Entrepreneur Ketan Kapoor of Mettl sees a Billion Dollar Opportunity in Online Skills Assessment

ketan kapoorOur investment in training people will significantly go up. We will do far more assessments. We want to create people who are employable. The minute you have employability as the criteria, you start treating people like assets and not just tools of delivery. We can’t head for the hills at the first sign of trouble.” - Mr. T.K.Kurien, CEO of Wipro

This is what Mr. T.K. Kurien, CEO of Wipro had to say about their company’s investment into training their resources. He also emphasized the importance of continuous assessment of their resources. Catering to this huge market need is Kalaari Capital supported Mettl, an online skill assessment tool, which is also used by Wipro among several other marquee clients in the corporate industry. The product is highly acclaimed, and it reports a steady growth in adoption and consistent repeat customers.

While a lot is said about the product that Mettl has to offer, the DNA for its success is written by the people behind it. Ketan Kapoor, one of the co-founders and CEO of Mettl, is a part of a growing breed of highly qualified entrepreneurs. An IIT-IIM alumnus, he has the unusual distinction of having spent most of his career at startups. Now at the helm of a successful startup that is growing very fast, Ketan looks back at his journey with startups and Mettl and reaffirms that he’d have done it in no other way.

Here’s a sneak peek into the mind of an entrepreneur aiming to build a billion dollar company.

Genesis of Mettl and the challenges of starting up

Ketan speaks proudly of his startup experience. After graduating from IIT Roorkee, Ketan joined a Bangalore based product startup. He says, “I always wanted to do something of my own, and working for a startup just amplified that feeling. I then went on to study at IIM Calcutta after which I joined a consulting company for a while, but immediately chose to jump ships and join an enterprising startup at Gurgaon. I don’t regret doing so at all because I wouldn’t be where I am now if not for those decisions.”

A lot of stars need to align for a startup and that is what happened with Mettl. Ketan shares that his partner’s intention to start up coincided with his own – “After completing his MBA from IIM Bangalore, my partner, Tonmoy had left to work with Boston Consulting Group in Belgium. He returned from there and spent a week with me and my wife. He wanted to start something and so did my wife and I. We had numerous discussions on where the opportunities lie and it is in these discussions where Mettl was born.

Ketan vividly remembers two key challenges from the early days of Mettl. Doing something without putting much thought into it was the first roadblock they encountered. “Often, in the excitement of starting up, we forget to do what’s right. When we hit our first roadblock, we realized that we hadn’t thought through our past actions thoroughly enough. After doing training and recruitment assessment, we quickly realised that the assessments as a process were much broader than what we thought it would be. We were lucky to have good mentors and advisors who were quick to point out when we were going wrong and they helped us resolve our issues very quickly.”

The second problem was in finding the tech co-founder. Ketan says, “We really tried hard looking for a tech co-founder as between me and Tonmoy, we didn’t have much technical knowledge. We really had no money as we had put in everything that we had into this. In the end, we had some consultants help us build a product that we could put out and sell so as to raise a small seed round, after which we hired technologists to work on the product.”

Ketan also remembers how difficult it was to convince family about the path that they had chosen. “I remember spending countless hours explaining to my parents about why we were doing this. They couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t get myself a high paying job abroad. It was even worse in Tonmoy’s case. He came from “driving a BMW in Belgium” to working out of a basement with no money. He was single and was at a marriageable age and he had a particularly tough time convincing his folks about what he was doing back then,” shared Ketan.

His lessons from his early days were – Make the most of your networks, as they would help you form a good early team and always be on a hiring mode, until you have set up a good functional team.

Assessments – the market and the SaaS advantage

Ketan and Mettl are conscious about how they brand their company. He says, “This market can be looked upon from many angles. If you ask a VC today, they’d tell you that the recruitment assessment market is about 10 – 15 million dollars and that is precisely why we don’t call ourselves a recruitment assessment platform. We are a skills assessment platform and this can be scaled across many verticals in the assessment space, be it recruitment, organizational structure or even the education industry. Now when you stitch all of these markets together, then you’re looking at a multi-billion dollar market and that is what we’re targeting. That is also a challenge as it is very difficult to reach out to everyone who can make use of our platform.”

While a SaaS based product removes the limits of scaling and brings operational costs to a very low amount, Ketan does admit that not all skills are measurable. He says, “If you ask me today if our platform can measure all desirable skills of a candidate, my answer is not yet. We’ve got a very good product team working with us and are constantly improving the capabilities of the system. We are now able to assess skills that couldn’t be assessed in the past and I’m quite sure that in a couple of months’ time, we should be able to come up with that capability as well.”

Ketan adds that these kinds of assessments will be exceptionally useful for corporates to find resources who are more suitable to the requirements. He says, “This market still doesn’t have a comprehensive assessments leader and we want to be that leader. What YouTube is to videos, we want Mettl to be for assessments.”

Ketan shares that the world is now more receptive to online solutions. He says, “I haven’t come across a single person who has been deterred from using our product because it is an online solution. People know the benefits of having online systems and they are quite comfortable using platforms like Mettl. While I do agree that not all skills can be measured online as of today, I think it is only a matter of time before it is possible. The real challenge is to reach out to everyone who can make use of our platform.”

On competition, achieving targets and growth

According to Ketan, a good market must have good competition. He says, “We were just discussing the other day that in the past six months, we have come across 6 new startups that are working in the same space. While this does mean more competition, it is also a good sign that more and more people are beginning to see the opportunity in this market.”

When asked about how he went about acquiring his first set of customers, he said, “While our first customer was the last startup that I had worked for, true validation for us came when someone who didn’t know us bought the product on its merit alone. From then on we have learnt that if you have a great product and you can price it at an acceptable range, you can sell it to anyone in the market.” As of today, Mettl has an impressive portfolio of corporate clients and Ketan shares that meeting the right people, pricing the product correctly and most importantly, having a great product to sell is what counts when it comes to enterprise sales.

An interesting insight that Ketan shared with us is that Mettl has run no online advertising campaign so far and most of their sales have come through a very foot-on-the-street sort of selling. He says, “We are going to start running online campaigns from next month. We have very few clients who are not based in India as of now. We partner with an Estonian company which provides us with our CRM and another eastern European company which provides us with a contact management system, which just goes to show thatthere is great potential for sales internationally.”

Mettl is growing at a very fast rate and Ketan attributes it to the problem that they’re solving. He says, “There are many players in this field who are trying to solve the same problem. The best way to survive in such a market is to solve the problem in the most differentiated way possible and to do it most effectively. This has worked very well for us. Capgemini was one of our first clients and they said ‘last year we did business for X with you. How can we make it 10X this year?’ and that is a good place to be for us.” Ketan reveals that the reason they come back to Mettl is due to their reassurance that they are in it for the long haul. “When your client invests in your project, they are taking a risk by investing in you and you have to assure that you are in it for the long haul.”

From friends and family round to Series A with Kalaari Capital

Ketan shares that it is important to know who can invest in your company and also mentor you. He says, “One of our first investors was Naveen Tewari of InMobi who was one of our first mentors. So we went about making a list of 30 people who could invest in us and after meeting us, 6 people agreed. These people included friends and family; we had a friend from California invest about INR 5 Lakhs in Mettl along with other people who could write that 5-10 lakh rupee cheque. This was our friends and family round and we raised about 100,000 dollars from this.”

Raising Series A from Kalaari Capital was a different experience though. Ketan says, “The team at Kalaari really knows how to start a business from scratch and ever since the investment, we have had at least one board meeting a month. In these board meetings, we get to realign with our goals and targets and they help us with strategizing which has been of immense value to us.”

On Team, culture and inspiration

Getting to know the recruitment policy of a company that helps others recruit was interesting as Ketan shared, “Our selection is based on aptitude and attitude. We do test to see whether the person who’s applied for the job knows something about the job that they’re doing. With that out of the way, candidates who apply to us are weighed more on their attitude, which is essentially sincerity and commitment.” He says, “We want to invest in people whom we can work with later on as well. This isn’t the first and the last business that we’re going to do and we are going to want to repeat our successes as many times as possible and preferably with the same people.” The culture at Mettl is an extension of this. Ketan says, “More than anything, our culture is based on honesty and keeping people who work with us aware of where we’re going at all times.”

Mettl now employs 42 people and has opened offices in Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad, for which they are looking to hire people.

As a parting note, Ketan shared his inspiration with us. “As with any entrepreneur, what inspires us the most is the fact that we can provide employment to many people and give the society a product that will make it a better place. We are in this for the business as well, but to be able to do this in the most effective manner is what counts the most for me,” signed off Ketan.

[Original article on Kalaari's blog]