Rashmi Jalan and Sucharita Choudhury are excited and passionate about what they are doing and you can hear it in their voices over the phone.
The market for skill-set development is huge and the sector is completely unorganised. Learning (apart from formal education) has an extremely high wallet share. It is the most important category post healthcare and formal education and therefore resilient to economic downturns, in our target audience. It occupies a large mind share and most of our target audience is on a ‘constant look-out’ for the appropriate teacher/expert for their children or for themselves. To meet this growing and urgent demand amongst the middle class and above urban population, we cover all learning categories including sports, fitness, academics related learning, languages, performing art, art and craft, culinary and life skills,
share the co-founders of Localowls.
Both have common friends, shared interests and are mothers who while constantly looking for local talent for their kids realised that though there is a huge demand for experts, the experts themselves are not united or combined together and this gap needed to be bridged. They decided to join hands and take up the challenge together.
“I believe in taking the experts’ help to learn something new. Not too long ago, I took up oil painting after 20 years (with the help of an amazing artist ) which I believe is a tremendous stress buster, ” says Sucharita.
Born to a Bengali father and a Rajasthani mother, Sucharita grew up in Delhi University as both her parents were lecturers there. Due to this she was exposed to academics, culture and arts at a very young age. In 1996 she completed her graduation in Economics from Sri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi University and in 1998 her MBA from IIM Kolkata. She met her husband while at IIM.
In 1998 she started working with Tata Interactive Systems. This introduced her to the world of technology and education. In 2000, she joined DSP Merrill Lynch in Investment Banking till she completed more than a decade and was Director of Investment Banking, looking after Telecom, Media and Technology banking. Sucharita has worked with the top names in these sectors for their M&A and fund raising initiatives including notable US IPO of WNS and TCS’ acquisition of e-Serve amongst many others.
Rashmi was born and raised in Kolkata to liberal Marwari parent who emphasised on a well-rounded education. Rashmi is proficient in Kathak and learnt to play the piano at an early age.
With a BSc in Economics from Kolkata university, she went to pursue her love for Finance and did a MBA in International Banking and Finance from UK. After her MBA she moved to Mumbai, got married and also started her first professional assignment. This was the beginning of her long association with the banking sector. From Axis Bank, she moved to HSBC where she worked for 12 years orchestrating several roles and managing some of the biggest names in the FII sector.
One of her biggest challenges has been about continuing to work after the birth of her two sons. But thanks to tremendous family support and encouragement she sailed through it.
Sucharita adds, “Biggest challenge for a working mother is child care, specially when children are young and both parents are working. However, both my husband and I have been extremely lucky to have my very generous in laws take amazing care of our two children while we work.”
The duo is using both online and offline promotion to reach out to users and experts. For offline they are using Twitter and Facebook to their advantage to reach out to a wide audience in Mumbai. They have received a good response with their online campaigns too.
A clean and simple interface they say, “Allows an expert to come to the website and create their own profile. They can add information about themselves, photographs and videos demonstrating their skill, their verification documents and provide customer references. The verification document includes a copy of their Pan Card or Aadhar Card or Passport or Driving License. We follow this initial registration with a call or a meeting with the expert, to verify the details, qualifications, understand their skills and services they offer. We also call the customer references provided by the expert to get their feedback on that expert. We also encourage the expert’s existing students to post their reviews directly on the site. Based on all these factors, we have a Localowls Rating for the expert. The experts are recommended and promoted using their rating and reviews.”
They have a tech team that has built the mobile and web platforms. The team has developed algorithms and internal rating systems to find and recommend most relevant experts for users which match their requirements.
Being women entrepreneurs has worked to Rashmi and Sucharita’s advantage.
We have found that being a woman is an advantage in our segment. We completely understand the user market – their requirements, buying behaviour and concerns as we have been on this side for many years ourselves. We know how to address these issues best. Since we know the user mindset, the experts also trust us to market them to their user base,
they say. The response and testimonials they have received from both users and experts has been highly encouraging. However, a common problem they face as entrepreneurs is finding great talent.
As co-workers and co-founders both Rashmi and Sucharita play to their strengths. Rashmi leads on expert enrolment and network expansion, design and implementation of the guided discovery/recommendation model and customer interaction and service. Sucharita’s focus is on identifying new segments, online and offline marketing strategy, product design and technology.
“Both of us actively discuss and debate critical decisions. If there is an impasse, we make a list of our arguments and supporting data, and the better case always wins,” they say with a smile.
Both are conscious about health and fitness and Sucharita, a mother of two regularly practices yoga.
A marathon runner, Rashmi maintains a regular fitness regime and never misses the gym or her yoga sessions. At present she is into Zumba and Bollywood dancing too.
An avid reader she enjoys watching sports with her kids. Inspired by women such as Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Sheryl Sandberg and Indira Nooyi she is a staunch believer in “Perseverance is the key to success. Every day is full of new challenges and it is the opportunity to manage all these challenges that keeps the adrenaline flowing.”
Sucharita’s passionate belief that, “There is a massive opportunity and demand that we are meeting through Localowls”, keeps her going everyday.
With the mantra of satisfying both sets of customers, i.e. get more business for their experts and help users find the most relevant expert, they want to be the destination for people looking for good quality experts to learn in any field, for themselves or for their children. They are planning to expand to other cities in the next phase.