A Сleek startup streamlined blue collar job search and plans to facilitate employment for Kazakhstani workers in Europe and the USA

Cleek is a platform dedicated to job and side work searches for blue-collar workers. The startup, in operation in Kazakhstan since 2022, has already facilitated connections between over 170 thousand candidates and 2.5 thousand employers. In the near future, the project aims to launch a new initiative, aiming to enhance transparency and safety in the employment opportunities for Kazakhstani citizens abroad. Explore the challenges encountered by the project team during the product launch and understand why Cleek enlisted developers from Poland and Belarus in the interview with CEO and founder Aivar Kurmanov, part of the collaborative project with Astana Hub titled “100 Startup Stories of Kazakhstan.”

“Our primary competitors at the outset are bulletin boards and accounts featuring job vacancies on platforms such as Instagram and other social networks”

– Aivar, what was your occupation before getting involved with Cleek?

– Following my university studies, I ventured into creating startups, including services for selecting car parts and beauty-related service delivery. Although the projects showed gradual growth, they failed to yield the anticipated results in the market. Recognizing the need to enhance my skills, I enrolled in an online course at the Internet Initiatives Development Fund (IIDE) as a tracker. This course provided valuable insights from both the perspective of startup founders and the investors assessing them, allowing me to identify and learn from my own mistakes.

Following that, I spent a couple of years working at Astana Hub as a project and acceleration manager. Subsequently, I joined the logistics startup Saqtau, focusing on stuff storage. In this role, I handled marketing and brand promotion. While Saqtau was progressing well and achieving success, I felt the desire to create something of my own.

While working at Saqtau, I observed a significant challenge: mass professions experienced considerable workforce turnover, particularly in roles such as carriers and drivers. This realization prompted me to initiate a project aimed at digitizing the hiring process for blue-collar workers, facilitating a faster connection between candidates and employers. This is how Cleek came into existence.

– At what point did this idea arise?

– The idea originated in early 2021. During the latter half of the same year, we began taking action, testing hypotheses. By January 2022, we initiated the product development, and within six months, we officially launched in the market.

– Did you introduce Cleek independently?

– No, I didn’t. The company has two co-founders – Artem Lagunovskiy, our CTO, and myself. I’ve known Artem since 2020 when he relocated from Belarus to Kazakhstan. We collaborated at Astana Hub and Saqtau, developed a friendship, and gained insight into each other’s work ethic. With over 10 years of experience developing products in the USA, Europe, and Japan, Artem is a highly skilled professional. We decided to embark on launching the project together.

– What unfolded after the concept for the startup emerged?

– Around September 2021, we began assessing the competition in the niche and experimenting with hypotheses. The first aspect was relatively straightforward: there were no existing services or aggregators facilitating the hiring of blue-collar workers. Our primary competitors were bulletin boards and social media accounts featuring job vacancies on platforms like Instagram and other social networks.

Primarily due to this, we opted for the Instagram page approach: we established a profile named something like “Astana Jobs,” initiated advertising, and within a month and a half, we accumulated significant and high-quality traffic. Regarding attracting employers, initially, we posted vacancies from similar profiles, and subsequently, the first companies approached us. Around mid-autumn, we experienced an influx of organic traffic and recognized the loyalty of candidates to our channel. By the end of December, we successfully concluded testing and temporarily halted the profile’s operation, announcing the imminent launch of Cleek.

“We required a cross-platform solution that integrated both the web and mobile applications, a development process that spanned seven months”

– Who was the target audience for your advertising efforts?

– Our target audience includes individuals aged 18 to 40, encompassing those with secondary education or no formal education. This demographic comprises university students and individuals in various mass professions such as consultants, sellers, taxi drivers, couriers, and many others.
During the testing phase, we initially focused solely on vacancies in Astana. However, today, Cleek operates throughout the entire Kazakhstan. Nevertheless, the majority of users are, of course, from Almaty and Astana.

– And another question about testing. You initially built an audience on Instagram and later discontinued this channel. Does this imply that, upon the launch of Cleek, you had to reacquire the audience?

–Upon the product launch, we attempted to channel the traffic from the Instagram profile to our service. We reached out to all the employers we had collaborated with, sent cold emails, and organized face-to-face meetings. Interestingly, offline negotiations proved to be the most effective; engaging with a client in person fostered a more favorable response.

The challenge of reattracting candidates was addressed through strategic advertising and smart targeting.

– How did you determine whether Cleek would be implemented through a website or a mobile application?

– We needed a cross-platform solution that incorporated both web and mobile applications. While it might seem complex and unnecessary for a startup launch, we didn’t have another option. We recognized that candidates find it more convenient to search for vacancies through a phone, whereas HR professionals and recruiters primarily use computers in their work.

– Where did you acquire the resources to launch the product? Specifically, where did you find developers and secure investments?

– In terms of funding, we secured $250 thousand from business angels that we can’t disclose.

As for the programming team, we successfully brought on board a robust group of our developers for the project. These individuals hail from Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Poland. The collective experience of our team played a crucial role in enabling us to develop a high-quality local product of hh level within a mere 7 months.

– Can you elucidate why you made those specific decisions? There’s a common belief that developers from Belarus and Eastern Europe, on average, come with higher costs compared to specialists in Kazakhstan.

– In our scenario, they do not come at a higher cost. Furthermore, it was a team of partners where everyone is acquainted and can collaborate effectively. Based on my observations, the IT workforce market in Kazakhstan is overheated, primarily by large corporations and banks hiring junior specialists and compensating them several times more than the market rate. It’s not uncommon to easily hire a person with a high salary and then spend months chasing after them to complete tasks. I know numerous fellow startup founders who have expended hundreds of thousands of dollars on such specialists. However, the most significant concern is the valuable time wasted.

“At the initial stage, we sifted through 100-200 vacancies to eliminate fraudulent entries”

– You mentioned there were no issues with the development aspect. What about the business component of Cleek? Did you encounter any incidents there?

– I’ve previously highlighted the initial challenge: it required a significant amount of time and effort to transition client employers from social networks to the service.

The second aspect involves habits. The blue-collar segment is relatively conservative, having never used platforms like hh.kz, and now we’re proposing a transition to Cleek. However, it’s a matter of time and employing the right approach to effectively communicate the benefits that candidates can derive from the service.

– With tens of thousands of candidates using the service, how do you ensure their protection from untrustworthy companies and fraud?

– Because we aimed to launch the product within a tight timeframe, we released it with limited functionality. For instance, we temporarily set aside moderation and vacancies filtering. Consequently, right after the Cleek launch, there was an influx of frauds and network marketologists. Our only option was to delete their profiles from our databases. At times, we had to address 100-200 problematic vacancies per day.

We also encountered the publication of offers for illegal earnings. Here are the most popular vacancies:

1. Vacancies involving prepayment. Individuals are offered remote work on highly favorable terms, but they are required to pay a fee as compensation.
2. Droppers in online drug shops.
3. Webcam models.
4. Vacancies associated with sexual services.
5. Network marketing involves inviting candidates to the company’s office under various pretexts, where they are shown the company’s products, such as BAS. Subsequently, they are encouraged to buy a bundle of products and engage in selling them.

These deceptive offers often masquerade as regular job postings from honest employers. However, there are specific keywords that expose them. Therefore, we’ve developed an algorithm to identify these words and label such listings as “Suspicious vacancy.” Additionally, we employ moderators who independently review a portion of the job offers.

“Now, we aim to send Kazakhstani workers to employment opportunities in Europe and the USA”

– You mentioned the release with limited functionality. What features were introduced after the service launch?

– We added the ability for candidates to include CVs. The moderation and filtering features I mentioned earlier were implemented. Additionally, we introduced the recommendation of vacancies and services. A map of cities with all job offers was created, providing a convenient way for people to find optimal options in their desired location. Mobile push notifications were also introduced, featuring the selection of preferred vacancies or opportunities from specific companies. However, we are cautious with this tool, as an excessive number of pushes may lead users to disable notifications or discontinue using Cleek.

– Please provide information on the audience you were able to gather during the year of operation in Kazakhstan.

– Over 170 thousand candidates and 2.5 thousand employers. The monthly active users (MAU) count exceeds 30 thousand.
The majority of our target audience is situated in Astana and Almaty. However, the service operates across Kazakhstan.

–What is your monetization strategy for the service?

– Cleek does not charge candidates; they can register for free and search for jobs. The service is monetized through employers. Currently, we offer various options for companies to engage with our platform:
1. Review of a specific CV
2. Open access to the CV database
3. Posting job vacancies
4. Promoting vacancies to the top
5. Ready-made candidate search

Each service comes with its respective cost. For instance, CV review is priced at 249 tenge, access to the complete CV database is approximately $100 per week, and vacancy posting is around $5. On average, our rates are more economical compared to similar services and groups on social networks.

– Has your startup become profitable?

– Not at the moment. Cleek is still in its early stages. The journey to profitability is often a lengthy one for any aggregator. Currently, we are exploring new possibilities in digitizing hiring to expedite our progress toward the goal. If everything unfolds according to plan, we anticipate surpassing expenses with earnings by 2025.

– Please share the specific areas you are referring to, and it would be great to hear about your plans in general.

– We aim to become the go-to application in Kazakhstan for blue-collar job searches. Additionally, we have an interest in expanding our coverage to include the niche for finding specialists for one-time services. While there is such a service in Cleek, it is not currently our primary focus. However, it is developing independently and organically.

We have a plan to expand into a new domain – foreign job opportunities. The current job market in Kazakhstan has witnessed numerous frauds, particularly targeting individuals seeking employment in Europe. Our aim is to digitize this process, enhancing transparency and safety. We’ve already identified several partner agencies in Poland, Germany, and England. If all goes well, with the assistance of Cleek, workers from Kazakhstan will have the opportunity to seek employment in Europe, the USA, and other regions while being protected from dishonest employers.




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