Guest: Kunal Jain
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone. Welcome to one more episode of the agile entrepreneur podcast and video cast. And this is your host Ramesh Dontha. And today I'm very, very excited to introduce a guest who I’ve been meaning to talk for quite some time. His name is Kunal Jain. Kunal is the founder and CEO of Analytics Vidhya. Analytics Vidhya is one of the largest data science community across the globe and Analytics Vidhya helps millions of people every month in the data science learning and helps its community members find the dream jobs, focuses on education and training and then jobs. And before starting Analytics Vidhya Kunal graduated from the India's prestigious Indian Institute of technology in Bombay studying aerospace engineering and joined capital one as a business analyst in UK in 2006 and later on he decided to start Analytics Vidhya. So let's talk to Kunal on his journey, why he did what he did. Kunal Welcome.
Kunal: Thanks. Thanks, Ramesh, for that lovely introduction and really excited and happy to be here on the show. I've been wanting to talk for a long time. But thanks for inviting me and looking forward to the session.
Ramesh: Definitely no worries at all. So Kunal let's take it from the beginning. So right now you are the CEO of Analytics Vidhya. So tell the audience and tell me about what is Analytics Vidhya and even though I introduced it in your own words, what does it do?
Kunal: Sure. The vision behind Analytics Vidhya is to create a platform where every data science professional can come and get their knowledge and career needs addressed in form of the platform in the community, which is there on the platform. So you know, if you think about the career needs data scientists, there are broadly for different needs which they have. So that is learning on a day to day basis. So that happens through various blogs, which we publish a lot of education material along with some free courses and paid courses. Recently we also started a boot camp, so maybe I’ll explain that a bit more, but this is like a physical nine-month program with people in there. Engagement happens through a whole lot of community activities starting from meetups, webinars, podcasts and you know, the biggest run which we do is a conference in India called Data hacks Ramesh. That happens in November every year. Then there is competition. So we organize you know, very short duration competitions or two-day competitions to 15-day competitions where companies give their data sets and problems to our community and the community solves them. So from a community perspective, you get the best data scientists to compete on the problem you want to solve. From a data scientist perspective, you get a whole variety of problems to work upon instead of just being siloed on the industry you are working on. And then finally, the job spirit. So while people are interacting in all these areas. We essentially collect information about them, so we understand what their skills are, what and then use that information to match them with the right job. So in some sense we are actually applying data science to data scientists.
Ramesh: Okay. That is fantastic. That's a very good way to describe. So just to get a sense of where Analytics Vidhya is right now Kunal. If you can give us a stats about the number of visits or number of members or whatever you think is relevant to give the scale.
Kunal: Yeah, so we get about two and half million visits month on month and we have close to half a million registered users on the board. So a registered user would be someone who's participated in any of the activities. So a lot of users come and read the resources, but if they have to, for example, participate in a competition, or attend any of the meetups they'll have to register on the portal. So that's about half a million. And it's still, you know, growing all organically. So word of mouth and organic search ways in which people know about Analytics Vidhya. So we're growing about 20 to 30 year on year all organically.
Ramesh: Fantastic. So I introduced Analytics Vidhya as a global organization. Give a scale of, I mean, I truly believe that you guys have done tremendous job, but I want to hear from you. What is the scale in global presence?
Kunal: Oh, so we actually get in terms of traffic US and India are almost similar and these are the two biggest markets. So combined they contribute to about 65% of their traffic. And then the remaining is from other countries UK being the biggest one. And then Australia, Southeast Asia, Europe, European countries. So yeah, so in that sense, in fact whatever we have done except for the conference, which we do in November, is global in nature. And the journeys are very similar. So people, when they're doing searches about data science or when they're talking to their data science you know, peers, they come to know about Analytics Vidhya and then that's how they come and discover us. So you know, there is no differentiation between advantage which people in India have versus people outside and hence the traffic is global.
Ramesh: Fantastic. So now let's talk a little bit on the business side Kunal. So it obviously you're not doing it for charity. So there's a business aspect. I believe you guys are a limited organization. That means you're not publicly listed. So whatever information can give with respect to profitability and the funding side of the world. What is Analytics Vidhya’s business situation.
Kunal: Sure. So, I personally believe that, you know we are very uniquely designed in that sense. So a few things that to just set the context. So first of all, we are, you know, bootstrapped organization, so the only finding which I took was from friends and family when I was starting. So we don't have an institutional investor and we were very clear from day one that we wanted this to be a community first business. So whatever we have done in last six years community has always been at the heart of it, and that's how it still remains. So you know, if it means as to delay profits or delay revenue streams, just to make sure that the community gets the right exposure and the right knowledge, we'll do that. So in terms of you know revenue. So we were burning money for the first three years. Now we are profitable sustainable business. In terms of growth this year we would end up 2X the revenue of last years, we are broadly doubling our revenue year on year. With so for example, on the cost side, we have about 25% increase in cost. So because you know, community as a business you have to seed it first, you have to let people build that trust. And once that happens, then the scale changed very drastically. So that's what has happened in our journey. So the initial years were very difficult. To be very honest, I didn't have clear revenue streams when I started. All I knew was I was seeding this community and in the last two and half, three years, we have now started putting these revenue streams where we know what are the needs of the community members. And we are providing products which help them do that in a better manner. And that's truly the, you know, driving the revenue products right now.
Ramesh: Fantastic. So that's now we have a very good picture of what Analytics Vidhya is about and its aspect of as well. So now let's switch gears and talk about Kunal Jain's journey, right on Analytics Vidhya. So you graduated in 2006, so Kunal, if you could walk us through what happened afterwards.
Kunal: Sure. So 2006 so I was, I studied aerospace engineering during my bachelor's and master’s. My specialization was in computational fluid dynamics. So that was the first time when I started using algorithms to solve problems and get solutions. So, and it was really fascinating, that] in one of the most prestigious aerospace journal as well. But that was what you know, kind of gave that first excitement that you could solve these problems using mathematical models and equations. So when I was graduating capital one came to our campus and the role looked very similar to what I written my master's dissertation that I would be using data and statistical and mathematical models to solve some of the problems which the bank was facing. So that looked exciting. So I joined capital one in 2006 and over a period of 4 years in capital one, I worked in a whole variety of roles starting from risk management to customer management and finally customer acquisition and marketing. But what I really loved about capital one was the ecosystem which it provided. So, you know there were like 2000 analysts as we used to call them. But in today's world we would call them data scientists sitting in a single organization and you know, everyone was really smart and knew what they were working on. So I was used to having this community of data scientists around me. If I had any question, I could go and have those discussions with them. And you know, there was so much learning which happened because of this ecosystem. Then what happened was in 2010, I decided to come back to India because I wanted to be in India long term, and I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I just wanted that very early on. I said, this looks like a very good opportunity in terms of shipping back at the same time, getting some entrepreneurial experience in setting up a team from scratch. So 2010, I joined Aviva life insurance the team which we started grew to a 20-member team over a period of four years. But what happened was I missed this community aspect when I came back. So while I was you know, I was solving a lot of business problems I was applying what I learned, but that peer-based learning and the community-based learning stopped when I came back to that India. Because that ecosystem in India didn’t exist. Also the setup was different. I mean, capital one is known for using analytics and data science. Aviva was starting that journey. So that time I would rely all on my batchmates or previous colleagues at Aviva, I would ask them questions. I am facing this particular problem. Have you solved anything like this? So for about three years that happened. And in this period, you know this team which I started when I was spending a lot of time initially solving business problems, grew to a 20-member team. So my role also transitioned from being a hands-on data science person to a manager who was spending a lot of time in meetings, compliances to, you know, making sure that the team has marked attendance so that they don't miss their salaries. So I you know stopped enjoying that part of my role. So in 2013 I said that, you know while this problem of having this ecosystem has come back again and again to let me start a blog where I can share my learnings with the larger world inform of a blog. So that's how Analytics Vidhya started. It was a personal blog to start with. So April 2013 I booked the domain and the first blog went out within seven days of that. 28th April 2013 we published our first blog. And for the first, you know, nine months, it was basically I am publishing the blog along with my job and trying to circulate it in my community.. So it was a purely just, you know, to share my knowledge. After I think five, six months, I could see recognition building. I could see people coming back. Some of the articles did really good discussions on LinkedIn. So, but so I did my job along with Analytics Vidhya for about nine months and then I could see a much bigger impact coming from what I was doing. So I knew that it was making a difference. And even at that time we didn't have any, you know revenue streams. I didn't have clear idea that how would I make money out of this. But I could see an impact building, so then April 2014, I started doing this full time and that's when started doing Analytics Vidhya full time.
Ramesh: In 2014, when you actually transitioned to Analytics Vidhya, was it making money?
Kunal: No, no. So as I said, so the first you know revenue came from Analytics Vidhya five months after I started doing it full time. So I had my own savings which I put aside. And in fact the promise I made to my wife at that time was that I had savings setup for sustaining our lifestyle for two years. And you know, if we're not able to build revenue streams for next one and half years, I’ll just start looking back for a job. So that is what I had done. Thankfully we were able to build a revenue stream. So I never had to go back to look for another job. So we didn't have those revenue streams. It was mostly, you know this feeling that what I'm doing is helping a lot of people based on the questions they were asking, the kind of discussions that are happening, which essentially led me to pursue it full time.
Ramesh: Fantastic. So five months or so after you completely quit and started it. Then you saw some revenue. How long take afterwards, you said three years it was still a loss-making entity, but not a lot of income even if it's lost making. How much time did it take from the first day when you started receiving some money and what form? Kunal what I was saying is five months after you started with Analytics Vidhya, you started getting some money, how long it take for you afterwards to get what you call a significant amount of money, a decent amount of money. And then how was the money coming in, in what form is subscriptions or is it as a sponsorship or what was it?
Kunal: Sure. So two questions that from my personal perspective, so I was very clear that I'm not drawing any salary till the time, you know, the business starts getting steady revenue. So I started withdrawing salary about two and a half years after I started Analytics Vidhya. But that was, you know, very very kind of nominal to cover up some of the expenses I was having. I think it was good four and a half years after I'd started Analytics Vidhya that I started drawing meaningful salary. This became as the first source, kind of my earning. Now in terms of where the money came from. So the first few years we've actually relying a lot on advertising. Because we had a lot of traffic. But we were not you know, ready or we would not wanting to offer product straight away because we wanted to build a community and have discussions around. So the first few years it was a lot of advertising, which brought us revenue. And then 2015. So mid-2015, we started hosting competition and hackathon's on Analytics Vidhya. So for about a year we did it with various communities and sponsorships through communities, but the first truly sponsored hackathon or hiring hackathon came in 2016 so that was the second revenue stream which we build. So we were charging organizations to do these hackathons and whenever they would find someone through our community, we get paid. So that was the, you know, second revenue stream which came up. 2017 we started doing conferences. So till that time we were doing a lot of meetups. So there we were able to, you know, do community partnerships to kind of build the revenue stream. But the conference was the first time where we got a significant revenue from doing any community activity. And then in 2018, we launched our own courses and trainings. So today there are broadly three revenue streams that we have. The first one is the trainings and the courses. The second one is hackathons and hiring, the third is the community activity. Those are the three streams of revenues we have.
Ramesh: Excellent. A very good overview of the journey Kunal. So I want to touch upon a couple of more areas in this journey before we switch to another topic. So at you know, the entrepreneurial journey is ups and downs. Good days and there are bad days. So while 2014 to 2016 when maybe you started feeling comfortable, was there any time you said, this is not for me and it's not working out, were there indications for you that it's in the right track, so you never had that moment of forget it, I want to quit.
Kunal: So I would definitely say that there was no moment where I said, you know, forget it you know, I’ll quit, so that thought never came. It doesn’t even come even today. But there were definitely some nervous moments. So for example July 2015, so May 2015 to about, you know, August, September 2015 traffic stalled. So it then reached about you know, at that time it was about 50,000 to 60,000 visits a month. And it just stayed there. And till that time we were used to get 10% to 15% growth month on month. So it was looking like, you know, this is probably the plateau where the traffic would stop, and you would need to think about some revenue. So that was one nervous period where I was questioning that you know, how to grow this further. So there were these periods. Because typically what happens is Google does its own algorithm updates. So you know an initial part of this traffic was the metric we were measuring ourselves by. So whenever there was a plateau, I would start questioning that, you know, what is happening. The other thing which I remember clearly was you know, initially as I said we were a very advertising driven business. Which also meant that there was a risk of relying on the advertisers. So advertisers have their own preferences. So for example, one of the companies which used to advertise very significantly, they were the highest paying customer for you know about 12 months. They decided to pull off advertising. And that was this because they had internal change of preferences. They were trying to figure out some things, and they just said that you know right now, we will not advertise anything. And we will do some more thinking and say what would be our next engagement. So you know so immediately after that we had to take some cost cutting measures. You know, some of us decided that we will not take salaries. So you know, I don't know entrepreneurship journey could be without ups and downs. But thankfully, you know, because we have always been impacting driven and community driven that thought that, you know that I’ll quit has never be in my mind thankfully. I think now in a way, we are in a very different state. So yeah, that's how it worked. But yeah, definitely there were days where you would question that, you know is this the right direction. I think that still happens. Best direction for the company.
Ramesh: I mean, you've built into a very impressive organizations. I've been watching it for the last three years for sure. And since 2016 or so, and then I think more recently I would say, I don't know when that switch happened Analytics Vidhya has become an influencer, right? Where you're attracting other influencers in the data science space in your conferences and things like that. And you're also attracting the big, like the tier one companies for sponsorship and all this stuff. I've been noticing that. So, exactly you know, at what point did the switch happen? I mean, if you can say, and then what made the switch happen where you became an influencer and where other influencers are looking to you to join your journey?
Kunal: Sure. So I think to be very honest, it's a process that's going to only happen over time, you know being an influencer, it is not something which happens overnight or within a 15-day span. And then it happens with some people, but definitely not in most of the community. So you know, a lot of efforts are been starting from 2015, 2016. They built this, you know, recurring recall. But when they see it second time, third time or when they see it on Google searches and if they come and read it, see the quality of articles which are out there so that, you know, adds up cumulatively over time. So that's what was happening at the backend, that while we are putting in this effort to make sure that the quality of articles are high and be continuing to do our work, there was this recognition, which was building. But I think some of that around 2016 and 2017, I could see that shift happening that you know, a lot of people started kind of approaching me for previous things. In fact this was 2017 I think June when we you know on boarded a set of volunteers to help us with our community events. And what started happening was if in any post I would tag a volunteer and they would get a lot of visits on their profile. They would come back and say that, you know that the number of profiles used that got in last six months, they got it in a single month. So on the influence of friends, I think it built over time. 2017 start that recognition started coming that I am able to, you know, I would call myself in the category of an influencer. I think in this process....
Ramesh: I said, fantastic. That's good. Yeah, keep going.
Kunal: And in this process itself, you know there were a lot of people I was interacting with who also became influencers and who used to tag each other. So for example, you know Kirsten, Arcade. So all of us kind of, you know connect once in a while, discuss what’s happening. You know, I mean, each of us had, you know, kind of building this community in our own circles. So then we started kind of engaging each other talking to each other. So that each other again, if you are an influencer, it's always beneficial to get more views and perspective and, you know, just ending with other influencers that gives a lot of recognition. You know, so this community was built, and it's a very very, you know a solid, fundamentally solid community which we have built. So 2017 we started reaching out to organizations saying that, you know, we have this phenomenal community and, you know, we are doing these community initiatives and where ever we could see a good fit, we would make a case to them that, you know, that you should be looking at our community and see if you can engage. And then we were lucky to you know have some really great sponsors. So 2017, the first conference intel came in as our platinum sponsor, IBM came. And last year American express was the biggest sponsor. So we have been able to get some top-notch sponsor just because of the effort and the community thing, which is happening. So community, the company's value that, companies value the kind of interaction which are happening, you know and our conference for an example, the sponsors stalls in the display, what they are doing, the kind of engagement this feels, just phenomenal. So you know, every full of people wanting to know more about that product, their services or the opportunities. And that can only happen if the, you know, the community is engaging and has been built in the right manner. That's a reflection of the community people at the companies are realizing that. And then we are able to carve out those engagements for them.
Ramesh: Yeah, I tracked the conference virtually as well. So pretty impressive. So in the final segment Kunal, let's talk a little bit about know your piece of advice and then reflections on your journey. What you could tell other people. So based on your journey and then based on what you have seen in the entrepreneurial space, if somebody were to, you know, branch out on their, or wanting to branch out on their own, so what kind of advice would you give?
Ramesh: So I think first thing is to be clear what is your domain or what is your product and offering and find a market for that. So, you know as I said, for the first nine months, until I was sure that there is an impact coming from what I'm doing. I would have not gone full time into it. So that's the first thing any entrepreneur. That instead of thinking that, you know, you'll build something and people will consume, see where is the market fit, whether people have that need or not, and you know, will they pay or will that make a huge difference in the way. So until unless that ow, that you can do everything else. So that's the first thing which I would say to people that you should do that. The second thing is you know, once you've done that you have to be clear what kind of business you are building. So in our case, as I said, we were a community driven business. So we were very clear that, you know, we can’t get an institutional investor and then change numbers that these are the number of users, these are the number of people want on boarded. But that approach cannot work in case you are in a different market. So, you have to be clear what kind of business you are building, what scale you are going, or is it a lifestyle business, is it truly a groundbreaking business which achieves a defense scale. So being clear about that and, they're going to need funds get some really good investors on board. And I think just the siblings is probably the most important virtue that, you know, there would be days where when things would be difficult. There would be times. So, you know, a lot of people I know have started very different ventures. So one of my close friends started a venture internship space, one of them started you know, mom's space, but whoever was, you know convinced and was ready to put in that effort, I haven't seen that business view. They might go in a different direction, but they don't fail. So in a lot of ways I think that, you know, when people see that 90% to 95% startups fail, it's mostly because people have not find the, people did not take time to fight or they were not ready to put in the efforts. I mean how can a startup fail without you know, even starting. So in that sense, I only speak that with a pinch of salt. I don't believe so many startups fail. It's more to do with people not doing the right research, not getting the right fill before they start.
Ramesh: And so you've got to persevere through the first you know, nine months or one year, whatever. Like you've got to have enough funds and then go through that phase.
Kunal: So yeah, Happy to go in more details in any of the areas if you have any questions.
Ramesh: Yeah, sure. So definitely I think we have to do a follow-up Kunal at some point of time I want to see the journey. So final question for you. So what's next for Analytics Vidhya?
Kunal: So as I say, we'll continue to build a community first business. But over the next 12 months, we would start personalizing our community a lot. So that's something which we are working really harder in the backend. So this all this data point which we have collected about our community members, what kind of tools do they use, whether they program in R or in python. What kind of algorithms do they use? What kind of articles have they been reading? So we are trying to build a platform where as soon as a person comes, based on their past activity, the platform personalizes what they should be reading, how they should be interacting. So that's a big change in the way Analytics Vidhya would evolve. And that's how, you know, mobile app, the change as well. So that's a big change on the platform front. I think on the revenue side we would continue to grow as I said, because the fundamentals are in place. There is a lot of customer demands. So I think at that place we are sorted. And then you know we are looking to do some very high-quality programs. So for example, there is a boot camp which we have started. The idea is to create 30 top-notch, data science professionals from India. So there are only 30 seats in this program. A nine-month program where, you know, you could be a mentoring these people personally, we would be providing them with internships. So, but they are learning in the classroom and they're applying that in an internship together for a period of 9 months. The idea is to get top 30 professionals in India who could build products indecently. So we are now starting to do these very very high impact bets on people. Which are unconventional. I don't know if anyone knows anything like this, but we really believe that these would create a much larger impact in the life of people in the way data science grows in India and across the globe. Those are some of the things that we would be doing in next 12 to 8 months.
Ramesh: Sure. Personalization and then bootcamp to produce the top-notch data scientists. I mean, fantastic, very revolutionary ideas. Personalization, I'm seeing all over the world. And I think that seems to be the next phase there, whether it's medicine and whatever. So, I mean, Kunal I myself have seen a tremendous growth of Analytics Vidhya over the last, you know, three to four years. So congratulations to you. So I, I’m, I'm so glad to be talking to you. So, and then I definitely will bring you back again on one other episode in the future. And so great to talk to you.
Ramesh: Yeah. So if you want to say any final thing, then we'll record it and we'll let it.
Kunal: Sure. So, thanks for inviting me on the podcast and you know, I think the work which you're doing on you know entrepreneurs doing some of these you know learnings, which to put it out there is phenomenon. So looking forward to your next book and let me know if I can be of any help.
Ramesh: Fantastic. Thank you very much Kunal.