Pierre Queinnec, CEO and Co-Founder of Paris-based Jenji spoke to Jack Drury, Principal at Erevena about some unexpected opportunities of hiring during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Pierre, a serial entrepreneur, has founded and held executive positions in both software vendors and professional services companies. On the service front, he co-founded Zenika, one of the leading providers of professional Java open source services in France, which was acquired by a PE fund. Prior to that, he was a partner at Allegoria, a SaaS company providing legal software to French notaries, which was acquired by Fiducial Group.
Jenji is an AI driven expense management platform with 35,000 client companies. Their clients range from mid-market to large cap companies, with a focus on global corporations.
Tell us a bit about how Jenji came about
The idea for Jenji stemmed from being an unsatisfied customer of an existing expense management company, which seemed to be born in the 90’s. I was amazed at the inefficiencies and decided to do something different, and so Jenji was born. The company was built on 4 main pillars: mobile first, legally paperless by design, natively integrated with ERP, and AI-based financial intelligence. We secured backing from Axeleo Capital (Seed) and Idinvest Partners (Series A) and have experienced rapid growth over the past few years. We’re currently a team of 55, with aspirations to expand across Europe in the next 18 months, and then globally either East or West.
How much of a change in working patterns has the current Covid-19 crisis brought about?
At Jenji remote working is in our DNA. Previously, if people want to work at home it’s no problem, we are set up to accommodate that. It could be for a short time or an intensive period, both are acceptable and possible. Our home workers can also decide to ‘expatriate’ temporarily to one of our offices in Paris, Rennes, Bordeaux, Lyon or Zurich, when they need to work with other teams.
What hiring were you doing pre the Covid-19 pandemic?
In the 3 months since January we have been actively hiring across the organization, having hired into roles in support, customer success, operations, sales and marketing. Hiring has been affected since lockdown, but not necessarily in ways that we would have expected. We’ve switched our focus away from sales and support roles but brought more engineers into the company.
Why the switch in focus of hiring?
We’re a very technology driven company and the interesting thing we’ve experienced is that a lot of highly skilled technical people are reconsidering their current position. As we all know engineering skills are in high demand, and many of these roles have typically been based in Paris. However, there are some excellent people who are based regionally, such as in Rennes (Brittany) who are ‘a big fish in a small pond’, but outside of Paris people are less prone to moving jobs and tend to stay for a longer tenure. However, we’re now seeing people come back onto the job circuit who haven’t been looking to move for a very long time.
From talking to them it seems that people are not necessarily very happy with how their current employer is handling the situation with regards to Covid-19. They have more time on their hands and this gives them the opportunity to re-evaluate what they want from a job, and they’re seeing the current period as a time to think about their work/life balance.
“People are looking for the new normal and readjusting their goals and expectations.”
Engineers ask their friends who the cool tech companies to work for are and word and mouth has been spreading our reputation. We’ve had many more people than usual approach us, and even though we didn’t have open positions we have created them to capitalise on this increased interest from talented people. In this non-standard situation we’ve been able to aggressively acquire people who are very smart at low risk.
“As always with any crisis there are always opportunities. When you’re in a good secure segment then it’s really interesting to be a tad more aggressive than the rest of the market to keep growth at a respectable level throughout the crisis period.”
How are you engaging with people who are approaching you?
We’ve moved our internal process to Zoom, and although it’s a different type of experience it’s going well. I carry out all the final interviews and position the company and specify what we’re trying to achieve. It’s actually easier for me over Zoom as it makes it a more consistent experience. However, it’s harder to read people over Zoom. It’s important for me as a Founder to see and feel if people are excited by our vision and goals for the company.
The small things, such as the pre-interview ritual of offering coffee and the post-interview social interaction are missing and harder to replace. Processes can be put in place to try and score culture fit but at the end of the day gut feeling is key too. I like to feel that I’ve got a pretty well-developed gut instinct honed from carrying out in excess of 1,200 interviews at Zenika.
“You get the objective information in a more consistent manner, but I like having my gut feeling instinct.”
Any advice on how to use Zoom effectively?
The whole interview process using Zoom is very American, by which I mean it’s very time-bound. 30 minutes often isn’t long enough, so I block out an hour just in case the conversation flows, and I don’t want to aggressively stick to 30 minutes. Face to face if it’s a good fit, the interview naturally expands but when you’re in a time-bound zone you don’t always have the room for this.
How are the challenges presented by remote hiring affected by other factors such as seniority?
When hiring senior executives, we tend to typically use specialist teams, such as Erevena, so that the key areas of ensuring fit and referencing are carried out by the professionals. This makes it much easier for us to hire senior leaders. Really thorough reference checking will be even more essential when we’re hiring remotely. We will still need star players who aren’t currently in the market for moving; it’s a hunting game and Erevena help us with that.
Pierre was talking to Jack Drury, Principal at Erevena. We solve complex hiring challenges for high-growth and disruptive technology businesses. Finding exceptional talent requires a team with deep market knowledge and Erevena provides unrivalled connectivity to the industry’s leading executives. Jack leads our searches in operations, pre-sales, customer success and product. These are often first-in-function hires for early-stage VC-backed companies.