201 Rejected Resumes Inspire KC Tech Entrepreneur’s Startup to Help Job SeekersDavid Cawthon
Find a problem; fix the problem. That’s how many entrepreneurs get started. But it often takes numerous partners and resources to get a startup, well, started up.
Hasan Ali, founder of Smart Resume, learned this first hand. And he’s glad to have figured it out in Kansas City with its network of organizations dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs.
“Here, it’s about taking care of you, nurturing you, making sure that you grow and getting that personal connection with people,” he says.
An idea for a better resume
People start businesses for many different reasons. For Hasan, it was a one-two punch.
After he earned his master’s degree, he thought he had everything he needed to land a great job. But he would discover that was a tougher feat than he imagined.
“I put in 202 applications and I didn’t hear back from any of them except for one,” he says. “And that’s when I realized you had to tailor your resume for each specific job to successfully pass the application tracking system, which is the system that employers use to filter the good from the bad resumes.”
That was when Hasan had the idea for Smart Resume. He knew he could help job seekers optimize their resumes so they didn’t have to spend an hour tailoring them for each job. But one of his 202 applications paid off, and he took a position at Cerner in 2015. So he pushed the Smart Resume idea to the back burner.
But like many entrepreneurs, Hasan couldn’t shake that great idea. A few years later, he started to make some moves.
“That’s when I started looking at ways to optimize a resume,” he says. “I started learning it myself, and I did it manually. I managed to successfully submit 10 resumes for 10 jobs and heard back from eight or nine because I learned the system, what their application tracking system is doing. And that’s when I was like, ‘You know what? If I can do it, we need to develop an app that could do whatever I’m doing but with minimal human input.’”
Building a team and a business – or two
Hasan had the Smart Resume concept. So he started to make it a reality.
“I started reading about the artificial intelligence and all those natural language processes, all those terms and how it could help to save time,” Hasan says. “So I wrote the design. I wrote the application. I wrote the specifications, the workflow, everything.”
Hasan partnered with Tolaney Shabangu, whom he’d known since high school. Things were clicking, but Smart Resume needed a boost. The Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC pointed Hasan in the right direction.
“I heard about Digital Sandbox KC, and I applied,” Hasan says. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t selected for the first round. But I heard about the Tech Venture through the SBDC. So I applied for an Urban Business Growth Initiative scholarship and was selected. It allowed me to take the Tech Venture course at a discount price – I only had to pay $75 out of pocket. That was really nice. I appreciate that they did that for me and for other entrepreneurs.”
“We had a very diverse group of ideas, of different cultures, of different thoughts, different people, different backgrounds. And that was very nice to help my company see all those differences,” Hasan says. “I believe it was really helpful for Smart Resume to be in an environment where it was diverse.”
Just two weeks after the course ended, Hasan pitched to Digital Sandbox KC again. And Smart Resume was selected to receive a grant. The funding made an immediate difference.
“We did have a good core team of data scientists, a front-end developer, security, architects, but what we are missing are the full-stack and the backend developer. … To be honest, we couldn’t find someone who was qualified enough,” Hasan says. “So obviously, we had to hire someone. And to hire someone required money, which most startups don’t have. So I appreciate that I was selected to receive the grant from the Sandbox, which helped us pay a development company.”
Working with the Missouri SBDC and Digital Sandbox KC
Digital Sandbox KC didn’t just provide financial backing.
“The Sandbox provided the resources to help from mentorship to resources and all the free classes,” Hasan says. “I had a mentor who was side by side with me, helping me to get all the materials. Honestly, if it wasn’t for them, I probably would have taken five years just to reach the point I’m at because there are a lot of things that you need to consider when starting your own gig. And they just helped accelerate that time.”
At the SBDC, Hasan worked with Delia Marin, business development consultant, and Sally Williams, technology development and commercialization consultant. Their skill sets vary, but they both had a big impact on Hasan.
“It was very nice to have two mentors of two different backgrounds, helping you reach your goal,” he says.
Delia helped Hasan narrow his focus – and address the almost-sleepless nights that many entrepreneurs face. Hasan realized he might not have enough resources to devote to two fledgling startups: Smart Resume and Anytime IP Consultancy, a tech support company he also had started.
“We realized it is impossible to focus on two things full time. It’s really hard,” Hasan says. “So I was giving half time to each startup, and I was feeling guilty. I was compensating by sleeping three, four hours every day for months. … I just couldn’t keep doing it.”
Hasan and Delia realized that Anytime IP Consultancy didn’t stand out from the competition. But Smart Resume had many selling points. So Hasan decided to put all his energy toward Smart Resume for the time being.
“Thanks to Digital Sandbox KC and the Missouri SBDC at UMKC, that helped me see that at an early stage rather than keep pushing and wasting time working on two things at the same time,” Hasan says.
Thanks to this guidance and support, Hasan and his team are working hard to get Smart Resume to the market, right when job seekers need it most.
Meeting the needs of the market
Smart Resume is focused on connecting people. With the current economic downturn, the need is greater than ever. Signups for Hasan’s app in January 2020 totaled just a few dozen. Weeks into the pandemic, those signups skyrocketed to a few hundred … and counting.
“Everyone deserves a job and everyone deserves a job they like,” he says.
Hasan never thought he’d be a resume expert, but here he is.
“I’m in the tech industry,” he says. “We are a bunch of geeks sitting on our computers, writing code. We don’t have time to do our resumes. And that’s the issue I had. I was qualified when I got my master’s degree, but no one ever told me how to write a resume the way it should be written. … I had to learn it all myself. So we are trying to save people that time.”
Advice for Kansas City Entrepreneurs
Hasan has lived in Kansas City for five years. He’s thankful for the resources available – and the culture of support for entrepreneurs, especially those like him, who are startup pioneers.
“It is a very good place to start your gig,” he says. “I’ve never had an issue reaching out to my mentors here, and I’ve never been rejected by any venture or VC in Kansas City. Even if they don’t help you, they will direct you to someone else.”
To his fellow entrepreneurs, Hasan strongly recommends reaching out for assistance.
“When you have a startup, hire or get the skills that you need,” he says. “Don’t be doing everything yourself.”
Like many startups, Hasan started lean, with just him and his co-founder. Even though they were both tech-savvy, they still had a lot to learn about business: writing a business plan, forming an LLC, filing the proper paperwork, developing marketing and sales strategies.
“We wasted a lot of time where we could have easily gotten someone on board who has those skills and could complement our skills and make it easier,” Hasan says.
And, finding the right people in Kansas City to help fuel that business idea can be as easy as asking around.
“If you have an idea and you think you can’t do it all by yourself and it requires a different expertise, look, search for people,” Hasan says. “1 Million Cups is a great place to find those skills, all those events in Kansas City, Missouri. They are all free. Go to any of them, network with people and find the skills you need. … Network with people that could help you to make your dream a reality.”
Hasan says as of fall 2020, Smart Resume is committed to offering at least six months of the app free to every job seeker.
“That’s thanks to all the resources in Kansas City that helped us get some resources for free,” Hasan says. “If it wasn’t for the SBDC, KCSourceLink, KC Collective, all those entrepreneurial organizations, I wouldn’t be able to pay all that out of my pocket. We want to help job seekers everywhere and especially in our town.”