Stalk Ninja - A link between Startups and students interested in freelancing
In conversation with entrepreneur Ashish Sharma,on how he plans to build a differentiation in this space What does your venture Stalk Ninja do? How does it help students and startups?
The protocol is - a startup can float a project with clear deliver-ables and the students in the system compete for the project. The startup selects one student, gets their project done remotely and pays him/her for the same. Stalk Ninja helps startups get their job done at an affordable price. They do not have to wait for the internship time for a good student to come and do it. Also the probability of students turning up is less, as startups do not have a brand. Stalk Ninja gives a platform to startups to engage the brightest minds, at the time when nobody is pitching for them. As an IIT alumni, I can not really hire an IIT grad as I can not match his market salary. But, I can definitely engage him prior to his placement, show him the quality of work and may be, lure him to join my venture with some equity.
For students, it is a place to earn credible industry experience. Our vision is to make Stalk Ninja a Linkedin for students. Their Stalk Ninja profile would act as their online resume. It also helps them to earn money. For a select few, who want to be entrepreneurs, it gives them a platform to experience the real stuff from real people.
Tell us something about your self?
I have done my B-tech from IIT Madras (2005 batch), worked with big companies and startups before starting Stalk Ninja. I have a six month online freelancing experience. Prior to Stalk Ninja, I co-founded www.minkle.in with two IIM K grads. Minkle was part of The Morpheus umbrella. My co-founder Gaurav is a student at Jabalpur Engineering College, MP, 3rd year.
What gap in the market are you addressing with Stalk Ninja?
While doing Minkle, we frequently faced the problem of getting small work done which is peripheral to our core work. It could either be research related thing or reading up an external API, for which as founders we did not have the band-width. Outsourcing the work to other companies or freelancers does not really suit a bootstrapped entrepreneur. We successfully engaged Surya, then NIT Trichy student to work remotely for us. He developed a facebook app within a week's time. I also met Gaurav (my current co-founder) during Minkle days. He impressed us with his insights and commitment. While we choose to move on from Minkle, I casually asked Gaurav 'How many students like you exist?', he replied 'at least 3-4 per year per college'. So we decided to start Stalk Ninja to tap such students who can benefit startups from day one.
Entry into the system is kept strictly by invite only. We only allow credible startups to float projects, ones we know ourselves or via reference. The students also need to pass a Ninja Challenge, to be able to compete for projects floated. As for now, we charge startup a premium on top of the project money. The premium is charged to take care of the project completion responsibility. Going ahead, we plan to charge a subscription fees from startups to stay on our platform. The service is currently free of cost for students.
How do you help students/startups to get best results with Stalk Ninja?
Following practices we follow at Stalk Ninja:
To make sure either of the parties do not abuse the system, only credible startups with reference are allowed to float projects.
Only those students who have passed Ninja Challenge(it has a success rate of 3%), are allowed to be a part of Stalk Ninja.
Unlike facilitating first point contact like job boards and internship sites, we take care of end to end project completion. We give assurance to startups that their project would get done once it gets approved and floated.
We are very strict about project timeline. If a student is not able to complete the project in the duration, he/she does not get paid. At the same time, we are very strict about deliver-ables too, so that startups do not change the scope of project, post commencing.
The system is completely open. Startups get to see students past track record and vice versa. There is a review system in place where startups and student review each other, post the project completion. The openness of the system compels both the sides to work fairly with their counterpart.
Stalk Ninja is your second startup, what are the learnings that you brought in from your previous startup?
There are couple of them. We targeted a fragment market while doing Minkle. This time, we are careful to go for a niche, create a brand and then diversify. We are also very particular about the need/pain-point aspect. In my previous venture, we just identified the domain(mobile) and wanted to do something in it. We did quite a bit of ground work before we started off. We spoke to couple of startups who gave us valid inputs to build credibility for other startups to trust us. We did not do the same in the previous venture. I take this opportunity to thank Shivkumar from Roopit, Upasana from Zaakpay, Bipin from Mobikwik, Chaitanya from kookoo.in who generously provided pointers that helped in shaping up what we see at Stalk Ninja today.
Difficult moments while starting up and how did/do you overcome it?
Initial interaction with quite a few veterans was quite discouraging. People said we are trying to solve a very hard problem. There were quite a few issues. No serious guys trust students. Students are inherently an irresponsible lot. Startups are very focused and don’t have time to use such platform. It takes quite a bit of time 'spec'ing out a project. The whole remote thing does not work. We divided the problems into two parts - one that can be countered directly. Example - students are an irresponsible lot. We made sure that we chose only select few students and create a brand around Stalk Ninja. The openness in the system made sure that students act responsibly while picking projects. For the other set of problems that can not be countered directly, we devised alternative measures. Remote work is at the heart of Stalk Ninja. To make sure it works out, the student is suppose to provide updates of the project on a daily basis, failure to do so means he/she is out of the project. We keep hearing from various people that such an initiative would not work. Inside Stalk Ninja, we follow the same protocol. I do the design and Gaurav does the coding. It has pretty much worked for us and we are certain that it can work for other serious startups too.
As a startup we at YourStory understand the pain points that Stalk Ninja is trying to address. Do check out http://www.stalkninja.com/ What do you think about this idea? Feel free to write to us at email@example.com