Guest: Vartika Manasvi
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone. Welcome to one more episode of the agile entrepreneur podcast and of course the video cast. And this is your host Ramesh Dontha. So today we will talk about career. We're going to talk to a women entrepreneur with a fantastic background and her name is Vartika Manasvi and Vartika is the second time founder of a company called stack raft as a career hub company. And she's the first woman entrepreneur from the South Asia to be granted a startup visa in Canada and right. So she took a one-way ticket to Canada and to start a company in Canada. So let's find more about Vartikas' journey. So Vartika welcome.
Vartika: Thank you. Thank you, Ramesh, for having me.
Ramesh: Vartika let's start with your company stack raft. So what is it?
Vartika: So Stack Raft is you know, a shorter version of that is like LinkedIn for engineers and, but we're not LinkedIn where people spamming each other. We are what recruiters and stuff like that. So it's like a career accelerator for software engineers around the globe. Who are looking for meaningful jobs and better opportunities? So the problem that we found was that the talent is everywhere. There are so many talented people around the world. But getting that job you know, it takes on which country you are in, what time zone are you in. How do you look, how do you speak? So these are the things that comes in between of your skills and talents and that is a problem that we are solving.
Ramesh: So how do you solve? Is it a marketplace where the software engineers put their resumes up and the skills something like a guru or up work kind of stuff? Or is it different?
Vartika: No, it's not like a Upwork or a career guru kind of a thing. Yes, it's a marketplace where software engineers create a profile. They put their skills, their personality indicators, like what's important to them and who they are like, what’s their career intent. What as for them they want to be and what kind of stuff they want to build. Now based on that deeply challenges on our platform. And these are skill-based challenges and they get connected to senior mentors and senior developers, we call them as talent coaches, who give them concrete feedback on these challenges so that these engineers can be better engineers. I mean, even if
they do not get a job or they do not get selected, they're getting concrete feedback. Now imagine for one job, like 250 people apply for that particular job. For one seat, right? And 20 people get a call, 10 get invited, and then finally one person is hired and rest of them get a standard emails. Sorry, we couldn't select your profile. That's a standard email. But it doesn't give a reason why. I mean, okay, do not select, but tell me why. So that I can at least improve myself. So this is where we come in, where we give concrete feedback to every single person which helps them self-learn and grow. There's so much content and information out there on the internet. Our objective is to give them a little guidance and give them a little back towards to how to think about certain things.
Ramesh: Okay. So this is primarily intended to improve you know, to help improve the software engineers with respect to how they can get a job. So then where is the money coming from?
Vartika: Well, the money comes in from the companies and you know, so my background is building social networks and communities and I really know how scores the attention of a user is in today's times. So you know, and recruitment, look, we are in the business of like three decades old problem. And we are completely flipping the whole business model. We are not a dev shop. You're not a recruitment agency. We're not a consultant or an advisory firm. We are a pure play tech company where companies come, they put in their jobs and you know, we've pay them $100 for their attention, for adding a job on our platform. And then, yes, yes, exactly. I mean, and then you know, as they get more value on the platform, say we make a recommendation of top developers from our list and they find value in it. They pay $20 for that value. They want more people to select from, they pay for more. So more value they get on the platform, the more they pay on the platform. So this is how this works.
Ramesh: Okay. So now I'm beginning to understand essentially, you're giving startup incentive to for the recruiters of the companies basically, let's not call them recruiters. So the companies who need talent to come work for them, right? And then because of that money and then so they will list their company and then they are actually looking at the software engineers, how they're working, the talents and skills and interest in all that stuff, right?
Vartika: Yeah, exactly. So it's kind of reversing the whole job board right. Before, like you used to put up a job ad and people come and apply. So then you put up the job post, these from that job post we make an upfront recommendation, like a zero day value that you know, why waste you will announce they apply, here's an active list, go, apply for them, send them an interview request.
Ramesh: Excellent. So, okay. So now I understand the company and then so let me ask you a question. Why Canada?
Vartika: Why Canada? Okay. So that's like a little long story. I don't know. Yeah. So, you know, my initial plan in 2018 when I was validating my product and so I built many products in the past, but I realized that there was something to do with the market and what really people want. And I think I'm from India and I think, you know, users in India, their needs are different, the culture is totally different. And the kind of product and the ideas that I have won't really work here at least now. Because the fabric of India is totally different, and their needs and requirements are completely different. So my plan was to be in the Bay area, right. And to figure it out. And that's where everyone goes. But then I was like, okay, everyone is doing that. And if I was to do that, I’ll be just one more entrepreneur you know, around that. It doesn't work. And so I said, okay, that was a lot of good noise coming in from Toronto and you know, a lot of people talking about the ecosystem there and how companies are moving. Let me just take a leap of faith and flying to Toronto and see and figure what works, and I have no friends and no family in Canada. I was like, okay, let me just go. And I was like. Day one all by myself.
Ramesh: Wow. So it's a fascinating story. So you applied for the startup visa and then you've been granted, and you don't know anybody in Canada.
Vartika: No, I didn't even know about the startup visa thing. I didn't even know that something like that exists and I just, I was like you know, I had six months of money left and I was like, okay, I'm investing in myself, I'm going to Canada. And I would figure out stuff. I want to figure it out if my products will work or not because if I'm failing at entrepreneurship, I better fail fast and get away with it and move on. So I went on a visitor visa, like just to meet people and understand the market because I had no clue what Canada is like. I had literally no clue. Like I’ve been to Silicon Valley, I’ve been to the US many times, but I had no idea how
Canada is like, so I was in a visitor visa and that's how I figured stuff and then applied for a startup visa. We got granted, our startup visa, me and my co-founder, both of us. So my co-founder is the youngest entrepreneur to get one. And you know, by December 2018 we got acceptance. So yeah, it has been pretty fast. I got lucky there.
Ramesh: Okay, fantastic. Hey, it's a great story. So Vartika, let's continue with this one. And then you got the startup visa and then you had an idea that you wanted to build the company and then when did you actually start working on the product or the company itself.
Vartika: Well, so when I was in Toronto in 2018 this time around, I didn't even want to incorporate the company. I didn't even want to write a single line of code. My whole idea was validated and see what people want. So when we found our first customer and he was willing to write us a check and take you know, just go with the kind of product that we have and use that for their own selection mechanism to hire better and select the right candidates rather than having pure keyword based bias. And you know, they were willing to write us a check the next day I incorporated the company and that's how those show started.
Ramesh: Okay. So then what did you tell? So I'm assuming this first customer is a company looking. How was your pitch?
Vartika: Well It was not a pitch. It was not really a pitch. You know, I got introduced to them while we were queuing up for an event in Waterloo. I think it was true north or something. And we just got introduced and I was just talking, you know, by being myself, I'm telling what we are building and how I'm here, what we're doing. And these guys were like, Hey, this is the exact same problem. I'm like, yeah, sure, let's explore it. And that's how I got a chance to go deeper into the problem. I found someone who was genuinely interested in this kind of a solution and I was able to understand on first-time terms on what is their exact need and then also evaluate that from a larger market perspective. How many similar people have a similar need and what does that one hook you know, on which we have to build our own thing. That time we had no, you know, we have no UI, UX, there was no product. Like I think we had a very bad website also. So it was just like an API. It was an API product. And we signed on numbers.
Ramesh: Like, so that people know, what do you mean by API product?
Vartika: So, like an API product is more like you know, using stuff for tools on the backend. So, just like now anyone can come, and they can create a job post and get a filtered list of candidates. We applied that same technology on a list of resumes that were given to us and they said, okay, give me like a shortlist of top hundred out of this whole list. You know, so that was like working on the back end because this was one customer who needed that. And you know, the demand was not that high. So we were able to even validate and see how we can assess resumes and their digital footprints in a better way. So then we can make better predictions that who is better than the entire lot.
Ramesh: Okay. So tell me something. So now, basically the customer bought into your idea, and then you went and incorporated the company. So what was the next thing that you guys did? Did you put a wire frame up or did you put a UX design of the application or did you have a PowerPoint? What was the next step in the journey?
Vartika: Well, the next step was to you know, simplify the problem further. Because we as entrepreneurs and as product people, we tend to over think a lot of problem statement and try to come up with our own ideas with our own gut feeling and intuition. So my co-founder played a huge role there to simplify everything to ground zero. And nail down to one pain specific thing which people want. So we put out a landing page specifying very simply that this is what we do. And based on that we start talking to more and more people, more customers and you know, more software engineers trying to get more data and facts that you know, is that a problem which is real or not? Or was that one customer just based out of luck, you know, so collect like more and more data, do surveys. So, and at that time, even you know, I started building this community on Slack. So I have a community on Slack, which is for software engineers, which is currently still very active. So, you know, we build with our users because the world is moving so fast and you do not know what the changes are taking place and how people are evolving and so on. So we build together with them. Like before even building a feature, we go and validate with our own community, Hey, do you think this is interesting? Do you think this will help you? Because it saves so much of our time on coding stuff. And then going back to the drawing board and figuring if this is right or not
Ramesh: Fantastic. So basically, so this is brilliant, right. So you guys did not have a product, but you didn't want to build a product and then hoping people will come. Every step of the way you are trying to validate and the first one you had a landing page, you know, just messages and then do that resonate, right? And then they're resonating. Now the community building aspect and then you didn't want to build a community right off the bat. So you had used existing off the shelf product, something like a Slack, which is refocused. And then you said, okay, I'm committed in Slack. So every step you're, you know, you're validating, you're taking the people along. And then by, at what stage did you actually have something to deliver to the original customer who signed up?
Vartika: So when they sign up the contract it was like a, I think two months, kind of a contract where the job was to give them selected a shop list Engineers. And so we delivered it right away and we delivered it on an Excel sheet to be honest. Because we didn't have a product, we didn't have anything to show. We just had like a bunch of, you know, lines of codes on which we did all that thing. So I think that worked out well, but then of course to get more people and get more customers, we needed to have something to show, to tell our story. So both the landing page and all of that, I think within 30 days we had our first basic and simple MVP ready which was actually now the product has pivoted and changed like talking 2018.
15:19 Ramesh: Actually, yeah, sorry. So let's now talk about the current stage, right. So you're saying you are now taking a year, more than a year. What do you have right now? What stage of the company is the company at?
Vartika: So right now it works completely well for both sides of the marketplace. For a software engineer and for a company, they can come create profile, get a list of candidates, instantly send them interview request, schedule interviews. Completely works end to end, it completely works. But I think a lot of founders get this incorrectly about the product market fit. Like you know so we had a stage where if we putt a marketing dollars and we advertise it more. We get more users and we'll acquire more people using it and so on. So we can like literally to be on a stage where we can fake growth. But I think differently. We're still a very small team, we are two and a half people only. And so you know, I think about product market fit way differently, which is, it has to get to a stage wherein people are telling their friends, that this is a great product and you can find value here. So our
thing is, our fundamental KPIs as a company is that we want people to find jobs.
Ramesh: For the Acronym used, I want to elaborate. So you said KPI, key performance indicator. Is that what you mean? How you measure your success is what you're talking about, which is a KPI. What is the key performance indicator for your business?
Vartika: So it is people landing jobs. But then we discovered that we may not be someone who is able to help every single person get a job, at least in the beginning of our own startup. So we said that even if we're not able to get them job, but we should be able to give them enough context and enough guidance and enough mentorship, enough outcomes so that they are able to get the jobs, any which way, not on our platform right. But going forward are fundamental like the large KPI, big KPIs, how many people got jobs on our platform. So it's not about number of jobs, it's not about how many users we have. It's not about how many people have profiles, they spend time, blah, blah, blah. How many people got the job?
17:49 Ramesh: Excellent. Hey, Vartika this is a fantastic discussion. So we talked a lot about the proof of concept that helped you grow on the validation in every step. All right, so Vartika now let's talk a little bit about you. So are you a programmer or a coder? What's your background?
Vartika: I'm an MBA. I started my career writing resumes, but that was a fun job. I mean, I'm not even an HR person. So like when I think of it now, I think I’ve always been an entrepreneur all my life, like as a 20-year-old always built communities from you know, people. So my first product that I built was www.Indiapetfinder.com, which was you know, people can adopt stray dogs and cats and you know, people can just upload a picture on a platform. So it was a fun product. Like I have built many fun products like that, but when I look back now, right, I mean, I think my resume writing experience is, what's coming back because I had a lot of fun writing resumes and helping people land interviews and all, you know, that was like a high point. I wrote your resume, got an interview call, look at what kind of magic I can do. And now I tell people, Oh, do you even need a resume? Please do not send a resume. So I'm like, almost on the verge of killing resumes and making it more objectified. So yeah, I think about it a lot. I think about it a lot, but I’ve been an entrepreneur all my life and thanks to the people that I work with and the peer group that I’ve always had. You know, all my companies,
everyone has been super supportive. My family has been super supportive. So I think that has been the key reason why I had so much courage to do what I did.
Ramesh: Excellent. Hey, it was so great. So you come from a business background and then, but you built a technology company. So how did you do it? Did you have a cofounder or other partners on the technology side? So yeah. So talk a little bit about that.
Vartika: So I mean I come from a non tech background and I’ve done a lot of non tech stuff and there was a point in my career where, and I said, you know, there's so much happening on the internet, there's so much technology. Why I am wasting time with such companies. And this was how I decided that I want to move to a tech company. I cannot work with companies like such because they do not understand my language. And they do not understand the kind of value add that I can make with the power of internet. So that's how I transitioned and started working with tech companies. So I started building products and so on. And then I had the idea of building my own first company. And of course I knew that I cannot try code and it will be not that I cannot write, I can learn in a way, but then it will be a big learning curve and I will end up wasting more time. And that's not smart. So I need a cofounder, I need a tech co-founder. And at that point I was working with a bunch of engineers and developers and I was like product manager in that role. So it's like how to find a tech co-founder, I have no clue how to go about it. And because I come from a business side background, I understand the value of relationships and working with people and so on. So I was like, okay, this is so, so difficult. So I left my job and I joined NASSCOM and I started doing 10,000 startups. So at that time....
Ramesh: Well, who are not familiar with the NASSCOM, it's an Indian association. Talk one sentence about NASSCOM explaining what it does.
Vartika: Well, it's a not-for-profit idea association body of India that lobbies between the government and the startups, the IT industry to facilitate you know, funding or just a collaborative ecosystem and partnerships and things of that nature. So it's like a go to body that brings the whole community together from the IT and tech point of view.
Ramesh: Got it. Okay. Now let's keep going.
Vartika: So, yeah, I mean, and NASSCOM was a, you know, NASSCOM was always like for large companies and for sales Wipro and so on. And then they started this new thing with Google 10,000 startups. And this was back in 2013 and 10,000 startups, the mission was to how to create 10,000 startups in India and bring fame to them, funding, acceleration, mentorship and enterprise support. So, and this model, I can save this model and you know, got a bunch of investors together, accelerators together, but my deep indent of joining NASSCOM and working with NASSCOM, and I'm saying this for the first time was, I want to find a cofounder, I want to find a tech co-founder. Because this job and all of this is not happening to me and I want to meet the right person and I want to bring the right ecosystem to be able to have enough confidence that, okay, now I can go and do it. So, and that's how I decided to work with NASSCOM. And you know, I did find a co-founder and you know, I mean, it's not a very investor friendly story. We met on Twitter.
Ramesh: Hey, you have a lot of serendipity. One-way ticket. You find a co-founded on Twitter.
Vartika: That's me.
Ramesh: Standing in line and talking to them. So everything is happening. It's like the universe is giving you.
Vartika: Yeah. And also, I'm working very hard for it. You know, I have no control over my time zones. I have no control over my gadgets. You know, I'm working super hard for it.
Ramesh: Excellent. Hey so let's bring it home here Vartika. So then so based on your journey, it's pretty early in your life. I mean, you're just getting started. I know you are in a second company already can't believe it. So what have you learned and then what others can learn from your experience?
Vartika: So I have learned a lot of things. I think the number one thing that I’ve learned is that it's about assumptions. I think we sometimes Anna making a lot of assumptions about how things should work or how we see the world or why that exists, why this doesn't exist. And it's important to always go back into little history and talk to people rather than being very you know, very confident over your own hypothesis. So I think that's the number one thing that I’ve learned. So it's very important to validate before doing any single thing, any single thing. Because, you know, like, you know, I’ve always gone with a lot of leap of faith that, okay, I’ll figure it. Okay, I’ll figure it. But I think if I look back in my own journey while I did that, I had innate optimism on my own capability, and I was super self-aware. But now, I mean, I would sort of pick a balanced and a calculated decision. So essentially what I learned is right in one sentence, if I say entrepreneurship is not about taking risks, it's about mitigating risks and yet being successful.
Ramesh: Fantastic. So Vartika, it's great. Good luck to you. It's amazing in terms of the progress that you've made already with all of those things. And so very creative ideas and I'm glad I was able to talk to you and meet you. And then, so I'm sure we'll bring you back onto the show at some other point of time. So any last-minute comments that you want to share?
Vartika: So yeah, I think I would want to give more power to the entrepreneurs around the world, do not get demotivated by the fact that everything is happening in the Silicon Valley. You know, if you have it in you go make it happen, no one's stopping you.
Ramesh: Fantastic. That's great. That's a fantastic way to wrap it up. Vartika Manasvi for you. The co-founder of stack raft, one-way ticket to Canada. That's all I remember here. You can make it happen.
26:54 Vartika: Thank you so much Ramesh. Thank you.