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What Happens With Remote Work is that You Get World as your Talent Pool: Ayush Jaiswal, Co-CEO, Pesto

In an Interview with BW Businessworld, Ayush Jaiswal, Co-CEO, Pesto talks about his journey and more

What is Pesto and how did you come up with the idea?
In my head, I have always been an entrepreneur, Pesto Tech is not my first venture. I have worked on and worked with multiple start-ups before I found success with Pesto.  I've been working for free since last 4 years, ever since I dropped out of college. I have this theory, that if you work for people for free you get to learn more. Having opted out of the tradition academic environments of a college education, I have been educating myself in the real world work places and with real world entrepreneurs. I used to work for free for 15-18 hours a day. I was doing that for three years consistently. I hit a point where I was invited to speak at an event in Hyderabad and I didn’t have the money for the flight, but nobody helped me at that time. This is when I decided, it was time to start making money and I called Andrew tp get on board to do it with.
As for the name of the company, during a brainstorming session, we were coincidently inspired by a hearty serving of the Pesto Pasta and we somehow resonated with the sauce. Within first 3 months of Pesto we secured, $250,000-300,000 in contracts for the next one year. We were doing about 20 to 25 thousand dollars revenue per month, because we were paying Indian engineers by Indian standards. The idea was simple, you hire some people here for a cheaper cost sell them at higher cost and they work as remote employees.
The way the world has evolved in last five years is very different because of technology, you don’t have to be in person to work with someone now. What happens with remote work is that you get world as your talent pool.
We realized that there is a fundamental thing which is happening, the world is getting smaller every single day it is only going to get smaller from here on and the revolution in technology is happening and that anyone can hire anyone from anywhere. If that is true, then why you should look at someone's salary basis their geography? That's just unfair because employers are already paying $80,000 to a consulting guy who connects them with the right talent here in India. Why not pay that person directly, why do we need a salesperson in between.
India has been the backend of the world for way too long and we realized we had an opportunity to change that perception. We realized, we had an opportunity at hand to empower Indian engineers with pay worthy of their talent, skill sets and not based on the pin-codes they worked out of.
When we hired engineers though, we discovered that they had to be trained for an average period of 2-3 months before they could become productive, independent remote workers. So, we made a three-month program for them skilling with the remote work ethics, soft skills required to operate with dynamic global teams, efficiency & productivity tools and bringing their coding skills up to speed. We decided to do this with zero fee payment upfront. Instead we chose to equitize their talent, we invested in them for 3 months, giving them food, lodging, training, access of industry stalwarts as mentors and exposed them global opportunities (remote work and otherwise). In return, if we are successful in helping them gain an annual package of 15 lakhs pa and above, we take 17 percent of their salary for the first three years of their employment post Pesto as return on our investment.  Having said that, we continue to manage the entire relationship, and assist them with long-term opportunities. Every person who graduates from Pesto, might want to change their career again, a year from now and they might need some help, they might want to upgrade themselves again by attending our event.
So the answer to the question, what is Pesto? It is a strong community that builds on a culture lifelong learning enabling an exchange of knowledge, opportunities and skills amongst its members. That is what Pesto stands for.

Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey? How was the beginning? What were the challenges faced while starting up Pesto?
Fortunately for me, I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I was inspired by the Apple event in 2007. I also did some graphic and web design courses in school, which gave me an early exposure in the world of tech. When I came to college however, within the first six months, I saw a saturation in my learnings and I realized I am capable of making the money my seniors are making post placement without my degree. So I decided to drop out of college. I used to work with different people, tried reading books and tried implementing things.
I obviously thought I was ready to take over the world, but to my dismay at that time things didn’t work for me in my first, second or even the third attempt. I used to think that I know everything but why isn't something happening. With a  feeling of helplessness I ended being at my lowest because I had bet on myself by choosing to leave college and a traditional route of career in engineering.  You believe that the theories which you have are going to work, but that's not really true. Only practical experiences is how you learn. So from there, I just decided to work for free. I got exposure and I would work 15-18 hours a day. My only condition was that if there is a high-level strategy meeting happening, I would want to attend and people agreed to it because it was free work.
So, I did that for three years at some good start-ups and brands which later on, some of them ended up becoming huge also, so that ended up being excellent exposure for me. But apart from that, of course, just any successful entrepreneur, it's always a 4-5 years journey. 5 years of hustle and then Pesto happened.  Our journey was of course riddled with its own challenges and pitfalls. It was incredibly difficult to make people believe that we genuinely care about them. But Pesto very earnestly germinates from our strong belief that Indian engineers deserve more and they have been treated unfair for far too long. And Pesto exists to make that shift happen for Indian Engineers.

What is Pesto's Mission and how can it help engineers in India?
Our mission is to create an army of lifelong learners. Talent is universal but opportunity is not. Today because the way technology has evolved, we have the chance to make opportunities accessible to all and that is what our mission. With our first cohort of 30 Pesto grads, the average package stands at over 29 lakhs per annum.  This was the money which didn't exist in our economy. Just imagine the amount of impact we can make if we have 10,000 graduates, that's going to add almost half a billion dollars to the Indian economy and that’s why I believe, we have a potential of creating history here. And the opportunity is to not just impact an individual but also the entire industry.

Why does the ecosystem need startups like Pesto?
We were a consulting business that just started to make money. Then we stopped doing that and we pivoted our business completely, because we already had made money, and we wanted to make a difference. We did that because we are the kind of people who aren’t driven by just monetary benchmarks, we want to create a better impact by building a meaningful business. We ended up creating models, in such a way that at every given point of time, in every detail of the business, you'll find a win-win situation for everyone and if you can't find one, we will create one, that's what we do. And I think it's just beautiful for the ecosystem to have businesses which make money for sure, but at the same time you create an impact which is larger than any of us at an individual capacity.
Think Ivy League colleges, a Harvard graduate not just gains a degree when he passes out of HBS, as an Harvard alumni, he part of an exclusive community that’s serves as a collective quest of excellence across their fields of works. We are working very earnestly to give a similar community to Pesto grads.

Give us details about recruitment/ screening process.
This process is something which constantly evolving, as technology keeps evolving. We were very clear that we don't want to differentiate people based on their academic background like IIT, IIM etc. We want to break stereotypes and we have fun doing that. We want to look at just the skill sets of people. They should know how to code. That’s the basic requirement. We ended up creating a test, whenever somebody wants to apply to Pesto. They come on our website. They take a technical screening. And we ask them some behavioral questions and they are required to record their video so that we can get to know them as a person before we actually interview them. This is an automated screening. After this people who get shortlisted, we interview them manually and then they join Pesto.
What we have achieved with this in the last four to five months. We do dinners at Pesto every Friday, last dinner there were 20 people and there is an exercise we do every time we ask them their states. There were people from 15 different states, speaking some thirteen-fifteen different languages. So that is something which we believe is really special because that brings in so much diversity. We also had different sort of people from other perspective. We have had people who graduated from IIT, people who worked in Flipkart, we have had dropouts, we have had engineers who were making 1-2 lakhs per annum etc. All we need is people who know how to code and if their heart is in the right place, they are welcome to apply to Pesto.

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