What started as a platform for conducting mock interviews for students to help with campus placements has now turned into a company called Interviewstreet, a business to help companies recruit programmers using software coding contests
“It was a pleasant shock and surprise to get a call from the Whitehouse,” recalls Vivek Ravishankar. For him and Harishankaran. K, the founders of Bengaluru-based Interviewstreet, a hub for programmers, winning the U.S. government’s project in April 2012 to build its technology platform was a prestigious moment. When U.S. President Barack Obama set up a task force to promote equal pay for women in corporate America earlier this year, the government chose Interviewstreet to develop a technology platform to build the tools that would promote this important goal. In less than a week, the startup was ready with a product that programmers could use to build the best mobile or software applications for a national contest on the equal pay initiative. It is currently working on another project for the U.S. Government’s department of labour – a disability employment application and worker safety and health application.
With such recognition in the global market and a strong customer base of over 30 companies in India and the overseas market, the founders are all set to make Interviewstreet a fun place for programmers to hang out, solve interesting challenges and get connected to good technology companies.
The starting up story
Interviewstreet was established by 24-year-old Ravishankar and Harishankaran, alumnus of National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirapalli. What began as a college project morphed into a full-fledged business venture for the duo in December 2010. Despite having found employment in 2009 as developers at Amazon and IBM respectively, they continued pursuing this project during their spare time. Little wonder then that Ravishankar’s professional and personal life are the same. He recalls, “We started in 2009 as a platform for mock interviews, which did not work out too well. We did that for about one and half years and then iterated to build a platform that helps companies screen programmers.”
In July 2009, they quit their jobs and sought formal mentoring from The Morpheus, a Chandigarh-based seed fund. “I thank The Morpheus as our association with them made us stronger and much more focused on building the company and acquiring users,” says Ravishankar. And since its inception, Interviewstreet’s clientele has expanded to currently include U.S. space agency NASA, game developer Zynga, Facebook, Dropbox, Airbnb and Amazon.
Y Combinator is the best thing that can happen to a startup and Paul Graham, one of the founders of YC, is a no-nonsense guy and is very sharp. His questions usually make you think hard and are very precise and to the point.
Building the business model
What started as a platform for conducting mock interviews for students to help with campus placements turned into a business to help companies recruit the right employees (typically programmers with less than four years work experience) with good programming skills. Through its platform, Interviewstreet helps companies screen candidates by giving them real programming tests via their web-based tools and helps in hiring. Its product, CodeSprint, allows companies to hire programmers via coding contests. It also helps the companies to create customised programming tests (in any language) and evaluate candidates based on their programming skills before proceeding for an interview. For this, it has built a code checker that evaluates an applicant’s code – checks against a set of test-cases letting the recruiters know how optimal his / her code is. This saves time for the hiring companies as they interact only with candidates who have cleared the benchmark. The company also offers an option where the recruiter can take advantage of a live playback mode where they can see an applicant’s thought/coding process.
Founders: Vivek Ravishankar and Harishankaran K
Funding: YC grant of $18,000, funding from Khosla Ventures
Interviewstreet works with varied revenue models like pay per hire of a programmer, pay per attempt of contests and pay per lead. It also has a feature called ‘white label’ for several investing firms and startups, where it delivers its products to an angel fund or a venture capital firm that allows all its portfolio companies also to use its program. For instance, it has CodeSprint for Sequoia Capital (sequoia.interviewstreet.com/challenges/) which is a five-hour coding contest where a programmer can apply for a job at Sequoia, a venture capital firm. All the portfolio companies of Sequoia can also use this CodeSprint to hire programmers and Interviewstreet gets paid for every hire Sequoia makes.
The silicon-valley advantage
In 2011, Interviewstreet was chosen for an incubation programme at Y Combinator (YC), the Silicon Valley seed fund. “This was for a period of three months last summer,” says Ravishankar. It was the first startup from India to get into YC although the fund has invested only in the company’s U.S. entity. Speaking about this experience, Ravishankar says, “YC is the best thing that can happen to a startup and Paul Graham (one of the founders of YC) is a no-nonsense guy and is very sharp. His questions usually make you think hard and are very precise and to the point.”
Apart from the YC grant of US $18,000, investor Vinod Khosla, an Indian-born American businessman and venture capitalist, has also invested in this startup. Speaking about his association with Khosla, Ravishankar says, “It has been absolutely great to hear his insights and build the company. He is a forward thinker, which will help us build a much larger company.”
Ravishankar says expanding the areas of testing (like front end development testing, SQL and other database related questions and functional programming questions) and growing faster are some of Interviewstreet’s major challenges. The company does face competition in this space, but Ravishankar says it is building a much broader platform that will attract developers of any genre (ACM style, machine learning experts and front-end developers).
As a part of its scaling up plan, Interviewstreet plans to get more users and hire the right talent to build up its team. “We do plan to look for funding,” says Ravishankar. The company is launching a new platform called hackerrank.com. It is a superset of Interviewstreet and a social hub for programmers. “We want to make this a place where every programmer hangs out for fun,” says Ravishankar, while indicating that those at the helm will always have their sights set firm on building a great product.
Concept in brief
Interviewstreet helps companies screen candidates by giving them real programming tests via their web-based tools and facilitates hiring. It helps companies create customised programming tests (in any language) and evaluates candidates based on their programming skills before proceeding for an interview.
What Vivek Ravishankar learnt from the Y Combinator experience:
- Your first idea isn’t always the best plan
- It’s okay to be slow on product launches until you find the right person / team
- Focus is the hardest thing and do everything to get it right