaira: Thank you so much for having me.
Ilya: Our pleasure. And before we get into it, I’d love to hear more about yourself and also about Locelle.
Humaira: Yeah. I’m the founder and CEO of Locelle, which is a mentorship platform dedicated to advancing women in the workplace. And my background, I am an immigrant from Pakistan myself, moved to Toronto, Canada about 15 years ago, and have been in the tech industry for over a decade, and now have had my company Locelle for three years. So yeah, it’s been an exciting journey.
Ilya: Awesome. Yeah, I saw recently you guys hit that three year mark. Congrats on the anniversary. That’s always fun.
Humaira: Thank you so much. It’s like 30 years.
Ilya: Yeah. It’s like dog years, I guess, startup years. They multiply.
Humaira: Totally, totally.
Ilya: Awesome. Awesome.
Humaira: Love it.
Ilya: So let’s get into it. So you were a startup founder, got your company, you’re looking to grow. How was the process of hiring developers before VanHack? What was that previously?
Humaira: Painful. One word. And I think it’s because I live in Victoria. Most of our talent came from Victoria initially, and it’s war on [inaudible] everywhere, as you know. And in Victoria, being a small town, we’re not only competing with other startups who are venture backed, and for context, we are bootstrapped. So it’s hard to compete with the venture backed startups, let alone competing with companies like Workday, Microsoft, Amazon, with their offices here. So, yeah. And then the island is really small, Victoria, Vancouver Island, and so a lot of competition. So yeah, it was really hard.
And I would say that the process would often take a lot of networking, getting to know people, and then good people know good people. So they would say good things about me and the company, and that’s how we would do it, but it would take quite a long time, I would say six months to a year, in finding the right fit. So painful, yeah.
Ilya: Wow. Six months to a year, that does sound painful. Okay, yeah. So what kind of sparked your interest and why did you say, you know what, hey, this VanHack company sounds kind of crazy, but let’s give it a shot?
Humaira: No, absolutely. And I think it’s also knowing people is really important, and it goes with any business. Trust needs to be there. And I would run into amazing people at VanHack, including yourself, at different tech events. And I was like, wow, what you’re doing is amazing. And also being an immigrant myself, I know firsthand how challenging it can be to find work in your field.
And so, yeah, so I think I just loved the people, the brand, and what you were doing to start with, but as a startup, I think I had this misconception of, you know, oh my gosh, we are already bootstrap. We don’t have all these funds to pay a recruitment agency or anybody that’s third party. So I think that was a big barrier, but also I think we were at a point, especially when the pandemic hit, we wanted to be really mindful with what we were continuing to build, who we were hiring. And also one of the challenges we had had in the past, Ilya, was we are a platform for women, and the male developers we had had in the past, yes, they were building it, but they didn’t quite understand. And I don’t doubt or question them. I think it’s just, you know, they just couldn’t understand the need for it and couldn’t contribute beyond, okay, what do you want me to build?
And that’s where I really wanted to find a woman developer who could understand the market, the pain points, and also help be part of the actual product development roadmap, as well as what it looks like. And so I think that’s where I wanted to work with a woman developer in this case. So had a bias there, based on experiences. And then we looked at the market here. There’s very few developers, female developers, in Victoria, in Vancouver, and every big company wants to hire them. So I think the war on talent on the women developers is even higher.
And so for me, I just felt like, okay, previous to working with VanHack, I’ve worked with about three developers, all men from Victoria. And it was a good experience, but it wasn’t, you know, we had challenges. And so when we were looking to hire, I thought, why not give it a shot? Let’s see, if I’m dedicated to hiring a woman, where do I find these women? I think from that perspective, too, VanHack made it really easy. And actually, we got different resumes. It wasn’t just women. We also got men’s resumes. But overall we just found the right fit within that, in one of the hires.
Ilya: Awesome. Awesome. So let’s talk about, then, from the time when you said, okay, let’s give this a shot, to when you made the actual hire. How was that process? How long did it take, how many interviews, how was that kind of?
Humaira: I think the process of hiring was pretty smooth. I was pretty much shocked at how smooth it was, because there was this whole, you know, first we got pre-vetted. We shared the needs of what we were looking for with the techs that we had. And then based on that, we got a pre-vetted qualified pool of candidates. So that was the one thing done. We didn’t have to come in and interview for skills and stuff like that extensively, which was nice.
And then the next step was, for us, we had a pre-vetted pool. From there, we just had really two interviews. One, I always do this just 15 minute vibe interview, like just for the energy. And we found two great candidates through VanHack right off the bat, that I felt really good about, and that’s when we had the technical interview. So that was pretty quick, too. And from there, we found one person, Danielle, to be ideal fit, and I was like, “Wow, this is amazing.” So from the time that we connected, recruited VanHack, to actually deciding on who we wanted to work with, it was very quick. So yeah, with the skills, with the cultural fit, and yeah, it’s fantastic.
Ilya: Awesome. That’s really cool to hear.
Humaira: Not painful.
Ilya: Yeah, painless. Nice.
Humaira: Yeah, painless.
Ilya: So then how has it been so far? So Danielle’s joined the team and been contributing. What’s it been like? How has she been doing? How was the first few months?
Humaira: Yeah, I will say this, I’ve been pleasantly surprised beyond anticipation, and it’s not because, oh, I’m a woman, so I’ve hired a woman and I feel good about this situation. I think it’s just been even seeing how she approaches product development is so refreshing. She asks so many questions that I never, nobody asked me, maybe they thought I didn’t know, so why bother? But I am at the leadership, I decide the vision for the company, but one of our values is curiosity. She brings that to the table, and just being able to ask so that she’s not building based on her assumptions. So I think just even the process of communication is fantastic. She’s so curious. She will ask the good questions that will give her the answers to move forward.
But also, she’s so great at even communicating the requirements. It’s refreshing. I will say this, that just being able to communicate in an effective way, I have never had that. So there’s that, and then also her experience is just such a good fit. Even though part of what we were doing was very complex when she started, she took it on. So she had this, again, also another value of ours is growth mindset. And she had that. She jumped right in, we connected her with this other architect, and she made it happen. And at Locelle, and I think with many startups, we want people who make things happen. And she has the right mindset. She has the skills, and in some ways I think she’s surprised me more in a good way with how much she can get done, how quickly she can get it done, how she asks good questions.
And now maybe, Ilya, you’re like, you should have hired her. Anyway, just saying, I mean, she’s amazing. So I think that I, wow, I wish I had took this leap before, and I think startups have this mindset of oh, we’re so scrappy, we’re so lean. We cannot hire a recruitment company like yours, but very well worth it. I would say every startup should explore this, and yes, it might cost you a bit more, but really, does it? Because in the long run, if this candidate is an amazing … So I think opportunity costs. It’s not as high as initially it seems. It can be painful to hear, but it’s like, think about all the work that’s getting done, and again, with Danielle, because she’s so amazing, I just think that we hit jackpot.
Ilya: Yeah, and so that’s what we strive for, and so it’s really cool to hear. I guess one thing I’ll say is that, and sometimes just on the cost thing, I always think about it like, what would you pay if you knew that this person was going to stay for two years, three years at your company, and really add, like, you know, let’s make a list of 15, 20 different features that they build, and maybe adding a percentage, let’s say a percentage on top of their salary, would it be worth it? And I think a lot of times the answer is yes. And thinking about the rockstars that we have on our team, or the great developers we have on our team, good people we have on our team in all roles, definitely worth the investment, if you have that mindset.
And then versus like, okay, you can’t fill that role for one year. So all that lost time and all your competitors, building products, et cetera, et cetera, especially when you’re a startup and you have to move fast.
Humaira: Oh gosh, yeah. I think it’s even with, I still believe that with what we’re doing, like sell before you build, but we have so much more confidence, and I think that’s probably it, too. I think when you’re not strapped for cash … Because one year, I would say before now it would be hard to see the, what do we look like one year from now? Now it’s super easy for us to see, way easier. And that is exciting, right? Because then we’re like, okay, this person can evolve into a leadership role.
And then I think that potential is there, too, because of course, as we grow, we’re going to hire more people and then also invest in the leadership for them to really help them grow their career, too. I just think the possibilities are endless, and you’re right. The opportunity costs, when you really think about it from the right mindset, and not, oh, it’s going to cost me this. It’s like, well, how much is it going to save me in the long run? Just shift that mindset. I think it’s well worth every penny. So yeah.
Ilya: Yeah, like how many active customers are you going to get from all the features that the hire is going to build and et cetera?
Ilya: Curious, though, so you mentioned your startup, how many people are on the team? How many people on the Dev team, like what’s the stage?
Humaira: So we are a team of eight now, and we have Danielle on the team, one person is a senior developer, and then we have another junior developer that we’ve just hired to finish a project. And then in future, we’re looking to launch our MVP of this new platform in late spring or so. And then at that point, it’s about really, it’s for scalability, efficiency, and all those things.
So at that point, I think we will probably be looking at making another hire, especially on the tech side, to make sure that Danielle is well supported and she can take more of the, yes, she’ll be involved in coding as well, but really even the management of the product and the infrastructure really to scale. Yeah, we’ll see. Definitely I think there’s a lot of opportunity coming up for us, as we want something just out, like MVP, and just start using it and then see how we can scale that. So, yeah. right.
Ilya: Get those mentor session matching going, right?
Humaira: Exactly. And we want to just optimize and automate a lot of the hassle part. We want it to be a hassle-free experience, and there will always be a human person involved. I believe we need that for professional development, but I do think that there’s a lot of things that we just [inaudible] repeatable and can be scaled with technology.
Ilya: Nice, nice. So just, did I hear that right? She’s the senior developer on the team, and there’s another junior? So just her and one more person?
Ilya: Wow. Wow. Awesome. And I mean, maybe this is a little biased, but the people you hire in the beginning are like the core kind of key of your culture and your foundations. They’re very important.
Humaira: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I can also say this, that the junior developer that we hired, and this person I had known for a long time, so again, curiosity, that hunger, that growth mindset, she would just always make herself known, like I’m here, want to work here, opportunity came, we hired her. And this is also interesting, because now Danielle is having to look into this as like, okay, now I have a person, what can I give to her that adds value to the work that we’re doing and not extra work that takes away from Danielle’s job?
So I think I’m also, I think impressed in that capacity, because even the questions she asks me, I haven’t even thought of those questions. Like, okay, do I treat this person as an intern, or do I treat this person as a junior developer? Because the feedback will be in accordance to that. And I was like, I never thought of it that way. No, they’re a junior developer. It’s like, okay, okay. So I think just even asking those questions makes me a better leader, because now I think of when I hire people moving forward, is what kind of feedback should they get, based on what they’re hired for?
Ilya: Definitely. Yeah. And that’s actually cool. So Danielle is kind of like leading a team now.
Ilya: Who knows?
Humaira: Totally. You know, actually I am, for us, again, we could be next year, we could double easily, double the team. And so for us, it’s like, if we have somebody great and especially the attitude, that is everything. You have the right attitude, growth mindset, passion for what you do. I think that that’s fantastic, and she has those things. So I am happy to … I was actually sharing with her, hey, there’s this opportunity for a CTO or a senior developer to do this, I don’t know, it’s an accelerator that just was launched.
And she was like, “Okay.” She was probably like, “I’m not a CTO,” but for me, it’s been to hire the right people, and you see those qualities that you would want. As we grow, why not her? And if we can provide her with those opportunities to step into that leadership role, why not? So yeah, no, we feel really, really happy, almost like safe in a way. It’s a weird word. But that she can help us get there.
Ilya: Yeah, yeah.
Humaira: Confidence, I guess.
Ilya: Yeah, yeah, confident, for sure. I think that’s really exciting, and I’m sure there’s a platform out there that can help connect her to some CTOs who could mentor her through that process.
Humaira: Yes. Well, we can make that happen.
Humaira: Absolutely. Yeah, working on that.
Ilya: Cool. Cool. Well, Humaira, thank you so much for joining us. Just maybe the last question for me is what tips you have for other startup founders who are maybe in the first two, three years of their company, looking to hire tech talent, of course, other than hiring from VanHack, what else would you say maybe on the interview process or kind of how you approach it, or what you knew maybe a year ago?
Humaira: Yeah, I do hire people based on even just part of what we now do, is where are motivations for these people? You know, I think that really, really matters, because, yes, we’re a startup, but we offer a lot more flexibility and growth opportunities than, say, a big company would. So just even asking the questions about, okay, how much does salary matter? How much does growth matter? How much does flexibility matter? And how much does just even working for a startup that’s constantly challenging you matter?
So that is what we now do, is we rank people, we ask people those questions, and then if somebody wants a really high salary, you’re not a good fit, because you’re going to move on. But yeah, if you are looking for a decent salary, like we’re not paying pennies, it’s like decent salary, but a lot of growth opportunities, perhaps some stock options, and you see potential in what we’re doing, that is really higher for motivations, of what those motivations are.
And then also look beyond your circle. I think COVID’s silver lining would just be also that we have all opened up our eyes. Like, we’re all working. We actually have people in Montreal, Calgary right now, Vancouver, and I think I’m the only one in Victoria right now, or actually the junior developer also is here. So yeah, I mean, it’s fine, as long as we have core hours, we all are available within those hours. The rest of the time, I don’t care, as long as the job gets done, you’re updating your stuff. So I think just opening up your mind to where people, where talent is, what works for you.
I know as we continue to grow, we want to be a global company. We are a global company. We have some people outside of Canada. And so, yeah, I mean, we need to be open-minded and filter people through some of your of course core values, but also motivations, I think, has been really, really helpful for us.
Ilya: Yeah, for sure. In the early days, it’s so much more important to have people who are on board with the mission and are just ready to put in that extra little bit, or sometimes extra lot.
Humaira: Yeah. And also interview, interview, interview, interview. One of the mistakes I made earlier was that I would just be so happy to find someone. And I just, I think over time, you believe more in what you’re doing. I mean, in the start, it’s like, “Yeah, we’re going to move mountains. Great.” And then within the one year, you really understand the reality of startups. And then you’re like, it can be defeating, as you’re growing. But I think, I would just be so happy to find someone with the right skillset, with a decent attitude, but as of now, it’s like no, we need to interview.
So now I’ve actually had this process where I don’t care if it’s an admin position or a leadership, we’re going to interview at least five to six good candidates and then decide on that. And I didn’t do that before, so the work [inaudible], but yeah, it could be really dodgy.
Ilya: I relate a hundred percent on that. That was one of my biggest weak leaks in my game early on. I was like, “You have a pulse and you want to help me, you’re hired.”
Humaira: Exactly. You seem nice, great. We’ll learn together, figure it out. Now, no, there’s so many amazing people that want to work with you, and you want to work with people who want to be there and help you be better. So yeah, I mean, Danielle, I cannot code, but I love people who are better than me. It’s fantastic. It makes us better as a company. So yeah. Always hire people better than yourself. And if you think, this is also a misconception I had, if you want to work with someone and you think they’re going to be very expensive, find a way, approach that person, and find ways to make it happen.
Because even senior leadership, people in senior leadership, a lot of them, they may not care for that money. They want to do good work, so make it happen. But don’t assume that you can’t hire somebody because you can’t afford them and they’re out of reach.
Ilya: Nice. Those are awesome. Yeah. Yeah. I think the whole thing of like using your perceived weakness of the startup as a strength and flipping the table off of your script is really, really good advice. And yeah. So again, I want to thank you so much for joining us and sharing your experience.
Humaira: Thank you.
Ilya: Any kind of last words, did I miss anything? Do you want to share? Or I think we’re good, or what do you think?
Humaira: I think what you’re doing is great. I’m really excited for the possibilities. I know for us the time that we can save, even in the future, as we grow, I think it’s so much worth it. So I think the mindset has changed for me. And I would encourage, especially startups, where they probably think, “Oh, we can save this money here or there,” no, please. It’s so much easier to go through a company like VanHack, where they have pre-vetted people, make it easy, and it’s a long-term investment, unless you don’t know where you’re headed, in which case I don’t know what to say. But yeah, I would say as a startup, don’t cheap out on talent.
Ilya: Yeah. You are who you hire, and I really appreciate that, Humaira. Thank you for the kind words.
Humaira: Yeah, you’re welcome.
Ilya: Oh, I was going to say something that I just completely forgot now, but yeah, just thanks so much for that, and [crosstalk].
Humaira: You are welcome.
Ilya: Cool, great.
Ilya: All right, well, if you’re listening to this and you want to hire some great talent, just go to vanhack.com, click I’m hiring, sign up, and we’ll help you with your next great tech hire, as well. Cheers.