Harley Blakeman

Founder Friday: Helping Former Inmates Land Honest Jobs

“Founder Friday” is a weekly series that profiles founders and entrepreneurs connected to The Ohio State University.  Today, we are featuring Harley Blakeman, a graduate of Fisher College of Business, and his company, HonestJobs.co. A former inmate, he’s now helping others with criminal records find a better path and solid employment. 

Tell us about your business or organization.

HonestJobs.co is where 9 percent of Americans can go to find their next work opportunity. Employers across the country are having a difficult time filling job openings in the tight labor market. We connect them to the 20 million formerly incarcerated individuals (9 percent of the population) who are looking for a fair chance at honest work.

Most employers say, “We will consider hiring people with criminal records, but it’s on a case-by-case basis.”  We completely understand the necessity for this practice. For most of our applicants, it has be several years since they were arrested.

However, for the candidates who have a more recent conviction, many are eligible for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, a federal tax credit of up to $6,000 for each individual hired within a year of their conviction or release from incarceration.

We have thousands of candidates across the country in our database looking for a fair chance at full-time employment.

Why did you decide to take a leap and become a founder? How did you reach that decision?

Even when I was working 50-hour weeks at my “real jobs,” I always found myself tinkering around in my free time with ideas on how to help others overcome their criminal histories. It was just an itch that wouldn’t go away. After building a prototype and acquiring some paying customers, I decided to go all in and make the leap. I knew that if I didn’t address this issue, millions of people would continue struggling to find employment.

How have you had to develop your leadership skills as a founder? What leadership lessons have you learned through leading your organization? 

Most of the skills I have developed were from failing. We try big things and learn along the way. There are a few clear lessons that I’ve learned over the last year or so. The most prominent would be the importance of having a great team that cares about the mission of the company. Another clear lesson is the necessity to lead people into believing you will succeed. The high-risk nature of a startup is hard to handle for most people; as leaders, it’s on us to get results. You must get results.

Describe a success that has been made possible through your leadership skills.

As a leader and a founder, you have to be able to articulate your mission and vision in a way that inspires talented people to work with you and customers to do business with you. At a community event, I gave a talk about the importance of helping people after incarceration. After the talk, a gentleman named Josh Watters confronted me and said he wanted to help solve this problem. He has done so much for this company without even asking for pay. He is now a co-founder of HonestJobs.co and our lead web/software developer. Leaders inspire others to take action.

Based on your experiences as a founder, what is the most important leadership trait that founders must possess? How did you foster that trait in yourself?

A lot of people have great ideas, but what differentiates success from failure is results. I would say the most important trait is being able to call a complete stranger and have them pay you for your product or service. You can only think and plan for so long before you have to do the dirty work. My approach may not be best, but I put myself in a position where I had no choice but to make sales or the bills weren’t going to be paid. As the saying goes, “If you want to take the island, burn the ships”.

What other advice would you give a current or future founder about leading others? 

Pursue something that is close to your heart and don’t be afraid to fail. I would also say that you have the ability to change the stigma around life after incarceration in America. If you become an entrepreneur or take a leadership role within a company, be the voice of fair-chance employment.

Is there anything else you’d like us to include?

If you have any questions, please email me at harley@honestjobs.co

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