“Hide not your talents, they for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade?” These words of Benjamin Franklin ran true when Semblr was created. Semblr is an online marketplace that allows individuals as well as small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to connect with the best talent from around the world, with the aim of procuring the best quality of work at the best prices, through a bidding process.
Semblr is the product of Teknatus Solutions, a firm offering mentoring services to start-ups as well as strategic, financial, management, communication and social media consultancy services. While Semblr is primarily focused on individuals and SMEs around the world, Teknatus connects businesses in India with those in the US.
“We’ve seen that start-ups have a huge amount of energy, but require experienced hands to guide them in the right direction”, said Pankaj Jain, who established Teknatus Solutions in 2007. “Semblr allows individuals and SMEs to work with the best freelancers and consultants from around the world. Our market is, thus, a global one.”
While most firms in our space discourage interaction between clients and vendors, Semblr has an ‘open source software’ approach to its business. “We want to further engagements and the building of relationships between clients and vendors,” said Jain. He intends to establish Semblr as a platform for its users to meet and collaborate on projects, harnessing the power of social media and open communication. “By fostering both breadth and depth in these relationships, users will come to our site to engage in more ‘negotiauctions’,” he said. Negotiauctions combine the best aspects of auctions and negotiations for a high-efficiency, web-based procurement system.
Jain, who holds a BSc degree from the Stern School of Business, New York University, decided to set up Teknatus Solutions when he felt the need to give something back to the community. “It had to be challenging, on a personal as well as a professional level. I also felt that my experience in Corporate America would be beneficial in helping Indian businesses grow,” he says.
“In a normal job, you do what your boss wants you to, achieve your targets and go home. Here, every day is a struggle. I have to think about the company and what we have to do constantly,” Jain says. Driven by the need to control his destiny and be challenged on a daily basis, he used his life’s savings to achieve his dream.
For Jain, the biggest challenge lay in adjusting to the mindset of the people in India, specifically those in Delhi. “Setting up a work culture that is simultaneously rigorous, self-governed and productive was not easy. ‘Professionalism’ is interpreted differently here. Here, young professionals think it’s alright to show up for an interview late, or not work while in office. For me, these are taboos,” he says.
Still, Jain has certain expectations from of his team, while imbibing values he believes will push his company forward. “Work ethic, punctuality, and hard work are skills that the team can take with them for their own growth. They are also things that start-ups and professionals in India need to learn in order to gain a competitive edge in the global economy,” he says.
However, the biggest challenge Jain faced was in not finding a partner to complement his skills early on. “As a self-starter, I find myself not delegating enough tasks and instead doing everything myself. My advice is, don’t do it alone. Get people with different skills sets, and don’t shy away from asking people questions, for feedback and advice. Be open to criticism and suggestions,” he says.
From a technology perspective, Jain feels that his company’s architecture will lend itself to scaling well. But from the point of view of business, the two biggest challenges ahead are the cost of office space as the company grows and that of finding qualified, engaged talent. “We’re currently in the discovery phase of isolating similar start-ups to potentially create a ‘self-incubator’. We will share the costs, resources and benefits of being together and achieving some level of scale. For the problem of human resources, we’ve decided to focus on people with more than 15 or less than three years of experience,” Jain says.
Teknatus has launched two products within a year — with only two developers, no designer nor system administrator. “One product has since been discontinued. We’ve learnt that ideas are a dime a dozen. The hard part is admitting that something is not working and trying something different. We’ve been trying to be less conventional and willing to try new ideas, even if they sound crazy,” Jain says.
The growth of his company has been slower than he would have liked, but that has been primarily to curtail expenses during the global recession and a function of a few bad hires. Teknatus has an office in Okhla, Delhi with four employees and a virtual presence in the US. Its current aim is for Semblr to open the marketplace in a way that no one has done before. “Our other goal is to broaden our scope. We have a few other product ideas, which we may go ahead with if we find the right people to work on them,” Jain says.
Teknatus has the ability to adapt to new technology very fast, being very flexible and ready for new challenges. The firm and Semblr are being closely monitored by users, the entrepreneur network in Indian, the blogosphere as well as on Twitter, and undoubtedly on yourstory.in.