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Covid proved service workers deserve better. These sisters launched an app to help them find good jobs

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Deborah Gladney and Angela Muhwezi-Hall are the founders of QuickHire, a career platform for service and skilled-trade workers.
Keshia Ezerendu

The launch of QuickHire was spurred by the pandemic, but it's really been years in the making.

Angela Muhwezi-Hall, 32, first thought of the idea in 2017 when she was working as a college and career counselor for high school students in Los Angeles. She had plenty of resources to offer to those bound for college, but few for students headed to service or skilled trade jobs. Roughly 108 million people, or 71% of the labor force, work in the service sector. Surely, there had to be a better way to set young adults up for success other than helping them fill out paper job applications.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, she saw tens of millions of Americans like her students losing their essential jobs during the pandemic — disproportionately Black, Hispanic, Asian, Indigenous, female, non-degree-holding and low-wage workers.

Muhwezi-Hall tapped her sister Deborah Gladney, 34, and got to work on a solution: a hiring platform that would connect historically overworked and overlooked people with solid jobs in the service and skilled-trade economy as it recovered from pandemic lockdowns. Muhwezi-Hall moved into Gladney's basement in Wichita, Kansas — an underserved market in the tech scene — so they could build it together. (Muhwezi-Hall has since relocated to Chicago with her husband.)

After two trying years, the QuickHire founders and their users are coming out ahead.

Underserved workers get their due

Gladney and Muhwezi-Hall spent the summer of 2020 taking their idea from pitch to product. The beta version of their app launched in the fall — "it's like someone hearing their song on the radio for the first time," Muhwezi-Hall says of its release — and officially to the masses by April 2021.

The positive response was swift: People were securing their first jobs since losing work during Covid, landing positions within a day and getting their families back on their feet.

"We were helping people find the right fit, where they could stay with and grow with that company. That was just such a proud moment to hear," Muhwezi-Hall says.

Over time, especially through the Great Resignation of 2021, they saw that once abundant job-seekers were becoming scarce. Applicants could be more choosy. They were looking for better pay, yes, but also health insurance during a global pandemic, and more predictable hours to be able to plan their lives outside of work.

"Gone are the days of thinking you're just going to have endless amounts of people applying to your positions," Muhwezi-Hall says. "People think differently about their careers now. They have more power than ever. This is how it should have always been — people should always have felt like they have power over their career and what they really want to do."

'Employers are needing to step up their game'

Today, QuickHire matches more than 11,000 job seekers with jobs at 60 mid- to large-size service industry companies including Fuzzy's Taco Shop and Homewood Suites by Hilton. They're concentrated in the Wichita and Kansas City metro areas and plan to expand in the Midwest this year.

Record-high turnover in the service industry has been a long time coming, Muhwezi-Hall says, "so now employers are needing to step up their game as to what they're providing their employees."

QuickHire has the data to help businesses do better by their workers, Gladney says. "We can see what the average pay is in an area for a certain role. This type of information can help employers know, if they try to insert a low-ball hourly rate, our system can detect it. We can say: This is actually $4 below the average in your area, so you're probably not going to get good candidates."

Million-dollar founders

In November 2021, QuickHire raised $1.41 million in an oversubscribed round of funding, making Gladney and Muhwezi-Hall the first Black women in Kansas to raise over $1 million for a startup, according to AfroTech.

But getting there wasn't easy. For one, they are based in Wichita, not exactly where venture capitalists look for the next big thing.

And second, as Black women, they are building in a world that notoriously shuts out people who aren't white or male. Black female startup founders received just 0.34% of the total venture capital spent in the first half of 2021 in the U.S., according to Crunchbase. And before 2021, only 93 Black female founders had ever raised $1 million or more in venture capital, up from 34 founders as of 2018, according to ProjectDiane, a report on the state of Black and Latina women founders by the organization DigitalUndivided.

Gladney and Muhwezi-Hall first funded QuickHire through $50,000 of their own savings, and then through an angel investor. But to really scale it, they'd need venture capital. They applied to accelerators but it "felt like we had every card stacked against us," Gladney says.

"We did get turned away, and it left a bad taste in our mouths," she adds "The reasons for why we were turned down just weren't very clear. And it made us wonder, is it because we're Black women doing this?"

They thought of going back to self-funding until they had one motivating meeting with a managing director with the accelerator TechStars Iowa. They got into the accelerator in July 2021, and their growth took off.

While they're proud of how far QuickHire has come, Gladney says that "going into it, we felt like we had to come to the table with more revenue, more validation than our counterparts, because we knew we weren't going to be able to raise if we didn't make it even more comfortable for them to take a chance on us."

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