Going to the United States of America for studies and then getting into a nice job is a dream for many in a country like India. But we Indians are emotional people, and Vijaykant Nadadur is no different in that regard. After his stint in the University of Kentucky and landing a job in a Bioinformatics major in California, he decided to come back to India. His best friends and now his business partners are held responsible for this decision which was initially met with a lot of apprehension. However, Vijaykant along with his friends, Senthil Kumar and Aravind Kamath founded Tationem, an advanced technology skills training company. With the inception of their venture, now Vijaykant says coming back to India, although an emotional and impulsive decision, was one the best he has made in his life.
In an exclusive talk with LifeBeyondNumbers, Vijaykant, Senthil and Aravind talk about their struggles, the venture, and lots more…
Days Of Struggle And The Challenges:
Moving back to India itself seems, to most people, to be such a counter-intuitive decision. Most of the people who get that graduate and above degrees in the US don’t come back. I was going to be one of them if it was not for my friends, current business partners and co founders of this venture. Of course, it was predominantly an emotionally carried away decision which actually turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. And I’m thankful to them for that. So coming back was fine – a kind of impulsive thing – but I didn’t really know what kind of business we were going to do. We had the plans in mind that we wanted to do business. So we were exploring a lot of opportunities like trying to build a product and brainstorming concepts and ideas. None of which seemed to work out very nicely. Essentially, at that point I did not have a business that I was going to do and I did not have a job which I was not even trying to find. So at that point the most crucial thing was money. I was lucky enough to get not just moral support but also financial support from these friends/partners when we had not even started our business.
The pressure from family, social circle and friends is something that one has to deal with. Expressions like “We told you so”, “You shouldn’t have come back”, “It is not so easy here” are thrown at you so often, you know it is quite a task dealing with them. And more so when you yourself are struggling with your own life planning, decisions and all of that. Since my partners had their jobs then (and they still have), they’d come back from work and we’d sit and discuss. There were times when they said that why not I take up a job for some time. In fact, I applied and got three good offers as well. But I realized that was not something that’s going to be satisfying. Because if I had to get a job, it would’ve been more sensible to get it back in the states, right?
We still get a lot of “You guys are too young to train us”, “We are already industry leaders, how can you train us”. It’s like this – you might be a 60 year old successful businessman, but when you go to a dentist, that department he/she knows better than you. So that’s challenging, we have to be very patient and polite trying to convince people that we are experts in our domain and can be of benefit and help to them. We give free demo classes and all to let them evaluate our services.
The Thought Process:
We did a lot of speculation and figured that the sector of training in India is not too much explored. Only 2 or 3 big players are out there. It is always good to do corporate training – less input and more output stuff. But if you really want to do something impactful, you’ve got to target students. Nothing is more fruitful than producing better quality engineers and other professionals right out of college. Because the Indian industry is service dominated, the kind of engineers that are coming out are not fit enough to do services, which is certainly not a great thing, trust me on that. At some point we need to stop depending on the American or the European model. We need to start doing things that will actually help our people and they (Americans and Europeans) will be in awe of us.
My stay in the US was such a long time and it was fantastic. But obviously I felt that people out there has so many facilities, opportunities and so much convenience, whereas our people really have to struggle for the basics. The only thing is that we should have a paradigm shift. And this way, now we are able to inspire people. I went to a engineering college recently and none of the students really wanted to be entrepreneurs. I gave them a talk on budding entrepreneurs in India. And after the talk, they were like, yes going by example it’s not at all a bad idea to be an entrepreneur. Along with money there is a clear cut way to make meaningful impact which makes it a very good choice.
While in our jobs, we saw that when freshers are hired, they come in looking for knowledge. And we end up spending a lot of time and energy on training them in different skills. So we had this idea that we can go to colleges and train the final year engineering students on different skill sets and bridge this gap. So when they come into an organization they don’t feel like they don’t know anything having the basic skills. And also the organizations save a lot of resources and time when they hire these people as they can directly be put into projects and be productive. We want the good students to work as interns on some of our projects and those with enough potential and ideas are used to publish papers. We actually translate their ideas into a working model and we end up publishing a paper or two. I sit as advisory editor of computer science for a journal publication house. India is like a factory that produces a lot of engineers. But there’s no quality control. So the more and more we go to colleges and organizations, we get more convinced about the problem area we are targeting.
Then it so happened that I got to do a training for a corporate and it went off pretty well. So I speculated the idea that why not we do this in a kind of never-done-this-before-in-the-market way. So I discussed the idea with my partners and they were convinced. I strongly believed and still do that if executed properly, concepts and ideas are going to explode and it has tremendous potential – that’s the best part about India.
We are targeting small to medium size enterprises. Generally the basic working model for a training company is like this: have a resume database, get in touch with a trainer, charge amount X for the training, and pay the trainer y and x-y is the profit. That’s how it generally works. We don’t work that way. Most of the advanced level trainings are done personally by us. And when we hire an external trainer, we conduct a train the trainer session where we train them right from presentation, body language, to conduct with people, we focus on everything. That is one of the selling points for us. Another thing that has helped us a lot is what we call – providing what you want, not selling what we have. Because it’s not a one size fits all kind of a thing. So we customize the modules and trainings accordingly and as per the needs. We only want to address a niche market with the key training subjects that we do. We don’t want to be a major player in the basic training domain.
Tationem stands out from the rest in the league as we have positioned ourselves as an expert in Machine Learning, Statistical Modeling, Algorithms, Data Mining and Network Security. And quality training for such domains are very hard to find.
We had 90 thousand rupees to begin with. And as we started, projects started coming and some money started flowing in. And after pocketing our investment of 30 thousand each, we have generated more than half a million rupees in four months of operation. We are a sustainable organization now in terms of finances and revenue. We are into the knowledge market right; we are not building a car. So there’s no investment of that kind.
We are targeting colleges in Andhra Pradesh, especially in Hyderabad. And next we will be going to Tamil Nadu. And then probably 6 months down the line or so, we want to cover the National Capital Region. A couple of colleges that we are going to work with want to target some of skill up-gradation for their faculty members. And at the risk of sounding harsh, I would like to add that a lot of faculty members need to upgrade their skills. And in some of the autonomous colleges, we are going to be sitting in the committee which designs the syllabus. In the area of expertise that we carry, we are going to set an upgraded syllabus.
We do a lot of research and constantly keep publishing at conferences and journals. And we’ve been collaborating with some of the top industry and faculty members in India. We will soon be collaborating on a project with a faculty from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).
The team at Tationem looks promising, fresh and full of energy. It will be, however, interesting to see, strategically, how they emerge as the go-to brand for training needs among the other mushrooming training service providers in India. LifeBeyondNumbers wishes them great luck in the times to come.