Entrepreneurs bring Web-based job hunt to Egypt

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Posted: Thursday, September 07, 2000

CAIRO, Egypt -- They were college buddies and they could have stayed just that after graduation. Instead they've become successful partners in a business whose potential shows the possibilities of the Internet even in Web-challenged Egypt.

Shareef Bishay, Tarek Amin and Sherif al-Ghatrifi dreamed up CareerEgypt.com while chatting at a party. The system, which has been successful in other countries, lets jobseekers e-mail resumes that are posted on an English-language Web site for potential employers to see.

The jobseekers, who by resorting to CareerEgypt.com prove they are Internet literate and have at least a reasonable command of English, get the service for free. Employers pay a flat subscription fee for access to the resumes.

It's a simple idea, but revolutionary by the standards of Egypt, whose 65 million people are just starting to discover the potential of the Internet. The country had about 400,000 Web users as of June. In about a year, Career-Egypt.com has grown from 10 employees crammed into a suburban Cairo office to 40 people working in spacious offices in the upmarket district of Mohande-seen. Egypt's top investment firm recently bought an undisclosed stake in the firm.

''I am absolutely overwhelmed,'' said Bishay, 23, who attended American University in Cairo with his 24-year-old partners. ''Every day now I look in the mirror and I just don't know who I am seeing anymore. Things are developing much faster than I can grasp them.''

The company's initial success has shown the business potential of the Web outside the industrialized world and its ability to transcend local economic woes. It is growing at a time when Egypt's economy has slowed considerably, investor confidence has been undermined by a series of high-profile financial scandals and stock prices are in a stubborn slump. In June, CareerEgypt.com expanded outside Egypt, launching individual job-search sites for 11 other Arab states, offering online recruitment and also creating an integrated site for Arab states, CareerMideast.com.

The sites, which are based on Internet servers in the United States to ensure better servicing than now available in Egypt, have 50,000 resumes -- a sevenfold increase in four months -- and 2,000 companies paying to access the information.

None of the three partners would discuss the size of the stake or other details of the deal with EFG-Hermes, Egypt's largest investment house and brokerage that is 25 percent owned by Citibank. Neither would Ayman al-Gamal of EFG-Hermes' private equity department, although he did say his firm was attracted by CareerEgypt-.com's ''people and the ideas.''

''It's a product from which we believe we can derive revenues,'' al-Gamal said.

Amin said he and his partners initially financed CareerEgypt-.com from salaries they were earning at other jobs, but the EFG-Hermes investment has allowed them to take their company to a new level.

''The deal allowed us to do so much more and see our baby grow,'' al-Ghatrifi said.

Their success has come at a price. Al-Ghatrifi complained that more often than not he and his partners work 12-hour days, seven days a week. Amin said he now has time only for work and seeing his fiancee. Bishay lamented he has not read a book in eight months after averaging two to three a month while at college.

Bishay, the computer wizard of the three, believes Career-Egypt.com may eventually outgrow its founders.

''Now we have the potential of making more money than we need for the rest of our lives,'' he said. ''We are not experienced 35-year-olds, and most probably the company will grow so much that we'll not be able to manage it effectively. Sooner or later, we shall have to let it go.''

But al-Ghatrifi, who handles sales, said the three are trying to develop their managerial skills.

''So, if CareerEgypt.com becomes a monster, and I hope it does, we will be ready for it,'' he said.

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