Jobspire Story: How Varun Mayya & His Fresh Grads Team Built One Of India's Top Startup Jobs Portal
Varun started coding at the age of 11. By the time he was 16, he had started his first company 'Aftershock Entertainment'. Following his love for computers and technology, soon Varun went on to graduate as a Computer Science engineer from Manipal Institute of Technology. During his college days, he got along with his group of friends to create SIZR for selling t-shirts. By final year, they had generated 30 lakhs in revenue.
With funds in their hands and ideas brewing in their minds, Varun Mayya, Mohak Dhingra, Kartik Luke Singh and Sandesh Kini decided to execute their next big plan - building a hiring ecosystem. Thus, Jobspire was born in August 2014, 6 months before they were going to graduate. Their technical background helped them build their first MVP within a couple of months and they set off on the high road.
In the last 1.5 years, Jobspire has reached out to 22000+ jobseekers, 330+ companies and about 500+ jobs listed on their portal. They have raised $262,000 in seed funding round led by Purvi Capital, Nikunj Jain And others.
In an exclusive interview with us, we got Varun Mayya, Co-Founder and CEO - Jobspire to talk about his life before this startup, his co-founders, the challenges they face, the experience of raising funds and a lot more interesting stuff. Read on!
Varun Mayya, Co-Founder and CEO - Jobspire
CE: Tell us about your growing up years and family background. As a young guy, did you think about running your own company some day?
Varun Mayya: I grew up in Bangalore, but did my early years in Mumbai. My mother used to always say you need to drink Bombay water if you want to experience the hardships of life. My mother works in the CA industry and worked for ICICI for nearly 26 years and my father was an ENT surgeon. I’m not sure I ever thought of running a company, but there were a lot of other things I wanted to be. I think for the first 10 years of my life the only thing I wanted to be when I grew up was Superman. My world changed when my mother bought me a computer. I was on the computer nearly 10 hours a day since I was 11. It was a Compaq Presario if I remember correctly. The next few years I remember building everything from video games (using the old raycaster engine) to videos (I have a youtube channel somewhere with over half a million hits) to doing freelance design.
When I was 16 I started a company called Aftershock Entertainment with an online friend of mine, James (he was British) and since then design, code, development and the entrepreneurial mindset took over most of my conscious mind.
CE: How did engineering in Computer Science and Manipal happen?
Varun Mayya: My parents were fans of the IITs and were pretty disappointed when I didn’t get into one. I wrote the MIT Manipal entrance test and breezed through. I was always pretty smart, but the volume of information you have to cram into your head to get into an IIT is ridiculous. The Google age had already dawned upon us - I kept wondering why it was so important to memorize formulae so I didn’t ever bother giving the IIT’s a serious shot. I was a computer aficionado so Computer science was a no-brainer.
CE: What was going on your mind when you thought about a startup jobs portal? What were your baby steps from idea to inception?
Varun Mayya: When I was in college at the age of 19, a group of friends and I wanted to start a company. We started selling t-shirts and we called the company Sizr Studios (www.sizr.net). Targeting our class first and then expanding, we made quite a bit of money, close to Rs. 25,000 off the business. However, the effort/risk to reward ratio was very high. So we wanted keep the creative passion flowing but move towards services.
Survival rate is always much higher with services whereas with products it can be a hit and a miss. So we looked into the hiring industry. Our competitors had been in it for a very long time but we felt they had gotten pretty stale.
We decided to create a platform that people will actually use and revolutionize the online hiring industry. We saw that the way companies were hiring was in fact quite boring. We wanted to make that a fun process, so our vision initially was “Aspire to find a job you truly love”.
After the initial idea in the 7th semester, we got accepted as a company in an incubator where we made a lot of contacts as well. We started building our product by mapping out customer journeys, how things should flow etc.
CE: How did you come across your co-founders? What unique skills did each one of them bring in?
Varun Mayya: I met all of my co-founders in college. Kartik was with me since Sizr and Mohak joined after a few weeks worth of brainwashing. Sandesh joined me the second I pitched Jobspire to him. It was a star studded team - I’d handle vision, risk and training; Sandesh would do product; Mohak would do sales and Kartik would handle the technical side of things.
The Jobspire Team
CE: What kind of research & planning went on before starting up Jobspire?
Varun Mayya: We didn’t do much research initially, but as we started building the product, we came across a lot of questions that needed to be answered in order to go forward with the product designs. That’s where most of our research came in. We didn’t understand recruiters at all and it took us nearly 100+ calls with recruiters to even understand the breadth and depth of the market - it’s huge.
CE: How did you gather the initial funds required to set up Jobspire?
Varun Mayya: We’d made nearly 30 lakhs with Sizr and we pooled most of the same money straight into Jobspire. We registered the company and since then there was no looking back.
CE: What were the initial challenges/roadblocks you faced while running Jobspire? How did you tackle them?
Varun Mayya: I was at StartUp Launchpad in Bangalore.
We spoke to a lot of people regarding our design and product and we got a lot of advice that we shouldn’t do it, it’s a bad idea and that there are thousands of recruitment portals already out there. But we stuck to it.
We want to give a visual description and we think that people are important and we went with that mindset. We believed very strongly in our product and went forward to test it. Kartik, Sandesh and I come from a tech background and so we came up with the test designs very fast. In the first 3 months we pivoted ideas and business models at least 20-30 times.
CE: What key problem are you trying to solve with Jobspire?
Varun Mayya: Our vision is to help people find jobs they love. Though we are a visual jobs board now, we plan to diversify into various other products. We want to make a careers graph, where we can help people find information on certain career paths all in one place. In order to help candidates make a perfect CV, we are also looking into building a CV maker in the future. By this we hope to build an entire recruitment ecosystem.
CE: What is Jobspire's role in the perfect matchmaking between the employer and the job seeker?
Varun Mayya: Jobspire’s core value prop for applicants is that you get a visual directory of companies and you can discover new companies, new startups. We give a differentiation to these small companies looking to hire talent. Applicants can find a whole new array of companies that they didnt know existed, i.e, we helped with recruiter discoverability.
For the recruiters, we give them a pipeline of top talent. We make sure they have a Jobspire seal ensuring that they’re good. We match companies to the talent they are looking for and this makes the recruiter’s job much easier.
We now boast of multi-level manual and algorithm curation processes, and we filter candidates to an almost extreme level of quality.
In the future we are moving to more exciting products such as skill-trees and career graphs.
CE: How difficult was it to get companies list their jobs on your portal?
Varun Mayya: In the beginning we had the chicken and egg problem - how do we get recruiters till we get applicants and vice versa. However, we’d built a great network by the time we built our product, so we had the first 20-30 companies use the platform on a promise that we’d help them hire in a few months. Most of our early adopters still use Jobspire and that’s a great validation of how far we’ve come. Today, we work with 300+ companies and they come to us to post jobs, not the other way round!
CE: What was the major turning point in the journey of Jobspire?
Varun Mayya: The biggest turning point was us going to Delhi to work out of an incubator. Can you imagine - 4 young students switching to a city we’d never been to before while all our peers were getting placed? It was immense pressure on all of us from peers, teachers, parents, etc to take a job and it didn’t help that we were already getting really good job offers. Statistically, almost no pure tech company has raised the kind of money we did right out of college - so we kinda did the impossible.
CE: How would you pitch Jobspire to a job seeker and a potential investor?
Varun Mayya: To a jobseeker, we’re a platform where you can discover the insides of a company, how they work, what their current employees are like, etc. In the future we’re going to be everyone’s personal career architect. Earlier, we used to pitch just a story and hard resolve to investors but these days we have hard numbers to back our pitches up - if you look for “startup jobs india”, Jobspire is your first result and in terms of traffic, we’re neck and neck with companies like Hiree, etc.
CE: Which features about Jobspire are you the most proud of and why? What differentiates you from your competitors?
Varun Mayya: We curate all the applicants on Jobspire and give them a ‘Verified’ tag. That way, recruiters get a more reassured feeling when they get verified applicants.
We have algorithms that put applicants into various buckets depending on their experience and their ability to be an asset in that industry and our curation goes up to 4 different levels.
We focus a lot on showcasing a company's culture through attractive profiles using photos of the workplace and the people who work there. This helps a company to create a talent brand to attract the right kind of talent. It’s always nicer for applicants to be able to have a visual understanding of the company they apply to.
CE: If you had a chance to do something differently, what would it be and why?
Varun Mayya: In hindsight, if there was something different I would do, I’d build Jobspire when I was a bit older. It is a huge task for a 21-22 year old to handle and at this point you are still figuring out your life - sometimes I feel like I missed out on having fun without worrying about something or the other. The only issue of starting a company a little later is finding co-founders.
CE: How big is Jobspire in terms of no. of jobs and companies listed, no. of new applicants weekly or monthy, no. of applicants who have received offer letters?
Varun Mayya: I Jobspire has nearly 500+ jobs, 22k+ jobseekers, 330 companies as of today and we are growing 40% month on month. We track number of interviews and we’ve grown from just 5 interviews in our first month to nearly 150+ interviews this month. About 10% of interviewed candidates get placed.
CE: How did you go about funding? What was the process like from seeking funds to bagging a $260K+ deal?
Varun Mayya: We raised from some pretty great and well known investors in the circuit. We built our round very methodically and each of our investors brings something different to the table. We brought Ravi from Purvi Capital on as our lead investor and other investors bought into the idea, the vision and product traction and signed on too. By the end of the round we were oversubscribed and had to choose which investors to leave out of the round. In the beginning we were still learning the art of the pitch, but after over 200+ pitches things come naturally to us. These days we get invited to pitch events and partners at different VCs try to reach out us instead of the other way round.
CE: What do you love the most about being an entrepreneur? What is your advice to those who are just starting up?
Varun Mayya: My favorite part of entrepreneurship is the challenge. We have a saying inside the company that odds are for losers and I love doing things that most people consider hard or impossible.
All my life I found no other stream capable of really giving me a run for my money but entrepreneurship - true entrepreneurship, when you take responsibility for all your stakeholders - investors, employees, co-founders instead of just worrying about yourself and your successes.
It feels great building a team, watching them grow and evolve and wondering how much you’ve really impacted people. A lot of people claim they want to change the world but few understand it’s a very slow process. In a recent research pilot, we estimated over 1 million people have come in contact with Jobspire’s different offerings. It feels great when you know you’ve done something that has true widespread impact.
For people who are starting up, my advice is usually to discount your idea and work towards building a great team and methodical execution. Ideas are cheap, most companies don’t even do what they did 5 years ago and things change. Surrounding yourself with a solid team and having solid people who grow and evolve with you is the hallmark of every great entrepreneur.
CE: Any message for your readers?
Varun Mayya: There were several periods in Jobspire’s phase when things were not looking so great, but we stuck through. I feel the most important ability that a founder of a company should have is the ability to stick through, whatever the toll on you is. Once you feel you have other options, you’re finished as an entrepreneur. It is extremely important to not give up. In terms of the idea, be ready to make a prototype of what you feel is right.
In India, having a small user base is easy. The minute you want to scale, you need huge amounts of capital. Also, your team. Make sure you have a very strong team. With a bad team, I wouldn’t have lasted two months. But with a great team like I have now, even if everything fails, we still know how to pivot. Don’t be trapped to your initial vision. The market and your own experience will change, and your vision should change parallely.
In the end, make sure you have fun. It’s lonely being a capital backed founder and you should know very well what you’re getting into. Make sure you’re still devoting time to doing things you love.