Phil Xiao knows the power of networking better than anyone. He parlayed his Carleton College alumni network all the way to a spot on the high-frequency trading desk at Morgan Stanley just out of college. His power networking experience didn’t only lead to personal success: it led him to discover that his true passion is helping others get there too.
Xiao launched Homi, an affinity-based hiring marketplace that connects companies with under-recruited and undervalued talent, in 2015. The company has had its ups and downs throughout the years. But Xiao shares that by sticking to its north star and redirecting the company when it strayed from the mission, Homi has been able to see recent growth — and lots of it.
“We’ve grown faster in the past two months than [we have] in the past four years,” says Xiao, founder and CEO. “It’s really exciting.”
To Carleton and beyond
The idea for Homi came from Xiao’s personal experience as a college student with a goal of breaking into the investment banking scene. “I pretty quickly realized that it’s really hard to get a job on Wall Street when you’re coming from Northfield, Minnesota, studying Liberal Arts,” he says. “Not many Wall Street firms recruit there just because the ROI on sending recruiters to campus doesn’t make sense.”
Xiao ended up emailing every single finance alum Carleton, and after a 15-minute conversation with a Morgan Stanley executive in Hong Kong, he had his foot in the door. “It was an amazing learning experience,” he says of his time in investment banking — but he soon realized the banking wasn’t his favorite part.
“Building meaningful relationships, hearing the stories, getting to know them, I found that to be the most exciting part of it,” he says. “These alumni quite literally took me under their wings and showed me the ropes, and had a profound impact on my life and my career,” says Xiao. Wanting these opportunities for other students as well, he launched Homi which started as a student-alumni social network.
Xiao and team set out to build a community where people could connect based on colleges attended and organizations they were part of— he described it as “meeting the future version of yourself.” As the startup grew — building the product not for the colleges themselves, but for the actual users, which are the students and alums — it was quickly clear that the concept had huge potential.
But the company itself had hit a roadblock.
Sticking to the mission
According to Xiao, two years ago, Homi strayed from its true north star and core values. They had a food truck, interns, and campus leaders across many colleges, but had lost focus on actually connecting students with alumni and companies. “We had built a startup, but we hadn’t built a real business,” he says. “That was a very, very, very tough time for us as an organization.”
Xiao recalls the humbling experience of turning to investors after having to start the company over. In doing that, a lot of them actually have re-invested in the company—which is another testament to their faith and them believing in Homi, he says.
Starting from scratch, Homi focused on building a platform that would connect companies with traditionally under-recruited talent, aiming to address three main trends in modern hiring: baby boomers leaving the workforce and Gen Z entering; diversity and inclusion becoming a key recruiting focus; and technology quickly disrupting just about every industry. “We’re really, really focused on helping traditionally underserved communities,” Xiao says. “[We’re] really honing in on inclusion and diverse talent.”
“With our new mobile apps, it’s essentially the career center of the future on your phone,” Xiao says. “Colleges sign up their students and alumni, and alumni can post jobs. We also go to the companies who want to hire great people but have usually only actively recruited from a handful of schools. Companies can leverage their employees as hiring managers and they’re leveraging their employees’ alma maters, so that the alum can talk directly to students and then refer them to HR with the click of a button. It cuts all the friction out of the campus recruiting process.”
Homi is using technology to make this new form of recruitment happen virtually. “We’ve essentially built a way for companies to find better and more diverse talent at a fraction of the cost. It’s a supplement to their existing campus recruiting. We’re not replacing recruiters, we’re giving them new channels with which to find the next generation of talent.”
This new approach seems to be paying off: Homi is now open at 22 colleges in six states and has thousands of users. At Carleton, almost 10 percent of all existing students and alumni are on the app despite it having just launched in July 2019.
On the Fast Track
With alumni sign up and post opportunities, virtual career fairs, and the ability to connect students with HR departments at companies, Homi is now a “completely new way of recruiting,” says Xiao. “It’s a completely new way of sharing your story in the company to students.”
Students need it, too. Currently, the under-employment rate for graduates ages 22 to 27 is 44 percent, he says. This means one in two people are working at a job that doesn’t require a college degree, but they still have the debt. With Homi, the college experience can be put to use via connections, alumni advice and, oftentimes, lead to job offers.
“Homi becomes your new alumni community,” says Xiao. “Your education follows you for the rest of your life, because you’re part of this community of people who understand what you’re going through and want to help.”
Students aren’t the only ones benefiting: with Homi, companies, like Jamf Software and Thrivent Financial, are able to see major savings on recruiters and find diverse talent through these alumni communities.“All this momentum is just kind of rolling,” says Xiao.
While Homi is working on adding customers and colleges around the country to their platform, they’re clear about how important Minnesota is as a home base for the company.
Impact at Home
“The reason we’ve stayed in Minnesota is because we feel like we can really have an impact here,” he says. “We’re big believers that in order to build a great company, you have to build a community as well. In Minnesota, it gives us the opportunity to have real impact.”
Xiao thinks part of this impact comes from shifting the dynamic of helping. “Everyone is there because they’re there to help, everyone wants to help because they’ve been helped,” he explains. “Your social net worth is no longer about who you know and how successful you are; it’s how much you’re helping within the community.”
He also repeatedly expressed his gratitude for the startup community here and Twin Cities community in general, who leaned in and helped Homi grow into what it is today. “We wouldn’t be there without them,” he says.