• Shreya Parekh

SPOTLIGHT: Meet Hollie Bayliss - Working in Recruitment to Founding her own in AI

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

This month, we’re interviewing the amazing entrepreneur Hollie Bayliss - an authentic journey of what great things can happen even if you didn't follow the traditional route of going to University.

Hollie left home around the age of 16. Despite being a high performer early on, she didn’t complete secondary school education in Berkshire due to turbulent home life. During her younger years, she moved several times and worked at different restaurants, waitressing. "I love food, so working in hospitality appealed to me. Although, I didn’t consider waitressing as a long-term career.". At that time, it was about surviving on the minimum wage, she tried to go to college, but at the same time, she needed the money to live and find her way in the world. "I know some people that balance college and work, which is impressive, but I wasn't able to do it".

At the age of 17, Hollie travelled around Australia’s east coast, which was a fantastic experience. On her return, she worked in various sales roles, including Phones4U and charity fundraising for Golly Slater in Cardiff. After moving to London and falling into recruitment in her early twenties, she joined a colossal company before quickly moving on due to the mercenary culture of commodifying candidates and posting out fake job ads for leads. So, Hollie sought out a smaller company and honed her skills in property & construction recruitment.

In 2015, inspired by speaking to a PhD data scientist friend, she became fascinated by hiring talent for the fourth industrial revolution. Hollie did just that - joining an agency to recruit candidates for data science/big data roles. To expand her knowledge, she picked up a part-time BD role for an AI start-up. “It wasn't until I did some business development for an AI start-up that I found a subject I could truly advance in. Despite not having a degree, it was something highly technical that I was able to get my teeth into". The recruitment company she joined was a lot more ERP focused, and the inbound business was mainly business intelligence roles instead of data science, so she felt a little pulled in the wrong direction. Her experience in recruitment, in general, was not that great. Hollie became disillusioned with recruitment and decided to leave the industry.

Next, she found a job as a waitress in Canary Wharf for the Big Easy, which she truly enjoyed. Not long after leaving the agency, she got a serendipitous recommendation to Cambridge based bio-tech, Abcam, who’s products help Life Scientists find cures for diseases. So, she came home from the restaurant that evening and worked non-stop. "For two nights in a row, I drank lots of coffee and recruited like mad, and within 48 hours, I put forward three candidates for the senior data science role". And breath! So, at the age of 24, she set up Neural Networking (a recruitment company), thought of the name, put up a one-page website (in the background) and made her first placement. She’s happy that the person is still with the company today. Neural Networking’s mission is to ethically recruit teams for conscience companies staying ahead on the AI adoption curve. "I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and had to take the opportunity. I started as a freelance lifestyle recruiter, going on holiday after doing a deal. Now, I’m motivated to disrupt recruitment in AI and build a brand making a difference. I’m always learning. Finance and Marketing were amongst the first industries to adopt Data Science and ML. Still, there are a limited number of trained professionals globally; it’s important to place people in companies making a difference too.”

What are the key challenges that you faced throughout your journey? "Mainly the degree - not having one and joining a company at the bottom...It was hard working on things where I wasn't mentally stimulated or where I could progress. Not having career support or a mentor was hard, but luckily, I found my way through friends and a touch of good luck. Also, being hard on myself when things didn't go well, I always wanted to do well, so lack of self-belief. I think university opens doors and can give you more options. But at the same time, people can get boxed into a career that they don't like".

Is there anything you would have done differently? "I think I would have got into computers and learned to code. Now I'm in recruitment, I love it, but I wish I had learned to code ten years ago, as I see it as an important skill for the future. I wish I knew about it back then. I had a friend who did a computer science degree with a data science major, and they knew about AI when they were growing up from watching Sci-Fi - I never knew about that. I would love to have had that insight and got into computers".

What are your key lessons/tips? "I'm still finding my way, but I’d suggest understanding yourself and what you’re interested in as early as possible. Then, identify your strengths and pursue something you want to do. It's cliche, but it's not how many times you fall. It’s how many times you get back up".

What do you love most about your job now? "It's exciting. I love that every day is a school day, whether it be learning about cutting edge machine learning applications or becoming better at negotiating for my candidates. There's so much to learn. I’m never bored and constantly stimulated. AI and automation will make a significant impact on our daily lives. I’d like to play a part in acquiring talent for projects utilising AI for the greater good, such as combatting climate change and optimising healthcare practises".

How do you define success? "I used to define success by what was in the bank, but that can all change very quickly. Now, I define success as doing something that interests you, which gives value to other people and makes money. Having a higher purpose is good. A bit like the Ikegai philosophy".

Who inspires you? "I'm inspired whenever I see people that have overcome challenges, and it’s hard to pick just one person. Although I try to find inspiration from everyone I speak to, Elon Musk is pretty cool as he’s super successful and innovating in key areas impacting the world. My biggest inspirational moment was working with the AI start-up, as without them, I wouldn't have known a great deal about AI/ML & Data science so early on".

If you could choose anyone as a mentor, who would that be? "Deborah Meadon, who's an entrepreneur and is also on Dragons Den, I like her because she's straight-talking, an astute businesswoman and very successful...I would love to have her as a mentor".

What's one thing that you've learnt in the past month? "Honestly… Learning when to say no, took me years to learn. As a recruiter, you're often on the back foot, coming in as an external agent. If you're in a situation where your work isn't valued, you should walk away because nothing positive can come from a situation where you're not respected".

What's a fun fact about you? "I’m quite bad at “fun facts”. Two years after leaving the Big Easy, I spotted six staff members (including me) eating and drinking in photos advertised around Canary Wharf. At this point, I had established Neural Networking and met clients in the area. Someone got in touch as they had recognised me, which was funny.

What's the last book you read? "For years, I only used to read business and self-help books and felt there was no time for fiction (I read fiction when I was much younger). I recently read Vanity Fair by William Thackeray for some escapism over lockdown. I'm working my way through some classics. I'm also re-reading a book called Atomic Habits about creating freedom for yourself through habit systems, and I love it. I needed a refresher”.

If you had to eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would that be? "I could eat a Lobster every day. I love seafood. An interesting fact about Lobster…in the 1600s, Lobsters were abundant in America and considered peasant food. Prisoners and servants were often fed Lobster as a cheap source of protein. Some servants began to stipulate a limit to the maxim number of lobsters they would eat per week in their contracts. I don’t think they used the same cooking methods back then, but It’s funny it went from something prisoners ate to a delicacy". It wasn't the influence of the Big Easy's lobster that made her love them, but Hollie highly recommends paying a visit to the Big Easy. They do a fantastic Lobster with garlic butter sauce.

You can connect with Hollie here: