ETG - Susanne Barsoum, CEO Keylime

Episode 5 August 29, 2022 00:32:06

Hosted By

Eric Kilbride

Show Notes

In our latest episode, we speak with Susanne Barsoum, CEO of Keylime, an innovative, industry-trusted marketplace for hiring consultants with USAID & other donor expertise. Keylime Consultants specialize in donor-funded proposals and the full project life cycle. In addition to learning about the Keylime platform, we discuss current trends and market needs in global consultants.

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

Speaker 1 00:00:15 All right. Welcome back to eliminates the gap. We are delighted once again, that you've decided to spend some time and join us this morning. Um, what we would like to do is we have, uh, an very exciting guest, um, who normally resides in, uh, Lebanon, uh, not Indiana, but, uh, the country. Um, and, uh, but she happens to be visiting the states. So we wanted to take advantage of that. And SHA, as you know, is, is joining us in from Cairo. So once again, we've got our global contingency ready to tackle this, I think very interesting innovative platform and, uh, be able to dig a little deeper into what's happening, particularly in the international development market. So with that, I wanna welcome this CEO of Keylie. And we'll learn more about that here in a moment, but Susan Suzanne Barsom so welcome, Suzanne. Speaker 2 00:01:10 Thank you. It's great to be here. Speaker 1 00:01:13 You bet. You bet. So let me just go ahead cuz uh, as you know, I discovered key lime, you know, over the past year, um, and I know was in existence before then, before I discovered it. Of course. Um, but, um, I'm sure there's some folks out there that aren't maybe familiar with it yet. And so I see this key line as this kind of innovative platform. So if you don't mind just kind of giving us the 10 view of, of not only what it is, but kind of why you created Speaker 2 00:01:42 Sure, sure. Well, thanks again for inviting me. I'm really excited to have a conversation with you guys and, uh, have that, you know, shared, uh, widely with the audience as well. Um, so I started key lime in 2018. Uh, key lime broadly is a support services consulting firm, but we're powered by our online marketplace and that's really kind of the, the, the big, uh, innovation and, and really a huge differentiator for us. Um, you know, uh, I came up with the idea for Keyline, uh, when I was working, um, as a new business director for a large, uh, implementer of USA programs. And I personally struggled a lot with like the process for finding, uh, and hiring a consultant and, you know, sometimes I would need the consultant like instantaneously, but it would take me days to, to find and hire someone. And this is coming from like a seat of power, really like working at the largest implementer of USA programs. Speaker 2 00:02:41 Um, and I thought there has to be a better way to do this. So, um, we built the, the key line marketplace, which is, you could say it's like the Airbnb of international development consulting. So it's an online marketplace where consultants have profiles and organizations can go, um, uh, search, uh, using USA filters. So using things like the roles that we typically hire for on USA programs and also technical areas that are unique to a are defined as defined by, uh, by USA, um, and organizations and consultants can work through that whole workflow really instantaneously of like reaching out to someone, uh, sharing information. A lot of information is proactively shared on the profile. So information that normally you would go back and forth on an email about, um, like what is your daily rate or are you available next month? Um, and they can complete the workflow sometimes in minutes, but usually it takes a couple of hours. Speaker 2 00:03:44 Um, and we're taking what we've measured to be like 27 steps. Um, the process of like searching, finding, uh, outreach, um, and eventually hiring a consultant and we've taken it down to about four steps. So organizations can complete the workflow. So when they decided they wanna work with someone, they click higher and, um, and then they can get to work immediately. And all of the administrative processes are, um, automated by our platform. So they're all kind of baked in there. And these are like repeat tasks that have kind of little added value. You know, there's really not a lot of added value of having an email to talk about someone's daily rate or an email to, um, ask when they're available or an email to ask if they've had prior experience doing something, um, and, uh, all that's baked in so that they can move more expediently through that process and get to what they wanna do, which is get the real work done, uh, working on these USA proposals and projects. Speaker 1 00:04:46 Yeah. And I can just attest, uh, I've gone through the process, uh, I'm available for hire, um, if you're in there. Um, but, uh, nonetheless, it was a very simple, seamless, uh, process for me as somebody wanting to input information, uh, in there. So yeah, I definitely echo that. Speaker 3 00:05:05 Um, wow. That, that is actually, um, quite amazing. I was just, uh, talking to Eric before we started recording and telling him, you know, this, this, um, uh, startup is pretty much what we have been attempting to do, but in a very informal manner, whenever we have, um, projects that we wanna, uh, submit, or we are looking for certain experts and trying to think out of the box as to who we can get. And, um, as, as a, as a female that has, you know, just started her own startup, I'm sure that, uh, this has been quite, uh, a challenge, uh, especially, you know, in this kind of field because you are pretty much, uh, entering the lines then as one can put, honestly, um, you know, you're, you're doing something that's state of the art and, uh, you're going into, um, a community that is pretty much traditional with regards to their expectations and, uh, what are the people they have a tendency to, you know, to, to go out there and, and get, um, and all of these things. So how's that been, um, for you, especially that you just began also in 2018 and the COVID hit and Speaker 2 00:06:42 <laugh> Speaker 3 00:06:42 Just insane. Absolutely. Speaker 2 00:06:45 Yeah, it was definitely, um, it was an interesting time and I think I still need like years to look back and, and determine like how COVID really impacted us, because it was certainly a challenging moment in time, but we were also early enough in our growth that like, you know, we weren't a huge organization yet. Right. So like when you're impacted as a very small business, you can be so much more agile than, um, as a medium or large business, but it did change kind of like the direction we were going in. I think in general, like entering in like moving into, well, introducing an innovation, sort of a, a kind of a, a new way of doing things in a field that is really slow to change. And, um, you know, we, you know, have a lot of like bureaucracy in our field and we have a lot of like, kind of rigid ways of doing things. Speaker 2 00:07:42 We're not a field that is like led by innovation, unfortunately. Um, that has been a huge challenge. Um, but that's kind of the challenge that we signed up for, right? Like we knew mm-hmm, <affirmative>, we're trying to fix a problem and they say, you know, if you, if you wanna start like a great business, fix your own problem. And that's really like what I was doing is, you know, I started the business saying, I know exactly what it feels like to hire a consultant and how difficult it can be and how many steps I have to go through and hoops I have to jump through. Um, and like, I'm gonna fix that problem. I'm gonna fix my own problem. So, you know, in that sense, like I already had like customer number one is like, I knew exactly, you know, what those who have the same role that I had experienced and, uh, you know, what they need, but that said, you know, our, our, our industry is really antiquated in terms of business processes. Speaker 2 00:08:37 Um, and we have this incredible bird's eye view because we can see the organizations that adopt our tool. They don't just adopt our tool. They really adopt a new way of thinking, and they embrace a new way of looking at how they interact with consultants and they leap frog ahead. Like we've worked with, you know, businesses that are, you know, maybe medium sized and growing, um, and, uh, you know, they adopt our tool and they just kind of blaze ahead. We've worked with large businesses. Who've been, you know, working in this field for literally decades and they come to us telling us they have these very specific challenges and really everyone has the same challenge. Um, so it's not, it's never new information. Um, and you know, they come back to us and say that they've been able to kind of like operate, you know, sort of at this like lightning speed that they weren't able to operate at before, despite having in theory access to, you know, infinite resources as, you know, very large organizations, nonprofits, or, or companies, um, there is a challenge. Speaker 2 00:09:40 Um, you know, I'm sure, I think what you were asking is, you know, about, you know, also being a woman owned business and, you know, the specific challenges of being a woman owned business. And, um, you know, I get asked this question a lot and I don't ever wanna brush aside the, the ch sort of challenge, the inherent challenge of being a woman owned business. Um, but I can't say I, I see explicitly like, you know, specific barriers that we've hit. Um, but I know that like, you know, our industry is like very pale mail and stale and a lot of ways. And, you know, we see like these, sorry, Eric, sorry. <laugh>, doesn't doesn't mean that, uh, you know, uh, there isn't like tremendous value, uh, coming out of people like Eric, but, but, you know, despite being kind of a, an industry that is, is really rooted in, you know, kind of social good and social progress, um, you know, we still have some of the traditional challenges of gender biases and, and really like good old boy networks. Speaker 2 00:10:46 Um, and as I like to say, like the bro posses, like the young, they're not the good old boys, they're the good young boys, but, um, but mm-hmm <affirmative>, but we have, but we've also seen like great traction and we, we attract a lot of, we attract all of our clients and our consultants organically. Um, and I think it's because people like how we operate. Um, and I'd like to attribute some of that to like, values that we hold that are probably rooted in being a woman owned business. Um, and, you know, I think that has actually been sort of like a seed of growth for us. So like a core value of ours is respecting people's time. Um, I started key lime as a mother of a newborn, which is kind of crazy, <laugh> crazy time to start a business. Um, and many of our consultants are also mothers or parents who have other family responsibilities and schedules that are tethered to like school pickup, um, and things like that. Speaker 2 00:11:44 And we see the time of our staff, our consultants, and our clients as like incredibly precious. Um, and you know, the core value of respecting people's time is ultimately something everyone benefits from. And, you know, you don't have to be a woman to appreciate that, but I do think that being one of our core values has actually resulted in us, um, seeing a lot of organic, you know, growth in our users, both our consultants and our clients, because people come to us and they feel this, this, you know, refreshing feeling of like, I can do so much so quickly. I don't have anyone wasting my time. I'm I can move quickly from step one to step two. Um, and that's something that everyone really wants in this world. <laugh>, Speaker 3 00:12:31 That's, that's as, um, that's really, um, incredible. I mean, uh, I guess one of the, the key values that we hold dear to, to ourselves, especially being women and, and working in the field of development is that we are absolutely committed and we have to be very respectful of, um, of everybody's time, especially those that, you know, who put trust into, um, into us and into the work that we are doing. And we always wanna make sure that we are really giving everything that we have, um, out there. Um, and what, one of the things of course is also being very much aware of the trends and the changes that are taking place, um, by, um, agencies, uh, different, uh, donor agencies, um, and how they are starting to, uh, do quite a lot of, uh, of work that integrates the nonprofit sector and, and integrates private sector contractors. Speaker 3 00:13:46 And, and, and they, they have like, um, I don't know, uh, a key set of, uh, skill sets. One can say, uh, that has been, uh, put, put forward and, uh, uh, many people and many consultants, especially, um, in, in different parts of the world are, are still trying to get the, the, get around these, uh, skill sets and build onto that. So what are the different skill sets that you have, um, seen, uh, coming to, to light, especially for the non government and private sector and, and government organizations, um, who are partnering, uh, with, uh, agencies? Speaker 2 00:14:37 Yeah. Well, I wanna, I wanna actually jump on, uh, two things that you said. One is the question you asked directly. And the other is really about like understanding kind of the trends that, um, donor agencies are, are like the direction that they're going and what they're looking for. And also the skill set. So like one of the, the trends, and this is also very much aligned with our values. Um, one of the trends with USA is that they are really eager to diversify their partner base, right. They, they wanna see, um, they wanna like kind of take, uh, take down some of the barriers to entry for, uh, different organizations to partner with USA. This is something they've been challenged with, you know, for a long time, but they're taking very concrete steps to, to allow new businesses and nonprofits all over the world and specifically in the countries that they operate to partner with them directly. Speaker 2 00:15:35 But that is, it's a very lofty goal and it's not easy to achieve. And one of our core values is like radical transparency. So we really believe in kind of like opening up everything about how we operate. And that's kind of one of the key principles behind the marketplace, right. Is like anyone can go in and see this massive, um, you know, uh, bench of consultants, like this is the bench of USA, uh, specialists. And, um, that is like a real gold mine, right? For, for, if you're an organization that's trying to break into this area for the first time, this is, um, something that other organizations have spent decades trying to build up, and we're just opening it up for everybody. So that's a real opportunity, both for the consultants, so they can, they can now connect with new organizations and it's not built on who, you know, it's not built on networks, it's built on, um, you know, the transparency of our system, and then the same thing for the organizations that use it. Speaker 2 00:16:38 It's, um, you know, you don't have to, for example, like fly to DC and get introductions and, you know, do these things that have very high barriers, uh, to get introductions to the right consultants to get this work done. Um, so that transparency is kind of like a radical shift and we hope it's one that is gonna be like jet fuel in everyone's engines to, to be working with USA, both the consultants and the, um, the organizations that are looking to work with a, um, and kind of help USA propel them towards this goal and, and ultimately like result in better international development, right? Because if you're a great organization that has, um, you know, some, you know, incredible practice of work that you want to deliver to USA programming, um, but that's not your specialty. You can now kind of link up with people who have that USA expertise to, to make it happen in terms of the consultants and like what or what the, what the organizations and what USA and other donors are really looking for. Speaker 2 00:17:42 You know, we really, we specialize very much in USA programming. So, um, our, our kind of, of, uh, client base is primarily looking for everything in the fundamentals of USA programming. So that's proposal development to project management. Um, I would say the most sought after skills are proposal writers, uh, project managers, proposal managers, recruiters, cost preparers. Um, and we really look for people with demonstrated experience doing all of those workflows. Um, so people who can kind of drop in and get it done, um, and you know, who can, you know, parlay their prior eight experience. Um, and that is, um, kind of what, what really is the, the common thread amongst all of the consultants who work with key lime is that they have prior experience working on USA programs. Um, and, uh, you know, that demonstrated skills, what is what most of our clients are looking for. Speaker 1 00:18:45 Would you say at this point that youre, uh, bench on key lime or us based, uh, consultants, or are you seeing a growing number of, uh, consultants joining key lime from around the world? Speaker 2 00:19:02 It's a, it's definitely a mix of both. So we have, I would actually put three categories in there. <laugh> so there's us based consultants. So these are people who've probably worked at one of the, uh, USA firms or, or nonprofits, um, and they've moved to freelancing. Um, and they're still based in the United States, anywhere in the us, there are, um, essentially Americans, um, working overseas. So there are sure people who also U used to work for, um, uh, USA implementers, probably in the us and for whatever reason they're living overseas, um, a whole bunch of reasons. Um, a lot of personal reasons. Um, we have some people who, for example, like left the us during COVID because their, uh, country of origin is overseas. And during COVID said, I wanna go be back with my family. So they, you know, went back, but they, they couldn't keep their us based jobs. Speaker 2 00:20:05 So they're freelancing. And then we have, um, international consultants who are not American, perhaps have never worked in the us for, for the implementers, but have worked on USA programs, um, in their home countries. Um, and those consultants are also able to, uh, now work for organizations in their home country, but also in other countries. So, you know, we have Lebanese consultants who are working on projects in Egypt, or we have, um, you know, Nigerian consultants who can work on a project in Ghana. Um, so we're kind of actually creating this, this really it's like a new market in some ways, right. Of, um, uh, allowing people to, to, to kind of expand their, their own area of, of work a little bit, um, you know, cross border. Speaker 1 00:20:57 Well, so a couple things go through my head. So one, um, I come from the, the, the extremely bloated days of the large, um, uh, nonprofit or government contractor model, where you had these people that are now on your bench, they were on that company's bench, you know, and were being paid and, and then they would be activated, but it was a, it's an archaic business model for them. And, and, and rightly they figured out that doesn't work so much anymore, um, to do it that way. So then there became the shift. Well, we need to hire everybody locally, which is great. Um, and don't misunderstand me that I think that is a tremendous, but then they didn't have the resources to go identify these folks. Um, and so what I see that key line is, is, is doing, is that it's taking some of the talented folks that may have been in, uh, in this previous model, um, and still having them connected to the game and then having a great resource. Speaker 1 00:21:59 And this was always, our challenge was identifying talented people in country or nearby country regionally, you know, that could be, uh, long term staffing or, or come in and do a significant role in a project. Um, and being able to identify those folks very quickly. And, and that whole startup process seemed to almost take a year right. Of, of a five year project or what have you. And so I love the fact that you started this interview talking about time and, and, and that's one of the things that I definitely see, not just the time of me filling it out as a potential consultant or me as a contractor, but, but really getting the project up and running and, and, and actually being implemented. So I just, uh, wanted to reflect a little bit on kind of that, from my perspective, um, again, as, as folks out here listening that are, have been in either what I just described or, or maybe still are, or, you know, very excited about the, the opportunity to spin things up much more quickly. Speaker 1 00:23:00 I hope that you're hearing, you know, capture right. Something we always gotta find consultant for. It seems like we gotta do capture. All right. Great. So then we're writing our proposal as you went through, and those proposal writers are, if you're really good, man, you've written your, you know, own ticket for, for years. And, and the thing is there are a lot of folks that are good at it. Now we can all identify with a couple clicks. So I love that, you know, and then what I just described, which is the actual spin up and project implementation part. I mean, when we first started working there in Egypt, you remember how difficult it was, the staff and office, you know, with all the various roles, you know, so it just, it's just one of those things. So I wanted to kind of reflect that a little bit a as we kinda move to, to, to kind, kinda wrapping our conversation up. Speaker 1 00:23:47 So if I'm listening today, Suzanne, and, and I'm either a government or I'm a contractor, I know you have hundreds of, uh, MOU in place with, with a lot of organizations already, but maybe not everybody, there's probably some, uh, folks that haven't begun to, to work with U S a I D, but could really benefit from being connected to you. Um, as well as, you know, other consultants, what, how do we go about this? Give us the kind of steps that we need to go through to be connected, and then ultimately be on key line, uh, to begin our work. Speaker 2 00:24:23 Awesome. Yeah. Well, I'm gonna, I, I'm gonna jump on one thing you were just saying, and then I will tell everyone exactly how to, how to find this and work with us. So, you know, you're talking about the, the, the complexity or the, the sort of time abusive process that we often use for things like, you know, capture or startup, and really like the way that we're operating is taking any, you know, business function, business process that we all have been scratching our heads at for probably years saying like, why, why do we have to fly someone out just to, you know, do an interview or, you know, things like that, and we're optimizing it. So it does apply to each of the steps in the process related to hiring. Um, and we actually have spun off some really cool tools that, um, have enormous potential, um, that I'll just preview here too, which is, we've also spun up, um, the ability to do custom marketplaces. Speaker 2 00:25:19 So what that is, is like, um, it's taking the marketplace technology, um, and, uh, you know, customizing it for a specific purpose. So you could say we are starting up a large project in Egypt, and, um, we expect to be using a huge amount of S TTA, you know, short term technical assistance. We need a lot of consultants, or we need to staff a full office. So we're gonna start a marketplace just for Egypt in say the education sector. Sure. And we'll do kind of a like social media campaign where we, um, promote the marketplace, um, to this specific audience. So we know who these people are. They're people of a certain background. We write like personas. You know, these are the typical consultants. These are the typical employees. We know kind of where they are on social media, they're on LinkedIn, or they're on Twitter. Speaker 2 00:26:13 We do a campaign to attract them. We onboard, you know, say, um, a hundred or 200 whoever the, the, the, the candidate pool is. And then we launch a, a tailored marketplace just for that purpose. So the search filters might be different. They might be, um, instead of having a search filter for agriculture, because we're talking about education, it might be the subfield of education, and we would onboard all of the consultants there. And then now this project has this sub community that they can work with for the life of their project. And that means they can, um, easily access consultants for the whole lifetime of that project, you know, that five year project. Um, so it's a really cool way to, um, kind of build sort of an economy of scale. When we put all this work into, you know, designing project, building a network, building an audience for our project, and then, you know, retain it for the life of the project. Speaker 2 00:27:12 So that, that project always has this community that they can interface with, um, and hire people, expediently. Um, so how to work with us, um, if you're a consultant, you just go to, uh, www dot, join key lime.com and, um, uh, you can join as a consultant. So it's gonna ask you a couple questions. Um, and because we're focused on consultants who have prior experience with USA, um, it's gonna verify that. So it'll make sure that you do have eight experience. Um, and what it will do then is, um, if you do have eight experience, it'll invite you to create a profile, you create your profile, and then you're gonna have an onboarding call with one of our staff. So where we're gonna really walk you through what to expect, we're gonna optimize your profile, make sure it's set up properly, um, make sure it looks good for what our clients are looking for, and then that's it. Speaker 2 00:28:05 Then you wait and people will reach out to you. And, um, uh, a lot of consultants get, um, offers for positions, uh, for consulting roles the same day that they create a profile, um, right. Uh, or within a couple of days. Um, and then if you're an organization, um, you can reach out to [email protected], or you can actually go, um, online and, uh, start a trial account right away. Um, and that gives you full access to see all the consultants reach out, um, and start a process. And a lot of organizations do that. You know, they may think they wanna have like a demo or talk to us, but a lot of times they, they create an account like on the weekend, like when they're probably like staying up late at night, worrying about how they're gonna get something done, like on Monday. And they have a consultant, you know, already lined up by Monday. Um, and it's pretty awesome. So you, we are more than happy to set up a time to talk and walk you through the process, but if you are in a pinch, um, it's also really easy to just get going and, uh, start right away. Speaker 1 00:29:11 That's awesome. And I'd love to hear about the, the, it makes a lot of sense, right? To, to target the tool in the marketplace as one of them. I, I, you know, and this is a big nut to crack and, and you all are well on your way clearly in that regard. Um, I, I do hope someday somebody cracks the monitoring and evaluation, um, just because <laugh> also that time consumption that it seems to be replicated over and over and over again. Um, and we pretend to approach it each time as if it were brand new. Um, anyway, that's another day, another opportunity to have a conversation. Um, Suzanne, its been wonderful to have you, uh, share so much about what key's been able to, to do and is continuing to, to do any parting, uh, words there, she, before we wrap, Speaker 3 00:30:01 Um, I'm definitely, um, going to, to check out, uh, this, uh, this venture definitely as a, as a consultant and as, um, as a company that's always looking for, you know, different consultants, I'll be, uh, it's gonna, it's very interesting, honestly. And, and the, and the fact that you're also, uh, tailoring, uh, tailoring this according to the different countries is, um, is really good cuz every country has, you know, significant, um, differences in terms of what it is that they're expecting in terms of experts and, and always, and Speaker 2 00:30:47 Significant talent pools. Right? Significant talent Speaker 3 00:30:50 Pools and yeah. Abso oh Speaker 2 00:30:51 Yeah. Not everybody is on LinkedIn. And um, you know, I know from my own experience, a lot of times you only connect to people because someone gave you their phone number or, you know, did a personal introduction and we're kind of taking that whole experience, you know, that whole process and sort of consolidating it so that, um, you know, this, this access to talent and access to talented resources, um, is kind of being democratized for everyone. Speaker 3 00:31:22 Yes, that's true Speaker 1 00:31:25 On that note again. Uh, thank you. And thank you to all of you who, uh, spent some time with us viewing and, and, or listening, uh, to this podcast again, uh, it's been our pleasure, uh, once again for you to take some time and spend with us. So again, thank you Suzanne, and we'll see you on down the road. Speaker 2 00:31:44 Thank you guys. Really enjoyed the conversation.

Other Episodes

Episode 0

November 02, 2021 00:03:36
Episode Cover

ETG - Fiona Macaulay, Founder WILD Network

This is an excerpt from our interview with WILD Network Founder, Fiona Macaulay. In this clip, Fiona describes her latest research on who is...

Listen

Episode 0

March 16, 2021 00:00:59
Episode Cover

ETG Podcast Promo Gender and Inclusion

Catch our upcoming episode simulcast on Global Five Network about Gender and Inlcusion with Shoroke Zedan, former Executive Director of TVET in Egypt at...

Listen

Episode 0

March 19, 2021 00:12:26
Episode Cover

ETG Podcast Goals for Girls Spotlight

We are highlighting Goals for Girls, a program who use soccer to develop leadership skills in young women and teach them how to be...

Listen