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SkillKindle, an online marketplace for skill-sharing secures angel funding

SkillKindle is a Delhi based startup that offers a platform for anyone looking to learn a skill to find credible, convenient and affordable real-world workshops offered by experts in the city. That is, an online marketplace for skills-sharing that enables trainers to get access to audience as well.skillkindle

The startup has raised seed round from i3 consulting and plans to expand in Bangalore and Mumbai. Started by Tanuj Choudhry (ex-McKinsey), SkillKindle has so far featured 76 workshops (since December 2011) and has contributed between 10-15% seats to the workshops.

Unlike most of the other marketplaces, SkillKindle is taking a (sort of) local search approach to building the marketplace – i.e. sellers (i.e. experts) listings are verified and also, the company is taking a mix of B2C and B2B route.

Here is an interview with SkillKindle founder, Tanuj Choudhry.

Pluggd.in: You are creating a destination site which has its own challenges (of marketing/traffic). What’s the plan going forward?

Tanuj Choudhry: Our goal is to grow SkillKindle.com into the largest skills-sharing platform in the market. This platform will have to include offline and online classes that are credible, convenient and affordable. Suppliers (experts, trainers, training firms) will be curated by SkillKindle.com but beyond that, we envision a market-driven setup with ratings, customer feedback, results and potentially placements to guide a learner about what class to take (and to not take)

SkillKindle.com, as it stands now, is the first step of this goal. We are building a full-fledged, curated, online marketplace for offline workshops & classes. This marketplace includes workshops & classes offered by existing players (e.g., Salsa India offering workshops, which we are helping them market and sell). Here, the challenge is around building sheer traffic on our website so that a learner starts using SkillKindle.com to compare Salsa classes in his/her locality of choice, and is able to buy a seat right there. We are working on (a) mass media outreach programmes and (b) ensuring top-notch phone and web service to tackle this challenge. Supply of workshops is large, our goal here is to grab a bigpart of this pie.

Workshops & classes offered by experts who reach out to us. Here, the target segments are typically smaller and not always all in one place. The challenge is around building enough channel partners who can work with us to take these workshops to their networks. For example, for workshops offered to college students in Delhi, our channel partners include the Placement Committees of city-colleges as well as youth outreach NGO’s like What’s Up Bharat, who in turn collaborate with outreach partners like Youth ki Awaaz. Supply of such workshops is low, demand is proven everyday, our goal is to set up a seamless mechanism for experts to offer these classes and indirectly reach out to a very wide yet targeted customer segment. 

Workshops & classes offered by SkillKindle.com & its strategic partners: These are typically programmes such as Excel training courses, Social Media Analytics workshops etc offered and certified by SkillKindle.com & its strategic partners. For instance, for Excel & Financial Modelling trainings, we are working with i3 Consulting to build out top-notch yet affordable programmes for high-volume low-price modules. With 9.9 School of Convergence, we are working to set up a Social Media Marketing workshop series. We’ve already conducted a workshop on Excel 101, for example, which was a roaring success. The Social Media Marketing workshops series in collaboration with 9.9 School of Convergence starts on March 24 at Rs. 500/participant for a 3-hour workshop at Sri Aurobindo Society Campus. This is probably the most exciting segment to build on.
You mentioned Udemy, we have Edukart looking to build up capabilities in the same sector. Our hypothesis is that while these strategic partnerships will help us build a very strong offline workshop portfolio, it also gives us a clear path forward to start offering short & highly effective certificate or non-certificate programmes online, through webinars and presentations (see Future Plans section). The challenge here is to develop a pool of strategic partners who bring in very specific specialisations. Supply is high but very fragmented and with quality that is untested, demand is growing every day with tier II and even tier I folks looking for top-of-the-line programmes offline and online. Our goal is to organize the market and really work on scale and quality.

2. Is consumer the only segment you are targeting? Or you are also targeting B2B?

Tanuj Choudhry: We are targeting the B2C as well as B2B segments. Here’s how we service these segments

  • B2C segment: Through SkillKindle.com, we offer real-world classes on any skill to anyone who wants to learn. All signups are by phone or online – it’s a pure retail model. We take a 20% cut for every student who signs up for the class through us. 
  • B2B segment: Through SkillKindle Pro for corporates and SkillKindle Prodigy for schools & colleges

    – Through SkillKindle Pro, we serve corporates. We offer recreational and professional workshops conducted by experts & trainers in our network, to corporates. Our value proposition for these organisations is simple: we absorb the pain of identifying & checking credibility of trainers or training firms because of our intensive cred-check process, come up with workshop options that are fresher and usually more economical, and build a skills-partner relationship. Apart from some smaller clients, we are already in talks with firms like Microsoft in Gurgaon. What makes this service line crucial is: (1) it significantly strengthens our cash flows since most of these are bulk orders, (2) more importantly, it gives us great publicity because the end users here are also our retail customers – so cross-selling is easier

    – Through SkillKindle Prodigy, we serve schools & colleges. We are conducting summer skills-camps across schools in Delhi, where our role is to structure large-scale programmes, use our network of trainers & experts to staff these programmes, and take it to schools directly. The response has been positive and we have also partnered with an education consulting firm that focuses on increasing CCE compatibility of CBSE schools. At colleges, we recently concluded a photography workshop at Amity University, as part of their annual fest. The model was similar: we set up the programme, established a relationship with Amity University and invited one of the photography experts in our network to conduct this workshop. The possibilities are unlimited with a credible network of experts & trainers who are looking to share their skills    

In terms of resource utilization, we spend 70% on SkillKindle.com (retail) and 30% on SkillKindle Pro & Prodigy. One of the reasons we are being able to do this is because SkillKindle.com helps us build a fantastic pool of trainers we can leverage for SkillKindle Pro & Prodigy. Ranita Basu Ray from our team leads SkillKindle Pro, since she has substantial corporate training and management consulting experience. 

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3. How do you verify a trainer’s skillset (and credibility)?

Tanuj Choudhry: When we evaluate a trainer looking to offer a workshop through SkillKindle.com, SkillKindle Pro or SkillKindle Prodigy, we check three main criteria

  • Formal credentials: LinkedIn profiles, Google search for formal accreditations based on a skill (we are building up a database of accreditations for different skills but for many, they actually don’t exist!), References if any
  • Experience with that skill: We call up the teacher to confirm details around years of experience with the skill, how they used it (professionally or informally) etc. This call is probably the most critical part of the process. It takes ~3-5 minutes and we have a list of questions that we need answers to. It also gives us the opportunity to check criteria 3
  • Teaching experience: The most skilled don’t always make for great teachers. We look for past teaching experience, feedback from any previous workshops etc. If none of that exists, and we are sure about criteria (A) and (B), we have a rep from our team monitor their lesson & execution plan before the workshop. Unfortunately, the best feedback on teaching experience only hits us after the class has been conducted and we receive feedback from students

This process is time-taking, and we spend at least 25-40 minutes on cred-checks for any given teacher. We are working on making this process much leaner, and ultimately coming to a point where we can programme this into the class submission form. For this, we need the right set of metrics, some of which are generic and some very specific to the skill being offered. Suggestions?

Finally, we have a customer feedback process wherein we incentivise students to give feedback on teachers. Points accrued can be redeemed for discounts on their next SkillKindle class. Based on feedback (and enough times), we could consider moving a teacher up to a “Recommended Teacher” bracket or issuing a warning in case the feedback didn’t meet the minimum threshold set

In addition to all of this, we do spend time picking up data points about teachers from informal networks (online and offline). Can give you more details if you need them – it’s a pretty interesting process

Pluggd.in: Why not take an approach like Udemy? That is, of hosted content? Is that something planned?

Tanuj Choudhry: Absolutely! The idea is to start building out a platform that can host content we can easily disseminate on a subscription basis. The workshops we are putting together with strategic partners fit right into this model, where we are recording sessions, creating content that can be easily disseminated over the web, and are top-quality.  However, we are conscious that our current focus is really offline workshops and classes, and scaling it up all across India. If we are able to crack this, and manage the content we are creating in this process, we could be setting ourselves up for a very powerful platform for online AND offline workshops. The fascination for face-to-face workshops is actually much than a fascination 🙂 There is clear merit in real-world classes. The trick is to combine the power of the online and offline world to make skills-sharing seamless, effective and affordable

5. Future plans?

Tanuj Choudhry: Immediate plans are 

  • Ramp up our team from 5 to 10 in the next 6 months, particularly in the marketing and technology functions
  • Launch in Mumbai and Bangalore by Jul-Aug 2012, and then opening up pan-India by October 2012
  • Develop a strong foothold in the semi-professional / professional skills market where typical workshops don’t go beyond a 20-25 hours in total
  • Start developing a stronger platform for hosted content
  • Increase awareness dramatically

An interesting concept, especially the fact that the team seems to be very aggressive in its approach, though the competition is not with other online marketplace, but largely with event ticketing sites, as trainers/experts are looking at awareness of their workshops. That is, online marketplaces need to bring much more than just the audience.

If you are a trainer, do give SkillKindle a spin and share your feedback with the team.

Also see: Bangalore based BookMyTrainings Launches Marketplace for Training Programs

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