Imagine being back in 2009 — the economy still sore after the financial crash of 2008; technology hasn’t really caught up in the ubiquitous way it exists now; not every home has an internet connection; and start-ups are rarer and less cooler.
It was exactly in such a scenario that Ketan Kapoor and Tonmoy Shingal started Mettl, an online assessment and training platform. “It certainly was far less sexy to start your own company back then,” says Ketan, laughing, adding that it was very hard to convince parents and family if you wanted to leave a settled career and plunge into an unknown world.
A positive payoff
Seven years down the line, the company seems to be doing quite well for itself, with over 300 employees. During the first six months, they had a mere five to 10 companies as clients. Today, that list has expanded to include around 1,500 companies, boasting of names such as Vodafone, Oracle, Accenture, Capgemini, Wipro, Microsoft, SAP, Cognizant, Samsung, Nasscom and Amity University.
When they initially started off and introduced themselves as a firm that did online assessment, sceptical questions were raised by client companies: how will you do assessment in a remote place or town, or a faraway campus? Today, because technology has improved, that is a rare question. “I think there is the confidence that wherever we go in India, we’ll be able to find an internet connection to run an online test. That was a bet we took when we started — as learning moved online, as the internet became ubiquitous, assessments would increasingly happen online. And that has been paying out positively for us.”
While two-thirds of the business is recruitment, the other part deals with learning and development. The assessments span a slew of industries. So how do they go about finding the right fit for the company? “The first question we ask is — what does the company want? What kind of person is the company attempting to recruit? What’s the job description? What competencies are they looking for? What kind of benchmarks do they have in mind for the competencies they finalised?
“After understanding the job role at great depth, we split the competencies across different skill buckets — cognitive (which is ability and aptitude), behavioural, personality-led or domain-led. Within other sectors, such as technology, aviation or agriculture, we find out what skills are required from a technical standpoint, to do that job. Then we create an assessment,” explains the co-founder. They have a test link which is generated and sent to the client. They also have a strong analytical engine that throws up deep insights, starting from top-level recommendations to delving into strengths across competencies to find the best match. The tests, depending on role, seniority and context, can be as short as eight minutes or as long as three hours.
Today, HR departments of companies have warmed up to using technology, though a lot of companies still haven’t adopted it. “According to my estimate, there are around 20,000 large companies in India. Of them, only roughly 5,000 would be using technology in a significant way. So there are 15,000 companies that can be approached. This presents a very large opportunity for a company like us,” says Ketan.
While for the corporates, 80-85 per cent of the assessment is done online, there are other areas where a trained assessor is physically present. “We are now working with the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship on a programme led by the National Skill Development Corporation. And we are working across 28 different sectors. In the agriculture sector, for example, if someone wants to hire a tractor driver, we have a practical component for a tractor driver assessment. And for a tailor, we have sewing machine assessment. For each of these, we have an actual person undertaking a practical test, an assessor whom we certify.”
Mettl was initially self-funded and started with a capital of ₹8 lakh. After three rounds of capital infusion — from friends and family, seed funding and Series A funding — the company turned profitable in FY 2015-16. Which means now, the business is self-sustaining. “Would we get funding if we go to the market? Absolutely, because there’s a large market that’s waiting to be tapped. But there is a conscious choice not to take money because we don’t need it.”
Today, around 90 per cent of its business value comes from India. However, they aren’t restricted by boundaries, as they export assessments to 80 countries across the world. Of the 80, they have partners in 31 countries, where they sell the product. “So there are partners in Egypt, South Africa, Peru, Indonesia, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea — there are dedicated partners in these countries selling Mettl assessments.”
The company was also a part of top 20 start-ups at India Emerging 20. What’s next for them? “We feel we’re just getting started in a lot of ways. We have covered a few hurdles in terms of the business being sustainable. But the next step for us is to be the best in the world. We’re already No. 1 in a few areas we work in, but to be the absolute best in terms of revenue, volume and assessment, international expansion is a priority.”