Gauravendra Shukla comes from a small town but he made it big in the corporate world. An alumnus of National Institute of Technology (NIT), Surat and MBA from K J Somaiya, Mumbai, he was aware that good education was dependent on the proximity to big cities and towns. Though small towns have colleges, the students there are underprepared to meet the demands of the corporate world. The question that plagued Shukla was, ‘What could he do to help such students?’
While working in IBM, he met Yayati Boruah, who shared his outlook, and the two together decided that they would start a venture that will bring students in smaller towns up to speed. “In 2008, my co-founder quit his job to research the needs and the market, while I supported him financially,” explains Shukla. Between February to mid-August, they spent time talking to parents, students and teachers from Bhilai, Chhattisgarh to understand what they lacked when it came to facing interviews and corporate requirements. Based on the inputs, the two created content and with the help of two experts in the field, piloted it for 14 engineering and management students. The success of this batch convinced the two that they had a business idea that would work. After three years of research, the Graduate Certificate in Corporate Readiness (GCCR) is a copyrighted program from TalentBridge to help students from smaller towns prepare for interviews and a corporate career.
Starting a venture
TalentBridge was officially incorporated in the later part of 2008 with seed capital of Rs. 30 lakh from a friend. Shukla quit his job in 2009, in the peak of the recession. With two more on board, Sandip Yuwanati (NIT Nagpur, IIM Lucknow) and Abhimanyu Jha (IIT Madras, IIM Ahmedabad), the company started its first batch of classes in Bhilai. In its first year, it trained 450 students, provided them with opportunities for summer internships and jobs in companies that the team had contacts in. A year and a half later, they received Rs. 2 crore from investors, Mumbai Angels. This was used mainly to scale up. “The quality of the training was bound to take a hit while scaling up, but we decided that this was inevitable,” admits Shukla.
From 108 hours for every student in the beginning, TalentBridge had to reduce the training duration to 50 hours as it expanded the number of centres. But by offering a part of its training online, 36 hours of face-to-face engagement continued. It managed to create a technology platform that offered a ‘learning, testing and training’ platform for students from B and C towns of India. The TalentBridge platform allows students to make resumes, take unlimited aptitude tests, access video content, prepare for interviews using a ‘Mock Interview’ application and also be rated quantitatively on their readiness for interviews on all the above elements.
The online training platform
The company conducted an online survey, which showed that 77 per cent of the time corporates are looking for the right attitude in students, 13 per cent for communication skills, six per cent on subject knowledge and four per cent on other specific needs. The first typical question hiring managers ask candidates is, “Tell me about yourself.”
TalentBridge portal has an embedded audio and video platform for mock interviews and throws questions at the students randomly. This is recorded and replayed on request, enabling students to get a feedback on their performance and areas of improvement instantly. There is also an in-built analytical tool that ranks students on seven parameters typically looked for in fresh graduates.
Based on inputs from parents, students and teachers, TalentBridge created content for Graduate Certificate in Corporate Readiness (GCCR), a copyrighted program to help students from smaller towns prepare for interviews and a corporate careerPrepping for the corporate life
Companies can look for candidates based on these seven parameters, and also conduct online tests and remote video interviews. “Our integrated platform has a database of 15,000 students and 29 colleges across the country. We also have 16 branch offices to reach out to colleges today,” says Shukla. This remote video interview with database helps companies filter students more easily at a lower cost. “The training has two aspects to it – the cognitive, which is done online, and behavioural, which is offline, where a trainer is flown into the city for live classes,” explains Shukla.
The company has seven full time trainers and 50 empanelled trainers. They are all trained under a ‘Train the Trainer’ program, which is based on a video content TalentBridge has developed and used as a framework. In 2010-11, about 1,500 students were trained and its current year target is 5,300, which Shukla is confident of exceeding.
Reaching Out to Colleges
The promise of bringing in companies for campus interviews is one of the lures to convince the colleges to take up this program. The TalentBridge platform helps the company to deliver on its promise. “We offer proctored online tests for companies to upload their question papers that even we cannot access,” says Shukla. This way, the companies avoid the logistic nightmare of visiting the many towns in the country and the candidates get an opportunity to apply for companies in large cities.
As a result of this, colleges turn to TalentBridge to train its students not only in the final year, but the demand for training to begin in the third year, and in some cases, even the first year can be seen. The pricing is also attractively low, thus reducing the entry barrier for the colleges. In September this year, for instance, TalentBridge conducted an online recruitment drive for five companies in seven cities for which 2,700 students appeared. The students also got to know their performance results within five minutes of taking the test.
“However, there is a change required in the mindset. Small and medium businesses are more flexible and their need for manpower is high. Larger companies have processes to deal with, which delays the decision making process,” explains Shukla. On the flipside, candidates are also wary of appearing for tests in new industry segments like biotechnology. The greatest demand comes from startups and SMEs (small and medium enterprises), where the cost of recruitment also plays a decisive role. “As of now, the startups are in the IT and food industry domains. My aim is to cater to the whole range from small to large companies in these segments,” says Shukla.
Shukla’s dream is to make the technology platform robust and enable large companies to video stream specific training programs so that the candidates, who have undertaken the course, have a clear advantage when being recruited by that company. “I would like to become an infrastructure solution provider, enabling organisations to provide hard skills training through my portal,” says Shukla. Today, the platform can scale up to 30,000 candidates, who can take the test online at the same time, without the system collapsing.
From two employees, TalentBridge now has 31 employees and is targeting revenue of Rs. 2 crore this year. It currently has 29 registered colleges as its members. To expand further, the company will conduct events such as the ‘Technology Day’ it has planned in 15 cities between Oct 15 and Nov 15, wherein graduating students are trained and made aware of the technology innovations being done by various companies today. This will enable TalentBridge to establish its credentials with colleges as well as corporate companies by bringing the two together.
The limitation for TalentBridge is that it operates on a trial-and-error method to find the right solution. But it has the first mover advantage since there is no one ready yet to grab its market. Shukla is optimistic as he has both the soft skills course as well as a robust technology platform that enables him to straddle two business models. The fact that a vast majority of India’s youth comes from villages and smaller towns also ensures that it has a ready market.