In a world which is getting more competitive by the day, students and graduates across the world are scrambling to find the best internship. But as internships became the norm across the world, getting internships in the Middle East remains a fairly unorganized process. Enter Jean Michel, founder of InternsME.com, who has played a role in connecting employer to intern/trainee/full time employee in an organized manner across Dubai.
Jean grew up in Dubai, but went away to King’s College, London to study pharmacy, and when he returned, he was 21, had a plan in mind to launch gaming products and gaming PCs in Dubai, and what later became his first foray into entrepreneurship. Jean says, “when I came back to Dubai 4 years ago, I was working with a pharmaceutical distributor, and I slowly realized that their HR function was severely underdeveloped. People were only hired based on friend and family referrals, and that way we were missing out on so much talent in the market. I was working in brand management, but I said let me do this project and I looked up job sites and realized how underdeveloped and un-updated they were and I slowly gathered how this was a problem faced by companies across”
That was his eureka moment as he realized that both sides were not doing anything, educated people faced challenges getting a job and starting out but companies had limited access to the youth. He also understood the impact this project could have, “We felt we could help the youth, and have some social impact in the region.” But are companies okay with this new system? “Some really are, and some are ahead of the game, they teach us things, tell us that we have been doing for many years, and how we can bring in these good practices. But they are a small minority. A lot of successful businesses that have been built here have never hired young people, and still wonder why they need to change when what they are doing is working out so well, so we have had to convince and explain to business owners, HR departments, etc., how this works, what are the benefits for them, and if they are running a successful business then how can they make it more successful.” He strongly believes that starting as an HR consultancy was an advantage for them and continues to be one now, “One thing that worked well for us was that we started as an HR consultancy, not as a technical company or an online venture. We started as an organization that really wanted to understand how the youth could fit into the business model, and how internship programmes can be developed in a sustainable way.’
2012-2016: The journey and the roadblocks in between.
Ask him about the challenges faced while starting out as an entrepreneur, he says, “We registered the company in 2012, but nothing really happened for a year because it takes time to get the necessary licenses, put together a product and a plan, and build the necessary reputation and credibility so that people will listen to you and what has adversely affected the market is that a lot of people will come up with projects and ideas and hit the market for a month or two and then get disheartened and pull away. So when you are new and you talk to stakeholders, employers, companies, universities, students, everyone is just waiting to see if you are going to be those guys who will make a lot of noise for a few months and then go away or will you persevere and go the full mile, so that’s really what the first year is about, people want to see if you are really serious and we were.” Speaking of challenges specifically in a marketplace business, he says, “It’s kind of hard to start when you have a market place business cause it’s chicken and egg, who are you going to get first, businesses or students, so it’s difficult to get users on both sides because both sides expect you to have the other.”
While 2012 may have been the year where they started, 2013 and 2014 were the years that really made a difference to them, “In 2013, we signed our first university partnerships, hired our first team members, signed up for some of our first customers as well. Our site went live in 2013, and we had our first 1000 candidates and couple dozen employers signing up on the site. 2014 onwards things ramped up astronomically for us, and I scaled back from everything else that I was working on, all the other investments that my partners and I had made, and I became involved here full time. We hired more people, put in another round of financing, and by then we had learnt enough from the market and our earlier failures to know which direction we wanted to go from here, so now we know who we are and what we really want to do.”
From 2014 to 2016, he speaks about current members on the site and says, “There are more than 70000 registered candidates on the site, but technically speaking, they are not all interns, some of them have interned before, finished university, and are now looking for a graduate role. What has happened is that despite still being called ‘intern me’, we have expanded to cater to the full entry level job market, of trainees, interns, and even graduates now, even people with upto 2 years of experience. And on the other side, we have more than 600 employers to find interns, graduates, or both, plus now companies want to engage the youth in newer ways, like millennial focus groups, events, etc., which is something that we are working on.” And while a lot is going in terms of new sites and technologies, the company’s main goal for 2016 is to explore newer markets, especially, “look at geographies like Saudi Arabia, where there is a huge youth population, but a lot of unemployment, which is a problem across GCC and North Africa, and while our main target for 2016 is Saudi Arabia, but in achieving that, we’ll probably hit a few other countries as well, more territories.”
Its summer 2016 – advice for current interns?
How to ensure that these smart young individuals are not relegated to getting coffee, to which he responds, “. While we do tell them that they need to make the most of it, ultimately it is up to them, as some people leave the internship with regret that they didn’t push to achieve as much as they could have, while some go in and surprise themselves and their employers with their hard work, those guys are on the right track.”