Startups Need Natural Time To Scale & Grow: Santanu Paul, TalentSprint

According to Ken Research study titled ‘India Executive Education Market Outlook to FY’2027, India’s executive education market is projected to expand modestly by 3.3 per cent from 2022 to 2027 in terms of revenue. Santanu Paul, Founding CEO and Managing Director, TalentSprint, believes that its ‘learning by doing’ pedagogy sets it apart. He foresees 40 per cent YoY revenue growth and is bullish on India becoming the digital manufacturing hub

Startups Need Natural Time To Scale & Grow: Santanu Paul, TalentSprint
Startups Need Natural Time To Scale & Grow: Santanu Paul, TalentSprint

As the world moves forward, the significance of executive education has become increasingly vital. With technology taking over many human-related tasks, staying up-to-date with developments has become essential to prevent being left behind. 

According to Ken Research study titled ‘India Executive Education Market Outlook to FY’2027: Cascading growth driven by rising skill gap, tailored executive education courses, coupled with rising adoption of digitalisation by Corporates’, India’s executive education market is projected to expand modestly by 3.3 per cent from 2022 to 2027 in terms of revenue.

Through executive education, leaders and managers can develop the skills they need to stay competitive in their field and stay abreast of industry trends and advancements. It is an invaluable tool for upskilling and encourages professional growth.

Established in 2010, TalentSprint is part of the NSE group and a global edtech company that brings transformational boot camps and cutting-edge learning programmes to modern-day professionals who aspire to future-proof themselves with deep expertise. The firm partners with top-tier academic institutions and big-tech global corporations to create futuristic programmes and deliver remarkable outcomes.

How is the company different from its peer startups?

The big challenge in edtech today is that around 90 per cent of colleges give degrees, but don't teach. Now, edtech companies are spending so much on marketing and advertising but their products and learning experience are weak. If you look at some of the big brands in K-12, the biggest pushback is that their products are not worth it. As Google has an experience with us where we focus on serious learners only. At Talent Sprint, the entire learning methodology is different, as there are no lecturers but they have labs and they have mentors as a part of the experiential methodology of teaching.

By solving interesting problems with fellow classmates and peers, we believe in experiential learning as opposed to learning by listening. Through this model, students are able to learn the skills required. As per Google, when a student will join Talent Sprint, he or she will transform.

How does your scoreboard look like? What is your goal for this fiscal year?

We are growing at 40-45 per cent year on year for the last four or five years and this year in particular, we should be among the top five or six players.

Hence, we are not burning money to get there. Our main focus has been consistently profitable growth and we are trying to sustain a steady 45 to 50 per cent growth year on year. As long as we can do that, we will keep doubling the company in 18 to 20 months.

Last year 2022-23 our sales were about Rs 125 crore. For the current fiscal year, we are targeting Rs 165 crore.

Tell us about the idea behind starting TalentSprint.

We started almost 14 years ago with the idea that young people in India, especially STEM graduates. While they do get the degrees, 90 to 95 per cent of them face difficulties in terms of starting a career, which is highly aspirational or highly rewarding. That huge employability gap has been talked about for a very long time. As per my experience, the ratio of people we interviewed and the people we hired was so low and in single digits like 2–3 per cent conversions.

On the other side, the industry cannot possibly scale with such a poor conversion of talent from graduates coming into the workforce. Our view was, instead of putting this burden on companies, why not have a specialised organisation. Wherein that organisation can help young graduates to become career ready and then bring the companies in when the students actually have learned the skills required to become good professionals.

We realised in a matter of 6 to 7 years after we started that the industry is also transforming now. Even working professionals earlier thought that once they get a job in the sector, they were immune to any disruption. Then Data Science, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Blockchain, AI and Cybersecurity came in. We started with the coding boot camp that has been the mainstay of our company for a long time. So that was the second business we started, deep tech education for executives.

Why did you choose NSE over any other larger umbrella edtech? After the acquisition, is there any difference in the business model?

This happened three years ago and the logic was that NSE at that time was trying to figure out how to add a bunch of adjacent businesses, which can help in nation-building. They wanted to build technology platforms that help create more capacity, scale and ability to do things.

They invested money in buying cloud infra, cybersecurity management and education technology companies such as TalentSprint. They wanted to add a series of interesting companies to their portfolio which would create more capacity for the nation and from our perspective, we had hit the 10-year mark on our journey. We had good investors such as Nexus Venture Partners as well as angel investors. NSE came in 2019 and then we had more stability and a bigger brand to work from.

Around 90 per cent has been acquired and only 10 per cent is remaining. The brand helped us during the pandemic. It also improved our chances of working with top-tier institutions like IITs and IIMs. We didn't want to get acquired by any big player as they did not seem very stable as they were all driven by pure venture capital money.

Do you plan to acquire emerging edtechs in the same stream?

When this programme became successful about two years ago, we were looking at the data of women engineers plus three cohorts and then Google said that why are we doing this only in India? So we said, let's work together to create a very similar programme like ‘WE’ in the US, but aimed at racial minorities, not gender alone. And that led to the ‘TechWise programme’, which is now in its second cohort.

Our path to the US came through the partnership with Google and it gets back to the point that wherever in the world, Google wants to conduct a new set of experiments they know we are the default partner for doing that.

For example, we are doing another project with somebody else in evaluating Africa as a continent on how we can build a program like ‘TechWise’ or ‘WE’ across multiple countries.

At this point, our partners are dragging us there and we are just following.

How do you perceive edtech as a segment, how was it initially in 2020 compared to now?

As the market is getting bigger, the so-called skill gap is going to widen at the same time, because the quality of education is declining and the demand of industry is increasing. Secondly, will getting a job be easier? The answer is no. We've seen enough to know that with automation and AI, getting jobs will be harder. The ratio of good colleges to students is never going to be favourable to good professors. Therefore, we need digitally driven education to scale up education and the number of students who need help is only increasing every year.

The biggest mistake that has happened is that people got too ambitious and greedy. My view is that companies need a natural time to scale and grow, if I speeded up by 10 or 100 times by throwing more resources one will kill the whole thing. Therefore, I believe that the market is good but companies have gone about it the wrong way. Companies need to take the whole task seriously.

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