Start-up engineers are exploring management degrees to sustain growth

Engineers are used to problem-solving, so it’s not surprising when over the course of their studies, or their working life, they identify a problem that they could come up with a solution for. India has numerous sectors that have been relatively untouched by IT and IT solutions. Some of these fields include education & human resources, healthcare, and even politics. We spoke to some engineers with successful start-ups who are now honing their management skills at the Indian School of Business…

Education and Human Resources

Nikhil Gumbhir, 29, of the PGP Class of 2017, ISB has his B.E. in Electronics & Communication from the PES Institute of Technology, Bangalore. His company, Cloud Mentor (www.cloudmentor.in) is a hands-on incubation platform that aims to build inventors and architects of the future. The company conducts hands-on and experiential STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) workshops for school children across India. “Disappointed with my engineering experience and even more disappointed with my corporate job (sitting and coding in front of a computer, not knowing what I was doing or the real world impact that I was making), I decided to think about the broader problem, which was confusion and a sense of not knowing what I’m good at. I realised that this affected everyone and that the ‘root’ of the issue lay in the education and experiences that we all went through during school days. Age 10 to 17 is one of the most critical phases for a human being as many impressions of life are being formed during that phase. It’s very important for students to get real world experiences of careers while learning academic concepts in a hands-on and experiential manner.”

In May 2011, Gumbhir started Cloud Mentor. During the initial phases, he did everything, from researching the content to conceptualising the sessions, and the branding, marketing and sales. Gumbhir was also the trainer. He recalls, “I still remember how I used to travel across the city of Bangalore and take technology workshops for children in different residential complexes. During the early stages, I did not have enough money to invest into a projector, etc. and so I used to physically carry my TV in the backseat of my Maruti Alto!”

As the workshops started doing well, more people in Bangalore came to know and wanted to attend his sessions. He soon invested in an office space and created a first-of-its-kind fun STEM studio for kids. “The space was modeled along the lines of the Singapore and Amsterdam Science Center and allowed kids to tinker with materials. I soon met my co-founder who helped me scale my venture. We now have a team of 15 people and have worked with over 15,000 children across India, helping them build over 70,000 fun STEM projects,” he adds.

However, he soon realised that Cloud Mentor’s business model was not completely scalable and so, the operations were scaled down. “We are working on finding a more scalable business model for our venture. My time here at ISB is a good opportunity to take a break. ISB offers a great environment for me to reenergize and get stimulated so I can remodel my education venture. An MBA will hopefully teach me to be more disciplined about business and give me skills needed to raise finance. ISB’s unmatched alumni network in India and beyond will also help me diversify my business into new markets,” he says. Gumbhir is also smart about his studies. He explains, “I intend to take Public Policy and Strategy electives to better understand how the Government machinery works, as the biggest customer for me in the education space is the Government (Public Education System). There’s also the sought after Public Policy Institute that gives me easy access to IAS officers who work in the education division of the government.”

Kumar Mukul, 30, of the PGP Class of 2017 ISB is a graduate of IIT Kharagpur (2008) with over six and a half years of experience as an entrepreneur. “With the rise of e-commerce and mobile penetration in the country, the demand for freelancers or individual contributors has been on a rise. Seeing this unmet need in the freelance industry within India, we started working on WorknHire, India’s first freelance marketplace,” he explains. The company’s objective is to shape up the freelance market in India so that businesses both small and large can hire freelances with ease and peace of mind. He continues, “My co-founder and I had an IT Services company of ours and hence the team formation and capital were a comparatively smaller issue to deal with. We bootstrapped the company and built the product in 4 months, launching it in May 2012. We have been able to get 1.6 lakh+ users on board. The website has more than a million page views per month and WorknHire is India’s largest freelance marketplace as of now.”

Mukul is confident that ISB’s alumni network, which is a key strength of Brand ISB will help him move forward. “I plan to seek help from alumni entrepreneurs for mentorship as well as funding. Additionally, the various courses on marketing and strategy will help me work on my business with a new set of ideas and tools,” he says.

Ashwin Chandrasekher, 31, from the PGP Class of 2017, Indian School of Business (ISB) is a Mechanical Engineer by education. While on an onsite stint with Infosys in the UK, he discovered, much to his surprise that the plumbers and carpenters there earned more than what he was earning while in the UK. He explains, “While I enjoyed my 3-year stint in the UK, there was a sense of dissatisfaction and discontentment to do something more fulfilling, something that would have a positive impact on people’s lives. In 2012, he returned to India where he met Kannan Lakshminarayan and Sabarinath Nair, both of whom were involved with enterprises in the social sector. He says, “I kick-started my journey with them, co-founding Skillveri in October 2012, a startup incubated by the Rural Technology Business Incubator arm of Indian Institute of Technology Madras Research Park. India needs to train 500 million people in the next ten years. Our current capacity, without considering the quality of training, is a meagre 4.5 million trained people. Skillveri is trying to bridge this gap with the aid of simple, indigenous, technology-based training tools.”

“Over the last three and a half years, Skillveri has slowly become a household name for virtual welding training simulators. Our revenues are growing at a steady rate and we are in constant talks with prospective customers in multiple geographies. The most fulfilling part, however, has been the impact we have had on people’s lives; for example, our simulators have trained over a thousand welders in 2015, providing these now skilled trainees with a sustainable livelihood. We are also expanding to other trades such as spray painting and crane operating,” says Chandrasekhar.

At ISB, Chandrasekhar intends to develop a thorough knowledge in finance, operations management and business strategy. He explains, “I need this exposure to business realities as well as valuable professional networks,” he explains, adding, “Studying at ISB will give me an opportunity to interact and work in a diverse peer group and benefit from the insights of the faculty. In the programme, I will be directly exposed to a radically different style of work and creativity that will broaden my outlook and increase my business acumen. I have not yet decided on what my plans are post-ISB. Going back to Skillveri is always an option but right now, it is a bit premature to say anything.”

Healthcare

Gaurav Gupta, 28, of the PGP Class of 2017, ISB has his B.E. in Biotechnology from the Netaji Subhas Institute of Technology, Delhi. His company, Navia Life Care Pvt. Ltd. (www.navialifecare.com) is a health management company with a special focus on patient care. “We believe in healthcare with simplicity. Our tools enable users to manage their health on their fingertips,” he says. The company’s mission is to improve the lives of people through innovative products and services. Gupta recalls, “In my undergrad days, I developed a keen interest in the healthcare space. Further research gave me insights into the key lacunae that could have been hampering growth of the industry. As the technology and my knowledge of the same evolved, ways to fill those gaps were also now becoming evident.”

“I started Navia Life Care to fill those gaps by fulfilling my desire to build a patient centric healthcare company. In August 2015, I started with forming a great team, where all the founding team members had complementary skill sets and very different personalities. Navia is now in its early revenue stage. We have developed a strong technology architecture and are building solutions around that. We are in the process of finalizing the terms for our first round of funding,” he explains.

Gupta is confident that his time at ISB will help him take his business plans forward. He adds, “ISB brings global faculty from some of the worlds the best b-schools who teach us from India’s perspective. There are also accomplished peers from all works of life, from whom I can learn so much.”

Sarvesh Gupta, 26, of the PGP Class of 2017, ISB is a graduate of the Netaji Subhas Institute of Technology (Delhi College of Engineering, Delhi University). He started DoctOpinion.com, HealDaddy.com (Medspero Health Pvt Ltd). “Coming from a family of Doctors, I was exposed to the challenges that the healthcare industry faces and always felt that there was so much that an outside perspective could contribute to come up with innovative solutions. With multiple treatment options, advent of newer ailments, rising surgery costs, lack of information about quality doctors, increasing role of paid advertising/marketing, there is a huge information imbalance in the healthcare sector today,” he explains.

In May 2015, he quit his job to start working on the venture full time. DoctOpinion.com is a project which intends to facilitate quality communication between patients and the country’s most renowned doctors. The website aims to provide Second Opinions – online and help patients take the best decisions about their treatments. His other venture, Healdaddy.com has ratings of hospitals, comparative price estimates, a list of selected leading Doctors, and reviews by people, all at one click. “There is no commercial affiliation with any Doctor/Hospital listed on the website. Roping in the thought leaders from medical industry, to spare time from their schedules was a challenge. We needed surgeons who were known for their honesty, credibility and expertise. The healthcare domain faces its own intrinsic challenges in terms of regulations, perception of marketing being unethical, privacy & confidentiality of patient data to name just a few,” Gupta adds.

Gupta is confident that networking with the current batch and ISB’s alumni base will make a difference to his future endeavours. “We are lucky to have partners in the form of Max Institute of Healthcare, healthcare specific faculty from schools like Wharton and CIE’s support to move to the next level. Most crucial step for me would be to launch the pilot product to the current batch,” he says.

Indian Politics

Gourav Garg, 25, of the PGP Class of 2017, ISB is an alumni of IIT Delhi (2012). His big idea was to introduce data analytics and the latest digital technologies to help Indian political candidates gain a competitive advantage over their competitors and build the right image by taking electors’ perception and requirements into consideration. His political consultancy, TGC Strategies started in Jan 2015. “I started working on new game strategies in politics along with my brother who is pursuing his B.Tech in IIT Bombay, during Oct 2014 in Mumbai. It took us two months to customize the tools according to the Indian market requirements. Once ready with the tools, we wanted to validate the tools in the most traditional political arena in India and hence went to Bihar, which was a poll bound state at that time. We presented to politicians and after a lot of iterations over next three months, we were finally able to come up with the strategic tools which attracted the attention of politicians we pitched to. We started our first project in Punjab where politicians were much more open to experimentation,” Garg explains.

In the span of 1 year, TGC Strategies completed three projects in India where they implemented end-to-end solutions to turnaround the current image of politicians. “We are very happy with the results and the feedback we have received from our clients. This will not only open the doors to a totally unexplored sector in India but also validated the strategies used in the elections,” says Garg. However, operations have halted while the brothers complete their education. They are also using their initial experience to address the challenges that came up. With a focus on new tools and strategies, Garg also feels that once they are ready, they will pitch directly to political parties, instead of individual politicians.

Garg is confident that the one year at ISB will be well spent. “ISB focuses on diversity which means you get to meet people various background, all of them achievers in their field. Also, as an entrepreneur you want to get back to work as quickly as possible. The one year program at ISB is probably the best course that meets all these criteria. The competitive strategies used in politics are not very different from the ones used in business or even war to some extent. What is different is that strategies in the business world have evolved much more than they have in politics in India because of the direct incentive structure in business world. I plan to take all the learnings in ISB to the political field to make it better and more lucrative.


While the benefits of accessing an untapped market gives one the first mover advantage, it also forces the founders to look at ways to keep their product relevant, reach more people and maintain an advantage over any new entrants.  When you have all the technological know-how, it makes sense to develop the skills that you lack, in this case, management skills. Tech-savvy start-up founders are taking a one year break to get business-savvy, so that they have a better handle on their current business, or their next one.

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