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After almost exactly 8 years of helping Indians find jobs, Aspiring Minds has decided to take its services wordwide.
India has several startups trying their hands at the job searching industry, but this edtech startup for the unemployed is expanding across continents. China, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Tanzania are all on its list, and that’s just for now, co-founder and CEO Himanshu Aggarwal tells Tech in Asia.
The expansion has been in the works for a while and resulted partially from popular demand and partially due to the realization that job-matching services are needed in countries outside India too.
“When I looked at countries with a large and growing working population, like China, the Philippines, Indonesia, parts of South Asia, and so on, it was very clear that the challenge [of finding work] was prevalent in all these places,” says Himanshu. “There was clearly a lack of information around about how to match people and jobs.”
Co-founded in 2008 by Himanshu and his brother Varun Aggarwal, Aspiring Minds uses a combination of assessment, programming, voice recognition, simulation, and other technology to help match job seekers up with employment that’s a good fit for their skills and expertise. The company’s main product is AMCAT, or the Aspiring Minds Computer Adaptive Test, a test that evaluates cognition, language, behavior, and job skills.
The company came onto our radar in October of last year when it launched a US$1 million seed fund for education and employment technology startups. The fund was set up to aid India’s workforce, particularly millennials, who are going to school in droves but having trouble finding jobs after graduation. It had plans then to invest in India, China, and the US. Since then, they’ve added a few countries to the list.
Jobs across borders
The startup’s expansion is happening across countries, but the plan started with the Philippines.
“It was quite interesting because a lot of the customers [we had] in India had large businesses in the Philippines,” Himanshu explains. “They started talking about how we should offer similar services in the Philippines. That got us excited and got us looking at the Philippines early on.” Within the country, Aspiring Minds is making sure of its AMCAT test but also using SVAR, its product that evaluates English speaking, listening, and comprehension, useful in a country that is home to several call centers.
The other countries followed, with varying degrees of difficulty. The Philippines and the US were among the easiest. The company’s foray into Tanzania, its first African country, is one that Himanshu describes as “experimental.”
“We are confident that Africa as a market is going to emerge over the next few years, and right now, the aim is to have the right learning and the right models so that we can work with the movement as we start to see traction across the continent,” says Himanshu.
Aspiring Minds is currently working in Tanzania in partnership with ZoomTanzania, a classifieds and business directory (something like Craigslist) to match job seekers up with future employers.
Himanshu describes China as the hardest country to expand into because of the language and cultural barriers – English cannot be used as an operational language there like it can be in other countries – but, curiously, it is also where Aspiring Minds is growing fastest.
“We have a great country manager who is spearheading our entry into China,” he says, adding that the chapter in China is based out of Beijing. Feedback from Chinese companies about the startup’s technology has been good so far, though the expansion is still in very early stages.
Ironically, the difficulty in using English as an operating language in China is also a point of growth for Aspiring Minds, at least where Himanshu is concerned.
“Automated spoken English evaluation—there’s a huge market for English in China,” he explains.
So what’s the secret to taking a startup global? Himanshu sees the startup’s strength lying in its tech and its team, which has helped it tackle its largest challenge: working within several different cultures. “What we want is for the product to solve the local needs,” says Himanshu. For their counterparts in the Middle East, he says, this means making sure products are in Arabic and as well as making sure to cater to banking and finance sectors.
“Our focus is that we will be operating long-term in the region, ensuring that we will provide the right solutions and the right quality to our customers in other parts of the world,” he says.
Aspiring Minds has a team that’s around 450-500 strong. Its teams outside of India have about five people, a mix of Indian and local employees, per country who help operations run smoothly.
Other than ensuring that the company has a good foundation—a good product and a good team—operations become a “learning by doing” process, he adds. The startup pushes different products in each country according to their needs. For example, Himanshu has found that retail and blue-collar jobs are more of what Middle Eastern job seekers are looking for, as opposed to the IT-dominated crowd with whom Aspiring Minds deals with in India.
The company’s still doing well back home. Last year, it acquired LetsIntern, an online and mobile internship site in India, as well as mobile tech startup Mizcoin. The company’s expansion is all but supported by the profit it’s made, says Himanshu. He also says that the team’s seen strong investor interest in the company.
He mentions that one of the most important things to keep in mind is keeping the company identity intact. “You need to be fairly objective [as well],” Himanshu says, “making sure you’re not giving up on innovation because you’re trying to play into the market.”
In other words, one of the biggest keys to success is something we’ve all been told as kids: you have to be yourself.