A product-first approach

A product-first approach

Kalaari Capital-backed Mettl adopted a product first strategy to reach 450 enterprise clients. Its next focus: fixing the sales and marketing engine to penetrate even further, across geographies

MADHUMITA PRABHAKAR

Childhood friends Ketan Kapoor and Tonmoy Shingal always knew that they wanted to start a business of their own. And, the right opportunity came in 2009, when they met after building a successful career for themselves. While Kapoor graduated from IIM Calcutta and worked at startups Indepay Networks and Isango, Shinghal pursued an MBA from IIM Bangalore, and joined Boston Consulting Group in Belgium. “Shingal and I met when he had come to India for a week. We both wanted to take the plunge, so we discussed ideas and opportunities and finalised on training and recruitment assessments,” recalls Kapoor.

We’ve adopted a modular approach where the platform supports multiple skills. While we develop highly focussed questions to support each requirement, some companies opt for a certain level of customisation too

In 2010, the duo founded Mettl as an online-offline platform for training and recruitment assessments, and signed their first client in a short span of time. However, soon, they realised that the model was not scalable because assessments itself was a vast area, and the industry was very fragmented. “Then, we sought advice from our mentors and repositioned the startup as an online platform to track and test technical, aptitude and psychometric skills,” says Kapoor.

As is the case with any startup, Mettl was fraught with challenges during the founding phase. The key among them were; finding a technology co-founder to help setup the platform, and raising initial capital to roll out the business. “Neither Shingal nor I had the technical knowledge required to setup the platform. We were short of resources too. So, we hired a few consultants to help tackle this issue,” states Kapoor. And, they fulfilled the requirement for funds by leveraging on their individual networks. “We raised funds from 30 friends and family, and the funds lasted for close to a year,” recalls Kapoor.

Today, Mettl offers a gamut of services, which include certification tests, recruitment tests, skill assessments, proctored exams and employee training. “We’ve adopted a modular approach where the platform supports multiple skills. While we develop highly focussed questions to support each requirement, some companies opt for a certain level of customisation too,” he explains. In other words, companies can either chose from over 75 standardised tests developed by Mettl, or they can customise it to specific requirements.

Developing a product strategy

In the first couple of years, when the team started developing the tests, they noticed that there were companies, which came with very specific requirements, ones that cannot be replicated across multiple companies. Thus, they made a conscious choice to take a product first strategy instead of a sales first strategy. “There are two approaches to building a product; one, building it based on what we want to build (this will not cater to every company’s requirement), or two, taking the sales first strategy where we build products based on every client’s requirement,” explains Kapoor. He believes that adopting the former strategy helped Mettl grow significantly, especially in international markets such as the U.S., Mexico, Philippines, Brazil and Nigeria. “A good product can help us accelerate growth and go global quickly,” he adds.

Moreover, initially, the team conducted extensive research on skill requirements in the market. Once they covered a lot of ground, they began developing skills based on individual client requirements. “Now, a lot more research goes into the assessment requirements; why are we doing it, what’s the criteria for developing these assessments, what should the blueprint look like, what is the skill and knowledge component, what is the difficulty level, how should we create the questions and such,” explains Kapoor.

Fuelling growth

Since founding, Mettl has raised two rounds of angel funding and one Series A round. It raised its first angel round in August 2010, to the tune of US $80,000 from various angel investors including Naveen Tewari (InMobi), Sunil Sharma (Ex COO, Max New York Life India), and Dr. Amit Kapoor (Honorary Chairman, Institute for Competitiveness, India), to name a few. Its second angel round was in March 2011, to the tune of US $350,000 from notable investors Blume Ventures, Sasha Mirchandani and Puranjaya Singh. In August 2012, it raised Series A funding of US $4 million from IndoUS Venture Partners (now renamed as Kalaari Capital). “A significant portion of these funds went into developing the product and technology, with a small share invested in sales and marketing,” says Kapoor, and adds, “We’ll take a call about the next round of funding by early next year. Ideally, we would like to grow based on our own internal resources.”

He notes that the investors have played a significant role on the hiring and compensation front, and provided the right exposure in the U.S. markets. “Some of our investors have themselves setup large companies in the U.S., so they gave us a better direction in terms of what kind of people to talk to, what kind of people to recruit into the sales team and such,” he says.

The startup’s hiring philosophy is to continuously hire for the positions it wants to expand. While initially, 60 per cent of the hires were made through internal references, now, it has started using portals such as Naukri and LinkedIn, to identify prospective candidates. “If we feel the candidate is right, we invest a lot of personal time in sharing our vision with them. We believe that if we take this approach, we’ll get a lot of mindshare of that candidate and they will treat their work as a larger mission than just as a job,” clarifies Kapoor.

Setting up a global presence

In March 2014, Mettl setup its first international office at California, U.S., and as a part of its foray into the market, appointed Subhash Tantry, former CEO of Fox Technologies, to manage operations. “The U.S. is a more mature market. Typically, 90 per cent of the companies here use assessments in some form or the other, as opposed to India, where it’s just 10 per cent,” notes Kapoor. But, with significant penetration comes challenges too. Firstly, since there is high awareness, reliability and stringent laws governing this space, Mettl needs to ensure that the products developed in the platform cater to the guidelines set by the industry. “There are laws which state that we shouldn’t differentiate tests based on sex, gender, religion, physical disabilities and such. So, we need to be careful in ensuring that tests are customised carefully to suit this market’s needs,” shares Kapoor.

Secondly, the space is dominated by many players, and it is imperative for Mettl to identify a niche and penetrate in that space. “In terms of just offering the platform, there are market gaps in delivering training effectiveness solutions, and in providing certifications,” indicates Kapoor. The startup is trying to find answers to questions like; are people really learning at companies, what skills should we impart, can we help companies launch online certification programs and such. “We developed several hypothesis before foraying into this market. Some proved to be correct and some others incorrect. But focussing on the certifications and training solutions space is certainly helping us steer in the right direction,” says Kapoor.

With a current team strength of 70 in India and the U.S., and over 450 clients on board, Mettl’s focus, going forward, will be on reaching its value proposition to more companies, globally. “From hereon, it’s more execution work for us, in terms of sales and penetrating deeper into existing markets. We need to adopt the right marketing tools, send out the right set of messages at the right time,” states Kapoor. Currently, on the marketing front, it adopts strategies such as SEO, SEM, AdWords, event networking and email campaigns. “We roughly adopt ten different channels to market our services. And, the strategy depends on the segment we want to address. For example, psychometric tests work best as an email campaign, but recruitment tests don’t,” he indicates.

With a year-on-year growth rate of over 300 per cent, in five years, Mettl aspires to be a strong market leader in the skill assessments and talent recruitment space.


Snapshot

Mettl

Founders: Ketan Kapoor and Tonmoy Shingal

Year: 2010

Concept: An online platform which tracks and tests technical, aptitude and psychometric skills

Investors: Kalaari Capital, Blume Ventures, Sasha Mirchandani, Naveen Tewari, Sunil Sharma and other angel investors.

Current client base: 450

Employees on-board: 70


Key Highlights

Product Strategy: Mettl adopt a product-first strategy, where it built products based on overall market needs (and did not cater to every company’s requirement). This helped the startup grow significantly, especially in international markets such as the U.S., Mexico, Phillipines, Brazil and Nigeria.

Recruitment Strategy: Initially, 60 per cent of the recruitments were done through referrals. Now, it also identifies and recruits employees from Naukri and LinkedIn. If the candidate is right, the founders invest a lot of personal time in sharing the startup’s vision with him/her. This helps the founders gain a lot of mindshare of the candidate, and help the candidate perceive their work as a larger mission than just a job.

Market Entry Strategy: Before entering the U.S. market, apart from investor guidance, it develop a lot of hypothesis on market needs, market gaps and potential opportunities. Identified and began operating in the training effectiveness solutions and online certification space.

Marketing Strategy: It identified 10 different channels such as SEO, SEM, Email marketing, AdWords and industry networking. It adopts a different tool to cater to each segment. For example, psychometric tests are marketed through email campaigns, whereas recruitment tests are not.

Kalaari Capital Mettl sales engine