Sunday April 14, 2019
By Nzekwe Henry
Hashi Kaar lived in Kenya as a refugee for the better parts of a decade – throughout that time, the infighting back home never really ceased. And so, when the opportunity to travel to Australia presented itself around when he turned 17, his family grabbed it with both hands.
Featured Image Courtesy: risingafrica.org
Much of Somalia’s history has been ravaged by intermittent war and conflict, and the damage
As would be the case for any war-torn region, it is the civilians that bear most of the brunt and in the case of Hashi Kaar, he was barely seven-years-old when the bombardment from the warring factions forced his family into a life on the road.
It was no road trip, they were all running for dear life. Little by little, they covered the miles until they arrived neighbouring Kenya, where they joined up with other Somalis who had fled the country and were now living as refugees.
"He arrived Australia as a teenager with little education, a very poor command of English, and next to no knowledge of how civilisation/technology worked or looked like. But those were just the rough edges that had to be hewn off to reveal the gem hidden within.
Within five years of arriving Australia, his meteoric rise had well and truly begun. He hadn’t only become a college student (which was some feat in its own right), he had also managed to nail down a position as a junior app developer at Medici Capital; a pharmaceutical valuation company.
It’s been 15 years since Hashi and his family moved to Melbourne and during that time, his fortunes have done a full one-eighty. Where the initial plan was to try and rebuild their lives, Hashi has managed to build to actual castles in the sky. At least, that’s how I’d like to refer to the wonders he’s worked with the opportunity.
As of now, the boy who fled violence in Somalia and lived in Kenya for ten years as a refugee, is the founder of three tech companies that employs dozens in both Africa and Australia.
But perhaps, on the other hand, the success Hashi has so far achieved is also a depressing reminder of what Somalia’s 10 million inhabitants could achieve if the enabling environment were available – can’t help but wonder what would’ve been if things were a lot different back home.
“Things we take for granted here, they don’t have there,” he says. “I never went to high school or any formal school in my life.”
Moving to Australia afforded Hashi the opportunity to take advantage of some government programmes to learn English. He also went on to study at TAFE and Swinburne University of Technology.
With the skills he acquired, coupled with his own natural cognitive abilities, Hashi got himself a headstart in a job that fetched him six-figure paychecks, up until he decided to walk away and set up a business of his own – one that would also give people the same opportunities he’s had.
As far as he’s managed to bring himself, you’d b tempted to think he had something a proper start but the Somali entrepreneur attributes the path he’s taken to a seemingly meaningless encounter he had immediately after arriving Australia.
It was only Day Two of his stay in Australia and Hashi found himself inside a building that he didn’t even know was a library at the time. Looking lost in the mammoth space, he wondered how so much rom could be given to books and computers.
When a librarian accosted him and offered to get him started on a computer, he obliged mostly because he thought it polite and was probably afraid that he’d get himself in trouble if he didn’t.
“A lady asked me if I wanted to use the internet and send emails,” he recalls. “I was very confused because I didn’t know what the internet was, or email, or how you use it. I thought it was something you buy from the shop.”
But within a week, Hashi had found a new “sweet distraction.” He was fascinated by computers and the internet. At the time, he was mostly interested in surfing the web for African music and other media content that were more of entertainment than education.
With some conditioning from his regular academic classes, Hashi was beginning to get really handy with the computer and soon, he was trying to set up a Hotmail account even though he had no else on his mailing list except the librarian who was helping immigrants at Noble Park Centre at the time – someone Hashi says he’s been trying to reach for years just to express gratitude.
Within nine months of getting himself an education and learning the way of life of his new surroundings, he got himself a job in a store where he mainly stacked shelves. He saved up just enough to buy a computer and got it connected to the internet.
From that point onwards, he was more or less on his way. Despite his day job of stacking shelves and his evening hobby of playing soccer, he still found the time to study for his college entry exams and try his hand at writing computer programs. Well, as it turns out, Hashi is a quick learner who is quite capable at multitasking.
When he eventually got into college, he had managed to gather enough programming skills – enough for him to be offered a part-time job at Medici Capital. Upon completing university studies, he became a full-time employee at the company.
He spent a total of six years at Medici Capital before taking a job as an Analyst at consultancy firm, KDIS. There he worked closely with tech startup founders and he may have picked up a thing or two. While at this new job, Hashi worked as a software engineer for three Melbourne-based startups and the excitement of building something new filled him with a whole new craving.
That was the cue for what was to become his own software development company. Hashi started Plycode in 2016 with former colleagues; Ahmed Yusuf and Tim Forrest.
The company, which currently employs over a dozen professionals, claims to have earned USD 150 K in revenue within its first year of operation and it looks like things have only gotten better since then.
Plycode has created two separate employment platforms, Kazileo and Employfy. Kazileo specialises in ICT recruitment in Australia, using skills tests and video interviews.
On the other hand, Employfy was launched in Kenya in 2017 and the platform prides itself as the premier online mentoring service for Africa (linking mentors globally with mentees on the continent).
Employfy is an online recruitment platform with interviewing technologies and it is an offshoot of the earlier launched Kazileo. Employfy is offered as a free service, but Hashi says it will eventually adopt a ‘freemium’ model.
In Africa, each job listing could attract up to 10,000 applicants. The ratio of job-seekers to jobs is quite alarming. And Hashi hopes to help companies build some sort of structure that will help both job-seekers and employees alike deal with the recruitment process with minimal fuss.
Fifteen years ago, Hashi Kaar was living as a refugee in Kenya. Now, he’s running a team of fifteen people on two continents. Wonder if he had any thoughts of the same back in the day.