One of the co-founders at InterviewBit and Scaler Academy, Abhimanyu Saxena completed his B.Tech in Computer Science from IIIT – Hyderabad and is passionate about creating something new. He started his entrepreneurial journey during his B.Tech days, co-founding ‘Daksh Home Automations Systems’ with his batch mates. Together they developed a cost-effective and green AI-based system that helped households reduce their monthly electricity consumption. While working with Fab.com, Abhimanyu experienced a scarcity of skilled tech talent owing to the considerable gap that exists between the university curriculum and the skills that are required to succeed as a software engineer. This led him to join hands with his college friend Anshuman Singh and launch InterviewBit. Since its launch in 2015, Abhimanyu and the team have been able to build InterviewBit into one of the most popular skilling and tech recruitment companies in the country. In 2019, they successfully launched Scaler Academy – an online career accelerator program – the next step in the evolution of InterviewBit.
We had the opportunity to ask Abhimanyu a couple of questions and his responses were proof that with a strong vision and trust in your abilities, you can scale heights!
In a word, describe your life as an entrepreneur.
As an entrepreneur, what is it that motivates and drives you?
I have always been a very goal-oriented person. So once I have identified a goal or a mission to chase, it keeps me awake at night. Our current goal right now is to enable as many students as possible to achieve their dreams of becoming a successful software engineer. Despite being talented, a lot of young professionals are not able to make it because of lack of access to the right learning resources, and that is something we are trying to address with InterviewBit and Scaler Academy. It is a constant thought running in our minds, and we are continuously thinking of ways to achieve it. A country like China spends almost 15% of its GDP on education, and that has helped them chart such an extraordinary growth into a leading world economy. We as a country can also learn from that, our youth capital is enormous, but they need requisite skill training and development. It is a challenging goal but also hugely rewarding. Helping these young techies achieve their dreams is a huge motivator in itself. And that feeling drives us to do more.
How do you handle adversity and doubt?
When you genuinely believe in the mission to ensure everyone gets high quality learning and the right opportunities and understand that it’s much more significant than your fears, egos or failures – any adversity seems manageable as there is just too much at stake. We are so rooted in our north star and determined to get there; we somehow find a way to get over all the difficulties and doubts. Our goal is to ensure every single engineering student out there has the capabilities to realise his potential, and we will do all in our power to help them with it. Whatever hurdles that come our way, we are committed to crossing them. We strongly believe that nothing is unattainable; it just needs hard work and right direction. Our philosophy is to see every doubt, confusion or initiative from the student’s point of view. After all, our business is to enable them to achieve their best, and all the efforts/initiatives are in that regard. So it’s pretty straightforward for us.
How did you build your team? How do you motivate your team to be optimistic?
Our hiring philosophy is straightforward, we want to work with people who believe in our mission and goal as much as we do. We can’t build a successful business if our people don’t believe in our shared vision. We have been fortunate enough to find some extraordinarily talented and driven people at the beginning of our journey. And like magnets, they are the ones who are helping us attract more talent. Several of our team members have left lucrative jobs in leading organisations like McKinsey, Facebook and Google to work with us because they feel strongly about what we are trying to achieve with InterviewBit and Scaler Academy. Quite a few of our students come from very humble backgrounds, and Scaler Academy has been able to help them alleviate their professional journeys. The combination of passionate team members and enthusiastic students/alumni has helped create an ecosystem where we all are equally invested. There are always going to be ups and downs on the way, but it is our shared conviction that keeps us motivated and optimistic.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful business?
The most important thing about any business is to find a need gap that exists and create a service or product that adequately fills that gap. Value Addition is a very critical element of business if you want it to be successful. Value addition is not only for your consumers/users but also to the people you will work with and the society at large. It is imperative to find that sweet spot. If you can positively impact the entire supply chain, you have found yourself a business that has real potential.
If we take the example of Scaler Academy – the course not only empowers and upskills young techies, it is also able to provide value to hiring partners by giving them a ready pool of capable engineers to pick. We are also helping the economy by creating a large pool of job-ready engineers. It is a win-win situation for all.
What made you start Scaler Academy? How did you know when you had the right idea?
When it comes to the number of institutions imparting technical education, the Indian education system has undergone a drastic change over the last decade. While significant efforts are being made to make education accessible by churning out new institutes, what is missing, from even a Tier 1 college, is the necessary industry-connect. Majority of the private organisations, both large and small, claim that while graduates might possess theoretical knowledge, they usually don’t have skills that are required for them even to do entry-level jobs. We experienced this first hand when we started working in the tech recruitment space with InterviewBit in 2015. We realised early on that most people we engage with are capable of achieving even greater things given the right guidance. The only thing missing in the picture was access to instructors and mentors, who would not only teach them new skills but also guide them in their careers – which led to the launch of Scaler Academy back in April 2019.
How is Scaler Academy different from InterviewBit?
Scaler Academy is an online accelerator program for the top 1% of software developers in the country. It offers an intensive six-month computer science course through live classes delivered by tech leaders and subject matter experts. Scaler Academy’s meticulously structured program enhances the skills of software professionals by offering a modern curriculum with exposure to the latest technologies.
On the other hand, InterviewBit is a recruiting and interview prep platform for programmers to help master the skills that top employers seek while hiring.
Scaler Academy is a product by InterviewBit.
How has technology redefined the boundaries of education?
One of the most significant benefits of technology is that it has made distance redundant. A decade ago, you could have a particular experience or mentorship if you were geographically present at a specific city or institute. Technology has made everything accessible including quality education, experienced industry leaders and exceptional course curriculum. Today you don’t need to be living in the US or have a particular social standing to be mentored by a Harvard graduate or Facebook Engineer. The Internet and technology have made it easier for us to have access to the best facilities from the comforts of our homes. Technology has enabled us at Scaler Academy to provide our students with live classes from some of the best instructors in the country. We are also able to have them mentored by CTO’s of leading tech organisations virtually. Technology has helped in creating a level playing field for everyone – all you need is access to the internet.
How has InterviewBit & Scaler Academy geared up to reform the educational landscape of rural India?
We have a student from a small town called Burdwan in West Bengal who is today working with a leading Mumbai based tech start-up called Lido Learning. And there are so many such examples among our alumni network. There is massive scope in the Tier 2, 3 and 4 markets. We aim to ideally help every engineering student in the country. We are in the process of launching basic and intermediate level courses also that could help people from rural areas.
What are some of the common misconceptions people have about InterviewBit & Scaler Academy? How have you turned the non-believers into believers?
A lot of young people out there believe that the only reason they are not working with companies like Google or Facebook is that they don’t have any connection with the organisation. If someone were to introduce them, they would surely get it. What a lot of us fail to understand is that while access to opportunities in such places is definitely an issue. The more critical aspect is skills and aptitude. Unless we are technically sound and have the requisite knowledge, even if we get that interview, we are not likely to crack it. In our hurry to get to our destination, we often forget that it’s only possible if we have the right foundation and that takes time and effort to build. Similarly, companies spend a lot of time, effort and money to find the right employees from outside instead of upskilling their current workforce.
Over the last few years, things have changed. A lot of our students today understand the importance of learning and are focusing on that to further their careers rather than just blindly chasing jobs. Also, several CTOs and lead engineers from leading companies are now taking up mentorship on the side to help bridge the gap. Slowly but steadily, things are changing for the future, and we are happy to be playing a part in this change.
How do you keep learners motivated and engaged in this digital era?
We employ some gamification methods and techniques to keep our students engaged. We have something called ’Streak’. That is a score that you build if you solve problems and assignments on the platform. It is shareable and encourages people to practice daily. We also have leaderboards that showcase how peers in a course are performing, in a bid to promote healthy competition. These have worked well for us so far. We will be building on more such experiences in the next few months.
How do you plan on growing your business?
Our aim this year is to expand our reach and help more and more young professionals to scale up their career. The goal is to scale up enrollment as well as to enter new markets, while also investing in their curriculum and the live teaching product to enhance the student-teacher experience.
What is your advice to young entrepreneurs who are starting?
My advice to all entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs will be to build a business that has a substantial impact and truly adds value to the lives of your consumers/users. Find your north star and then chase it with all the determination you can find. Keep at it, don’t relent. The universe has a way of making things fall into place!