GIVE YOUR DREAMS THE SKILL EDGE
Starting a business in an industry infested with competitors is always tricky. How do you manage to differentiate your product? How do you attract clients? When Shailendra Marathe and Rohit Ghosh set up SKILLEDGE in 2019 they were fully aware that they had enough competitors and more in the Ed Tech industry. But the trick always lies in finding that sweet spot not being served by your competition.
Says Shailendra, “the industry expects skill and knowledge from its employees when they hire someone. The knowledge is something colleges provide their students with. But the skill? That we found is missing.” He gives an example of a bike. “You may know how a bike works. If it stops running you know that the problem may be with the spark plug, starter, battery, etc. That is knowledge. But having skill means you can roll up your sleeves and actually fix the problem to get the bike running. The industry expects skill and colleges provide only knowledge. And this precisely is the issue we are trying to address.”
And so in 2019, the duo set up SKILLEDGE with a goal to provide students with skills required in the retail industry. Says Shailendra, “in those days there was a retail boom. The retail sector was hiring in large numbers. This job required good communication skills and an understanding of handling customers to close the sale. So we held classroom sessions in colleges that addressed the needs of these job profiles. We got a good response. We then decided to address the gap in the banking industry and so on.”
SKILLEDGE was going on an upward trajectory and was planning to scale up, but then the pandemic struck. And like every industry in the world, life turned on its head. But entrepreneurship demands out-of-the-box thinking so Shailendra and Rohit decided that physical classes needed to be put on the back burner and they needed to ramp up online delivery which they had launched sometime back, in addition to the classroom setup.
“We also understood that students these days have a very short attention span so they would not be able to take long hours of online classes. So we developed short 4-to-6-hour courses, with 3-4 minute pre-recorded videos. In addition to Retail Edge and Banking Edge, we introduced a new course Excel Edge. We found that students needed to have a basic knowledge of collecting, organizing, cleansing, formatting, analyzing, and presenting the data, and how to make sense of it. This was becoming important in all industries and the skill to handle data was missing.”
But simply providing videos does not make a good lesson. Rohit and Shailendra found out from their experience that even in a classroom when a teacher asks the students whether they have any queries, the students hesitate to ask. In fact, this attitude extends even into corporate life. “An interviewee will hardly ask questions to the interviewer. When I was in Singapore, we got so many questions from our candidates, that it was a balanced, two-way process, and that interaction demonstrates the curiosity and interest of the candidate in the role and the company. But this is missing here.”
So SKILLEDGE ensures that they do not miss to clear any doubts the students may shy away from asking. “Our professors would deliberately ask questions to the individual students and if they could not answer, then they’d explain to clear any doubts.”
Besides these Doubt Clearing sessions, they had a Mentoring session where working professionals guide the students regarding their jobs and career, for example, what skills would be required in a particular job, how is the day-in-the-life of, etc.
Currently, SKILLEDGE offers six programs in finance, sales, information technology, analytics, and mechanical – electronic engineering domains.
SKILLEDGE has also added a commercial model where the company helps candidates with getting jobs. “A candidate can register, get trained, and then pay us only after he secures a suitable job.”
“Last year we closed at Rs. 1 crore. And onboarded about 1400 students. We have four full-time faculty members and 35 freelancers as faculty. In our first round of funding, we raised Rs. 65 lakhs and in our second round we received Rs. 2 crores.”
“The plan is to grow the top line and become cash positive, which means that cash from operations itself will take care of the costs, so we are not burning money.”
Over time they have discovered that they have a rich cache of mentors that can now become a revenue source. “Our mentors can conduct weekend sessions that come with specific knowledge and skills. So they can advise not just on indirect taxes for example, but on how to calculate tax liability and prepare for it. We saw that many colleges have good professors who can impart knowledge but not skill that our mentors can impart. So we are now offering this mentoring opportunity to the college students.”
Revenue sources for SKILLEDGE are four according to Shailendra. “One is from students who pay us a percentage after they get jobs. Then we have colleges who buy courses from us. Then we offer a mentor network to these colleges. And lately, we have been getting inquiries from abroad to take our courses there.”
Their USP? Says Shailendra, “We offer courses only where there is a demand-supply gap in the skill and knowledge area. The roles we target provide premium salaries over other roles. The learning and progression in the target roles are steep and fast, respectively, as compared to the alternative job opportunities that the students get. So for example a finance analyst’s earning potential is high and the learning curve is steep as compared to an account executive or ops executive”.
As a result, their lateral or vertical progression should be faster. For example, for an investment analyst job profile, the steps in the hierarchy between a fund manager and an analyst is a maximum of four steps. Similarly, the progression from a full-stack developer and a product owner is faster. So in eight to ten years, you can aspire to be the top guy in your stream of work.”
I had a job in the power sector and wanted to work as a data analyst since that is a growing industry and the pay package in the IT industry is good. I joined SKILLEDGE and am glad I did because I learnt what was expected of a data analyst. I was particularly impressed by the mentors we had. They guide you perfectly because they are working in the industry. I now have a job with a leading private sector bank as a data analyst, the job and role I was looking for.”
I am a mechanical engineer and during the lockdown, I got into learning coding. But I wanted to get into competitive programming. At SKILLEDGE I had the option of a one-month trial after which I could quit if I was not happy. But I did continue and am glad I did. The mentors were really good, their weekly tests kept me engaged and though I didn’t have a computing background, I didn’t feel left out despite working with computer science students. I now have a job and am quite competent to do it.”
Mohd Faizan Amir:
I wanted to get into data analytics but was trained as an electrical engineer. And because of my training, I could not get into the IT industry. At SKILLEDGE I learnt python, ML, and all the libraries in ML, and even before the completion of my course, I got a job as a product analyst at a consulting firm, and currently am working from home.