It’s been nearly over four years since Amplio CEO, Chris Chancey, relegated his refugee staffing business to nothing more than another item on his list of failed start-ups. Little did he know, just days later, two auspicious phone calls would put the company back on the map in a big way.
Chris is an only child, raised in south Georgia, an area he fondly describes as “the place where the tea is sweet and people are sweeter!”
But small town living taught Chris some big life lessons. His dad, a mail carrier for the US Postal service, was up and off to work every day before the sun, and spent after-hours coaching Chris’ sports teams and selling products for various direct sales companies.
“I admired his work ethic,” Chris explains, “I saw him model consistency and diligence.”
His mom started as a secretary and finished as an IT director with a local business. “She was constantly learning and never backed down from a challenge,” says Chris, describing her approach to work.
Another childhood influence in Chris’ life was his uncle, the pastor of their local church, who would take him to hospitals to care and pray for the sick and needy.
“We sat in some uncomfortable situations and environments,” Chris remembers, “but selfless moments of being there, and caring for people, and loving on them—it helped make me who I am.”
Unbeknownst to Chris, these influences were shaping him for the unique roll he would fill later in his career.
After graduating, Chris left small-town life behind, moving to big-town Athens, to attend the University of Georgia. It was there that he met, dated and married his wife, Sarah.
Shortly after their wedding, the couple moved to Colorado where Chris attended Denver Seminary to pursue, what he felt was, a calling to pastor. Looking back, he recognizes some “breadcrumb” moments, as he calls them, which led him to where he is today.
“In seminary I had an Old Testament professor who, identified [the Israelites] with modern-day refugees. We would pray, as a class, for the millions of people around the world looking for a safer place to live. My wife and I began to pray this together, too. It was breaking my heart. I remember thinking, this is happening in the world and shouldn’t be that way.”
Around this same time, Chris began taking more of an interest in business. He explains the revelation he had about leveraging it to impact others.
“I thought I was supposed to be a pastor, but I realized, the more I read the Bible, that there’s a lot in scripture about work, business, and stewardship. I thought that [this] would be a great way to leverage the strengths God gave me to serve the world.”
Chris and Sarah started jobs at a local Chick-fil-A and, after just a few months, were given the opportunity to run a restaurant together. This proved to be a huge learning curve, as neither possessed a lot of business experience.
“We made a lot of mistakes, but we learned a lot,” Chris remembers.
Their biggest takeaway was the incredible impact their roles gave them, within their team, and out in the community. “That gripped us,” he says, “We said, ‘We want our lives to be about that. How can we use business to help as many people as possible?’”
Chris graduated with a degree in Business Stewardship, and the couple moved back to Atlanta to be close to family. Chris began working for HOPE International, an organization helping people start businesses in the developing world. He describes this five-year period as “a great season of learning”, with many opportunities to hear from highly successful men and women, and learn how they were leveraging their businesses to serve people.
This idea of social entrepreneurship burned within him. Outside of work, Chris and Sarah continued to try different business ventures, many he now deems “half-baked ideas”. But Chris remained determined.
“There was a point when I put a card in my pocket to take note of the problems I saw in the world. I wanted to write down just three big problems. At one point, I had a few things written down. Suddenly I realized that two things on the list could be solved by each other.”
Those two problems?
In their search for affordable housing, close to family, the couple had conveniently moved into a diverse community, made up largely of refugees.
“I was the annoying white guy who would ask, ‘Where are you from?’ Chris laughs, “We would engage people in conversation, but they always ended with talented people telling me they couldn’t find a good job. They were either underemployed, or not employed at all.”
At the same time, Chris was connecting with business owners, through HOPE, who were experiencing a massive shortage of dependable employees.
“It started to click,” he says, “Maybe I’m uniquely positioned to be a part of this.”
Chris began testing the waters, taking talented refugees and pairing them with jobs. He battled through whether the company should be non-profit or for-profit, and communicated with companies about the benefits of, what he coined, “the refugee workforce.”
But after a year and a half of connecting more than 75 refugees to jobs, the business hadn’t netted a single dollar. Chris wavered between discouragement, and fear of giving up on a good idea too soon. Unable to figure out a working business model, and wary from working a full-time job and navigating life with a newborn, he closed the companies “doors” in fall of 2015.
Despite this negative experience, Chris remained optimistic. “There was a thread of hope that if I walked away from it, I would see something,” he shares.
Then, just two weeks later, Chris received an unusual phone call from a local company, Engent, Inc.
“Matt told me they wanted to hire forty refugees,” he shares, “but they wanted to hire on our pay roll and workers comp. I told him we couldn’t. I had tried, but there was no precedent in the business.” But when Chris politely declined the VP responded, “I’ll give you three days to figure it out,” and then hung up.
Though caught off guard, Chris quickly regained focus for a scheduled phone meeting with a potential HOPE investor. He hopped on the call, and could hardly believe what happened next.
“Five minutes into the phone call he said, ‘I just sold a successful staffing agency… and now I’m serving as a consultant for start-up staffing companies.’”
Chris was awestruck. “I felt like God had done more in two phone calls, in five minutes, than I had accomplished in a year and a half,” he shares. “We talked about microfinance, then I told the guy everything. He said, ‘If you really want to be set up in three days, I think we can make that happen.’”
The Chicago consultant immediately connected Chris with contractors and partners that could get the company back off the ground—under a working model. Three days later Chris called the company back with the good news, “They couldn’t believe it,” he says.
Since then, Amplio has connected dozens of Atlanta companies with talented refugees. In 2016 the company finished with $300,000 in revenue for the year, finally giving Chris the sense of security needed to leave HOPE to focus on Amplio full time. He also brought Luke Keller, founder of The Lantern Project, on board as a business partner which, as Chris explains, took the company to a new level.
“We were both focused full-time, and able to connect with the right companies, and recruit the right people.”
This growth has allowed them to hire three new Atlanta office team members, since the spring—two of these refugees themselves. They’ve also launched into several cities across the U.S. where local directors are making connections and laying ground for expansion.
Currently, Amplio is projected to close the year at ten times last year’s revenue. Despite this incredible accomplishment, Chris is most proud of seeing his vision being brought to life.
“I enjoy seeing our community thrive through what we’re doing,” he finishes, “I enjoy seeing our team work together towards this bigger vision. Something bigger than ourselves.”
Amplio may be a happily-ever-after story, but it was certainly no overnight success. Thanks to the drive and passion of Chris and his team, dozens of businesses are experiencing the benefits of hiring from a previously untapped labor pool—the hard-working and dependable refugee workforce.