Not everyone is so fortunate to have a job that they love, and while that is a goal those same people can work towards, it’s crucial for both employer and employee that the skill and talent of an individual align with the job they’re given. Playing matchmaker between companies and job hunters is a challenging task, and an ultimately rewarding one for those who can get it right.
I recently spoke with Mahe Bayireddi, the CEO and cofounder of Phenom, a company founded in 2011 with the ambitious aim of helping a billion people find the right job. His enthusiasm for and belief in his company’s mission shines through, and he offers his own unique insights and history to the field of matching employers with their next hires.
Mary Juetten: Where are you based?
Mahe Bayireddi: Phenom is based in Ambler, Pennsylvania. A big reason we chose Greater Philadelphia is because it’s home. My family is settled here, and when we were trying to raise venture capital, we already had thirty people in Philly, deepening our connection to the area.
Our decision to make a suburb our global headquarters is unique in and of itself. In HR, people are our business, and being able to draw diverse employees from all over the tri-state area is a major benefit. Research shows that inclusive companies are nearly twice as likely to be innovative leaders in their market.
Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Bayireddi: At Phenom, we believe people should be happy and inspired by their jobs. That simple belief fuels our collective desire to fundamentally transform recruitment marketing and talent management. Our Talent Experience Management (TXM) platform uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help companies attract, engage, convert, transform, and retain top talent by elevating and personalizing the entire talent journey. As a result, employers improve their talent acquisition and talent management efforts by helping candidates and employees find the right job, recruiters identify and engage the right talent, and management optimize HR strategy, process and spend.
Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Bayireddi: Our customers are enterprise companies seeking an innovative, experience-driven approach to attract and retain best-fit talent. We target customers based on factors that make them a good fit for the platform, like organizations with aspirational HR teams seeking to make their talent experience more personal and impactful. Oftentimes, these are organizations with thousands of employees where any individual hiring decision can influence the performance of several cross-functional teams. This is why the margin for error — especially at large companies — is so small with regard to talent management. It’s crucial to hire candidates who are the best possible fit, and then assign responsibilities to employees that place them and the company in the best position to succeed.
Juetten: How did past projects and/or experience help with this new project?
Bayireddi: I grew up in a small town in India, where I helped my father run his pharmacy. When I was young, customers and friends would frequently visit and say how important it was that I study hard and get a good job. In India, jobs are everything. And being able to provide people with jobs is one of the greatest accomplishments you can achieve.
For as long as I can remember, my father told me I would help give jobs to thousands of people. That stayed with me, and inspired me to move to the United States. I’ve since helped build several companies, and each experience has brought me closer to realizing my purpose — Phenom’s purpose — of helping a billion people find the right job.
Juetten: Who is on your team?
Bayireddi: The Phenom family is full of people who are passionate about the work we do. They understand the bigger picture and continue to make enormous contributions towards our purpose.
Phenom is not your average workplace — we take pride in building a “Not Normal” culture that celebrates all of the ways our company and employees are unique. By creating a work environment that’s as robust as our purpose to help a billion people find the right job, our staff comes to life with all the best qualities. People should be happy and inspired by their jobs — and we serve our employees by creating memorable moments throughout their entire employee experience.
Juetten: Did you raise money?
Bayireddi: To date, we’ve raised over $60 million.
Juetten: Startups are an adventure — what’s your favorite startup story?
Bayireddi: Amazon is an amazing success story on so many levels. But the thing that stands out most is its transcendence to a global landscape.
So many tech startups are limited in reach. For many reasons, what works in Silicon Valley doesn’t automatically translate to an international audience. Amazon started in a garage and achieved the extraordinary universal appeal required to become a trillion-dollar category creator.
As Phenom continues driving international growth, I’m continually inspired by Amazon’s story and the technological innovation and scope it represents. What Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott built is not a product — it’s an experience that changed the way business is done and what consumers have come to expect.
Juetten: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Bayireddi: I think the impact you create, not what you gain, is the real measure of success. And the more people you positively impact, the greater the achievement.
The ultimate success for me isn’t about business. I look at what people like Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi accomplished. Those are the kind of success stories that motivate me — to be a better person, to be a better leader, and to keep trying to make the world a better place.
A person’s true character is revealed during a crisis. You can see if a person actually lives the values they preach. Both Lincoln and Gandhi were able to lead their countries through ethical and political crises, from war to peace, with unrivaled moral fortitude. That’s a complex switch few can control as effectively as they did. It requires a unique kind of wisdom as a human being. That’s why we still talk about them hundreds of years later.
Juetten: Any tips to add for early-stage founders or CEOs in growth mode?
Bayireddi: Don’t go for the hype, and don’t just do things because they look cool. Build a solid company based on meaningful values and people who believe in your purpose. If your employees wholeheartedly believe in what your company stands for, there’s no limit on what you can achieve together. Great products are built by people with passion and a commitment to a deeper purpose.
You also need a thick skin. View failure not as a setback, but as an opportunity, and learn from it. When I first began seeking funding, I was rejected time and time again. Those are the moments I learned from the most. Rejection actually fueled my determination to keep doing what I knew I was meant to do.
Agility is key. To be agile, however, you need to understand the context of others who have already been down this road. People who “do big things” have different perspectives, which is the result of countless experiences and learnings, personally and professionally.
Understanding others’ perspectives and stories is what’s really at the heart of building anything that is meaningful. I try to be in constant listening mode — with family, employees, customers — everyone I come in contact with. Regardless of the issue that arises, an appreciation for different viewpoints is key.
Juetten: What’s the long-term vision for your company?
Bayireddi: Our steadfast purpose is to help a billion people find the right job. While our purpose will never change, we are prepared and ready to adapt in response to shifts in the workplace and other transformations precipitated by the pandemic.
Artificial intelligence, automation, and video have all become essential to delivering an unrivaled talent experience and increasing productivity for HR teams. It is by innovating and partnering with industry leaders that we will be able to deliver and continue exceeding expectations.
The capabilities of AI technology are growing exponentially — and we are committed to investing in our people to ensure we are advancing our platform and services to help HR teams leverage AI as productively and responsibly as possible. Phenom is here to make jobs accessible to all people, and that focus will continue to inspire and drive our purpose.
Thanks to Mahe for sharing his story. A billion is a big number, but what are dreams for if not outsized ambitions? All entrepreneurs take note of the purpose-driven success comments above. Do good and you will do well. #onwards.