We are publishing an interview of Mr. Sumesh Nair, Cofounder, Board Infinity.
About the founders
Board Infinity is founded by – Abhay Gupta & Sumesh Nair, both alumni of SPJIMR (SPJain Institute of Management & Research). Abhay handles Products & Operations and Sumesh manages Corporate Partnerships, Pedagogy & Sales for Board Infinity. While they were involved in some activities together in campus, they seriously thought of starting up when they spoke after college and found that their interests in education sector matched really well.
Both have taken this journey after a lot of experimenting individually in this sector. Abhay was working on a few ideas to fix up the issues plaguing the education ecosystem. Similarly, Sumesh was working on a few pilots in career coaching/mentoring space with working professionals and students. They believe they have a strong team as they bring complementary skills to the table. Sumesh front ends with customers a lot and students are clearly his passion. On the other end Abhay has a keen interest in developing the product and operational aspects.
Give us a brief background of what founders were doing before starting the venture.
Abhay was working with Future Group under their prestigious entrepreneurial program- Future Business Innovators Program where he used to handle pan India two categories of HomeTown (Future Group’s Furniture Business). Prior to his MBA in Operations Management from SPJIMR, he had entrepreneurial stints in facility management space for 4 years.
After completing MBA in Marketing Management , I worked as Senior Consultant with PwC US Advisory (formerly PRTM Management Consulting). Prior to this, I have also worked in analytics consulting for 3 years for US and UK clients with a few niche companies including Mu Sigma. I have been tinkering with ideas and different business models for many years.
List all the names of the core team members, along with their skill-sets, specific domain expertise & designated roles. How do you see them evolving over time?
Our team comprises of 7 members. Our corporate partnerships are handled by ex Corporate Relations Head of a premier Business Institute. We have a junior coder and senior designer in our Tech team who are building out the UX & UI . Apart from this we have few interns from IIMs and other B Schools helping out with various strategic initiatives.
What is the problem you are trying to solve? Can you share with us any insights that led you to believe that this is a big enough problem?
Employers say they do not get relevant candidates while the job seekers complain they aren’t getting any opportunities. Any transaction happens when buyers and sellers match perfectly in terms of aspirations and exchange of value. We are currently creating a higher education ecosystem that enables meaningful connections between students and employers. Students get focused coaching and mentoring for roles they aspire to be in and they get inducted into companies on our platform.
What challenges did you face when you were starting out?
We faced some challenges while we were doing pilots when we decided to start up. The market needs a lot of education on the importance of coaching. Usually career related confusions and questions were answered by an established uncle/parent/friend in the family, some friend/senior who might have did well in their careers. Few people understand that career building is a truly personal process, what worked for another person doesn’t necessarily work for you.
We are trying to see how both, an inside out (introspective approach based on interests and competency ) and an outside in ( market reality approach) can lead to better career decisions for an individual. Our entire life, we have invested in books, stationary items, degrees but hardly on networking with relevant people who can give great advice & opportunities. At Board Infinity, this is exactly what we are trying to do, get people to lose their inhibitions & fear and make them ask what they desire and deserve in their careers through our career coaching platform.
How did you get the initial capital? What returns does it have? Tell us about the investors (if any)
We are currently bootstrapped with fund infusion from self, family, friends and some friendly CEOs & industry executives from our network who believe in the problem that we are addressing.
Please tell us about the Product / Solution. Explain how you went about the Product-Market Fit Process.
Our platform has 4 different interfaces for – Students, Coaches, Companies & college administration. Students get access to coaching sessions, personalized content, tests and job openings through the platform. Coaches can share their availability, schedule sessions and guide the assigned student. Companies get extensive information around applicants who are focused on particular sectors through the platform helping them reduce their overall cost and make a better hiring decision.
Product Market fit was understood through many trials with different customer segments, and finally we decided to start with the student segment.
What were your assumptions when you entered the market, learning that you have?
Our assumption was that it will be easy to convince students to start early in their academic cycle for placement preparations. Just like students wait till the deadline to submit assignments, same logic works for getting a job as well. It is at the very last moment that they start getting serious about jobs. That was a major assumption which we tested out, which lead us to start involving college authorities as well as part of our go to market to convince students to start early.
What is the insight that you have about this market, which no one else has? Uniqueness about your Startup.
One of the major outcomes from a degree is to get an employment, but that is not exactly being addressed in a great way. Coaching / functional training alone is irrelevant if it can’t help a candidate get a job. If you look at our offerings, we have not just one but multiple stakeholders benefiting in the entire value chain (students, coaches, companies & training, placement officers of colleges).
There are a few things that set us apart from most of the competition out there. First, we focus a lot on personalized career advice and have our keen focus on our target market (students in the higher education sector who lack access to good career coaching). Most importantly, our value proposition doesn’t end at career coaching alone. We also provide job opportunities to these candidates through our pool of recruiters. We are kind of running a parallel system if you actually look at it very closely.
What is the strength of the startup and the scale of operations? Who do You Perceive as Your Competition?
We are a 7 member strong team (Design, Tech & Founders). We want to stay away from competition, so we took an integrated approach to solve employability problem and create a niche for us. There aren’t many comprehensive scoring platforms for career coaching and employability quotient. Many do it in a piece meal approach, like maybe a skill test or a psychometric test. We have a 5 step process (patent pending) to curate candidates for our employer partners, there is no-one in the market who has such a comprehensive scoring process. Any hiring platform/agency can potentially view us a competitor or collaborator since we can strongly curate the right profile for the recruiter.
What is the revenue model? Explain your thought process.
We have a 2 stage revenue model– per student career coaching program charges and Platform access charge for companies.
Who are the consumers that you are targeting? How is this going to affect them?
We are currently targeting management students. We are helping our student customers get job opportunities through the companies inducted on our platform after making them go through our coaching process.
How did you get your first customer?
As part of one of our initial pilots we sent out a mail to a random sample of students in a premier B-school. One girl immediately filled up the form. We called her and the first thing she said was that she recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s book and understood the importance of having coaches and mentors. We didn’t have to pitch, she told what she wanted, we just had to connect her with the relevant coaches for coaching sessions, and this is the story of our first sale 🙂
What is the big picture of your startup? Is this Product leading to something bigger? If so, how?
Our grand picture is to quantify employability across roles, industries and work profiles using our proprietary algorithm which we are currently building. Every employer will be using that as a robust input for hiring decisions in the near future. Not just that, we will quantify attractiveness of a particular job across roles, industries and work profiles so that job seekers can use that as an input while seeking jobs. These two scores will be based on hundreds of relevant data points.
Since inception, give us a sense of the value of business done by your venture?
We have a strict metric as of now – number of paying students and paying corporate partners for platform access. Our booked revenue is close to INR 15 lakhs across 400 students and 3 corporate partners.
What would be your goal to accomplish in the next six months?
We are building our platform to ease out the process of coaching, discovery of coaches and applying to jobs etc. Our next six months will be focused on product development and serving close to 4000 customers.
What message do you want to convey to fellow entrepreneurs?
Stay humble. Stay focused. Immerse yourself in the market. Live the life of your customer, which is the best way for an entrepreneur to connect the dots.
Any other information you would like to share.
We are developing smart algorithms and self help tools for a person to manage his/her own career. These algorithms and tools will address the questions of:
1. What career I can take?
2. How do I get there the quickest way?
3. Who can help me get there?
4. What all resources do I need to get there?
Thanks Sumesh. Best of luck!