The Jigsaw Academy co-founder says quantification helps her make decisions faster.
Just knowing that her daughter is sick isn’t enough for Sarita Digumarti. She needs to know the exact degree of illness on a scale of one to five because a lot of decisions depend on it — whether she should be sent to school and how worried she ought to be being a couple.
It is with this same precision that she prioritises the hundred things that need simultaneous attention in her line of work. Sarita is definitely quantitatively oriented and rightly so, considering she is the co-founder and COO of Jigsaw Academy, the online school of analytics. “Quantification helps me make decisions a lot faster,” she says.
Given that we live in the age of social media, it is important to have some method to deal with all the information coming our way. “The better skilled you are to deal with it, the faster your decision-making skills will be, otherwise you are going to be stuck with all that data and not know what to do. So, the best thing is for everyone to learn some analytics,” is Sarita’s perfect pitch.
While YourStory has followed Jigsaw Academy’s story closely, this chat with Sarita was about analytics, her journey as an entrepreneur, and what she brings to the table with her 11 years of extensive analytics and consulting experience across FMCG, retail, and healthcare sectors.
Sarita and Gaurav Vohra had worked together in the analytics sector from 2004 till they decided to start out on their own in 2010. Over the years, they realised that all the people they had hired — whether they had an MSc in stats or were MBAs — needed extensive training to be able to perform analytics on real-world business datasets. They identified the opportunity and the large gap in supply and decided to focus on providing training.
The 40-year-old recalls the skepticism they faced while starting up. “Pretty much everyone we spoke to said online is not going to work in India, internet penetration is low, you are limiting your audience, and analytics is a technical subject, so it is very hard to teach online. So it was a leap of faith for us. Gaurav and I said, ‘This is it, we see an opportunity and we will try’.”
It was in 2011 that they took their first entrepreneurial steps with one course and a small team. Now they have 30-35 courses and 150 employees. In December 2015 they also received Rs 20 crore in funding from Manipal Global Education Services (MaGE), which was used to expand global reach.
Sarita hails from a small town called Berhampur in Orissa. After graduating with honours in physics, she went on to do an MBA. Two years later, she got an opportunity to move to the US. She grabbed this chance to pursue her interest in economics that had reared its head during her MBA, and did an MA in quantitative economics. She joined a consulting company in the US, working out of their Boston office for three years.
After moving back to India, she joined GECIS — one of the few companies in India then providing analytics services, and later shifted to Symphony Services when it was setting up its analytics team.
“My corporate experience has been extremely useful and relevant to me at Jigsaw — my experience in analytics consulting and delivery has helped me develop industry-relevant training material that focuses on practical business application, and my general management and leadership roles at Symphony have helped me build, manage, and run the operations and delivery team at Jigsaw,” she shares.
Sarita is not only responsible for content development but also for the success of the academic programmes they run for colleges, universities, and corporate customers. She says,
“It’s my responsibility to make sure that we enrol a student for the right programme, that the student receives the necessary support from our support or faculty team, that the student can complete the programme successfully, and that the student is certified successfully.”
As a COO, she feels the most important thing to do is to invest in people. “When you are trying to scale a company and when you have a large number of employees, you need HR function, support staff, managers, and you need to be able to do role planning, role expansion, etc. for the people working for you.”
As a training institute, managing customer expectations is a big challenge for Sarita and her team. “There is hype but little understanding about analytics. Some come with the expectation that if they do a course in data science they will become senior data scientists, but that is not how it works.”
According to Sarita, the job profiles and the definition of analytics have undergone a change. Now, descriptive statistics comes under the umbrella of analytics. Previously an advanced specialised skill, it has now become a generalised skill.
Sarita adds, “The audience for analytics has become very wide. There is a lot more interest at the management level in analytics. I think the tools have become a lot easier to use; open source tools are now available for free and are very powerful. Ten years ago, it would have taken someone three months to do what we now do in a day.”
While companies are able to collect data, are they really able to break it down and interpret it? Sarita’s response to the question is negative. “I would say that less than 5 percent of the companies we are talking to are doing anything seriously with the data they collect. Most companies are aware that they are sitting on this gold mine, but don’t know how to start. But there are pockets of people in different functional areas that, maybe, are better at data analysis than some of the others in the same company.”
For a person who deals with numbers and data, Sarita puts her money on artificial intelligence and machine learning, and to some extent on IoT. “The world is moving that way where we are going to expect a lot of non-value-add decisions to be done by machines, we are going to be seeing tremendous growth there — that is where even IoT comes in. We are going to be collecting a lot of data and so the ability to quickly use that data to make decisions to help us lead more productive lives is going to be a big trend in 2017,” she says.
A voracious reader and given her quantitative aptitude, Sarita never fails to find solutions in books. Anything by PG Wodehouse, she says, “Clearly puts your problems into perspective, so you can laugh about it.” Another one she recommends is The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. She says, “That’s a book I have really enjoyed and learnt from because it takes a very practical approach to entrepreneurship.”
In the current scenario, she says, “Women should not hesitate to chase dreams, especially in a city like Bengaluru which supports entrepreneurship and where being an entrepreneur is valued."