An unlikely insight Abhinav Verma got as an investment banker on Wall Street with Bank of America Merrill Lynch was about the power of Microsoft Office applications. During his 8 years of banking and finance career, he used Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint and Word extensively and saw how worker productivity and performance depended on whether you can solve business problems using Microsoft Office. This learning stayed in his mind during his MBA at the Indian School of Business (ISB) — he graduated in April, 2013 in the top 5% of his class on the Dean’s List — and prompted him to quit a full-time banking job and startup.
Abhinav founded SkillBoost, which provides skill assessment and enhancement services in Microsoft Office applications to make professionals and students more employable, in December, 2013. That was just after he got married — not a time when most people would throw away the safety net of a hefty, regular salary. However, this was a tradeoff he was happy to make. He saw huge potential in the idea, and was a Microsoft Office Specialist, a certification awarded by Microsoft to people who demonstrate proficiency in its applications. Also, “I understand what it takes for a worker to excel in the workplace after working both in the US and India, especially on Wall Street where tight deadlines and long work hours are common,” he tells us.
Today, SkillBoost has trained over 1,000 personnel for over 15 companies, including Hindustan Unilever, Coca-Cola, RBS, Religare, HSBC, General Electric, Bharti Group and YES Bank. They have also trained students of the Delhi School of Economics in two Excel-based products (Super Excel Boost and Platinum Excel Boost). “We are working on expanding across other Office products and plan to diversify in a few months,” Abhinav says.
Pushing for “Rockstars”
There are 3 steps in the SkillBoost modus operandi. It first tests its customers online to assess their proficiency in Microsoft Office. It then provides classroom training to customers to enhance their skills. Finally, customers are given a learning roadmap to boost their skills to the highest level of competency, which they call “Rockstar” level.
“Our tests and training material are focused on improving customers’ speed and accuracy in Microsoft Office, two key skill sets required to succeed in the corporate world. In that regard, SkillBoost has made Microsoft Office a Science and trains customers rigorously on the vital 20% of the application that is sure to improve their speed and accuracy, and in turn their employability,” Abhinav says.
SkillBoost has been a culmination of what Abhinav had seen professionally. “Over the last 8 years, I have seen managers struggle to make business decisions simply because they could not analyze data presented to them by their subordinates. On Wall Street, I have seen how multi-billion dollar deals depended on how effectively valuation models were built on Microsoft Excel Spreadsheets. As an investment banker, I have also seen how important well-made presentations to potential clients can be. Staff appraisals were often dependent on their proficiency in Microsoft PowerPoint, Excel and Word. Whenever colleagues had questions in Microsoft Office applications, they would either google for solutions, or ask around. When Microsoft Office was so extensively used and determined a worker’s productivity to a large extent, it often surprised me as to why companies did not train employees in such applications,” he recalls.
Stellar team of 9
Before starting SkillBoost, he discussed the idea with his classmates and professors at ISB as well as former colleagues. They were all for it.
Currently, SkillBoost has a team of 9, all friends of Abhinav from ISB and High School. They are professionals with a combined work experience of over 100 years in India and abroad.
Chief Operating Officer Shonam Khaitan, an IIT Kharagpur grad with an MBA from ISB, has a process patent under his name. Chief Technology Officer Bhaskar Vedula Rao holds an MBA from ISB and earlier, was an architect with SAP Labs, with prior experience in technology roles with Mindtree and HCL. Chief Sales Officer Rajat Sharma holds an MBA from the University of Bath and a BSc. in Management from University of London and has 7 years of experience in solution selling to various industries including BFSI, Retail, Govt, and Manufacturing. Chief Marketing Officer Rahul Sanyal holds an MBA from Cass Business School, London, and has worked for more than 7 years in management consulting, audit and risk management in India, Sweden, the UAE and UK. Chief Financial Officer Harinder Singh holds an MBA in Finance from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade and has 7 years of experience in M&A and corporate finance.
SkillBoost is being incubated at Indian Angel Network, and has Vinod Keni, co-founder & CEO of Peachtree Capital Partners, as senior advisor and investor. Professor Deepa Mani of ISB, Professor S Sajeesh of City University, New York, and Professor Sarang Deo are advisors with SkillBoost.
INR 46.5 billion market size
SkillBoost caters to the corporate and college training market. Within the corporate training market, they operate in the technical training space which is roughly INR 6.5 billion in size and growing at 2%, according to an E-India Pvt. Ltd. Report from 2010 titled “Market Size of Indian Education”. The College vocational training industry presents a much bigger market for SkillBoost. The report pegs this market at INR 40 billion in India. It is also growing at a fast pace of 25% CAGR. “Hence, the total addressable market size for our training solutions is INR 46.5 billion,” Abhinav says.
There have been two pivotal points for SkillBoost so far:
1. Microsoft Partnership: SkillBoost recently became one of the few Microsoft Learning partners in India. “This has given our company huge credibility especially in the midst of so many phony players in the industry. It has given a boost to our sales pitch and opened new doors for us,” Abhinav says.
2. Indian Angel Network Incubation: “We are currently incubated at IAN, India’s largest angel network, and are being mentored by Vinod Keni – a Partner in Aavishkar Fund and a Harvard Graduate. IAN has helped us to think big and forced us to think through key elements of a business such as market size, barriers to entry, etc.
Abhinav and his team hope to raise their first round of funding soon.
Watch this space for updates.
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