Himanshu: Aspiring Minds was founded in September 2007 to enable equal opportunity hiring of entry-level talent in the IT industry. We believed that employability should be accessible, so we developed a proprietary assessment technology, AMCAT, which could reach out to students and employers anywhere, even in tier 4/5 cities.
AMCAT is a computer-based assessment test, wherein students from engineering, MBA and other graduate schools are assessed on aptitude, skills, personality and behaviour. The results are made available to our corporate clients to help them hire in a scalable, consistent and cost-effective manner. The tests are conducted in colleges to minimise costs and increase the reach.
The value of such assessment becomes great in a small town, where there is lack of exposure and opportunity for students. The students are also given a detailed feedback report, which mentions their weaknesses, strengths, skill gaps and the like, which they can address if they choose to take the test again.
What prompted the idea?
Varun: It came to me in 2007, when I was reading a Nasscom report, which stated that only 25% of India's engineering graduates were employable. At that time, I was pursuing my master's degree in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.
That got me thinking about how employability is actually defined. I discussed it with my brother, Himanshu, who had just quit working as a software developer and was already based in India. Both of us felt the need for a scientific and a defined approach to assess employability in India and this is how Aspiring Minds was incepted.
I returned to India in June 2007 and we set up base in Gurgaon. The name of the company was inspired by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam's book, Ignited Minds. We decided to go for 'aspiring' because we serve the youth and help meet their aspirations in a fair, scalable and efficient manner.
Where did the funding come from?
Himanshu: We started with a seed capital of Rs20 lakh, which came from our savings. Even Varun had worked for a year at STMicroelectronics before heading to MIT, so both of us had enough savings that we could tap. The seed capital was spent in building the product and establishing proof of concept.
The latter was crucial in order to bag angel investment to take the business to the next level. Our turnover in the first year was just Rs4 lakh, but we persisted and managed to break even in 2010-11. We were lucky to bag the next round of funding from the US-based Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm, in October 2011.
Varun: We did not pay ourselves any salary till the time we raised angel investment. Our parents supported us financially in the interim period.
Who was your first client and how did you land the deal?
Varun: In November 2007, after we had finished testing the product, we decided to go to various colleges to explain the concept. The vice-chancellor of IP University found our premise intriguing and invited its affiliate colleges for a detailed presentation. So, our first clients were the students of these colleges.
How many clients do you have currently ?
Himanshu: At present, we are working with 90 corporate clients and about 7.5 lakh students have taken the tests so far.
What has been the biggest crisis you have faced so far?
Varun: That would be during the recessionary conditions in the IT market. When we started, we focused primarily on the IT industry. So when it stopped hiring in 2008-9, we faced a grave problem. Instead of losing hope, however, we focused on building better products and broadening the scope of our tests. That's how we started building products for other industries, such as banking and financial services, and BPO sector, among others.
Have you had any mentors?
Varun: When we thought of the idea, we discussed it with Tarun Khanna, a Harvard University professor. He appreciated it and agreed to be our adviser. He has been on board with us since inception and continues to remain very involved.
How did you get noticed?
Himanshu: We did not invest in advertising, choosing to directly reach out to stakeholders. In the bargain, we got coverage in leading publications, national and international, which helped us gain popularity.
What are your future plans?
Himanshu: We are planning to reach out to more corporates and students and our goal is to double the assessments and placements this year. We currently have 145 employees and are expecting a turnover of Rs 24.7 crore in 2011-12. We are also launching new evaluation tools and products, such as the voice test product, which will help in assessing candidates for the BPO and KPO sectors. Another test has been designed for the retail sector, which helps assess if a candidate can be a good team member.