Sanskar Jain is an IIT Bombay alumnus from the batch of 2018. He founded Eduride a few months back which gained national media coverage! It was a service which helped JEE/NEET students reach their exam centres on time during lockdown. He is currently managing key strategic projects at &Me and has previously also worked with Alvarez & Marsal. He has previously tried his hands at entrepreneurship during his last semester at insti when he and his friends co-founded Oistay, a flight booking service which clocked a $100k revenue in the first few months itself. Through this article Sanskar tells us about his experience, the lessons he learnt and his advice regarding entrepreneurship!
1. Can you tell us about your venture, Oistay and if you would like to share with us what led you to stop working on it despite it doing decently in terms of revenue?
Oistay was a flight booking startup. We were planning to launch it as a travel service for bus, train and air tickets and even staying service (hotel booking). I started this venture with one of my PhD friends and his professor-in-charge sort-of guided us through the roadblocks. We started with air tickets because it was relatively easier to get a permit and it’s a quicker process. We built up a portal where people could log in and book, get discounts, etc. Now since the flight ticket rates are high, the numbers you saw (i.e. revenue) were high but the profit margin was low. Since we were just a service platform and there is a lot of competition in this field so margins are thin and most of the profit we made was used into our operation costs or on promotions or on discounts.
The second most important thing we were figuring out was how sustainable our business was. Our idea behind starting was that we perceived an opportunity in the campus, given that there are around 10,000 students and 1000 staff members. So there are a lot of requirements for flight booking when people are travelling back to their home, post graduates travel for their conferences, etc. A lot of faculty travel for some professional or personal reasons. During the process of working on our startup, we realized that this was not scalable because other competitors were spending huge amounts on promotions, discounts which wasn’t feasible for a small startup like ours. In order to stay in the game we needed a USP which we were unable to figure out. So although the model worked well in the IITB campus, scaling it up was tough unless we put in a lot of money. Meanwhile, I also understood that I personally lacked some of the skills which were essential to take it to the next level. I have worked on those in the last 2 and a half years while working in A&M. Now that I have joined a startup, I have realized that I have grasped the skills to understand how startups work, how a company works and how to build a company, etc.
2. What mechanisms did the team adopt in order to grow and reach more customers?
We had a few hundred customers in the first year. Apart from publicising it within the campus we also leveraged the access to various other colleges as college students and did a lot of tie ups. We partnered with the cultural, technical festivals of around 9-10 colleges because they require a lot of flight booking for their artists, lecturers and performers, etc. We became their official travel partner and provided them with discounts and they booked tickets through us.
In order to grow your reach, you can contact people in your department, the HoDs or you can even reach out to the Dean if you think that everyone can benefit from your idea. Talk to hostel workers, reach out to professors and ask them to spread it in their circle. There are conferences which are organized either in insti or somewhere else where the platform can be promoted. Depending on your product, you can reach out to some particular professors. I was in contact with the hostel administrator department because I was part of the hospitality department in Mood Indigo. So I reached out to the professors and floated the information through them! You have to figure out such tricks by yourselves and this is what forms the learning from your venture. You will figure out how to promote/sell things, how to use your network to reach out to more people. You might be connected to only 50 people but if those 50 are the right ones they’ll help you connect to 500 people, so choose your network wisely.
3. Which year, according to you, is best to “startup”? Is gaining corporate experience beneficial before starting up?
If we delve a bit deeper in my case, I started in the final year itself. So I first concentrated on my placements. By the 8th semester, the portal was ready and we worked in full swing for those months. Had I started my second or third year, by the 7th semester I would’ve been sure that this something I wanted to do and then in that case I wouldn’t have sat for my placements. 3-4 months are not enough to gain confidence and build the startup, so one needs to start earlier!
I would also suggest that skills should not be a deciding factor to startup. Skills are a plus point to have but if you but those are not the deciding point. So if you are starting in your second or third year, you have enough time to make mistakes and learn from them, the process itself is a great learning. It needn’t be a million dollar idea, it could be something very basic – maybe just solving an already identified problem within the campus. It is super helpful to learn how to build a business, identify gaps in one’s knowledge and upskill, commit mistakes, etc. If these learnings can be implemented in the same startup one can choose to go ahead with it or can start something else. I would advise everybody to try their hands on building something of their own from the start of the second year. It could be as small as a food delivery business to as technical as a block chain startup.
4. Many students are confused between working on a novel idea versus the complexity of the idea. What do you think should be the focus?
In the early stage of your startup you don’t need to worry about the idea being novel. If you are in second or third year, you can even try out things somebody has already built. You are not aware how a Swiggy is built, so there’s definitely a lot to learn even in that. Also, you can mould the already existing ideas to cater to the audience around you. Swiggy isn’t aware of the kind of food people in insti want and Swiggy is not delivering from campus eateries to your hostel. Swiggy doesn’t need to do that, but you can. That is how you are creating novelty in the same idea and at the same time you are learning! If you delve deeper into this seemingly small idea, you’ll realise that there’s app development, supply chain management, marketing, partnering with canteens, etc. Once you get into the startup ecosystem you will also meet like-minded peoples and I believe that college time is the best time to find your cofounder. You just need to think about the problem from a different angle!
5. What methods did you adopt in order to market your venture better?
Building contacts while in insti is super important. If you’re building something, you should know who you can approach for help, what skillset other people have, etc. When you start out, you first reach out to people in your circle, and from there it reaches more people. You need to build contacts, be friendly with people. Find people who want you to succeed or who are supporting you or are interested in your venture. Be in contact with as many people as possible. Now for general publicity, I recently realized that one should learn digital marketing. Let’s consider a case where you create an app which was tested in insti but you believe that it will be useful for many others outside in the city/ in India. In order to reach those people, you need to do social media marketing, create content and lure users. For digital marketing you’d need capital and if your project is generating revenue then some percentage of it should be spent on marketing. Interesting collaboration opportunities, larger customer base and many other doorways are opened up through digital marketing, it is a crucial skill for everyone!
LinkedIn is a very good platform to build your company’s brand and most importantly, your own brand. Once people have trust in you, you have a good number of followers and establish your brand, you can use it to grow your company’s brand value too.
Social media marketing involves creating content videos, graphic images, designing blogs, collaborating with vloggers, influencers etc. You put such content on your social media handle. The second part is creating campaigns to promote your product by analysing consumer behaviour and accordingly optimizing these using SEO.
6. What are your views on technical vs non-technical startups?
It’s not about tech vs non-tech, it’s more about how well you identify your industry, your target audience and how you’re planning to cater to them. The end goal is to reach and add value to your consumers, however that’s being achieved should be fine! There have been multiple startups in the non-tech domain too from IITB. Though the DSSE is more inclined towards tech startups since they’re easier to scale, times are now changing and it is the idea which is valued more, so students shouldn’t fear judgement.
7. How do you think the administration can help the budding startups?
Proper events can be held by the institute to get media coverage for the launch of new startups, to support them and help them grab eyeballs of both investors and customers. Most institutes share about startups only when they reach scale/receive funding but the fundamental idea should be to promote the startups who haven’t got enough attraction. This can be done by organizing press, meetings, etc for these startups. This is being followed in some other IITs. Even the institute can mandate entrepreneurship projects for everyone in the second year and can fund 10,000 rupees for each team!
Powai was once in contention to become the Silicon Valley of India, simply because there’s easier access to all sorts of resources. The presence of a large academic institute in Powai makes it easier to get both technical and non-technical interns too. Mumbai is a right place to startup and hence the number of startups from IITB (whether successful or not) should be more!
8. What can be done to mould the students’ perspective towards starting up?
A very intuitive way is to provide them with an opportunity to try it out. This can be in terms of a compulsory elective like Biology/HS, followed by a project. Alumni who went on to create successful ventures after this course can be invited for talks and to judge the project pitches. Secondly, focus should be on spreading awareness about the value one can create through startups – generating jobs, revenue and self independence, etc. By sharing stories of alumni (bcoz they had the same resources) who built ventures from scratch while in college or just after graduation, students will gain a better perspective. It also helps reduce the fear of failure and convinces one to push towards creating value.
A lot of people in insti make bots and work on several projects, etc but they aren’t aware that their ideas can be scaled up and converted into businesses. Hence there is an immediate need to maximize students’ awareness about entrepreneurship. Imagine working on your idea in the 2nd or 3rd year and seeing a lot of potential in the idea. By the time you’re in 4th year you plan to do it full time. Since you’ve worked on the idea for quite some time you are confident about it and you can approach investors too! This thought needs to be planted in the students’ mind.
9. How was your experience of working in consulting at Alvarez & Marsal?
As a consultant, working at A&M helped me fill in a lot of gaps in my understanding of business, finance, etc. I gained industry knowledge, experience and more importantly understood how to analyze things. The motivation for this stemmed during my internship at JSW Energy because there I realised that there is a very good combination of tech and commercial skills. In order to explore it more, I wanted to try out consulting – it is technical in terms of it’s analysis, there is a science behind it and there is a commercial aspect. At A&M I did 2 kinds of projects: first was performance improvement, second was due diligence – helping investors or private equities to invest in private companies. I got an understanding of 3-4 different sectors – healthcare, consumer, financial services, logistics, etc. Every sector was new and to learn about the field in a week or so was a challenge which I enjoyed a lot. Working in diverse environments will help you in choosing the right path. Consulting helps you get a bird-sight view of how businesses work, how your managers and directors are attentive-to-details, how they communicate and collaborate with people across different levels.
10. The popular media sheds a very different light on the lives of the 9-5 job keepers versus the entrepreneurs – who hustle and create jobs. What’s your take on it?
My approach is slightly different where I believe that if I’m having equity in the company, the work I’m doing is definitely getting reflected there. So it’s not that each one of us has to start a company. According to me, everyone is an entrepreneur, it’s just that entrepreneurship is an approach, not something very absolute. Wherever I am, whatever I am working on, my approach has to be entrepreneurial. For me, personally, that approach gives me satisfaction. That’s how companies are built, the company’s other team members are as important as the founder. They’re building the company with the founder. So whether you’re working for someone or working on your own idea, you need to believe that you’re building something. Even if I’m not being monitored or pressured, I need to make sure I do my work correctly and that can happen only with the right approach!
If anyone wants to reach out to me for any queries, or need any assistance from me, feel free to connect with me on Mail/Linkedin/FB!
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