Founder and CEO, Skiify Solutions Pvt. Ltd.
Q. First, tell us about your venture Skiify Solutions, and the thought behind its inception.
I started my venture Skiify when I was a student at IIT-Bombay. In 2010, I was part of the Techfest, a technical fest at IIT, and was handling the accounts and workshops section there. During the Techfest many service providers came there to provide technical education workshops. I was anxious to see that while IITs are the leading technical education provider, other organizations were coming to provide the workshops. They had tied up with ome leading technical institutes, and they knew that students from other institutes are sure to come for any event that IITs are hosting. Simply by sponsoring the event, they could get approval to conduct a session there. The audience was guaranteed, but the material they were providing was not up to the mark.
I and two of my friends thought that we could provide much better content for technical education. Being IIT students, we had the noticeability when we reached out for providing workshops. Thus, Skiify was established, which stands for Science-Knowledge-Innovation-&-Implementation-For-Youth. At that time, we were not thinking about the revenue as we were students. But we just wanted to create an impact. After conducting few sessions, we found that since we were the resource, doing the workshops and preparing the material, without any external trainers, our operational cost per session was very small. We only had some infrastructure and travel costs, which were not much. So, we were earning considerable profits by conducting workshops on weekends.
Moreover, it was not just about revenue, but the quality of content. If these workshops are conducted by people who provide inadequate or poor-quality education, then the impact on students will be worse. We followed the motto that honesty is the best policy, and provided exactly what we had promised to the participants. Eventually, we got access to more colleges and organizations through word-of-mouth publicity, without spending anything on advertising.
I completed my education, came to Delhi, and registered Skiify as a company. Having gained considerable experience through the sessions, we started the Software Development division. Being from a place like IIT Bombay, we got our initial orders through our alumni network straightaway. We showcased our first few projects on our profile, which was for an international audience. We were working on other start-up projects too like exam4job.com and Logtics. Then we started getting international projects as well, where we followed the same policies. Even though our costs were almost five times higher than our competitors, still our clients were giving us projects because of our reliability and quality of work. We understand the project before taking it up, but even if there is some difficulty afterward, we do not give up. Thus, we meet our 100% completion rate.
Q. Have you collaborated with any other entities for providing the services?
We are not collaborating with anyone for funds, but some new ventures have partnered with us, who want us to provide the services in multiple domains. My association with the government bodies began later. We have been recruiting from IITs and IIMs since 2012. During the recruitment, there were PPTs regarding the work of our company. I was also invited to some workshops and talks in colleges. During those presentations and talks, some government officials who were working in education and start-up sector liked our work, and invited us to be mentors for several organizations.
So, one thing led to the other and for the last 3 to 4 years, I have been giving career counselling to students. Since 2016, I am associated with many government organizations, like AICTE, to work on the betterment of the entrepreneurship scenario in India. I am also involved in the institutional framework and ranking as well as the part of mentorship that they are providing to student entrepreneurs. Skiify is hiring from many top B-schools and they want their students to be updated with the latest technology. Since we are having many foreign clients, we are aware of the new trends. I am guiding entrepreneurs to overcome major challenges and scale-up ventures.
Q. The technical workshops in educational institutions are a part of the services. Tell something about these workshops, and the value delivered.
In 2010, when we started delivering workshops, being Civil Engineers, we were giving workshops related to building design, GPS, remote sensing, etc. After setting up Skiify, we also started workshops on robotics, AI, embedded systems, App development, which were not in our regular curriculum then.
Now, those concepts are available readily on the internet. So, we are working on Geospatial analytics, Blockchain, Machine Learning and other latest and emerging technologies. We teach how you can use AI differently. Whether you are a civil or an automation engineer, AI is applicable everywhere. We are guiding entrepreneurs on the interconnectivity of the techniques so that they apply them to their ventures. So, Skiify is providing these technical workshops related to the emerging fields.
Also, I am delivering leadership talks and guest lectures on entrepreneurship, motivation, time management, and leadership roles in IITs, IIMs, AICTE and various other institutes and organizations. I also provide personal counselling to students and working professionals. People need these skills for success and till now I have delivered more than 250 public talks and sessions as well as more than 2000 people have received personal guidance and help to excel in various areas in life.
Q. What’s the role that emotional intelligence plays in making leadership more effective in today’s corporate setups?
I am always interested in delivering something unique and meaningful to my audience. Currently, I am doing a research in Positive Psychology. The methods that I suggest prove beneficial for people because they follow some universal rules, like whatever you are doing, you must think about others and the impact that it is creating.
EQ is related to it. Emotional intelligence is essential for professional success. Through it, we are looking at others with empathy, getting motivated, helping others, developing social skills, and considering things from a larger perspective. To lead a team, a good leader should know how to stay calm under pressure, resolve conflict effectively, and respond to co-workers with empathy. In today’s corporate set ups, the difference between companies with low and high attrition rate can be correlated with Emotional Intelligence of leadership.
Also, I have seen that people who give time to their family, friends, and follow some passion, eventually attain better performance. If we think that by working 10 hours, we are doing X amount of work and in 15 hours, we will do 1.5x, then it does not happen that way in life, as our mind does not allow it. So, most of my sessions are based on my experiences with people. These are science and psychology-based concepts. If we are not doing something that we love, then how can we continue doing something that we don’t love? What I felt is that by doing these things which we love, we get energy and patience for doing all other things. For instance, I am very passionate about Wildlife Photography and Cricket, and because of being indulge in these activities, I get the motivation and calmness to deal with other professional and life related tasks. Also work-life balance and mental health are one of my most taught fundamentals to students as well as working professionals. These are the most important things in current online era.
Q. What is the scope of developing incubation cells in more educational institutions?
Incubation cells provide support and guidance to the new generation of entrepreneurs and help them during the initial turbulent times by providing required programs and resources. All the major institutions in India are having them but still there are many problems remaining to be solved, so developing more incubation cells are always good. Education institutions have different considerations than private incubators as they take more research-oriented start-ups and also those which benefit rural areas. Private incubators focus more on growth. These are also important for the growth of the country.
From past 4 years, I am working with several government policies which work on the entrepreneurship-related support that is helping students in India to develop business ideas and get resources. In 2010, I was part of the E-cell of IIT Bombay, and I realized that such cells are exclusive to leading colleges and not common in educational institutes across India. We used to conduct events on entrepreneurship for various college students, though students were not having great idea about Start-up, funding, and business model.
When the Start-up India project was launched, I got a call for providing mentorship to the youngsters. The government is also focusing on developing the facilities in other colleges, apart from IITs and IIMs, which already have the infrastructure. So, balanced growth is promoted by providing the resources and bringing out a ranking on these parameters. We are involved in many such activities. The quality of colleges is improving fast, as they have to follow the compliances set up by the government rules. Students are thus benefiting, as many colleges are having incubation centres now. It’s a very fruitful initiative.
Another positive step was taken in 2012 when IIT Bombay started the deferred placement strategy. It means that if you are a student and working on a start-up, then you can defer your placement by two years. For the next two years, you can focus on your venture, and grow it. In case it fails for some reason, then you can come back after two years, sit for the placement and get a job. Initially, only 15 students had opted for the plan, but now, over 50 students are taking the start-up route every year, which is a big number considering that they are leaving the option of lucrative placement. That’s the kind of confidence that the institutes and policies are giving them. We are aiming to raise the number of colleges that are providing such facilities to the students, because if we are talking about making the country powerful, then we need self-starters and entrepreneurs.
Q. What will be your message for the students and aspiring entrepreneurs?
I will explain with a story, which is related to photography. I invested a good amount in professional cameras and lenses in February 2020 and planned to start landscape photography, by visiting at least two places every month. But in March, there was the pandemic, and the lockdown was imposed. So, I could not go out for photography. One day, I went to my terrace and started taking pictures of birds, and in the next 6 months, I captured more than 90 species of birds from my home, clicking over one lakh photographs. This year, I got several International awards for the same.
My message to entrepreneurs here is that don’t expect anything and take it for granted. Maybe they have planned to start with a particular set up but the circumstances can change. Be ready to change and adapt. People may say that since I had the resources, I was ready to upskill. But what about the results? So, if they are doing the work in a dedicated and passionate way, with honesty, they will get the rewards sooner or later, even in the changed situations. There is no wasted effort. I tell entrepreneurs that situations will often be different from what you expect. So, do something constructive with the resources you have.
So, don’t expect anything. Be ready to change and adapt. Also we should know that many have great ideas, but what differentiates between them is perseverance. Apart from that be systematic, maintain good work-life balance and never lose sight of the big picture.
Also, you must be ready to look for innovative solutions. Mentors can solve the smaller problems you are having while solving the bigger problem. Regarding all the major problems that the business is facing, entrepreneurs must not be dependent on mentors for solving all the problems. They should look to learn from mentors’ experiences and try to solve the problem in their own way. It is their responsibility to think about the challenges and explore the solutions that will be workable. Major problems have to be identified and faced by the core team of the start-up, by working towards answers or waiting for the situation to change. Self-reliance is crucial.
Lastly, if you are an entrepreneur, you shouldn’t complain. If you have a new goal, then there will be a new set of problems too. You must find the solutions and also think of the impact on society. Giving back to the people will benefit in the long run. Being an entrepreneur doesn’t only give you a sense of freedom, it also ensures the freedom of our country and enables us to not be reliant on other nations. It’s a nation-building exercise.