Why Talentpad Shutdown? [Lessons Learned]

Talentpad which raised funding from Helion shutdown a few months back. Founder, Mayank Jain in the spirit of ‘paying it forward’ shares great insights behind the story. These insights are immensely useful not just for founders in recruitment space, but for the ones doing B2B businesses as well.

Read on.


One-line Reason

Our inability to figure out a scalable solution, which addresses a large enough market in India.

Target Market

To begin with, let me start by defining our target market, we were targeting the white-collar private sector permanent job market in India. Out of the total working population of ~600mn, our TG was 1%+ of that, around 7mn. I know this might sound surprising, but it’s true. The rest of the workers are either blue or grey collar workers, or working in either public sector, or in agriculture.

So, the total recruitment market (defined above) is ~$1bn, out of which the share of the recruiters / consultants is ~$600mn, and the share of job-boards is ~$125mn, Naukri being the leader with ~$60mn in revenues. We had intended to take some market share away from both of the above, so our TAM was ~$725mn.talentpad

Our Premise

So, when we started we started with the premise that existing marketplaces (like Naukri, TimesJobs etc.) are fairly inefficient, in my mind they’re a directory, directory of CVs, directory of jobs. And today no one wants a directory, neither the candidate nor the employers, everybody wants a customised and highly relevant list, which is also small in size.

We said, let’s take a segment of the market, which is large enough, but let’s serve it well, instead of just being a directory. When I say serve well, one thing we wanted to do was improve the ‘MATCHING‘, as we believed there is no perfect candidate or job, it’s all about marrying the right candidate with the right opportunity / company. We had intended to do that using data science, technology, by capturing organised data sets on both sides i.e. CV and job, and using data science / rules to do the matching, which’ll of course improve with time as more data gets fed into the machine.

Learnings as we went along

However on our journey, as we got to understand the market better, following is what we realized.
The consultant’s $600mn market is further a sum of three sub-markets:

1. Senior Management (~$100mn): this sub-market works on trust, relationships, confidentiality, basically lack of transparency. And over 90% market share in this segment belongs to the exec. search firms. Couldn’t figure a way to fix this using tech.

2. Junior / Mid Management (<$300mn): what we realized is that the key thing employers look for in this sub-market, while making a hire, was the probability of the hire turning out to be a good manager. Because this is the point where an individual is transitioning from an individual contributor role to a managerial one, thus probability of being a good manager was the key. And domain knowledge becomes a hygiene rather than an acceptance parameter. While there are a couple of psychometric assessment companies out there to solve this problem, but they’ve their own type 1 and type 2 errors.

Also, what we understood was that presently, an interviewer largely tries to de-construct a person’s past work experience, basically CV, and understands that in more detail, asks him examples of specific instances where he showed certain traits, in an in-person meeting to gauge whether he or she’ll be a good manager or not. This is largely intuition along with some supporting facts. Again, we thought if we could try capturing the details asked in an in-person interview and build into the person’s CV, we could solve this problem to some extent, maybe reduce the duration of the interview, or reduce the number of interviews.

But this seemed to be a very very hard problem to solve, and this would require to be done for each role, sub-role and skill, not to mention that the sub-market size is less.

3. Junior / Entry Level (>$200mn): In this sub-market, what we figured was that the one-thing required to crack this was figuring a scalable way to up-skill talent, then assess talent and then finally place him/her. Roughly 50% of this sub-market comes from three industries i.e. IT/ITeS, BFSI and Retail, and that’s how it works with them, they largely work with recruiters / consultants, in some case provide the training material to these consultants, for them to find people, train them over a period which can range from 3 to 6 months, post which assess them, post which the good ones get hired by the employers. In IT/ITeS the training part happens in-house owing to the mismatch of supply and demand. Over 1mn engineers graduate every year, while the industry hires ~0.2mn every year in this segment, 90% of which happens on-campus. The demand supply gap because ~25% of these graduates are deemed employable, not talking about quality hires.

Coming on to the ‘Assessing’ part, while there is a scalable way to assess tech. skills, and HackerRank is the leader in this, but for non-tech skills this is a very hard problem, one that has not been solved with accuracy globally. We tried hard to solve this part, but couldn’t figure out a scalable solution to assess most of non-tech skills, while we could for some.

Plus, in my mind this is a different and an independent business altogether (B2B SaaS), than what we were doing, which does not mean we couldn’t get into this, but our inability to figure for most non-tech skills led us to take this decision, not to mention the part to scale up-skilling / training, which is also a complete business in itself (which is why I think LinkedIn made a huge bet on Lynda).

Conclusion

So, in my mind the above three sub-markets are completely different to each others, and practically need three different businesses to serve these well, except that individually size of each sub-market is less. Coupled with our inability to figure out a scalable solution, we decided to discontinue.

Of course there are generic solutions, which will apply for all the above three sub-markets,  like providing access to the directory, where Naukri etc. are playing, and it’s hard to disrupt them unless you’ve a solid differentiation, which we could not figure out. We could have taken the path of a tech-enabled recruiter and scaled the business to a $25-30mn revenue business over the next 5 years, however that did not match with our aspirations, and we decided to take the hard call rather than dragging on. Also, when I say aspirations, it’s more to do with our unwillingness to run a service business.

Then we tried to figure out an adjacent market in recruitment space that we could possibly attack like temp. placement market, part time job market, freelance, intern, contract hire, up-skilling market and so on. While temp. placement market by definition asset-heavy and hard to scale using tech., the size of the part time, intern, contract hire market was very small in India (<$50mn), on the other hand the freelance market was overcrowded, and in some ways a different market altogether with different dynamics, which is when we decided to not limit ourselves to above and explore other ideas / markets as well.

As a summary, my view is the following:

  • Extremely hard to replace horizontal marketplaces, like Naukri / LinkedIn, unless there is a solid value prop. which is defensible (which we could not find for a large enough market)
  • With vertical marketplaces like IIMJobs, HasGeek etc. , there is a market size issue in India, so will have to expand globally to build a large business
  • Opportunity to build an assessment business, for non-tech skills, if you can figure a scalable way to do so. Can address the blue collar market too if you figure that.

Proud of

However, that being said, in many ways we succeeded, we did figure out a scalable solution to address a segment of the market i.e. skill workers. We scaled the business to $1mn+ in revenues, with 1500+ clients signed up, 60,000+ tech. candidates signed up, built a stellar team, a team I’m really proud of, a team who believed in us in spite of this failure, team that decided to work together for our present venture.

We also got a chance to learn from marquee investors like Helion, made a great friend i.e. Ritesh who was on our board, all of this in 18 months. We succeeded in a lot of aspects pertaining to execution, in areas like marketing, sales, client management, product, hiring great folks etc.

What next

Now we’ve started our next journey (like we promised), have come out wiser and stronger, and in takes me great pride to announce our next venture i.e. Trevo, it’s a venture in the intra-city bus-pooling space, more details soon in a blog post.

[You can email Mayank at mayank@trevoapp.com. The article has been reproduced from his Quora response.]

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15 comments
  1. What is all this?

    These guys NEVER cared for the candidates who signed up.

    No wonder they deserve a shutdown.

    Next in the list: Trevo.

  2. “We could have taken the path of a tech-enabled recruiter and scaled the business to a $25-30mn revenue business over the next 5 years, however that did not match with our aspirations”

    Okay thanks.

  3. All these nos. was known much before they started , as an industry veteran don’t agree with the analysis. These analysis could have been done even before they started . The permanent recruiting industry is INR 7k crores and job boards do not make mare than INR 600-700 crores, the remaining rest with HR consultants which they should have gotten a big pie off. They just had people sourcing from job boards and then trying to sell them to clients, what kind of a model was that. Even if you speak to people who were asked to leave (majority of people working there), they say they were everything offline. The platform also was existent only as a name and tech platform never got built (we have spoken to both candidates and companies) . Globally hired (from which talentpad was copied) is doing so well, not reason it should not do well in India. If you are looking at building a global business, you better build a tech platform which allows it. The problem was that team was unable to scale the business and were never able to fulfill any requirements. Most startups which used the platform had two key issues 1) no unique candidates, they were sourcing from the job boards 2) very few hires actually happened, most clients did not hire even a single candidate. Even from the candidate perspective , candidates interviews did not happened when planned, when interviews happened- feedback wouldnt com, when salary discussions happened, they were not in line with what was promised and finally after all the effort very few got jobs. So when you cant fulfill either side, how can you be successful.. Lets get all the “faaf” out of the way and accept failure as it was. The only way to make the business a success is need to be persistent.

  4. With all due to respect to entrepreneurial spirit and intentions of the founders, there is another side of the story.

    I received a call from their founder in their early stage when they were trying to sell their talent auction product. This is how it works – a candidate put up his or her profile on their website and companies are supposed to put bid for their salaries. Highest one wins and candiate join this company. I remember saying no to this right after hearing this. Come on, who would want to hire their team this way. These are people, the building block of an organization. If they are coming from this process of money and greed, they are going to leave as soon as get someone with deeper pockets. I am not saying pay check shouldn’t be a decision parameters for a candidate when joining a company, but this is ridiculously on extreme side.

    Looking from the market perspective, odds are still in favour of new ideas in recruiting technology. Yes, people are fed up with candidate/job directories and that is generating opportunity for better technologies in recruiting space. Market is still large, even if you talk about “white-collar private sector permanent job market in India” but to cater that market we need better and modern tech not these ideas like this which would be beneficial for neither the companies nor the candidates in long term.

  5. I’m not too sure why I’m replying to this. Maybe because I disagree mostly with the “lessons” and I don’t want potential entrepreneurs taking it the wrong way.

    I signed up for TalentPad almost a year back. I did not hire a single candidate via TalentPad. It’s funny how the stat on no of candidates hired – the most important metric is missing from this article. I bet its low)

    Here is what they did wrong

    1. Didn’t make it easier for companies to hire

    Companies spend a lot, like really a lot of time on hiring. Having hired more than 20 people now, the main pain is the amount of time it takes for a for a position.

    TalentPad actually made it worse. You had to open up EACH candidate’s profile and THEN make a EXPECTED SALARY offer. They had great filters, all they had to do is have the ability to shortlist all the results of the filter and remove the ridiculous condition of making an EXPECTED SALARY offer.

    2. By focusing on EXPECTED SALARY, they ensured that only job hoppers applied

    The worst people I have ever hired are those who begin the interview with “So how much money can I expect?”. The best people I have ever hired are those who begin the interview with “So how can your company help me grow my career”. They’re excited about working with new tools, new technologies, new industries. They’re willing to shift jobs for the same salary.

    3. Founders not receptive to feedback

    I’ve talked to 300 of my customers so that (an actual Skype talk). I’ve noted down their suggestions, implemented the most common ones, followed up after implementing, significantly changed the app interface, pricing structure, messaging etc until I found product-market fit. The TalentPad platform was exactly the same in the entire 1 year that I occasionally logged in.

    Entrepreneurs reading this – TALK to your customers and FIND product market fit.

  6. “Companies spend a lot, like really a lot of time on hiring. Having hired more than 20 people now, the main pain is the amount of time it takes for a for a position.”

    So how do you personally hire? Job boards or agencies? If you use LinkedIn messaging then effort is even greater right?

  7. There were enough case studies of product-plays / tech-heavy apps failing miserably in this space. Barring LinkedIn, nobody could disrupt this space just because of the simple fact that its large play that needs product edge, time and loads of cash. Linkedin did because had all this and millions of partial CVs already.

    Its funny that these guys never had a clue about the dynamics of Recruitment consulting (agency) space, when there was so much history available all over the place. Interviewing a naukri/monster entry level sales guy and chatting up with a recruitment consultant ( even over twitter) would have given them some insight that this is a space that needs more skills than coding.

    Remember techtribe ?

    Directly assuming that the AMS is X million and they’ll do well if they crack 5% of it is what at least 20 such startups did before talentpad in this very same space. All startups should give Jobs and matrimony a pass unless they have enough funds to reach across India and survive for 5 years.

    One tight slap to Helion for funding such a bunch with complete lack of insight into the domain. Somebody else would have built something good in that cash, elsewhere.

    These techies and consultants with lack real-time industry experience are becoming a serious pain off late.

  8. I think a lot has been said here, let me just humbly pen down some of my brief thoughts looking back.

    With respect to the point that we could have had a deeper insight into the market before we started up, I think definitely yes, though we did do fair amount of diligence, both primary and secondary, but yes we could have spent more time, given that we did not have a prior experience in this sector. We were just a passionate bunch of entrepreneurs, how faced this problem first hand both as a job-seeker and an employer looking to hire, and thought through first principles and through our execution we’ll solve this problem.

    With respect to our positioning, we were never aiming to be a platform where employers have to give out high salaries to attract talent, one of the reasons we changed our name to TalentPad from TalentAuction, we wanted to be a platform for both employers and candidates to sell themselves, at the same time provide all relevant tools to each party to sell themselves, for an employer it could have been their brand name or work culture or employee perks or their team or the stock options or the job role itself, and not just the cash compensation, which is why later on we had introduced detailed and rich company profiles, which would serve exactly this purpose. The candidates could sell his past experience or his portfolio using rich media like video / presentations / web-links. He / she could have given out assessments, and if they did well, this would have been a strong selling factor, as we had plans to allow employers to filter using these rich filters, one of the key reasons why we had acquired assessment capability. Candidate could highlight the skills in which he/she is proficient, highlight any test scores, upload a video, especially useful for roles where communication skills are important and much more.

    With respect to our execution, could we have done better, I’m sure we could, and it really hurts when we hear a customer had a bad experience, or it used to really make our day on hearing if the customer was happy. I’m sure some of the candidates would have been disappointed, especially because to begin with we were focussing on candidates who were either from a tier 1 school or had worked at a tier 1 company or had a concrete evidence of being proficient in a certain skill-set, which is why our acceptance rate was ~10%, however that being said, we of course had plans to serve the entire audience, however to do that, we were working hard to build our MATCHING capabilities, which unfortunately does take time and data, and like I said before, quoting “we believed there is no perfect candidate or job, it’s all about marrying the right candidate with the right opportunity / company”. However, I can assure you our metrics suggest that we provided a great experience and a whole lot of visibility to the 10% who got accepted into the platform.

    On the employer side, yes, initially our marketplace was skewed slightly towards the candidate, as hundreds of companies used to compete for a curated and smaller talent pool, because of which candidates used to have multiple options amongst which he used to select one. I believe that while we were skewed towards candidates, traditional hiring process is skewed in favour of the employers, in the medium to long term, we wanted to build a more balanced marketplace, which better matches the candidate to the employer pool, and makes the entire process more efficient, rather than favouring any one side. That being said, let me also share some of our key metrics on the employer side, I believe the single most important metric is the retention metric, we used to track the repeat rates, we had very high repeat rates, while 75% of the employers used to come back every month, over 90% of the employers used to come back every quarter, not to mention the fact that sometimes employers also don’t come back if they don’t have active job openings to be filled. If this was not the case, no way in the world could we have scaled to a $1mn+ in revenues in just 15 months.

    I take back the learnings, the various things that we could have done better, things we did quite well, and thank everybody for keeping us on our toes.

  9. “We could have taken the path of a tech-enabled recruiter and scaled the business to a $25-30mn revenue business over the next 5 years, however that did not match with our aspirations”

    OMG! Bunch of retards I would say. Startups get shut down every day but this is ridiculous. Let me tell you the real reason for the “shut down”. Helion wants to invest in bus-pooling. Haha. These guys are running subsidized buses in Gurgaon with the money they had from Helion for TalentPad. I am sure they are again heading for trouble with Trevo – a business with inherently bad economics and already shut in Bangalore (read ZipGo). Matter of time before someone files an RTI with the transport department and these guys are shut down (on account of no stage carriage permit, charging per ticket price, no operator license, diesel vehicles etc.). I would say this is just another misguided team who think of themselves as the disruptors and just want to build a unicorn with no focus, due-diligence, market study. Classic case of herd mentality of Indian startups. Disappointed.

  10. I read very recently about another startup TalentPad acquired in the hiring space:

    http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/talentpad-acquires-tech-recruitment-platform-optimizedbits-115050800041_1.html

    And now they have shutdown the business altogether? All this within 2 months? Seriously this is so screwed. And the reason on top of that makes it even worse. Blatant waste of investors money. Why would Helion back these guys? Just because they can throw numbers around? Building a company is a test of persistence and character and not your number crunching or presentation skills. High time we start acting as mature entrepreneurs. Sad.

  11. This is super interesting, I saw the same story play out with another tech-recruitment startup that shut down for somewhat similar reasons and some more, in the end. What you guys were doing seemed very close to what hired.com is doing in the US, and the only reason hired.com works in the US (or at least is still fighting it out), is because tech talent in the US is very highly priced and there is a serious shortfall of people. Peopl are by far the most expensive resource for any company in the US, and people are overly cautious about who they hire, which I can hardly say about India or Indian startups (barring some) of course.

    Any move is better than no move, best of luck on your next one.

  12. True, but it is somehow not uncommon in India to not build a solid technology platform from the get go, and keep things manual. I know some unicorns that did that for a very long time …. I attribute it more to the cost of labor. The cost-benefit equation of automation plays out differently in India than markets where people are more expensive and you have to reach a non-linear growth curve faster i.e. do more with the same set of people. Also becoming cash flow positive is becoming less prevalent which is disturbing. The combination leads to very unique, sub-optimal decisions in my view.

  13. Quite surprising no one talks about the deep rooted corruption within the hiring fraternity. Guys grow up it’s not only the govt guys who are asking money but it’s the recruitment team within pvt organizations who are much more corrupt and forcing consultants or future employees to pay money. With such corruption levels it will be tough for any startup to make money in the recruitment business ( Naukri, linkedin having made roads before rampant corruption set in). I think a platform that rates recruiters on corruption levels based on genuine and verified data would make more money than any of these so called tech hiring platforms, since none of the existing hiring platforms can genuinely help hiring because the corruption is deep rooted. But am sure somewhere there is that one guy higher up in the entire chain who genuinely wants talent in the system and any information on the same would help cleanse the entire process.
    My reasons to say so are-
    a. A very average background of recruiters in a IT/ITES company boasts of having much more money than the same level experienced product/development/sales/operations etc guy.
    b. Invariably resumes forwarded as employee referrals see rejections rate higher than those referred by consultant ,in certain cases the same referred by both sources sees more conversions through online forms, since there’s hands in glove arrangement between the two online forms to not leave much for representations.
    c. Colleges and training institutes offering guarantees for jobs? Do you think that’s possible esp when even IIT’s and IIM’s do not even tread the same, even though they pick up and cream of the lot. Not to mention colleges and institutes who do not have a basic screening process of intake and commit an assured job even before admissions. The Question Lies. How do they know the caliber much before they even know the #realcandidate..

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