Sergey Kalnish of SmartHire and Wage on trusting your gut and why Crypto is not a bubble
Sergey Kalnish is the founder of SmartHire Inc. and Wage, a peer-to-peer recruitment marketplace for software developers that is powered by the Ethereum Blockchain and Cryptocurrency. Initially from Russia, Sergey grew up in an entrepreneurial family and has a deep passion for basketball. Sergey has over 10 years of Business Development experience in Telecom, SAAS, and Technology Recruiting in Canada and the US and is both a mentor and graduate of the Founders Institute, the world’s premier start-up launch program for talented entrepreneurs.
Looking back ten years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career? How did you get here?
I’ve always been passionate about creating something new and bringing something into the world that wasn’t there before. That being said, I never really thought that far ahead because when I first graduated from University in 2007, I was just so eager to learn. Coming from a family where my father was an entrepreneur for most of his life, I always felt the entrepreneurial spirit in me and looking back on things now, it makes sense why I’ve taken this path. Six months into my first job out of university, I ended up resigning to start my own event management and promotion company. Three months later, we had managed to fill over 60,000 square feet of event space and pulled off the 2008 Mid-Michigan Sports and Fitness Expo. After moving to Canada in 2011, I ended up following my passion for basketball and started another company that allowed me to play a substantial part in the inaugural NBL Canada Combine and Draft. I eventually made my way into the tech recruitment industry. That kind of work fit my personality really well however I couldn’t accept the inefficiency of the agency model and saw that it was ripe for disruption through technology.
What gave you the big idea to start Wage?
Wage evolved over time. After leaving the corporate recruitment world and doing some consulting for a few months, I enrolled in the Founders Institute wanting to find a more efficient way to match companies with high quality job candidates at scale. The first iteration of the idea was an exclusive invitation-only talent marketplace for individuals in the technology space. It allowed me to start getting out in the market and talking to candidates and prospective customers about improving the current hiring process. The Founders Institute was great for customer development work because we discovered that the best candidates were frustrated with what they perceived was a waste of time, engaging with recruiters who knew very little about their technical skills and who couldn’t relate to their career progression. On the other hand, many non-technical recruiters felt uncomfortable vetting technical talent, which is where the idea for a peer-to-peer candidate assessment came from.
The Cryptocurrency angle came in after I started learning about Blockchain, and became fascinated with the potential that that technology has within the recruiting and HR context. The “Aha” moment came from me trying to figure out the incentive structure for the peer-to-peer candidate vetting process of our platform and I remember listening to a Blockchain podcast episode that featured Ted Livingston from Kik. He spoke about building a whole economy based on his company’s Kin Token, where vendors could plug into the community and add value. I thought that was incredible and started working on a currency for the recruitment industry. A few weeks later, we created Wage, which is our own Cryptocurrency based on the Ethereum Blockchain.
What is the most misunderstood thing about the landscape of Cryptocurrencies today? How should the public be thinking about the value that they provide?
From my experience, the biggest misconception out there is that Bitcoin and Blockchain are the same thing. Most don’t realize that they are actually two very different things. The second would be that the growth we are seeing in the Cryptocurrency space is just a bubble. Once you dig deep into the technology and get to know the community that’s behind it, you will quickly realize that this is a transformational technology, perhaps on par with the internet and what it brings about is going to change every industry and more fundamentally, it has the potential to change the very way we interact as a society.
My belief is that the underlying reason for the momentum in the Blockchain/ Cryptocurrency space is that people can feel that this is a technology that they can trust. The majority of people I know who invest in these currencies hold their positions because they believe in the long-term opportunities that they present. Of course there is some speculation which is inevitable, but that only makes it more fun and adds another layer of incentives for people to participate.
What were some of the most important business lessons you have had to learn the hard way? How have they enabled your success?
Being a founder, you quickly realize that there’s not enough time in the day and no matter how talented or experienced you are, you can’t do everything by yourself. It’s very difficult starting a business, let alone a technology company, and you can’t do it alone. The reason Wage has made a great deal of progress as of late is because we’ve been able to attract some very talented people to help us build our first product. This allows me to focus on things that I do best like sales, marketing and fund raising.
One of the greatest benefits of adding to your team is that having people around you who share your vision helps you overcome the harsh ups and downs that come with starting a new business. Starting a business by yourself can get very lonely and demoralizing at times.
The second thing I’ve learned is that you always need to be moving faster than you are. There is no place for perfection when trying to build a company. That doesn’t mean you should give your customers an inferior product, what it means is that you don’t really know what your customers want until you put something in front of them and get feedback. If you are passionate about solving a problem your customers will sense your passion and they will want to help you find the solution.
Lastly, even though I believe that it’s very important for a founder to have a big vision for their business, it’s equally if not more important for them to start with small steps and milestones. You can’t change the world in one day, and I don’t know of many transformative companies that didn’t take years to get to where they are today.
What does leadership look like to you and how does the next generation need to start thinking differently about leadership?
Coming from a team sports background, I try to understand business through that lens. To me, the true essence of leadership is making the people around you better. While it might be cliché, it’s true that leaders aren’t, or at least shouldn’t be measured by the number or even the production of the followers they have. They ought to be judged on the number and quality of leaders who they inspire and encourage. I truly believe that our greatest fulfillment comes from knowing that you’ve made a positive difference in someone else’s life, so as a leader you need to constantly be in service of the people who are looking up to you.
What would be your one piece of advice for those in the workforce today who are trying to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?
I’ve come to learn that there is really nothing more fulfilling than building something from the ground up. That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to go and start their own company. There are a lot of people out there who are perfectly capable of being happy and engaged in a 9-5 job, but for me there was always something missing.
My advice would be to listen to your gut. It’s usually right. If you feel like something’s missing in your job, something’s not right about the company you work for or you are just not happy, make a change. Dig deep and figure out the kind of future you want to be a part of building and then go out and chase it. If you’re not ready to start your own business, search for a leader, a cause and a vision that you can buy into. There is always someone out there who might benefit from someone with your skills or experiences.