SV Angel Founder Profile: Michael Guirguis & Jordan Taylor — Seso

For the February 2022 SV Angel Founder Profile Series, our team is proud to feature Michael Guirguis and Jordan Taylor, co-founders of Seso. Seso is building the first end-to-end recruiting and workforce management platform for the agriculture industry. Seso is also addressing the large-scale labor shortages in the industry by streamlining the H-2A visa, an uncapped visa for farmworkers. We know you’ll enjoy learning about the founding and scaling story of the company and lessons learned along the way.

Names: Michael Guirguis and Jordan Taylor

Hometowns: Los Angeles, CA (Michael) and Missoula, MT (Jordan)

Company Name & Brief Description Blurb: Seso is building the first end-to-end recruiting and workforce management platform for the agriculture industry. Seso is also addressing the labor shortage in agriculture by streamlining the H-2A visa, an uncapped visa for farmworkers that is meant to supplement domestic farm labor.

Year Founded: 2019

Founding

Q: What was the impetus for starting Seso? Tell us about the moment you decided to start the company in 2019.

Michael: One of the most personally fulfilling moments for me in starting Seso was bringing workers to my family’s farm, Oya Organics, and successfully addressing their labor issues. The idea for the company actually came directly from workers on the farm.

In Spring 2019, my cousin Marsha asked me to spend the weekend on the farm in Hollister to review the books and figure out what she could do to improve their financial situation. We were sitting by the fire-pit one night talking about labor issues when her partner, Modesto mentioned a visa that farmworkers in Mexico treat like gold. One of the workers from Oaxaca said he’d heard of it but nobody in his town knew how to get it or even how to contact a farm in the U.S. “You should automate it with an app,” he said. I started researching everything I could about the program and saw it was big, growing, and confusing.

I’d worked on labor policy and labor marketplace startups before, and I knew there was something here.

After shadowing growers in Salinas and Oxnard, I was convinced that this market was going to continue growing and would benefit from technology to streamline the process.

I quit my job, flew to Mexico, and leveraged every random connection I had to get in front of farmers down there and hear their perspectives. Everyone I spoke to from small potato farmers in Saltillo to large family offices in Monterrey, was sold on the concept and wanted to be a part of it. I incorporated the company the day I got back home. I ran the idea by Jordan shortly after that. He was still working at Farmers Business Network and thought I was crazy for quitting my job to do this, but he agreed this is the biggest problem in the industry and worth tackling. A few months later Jordan was in and we haven’t looked back.

Q: What were you seeing in the market that made this the right time to build Seso?

Jordan: Our go-to-market is focused on making the H-2A Visa Program more accessible to agricultural employers. The program’s adoption has exploded in the last decade as the labor shortage in agriculture has become increasingly acute, so the idea that H-2A will provide the majority of farmworkers in America is a relatively recent one.

On the technology side, workers for the most part did not have smartphones until a few years ago, and now adoption is near ubiquitous. This allows employers, with the help of our software, to streamline and digitize time-consuming pen and paper workflows such as recruiting, onboarding, and payroll.

Michael: If a market is large, growing, fragmented, and has low technology adoption, then it’s a good candidate to be ripe for disruption. This market passed that test.

Q: Can you describe the current state for H-2A workers pre and post Seso?

Michael: Seso has expanded opportunities for H-2A workers to apply to work on farms in the U.S., improved communication between workers and employers, and provided meaningful information to help workers avoid fraud and exploitation in the process. We had a community of workers inform us that thanks to one of our community groups, we saved them over $500K in fraudulent charges.

We did not invent the H-2A program, we are just trying to simplify and streamline it for both workers and employers, as well as government stakeholders who regulate the program.

Q: What gets you and the team up in the morning and inspires you to continue building?

Jordan: Everything we build solves real problems for real people in arguably the most important yet overlooked industry. Agriculture is still the largest employer in the world and despite what many VCs believe, we are still a long ways away from this work becoming automated.

Michael: In our All Hands meetings, we like to share texts we receive from workers we’ve placed on farms. Messages like this one really motivate everyone, “Some of us are in tears of joy today. We received our first paycheck in dollars. We are very, very happy.”

Q: Are there any misconceptions people have about the agricultural industry?

Jordan: Farmers are the consummate entrepreneurs. There are no guarantees in agriculture, and in any given year, a farmer may lose money because of factors outside of their control. They also need to be experts, not jacks, of many trades. Crop science, capital and risk management, employee management, and equipment expertise are just a few of the skills an agricultural employer needs to be insanely competent at in order to survive.

Q: What’s a really difficult part about being a founder that no one talks about?

Jordan: Being a founder requires a lot of discipline and passion for the domain you’re operating in. Being incredibly deep on one problem for multiple years can become monotonous unless you are intrinsically motivated by the company’s mission.

Knowing when to ask for and listen for advice. There’s no shortage of experienced investors and operators to provide guidance, which can be a great thing. At the same time, everyones’ advice is predicated on their specific experience and context, and it may not be relevant to your business or problems you’re facing.

As a founder, you need to be curious and open-minded enough to listen to various points of view which may contradict each other, but ultimately confident enough in your intuition for your business to make your own decision. The easiest way to cultivate this confidence is obsessively spending time with customers.

Q: Given the many demands you’ve had as a founder, how do you allocate and prioritize your time on a daily basis?

Michael: You need to have a strong sense of who your core stakeholders are and prioritize them over everyone else. Your first priority should not be your investors (unless you sell software to VCs) and it's not just anyone in your industry. For me, it’s our largest customers, prospective customers, employees, potential employees, then investors.

Jordan: Have a high bar for what necessitates a meeting, and what can be an email/Slack.

Being busy can be a form of laziness if your action is indiscriminate. It’s important to take the time each week to figure out which 1–2 priorities are most important, and then focus the majority of your energy on those.

Q: Do you have any productivity tips or best practices for fellow early-stage founders?

Jordan: Develop a healthy and productive routine and habits that work for you. Not all hours are created equal so it’s important to know if you’re a morning person and a night owl. Architect your schedule to maximize productivity during your best hours.

Be deliberate about when you’re working and not working. One of the best ways to avoid burnout is to not passively scan LinkedIn, emails, etc. to ‘feel like you’re working.’

Make work a very deliberate and focused action, and give yourself permission to recharge when you need to.

Michael: Meditate and exercise every day. If it's not your thing, make it your thing.

Mentorship

Q: Did/do you have a mentor and how were they most helpful?

Michael: Yes, I have several, and they are most helpful when you focus your asks on what they are exceptional at. I get hiring advice and fundraising advice from different mentors for instance.

Don’t try to sell to your mentors. If they really understand your strengths and weaknesses, they can help you play to your strengths.

Q: Was there an unexpected piece of advice, or something you heard or read, that has stuck with you or reframed your thinking as you’ve grown as an entrepreneur?

Jordan: There’s a quote from Marc Andreessen: “The world is a very malleable place. If you know what you want, and you go for it with maximum energy and drive and passion, the world will often reconfigure itself around you much more quickly and easily than you would think.” You can’t necessarily will your way to product-market fit, but as corny as it sounds, relentless optimism and determination can significantly increase the chances you’ll get there.

Michael: Play to your strengths. Don’t try to be great at the things you don’t enjoy and aren’t skilled at. It’s enough to go from okay to good in those areas and hire someone great to complement you. Focus on going from good to great in the areas that give you energy.

Fundraising

Q: The fundraising environment is changing rapidly with much more capital and many more investors. How should founders think about choosing which investors to work with?

Michael: Work with investors that you enjoy spending time with and feel comfortable speaking openly with. Listen to your gut when picking investors.

Q: How did you convince your early investors to partner with Seso during the early days of the company?

Jordan: We conveyed a lot of genuine passion for our vision of modernizing a key industry. Our early investors were bought into the size of the opportunity, and we were uniquely qualified and motivated to take this on.

Michael: Ultimately, they were taking a bet on the founding team and market opportunity more so than the solution we were proposing. Fortunately, the solution seems to be working.

Q: Why did you choose to partner with SV Angel? What is it like to work with the SV Angel team?

Michael: SV Angel has a phenomenal network, is a low-maintenance investor, and adds a lot of value. We’ve heard this from other founders and investors and we felt it for ourselves. This was a no-brainer for us!

Team & Culture

Q: Can you share any valuable lessons about recruiting and scaling a world-class team?

Jordan: There is no interview process that comes close to the value of having worked with someone or knowing someone you trust who has worked with someone, both from recruiting and vetting perspectives. Cultivating your past professional relationships takes significant time investment, but it’s essential for founders to have strong networks in order to build a world-class team.

Michael: A referral from someone strong is the most effective recruiting practice there is. Create scorecards for each role and hire for strengths, not weaknesses.

Q: How would you describe the culture at Seso to a prospective hire?

Jordan: Low-ego, don’t take yourself too seriously, intellectual honesty, intense.

Michael: Intense and kind.

Q: Is there a social cause or organization that you’re particularly passionate about?

Michael: Five One Labs — a nonprofit incubator that supports refugees/displaced people pursuing entrepreneurship.

Jordan: Give Directly. A close friend helped launch this — it facilitates direct cash transfers (no strings attached) to impoverished people, mostly in Africa. It’s a really easy way to give money on a recurring basis and there’s really powerful evidence that these gifts help people get out of poverty and obtain their basic needs.

Inspiration

Q: What are you reading, listening to, or watching for inspiration right now?

Jordan: High Growth Handbook and Awareness by Anthony de Mello. Awareness argues that to be happy you need to get rid of your attachments. We’re programmed to think “Unless I get X, I can’t be happy” but the anxiety created by these attachments often stands in the way of both happiness and reaching the very goals we’re attached to. If you can drop your attachments it’s much easier to think clearly and remain calm during stressful times, and this attitude makes the daily intensity of a startup a lot more sustainable.

Michael: High Growth Handbook (which every Series A founder should read), WHO, and Man’s Search for Meaning.

Q: Quotes you live by?

Jordan: “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never came to pass” — Mark Twain

Michael: “The art of focus is even if it is something you care passionately about, focus means ignoring it, putting it to the side. And often, it’s at real cost” — Jony Ive

Seso is hiring! Check out opportunities to join the fast growing Seso team here.

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