EdificationHub Founder On Building a Data Science and AI Powered Career Counselling Platform
Every year there are more and more areas of study and specialisation, and with the overload of information and knowledge it’s taking a much longer time for a student or professional to acquire requisite set of skills to contribute meaningfully to a field. Whatever alternate solutions exists for choosing courses and colleges are either just plain unreliable with little to zero authenticated data on colleges or are just lead generators for colleges/universities with no empathy towards students.
To solve this plaguing problem that the country faces, Shivansh Tyagi has created EdificationHub - a comprehensive solution built upon authenticated data gathered from colleges/universities all over the nation. His product identifies a student's level of strength and will across a multitude of attributes and provides a set of recommended exams, courses and colleges that maximizes the probability of long term career success for a student.
Taking you back in time to know more about his journey, we take you to the small village in the Himalayan foothills district of Haridwar, where Shivansh was born and brought up. His father is a lawyer and mother a homemaker, though the majority family occupation is agriculture and food processing. As a school-going kid, Shivansh got to see firsthand process of sugar crystallization, separation of molasses and crystalline sugars using industrial centrifuges; the fractional distillation of mentha oil. Recalling his experiences, he shares, "One of the most exciting memories of my childhood was seeing how the mechanics at the sugar mill retrofitted a Ruston ® (British Engineering Company) ship engine, to be used for powering the crushers at the mill; it was amazing to see how the barely literate mechanics went about it in such an expert fashion."
Despite being in a second tier town, Shivansh and his friends had a lot of access to computers and tech equipments. Introduced to programming in 1992-93, during his school times, Shivansh built a couple of applications including a library management system using BASIC language which could search, checkout and check-in books and periodicals and could do file operations like seek, insert, update delete etc.
His fascination with computers took him to pursue B.Tech in IT from College of Engineering Roorkee. Straight out of college, Shivansh went on to work with Huawei as a Software Engineer. Later he switched lanes and decided he want to work for a startup and joined MobStack as its first team member. EdificationHub is Shivansh's first startup that he started in November 2014.
In an exclusive interview with us, we got Shivansh to share his journey with us, his key learnings working for another startup, why he quit his job, what they are building and what's next. Read on!
Shivansh Tyagi, CEO and CTO - EdificationHub
CE: Why did you choose IT engineering at COE Roorkee and the subsequent CCIE in Micro and Nano Sensors Fabrication from IISc.
Shivansh Tyagi: I was very clear about pursuing engineering, as from a very early stage I had wanted to build systems/products that would help solve problems at scale and everyday dreamt about one or the other sci-tech contraptions that can be used to make our lives easier. At the time of choosing the college I had a choice of University of Pantnagar, College of Engineering Roorkee and Dehradun Institute of Technology, I was again certain about the branch as I wanted to be in the field of computer sciences. Pantnagar was remote and in terms of exposure to industry or proximity to other good engineering colleges or Universities, was outflanked by COE Roorkee; DIT was relatively new and was more expensive if you opted for accommodation on campus (though later on I learned painstakingly that they have a much better placements cell). I have been a proponent of learning through application and devoted quite a bit of my time on the campus towards building various applications and systems. One of those was selected by IBM as one the best in a nationwide challenge and landed me and my project partner a call for IBM’s Extreme Blue.
I had been in the field of mobile devices, IoT during my professional career after college and wanted to understand and make inroads towards robotics and swarm intelligence (being the technologies of the future) hence I enrolled at IISc for the in the program for the Fabrication of Nano and Micro sensors. IISc has a state of the art Center for Nano Science and Engineering(CeNSE) and wanted entrepreneurs/students to make use of the facility to come up with smart devices to solve a multitude of problems across fields like medicine, agriculture, defense, disaster management etc. Sadly there is very little practical expertise to assist in practical applications of these advanced technologies.
CE: How was your experience working at Huawei and MobStac? What were your key learnings from them?
Shivansh Tyagi: Post college I had offers from IBM research, Siemens and Huawei; I chose Huawei as they were the only one who informed me prior to my joining the exact department and the nature of my project; I worked as software engineer of the Protocol Stack team for the R&D department.
It was my first job post college and I was extremely excited, but for the first time I realized how big a part team and collaboration dynamics could play in employee motivation and engagement. The team was understaffed and extremely over worked; there was negligible knowledge transfer, no existing documents to understand the product, no direct interaction or feedback from clients.
All in all you just became a cog in huge machinery; most of the people who had joined along with me quit within 6-10 months of joining. I was determined to join a very early stage startup (or failing that start one myself), but it was 2008-2009 circa and the recession had just hit, the startup scene was nothing back then compared to what it currently is. There were very few companies which were starting and even fewer which were pursuing something novel and challenging.
It was at this point of time when I connected with Ravi Pratap and Sharat Potharaju who were working on building a solution for Mobile publishing (MobStac) as most of the content created back then was tailored for big screen computers and there was a huge opportunity considering both iPhone and Android were launched in 2008. I became the first official employee at MobStac and an angel investor in the company couple of months later (I saw huge opportunity and a great team to cash it).
We got The Hindu as our first enterprise client and meanwhile launched a mobile publishing product for Bloggers. We got selected as “Hottest Startup” by BusinessWorld and funded by Accel partners and Mumbai angels. In 2013 we pivoted towards hyperlocal/Internal Positioning Systems using Bluetooth Low Energy devices. MobStac became my crucible to the road to being an entrepreneur, though it’s impossible to sum up all that I have learned at MobStac, here are some of key learning:
- Clear definition of what the problem and product is, is very important. Why is it hard problem to solve, why existing solutions/alternates fail to solve it at scale, in what ways is the solution innovative (for eg. makes it 10x cheaper/faster to solve the problem). Haziness about what the product does and how is it a “breakthrough” which might lead to really bad situations for a startup.
- Include people in the plans and more importantly in plan changes. Team members working in a startup have put a lot at stake. Accept to your mistakes(as a founder and leader) and implement changes/enhancements to the product/systems as suggested by your employees/teams as they have a better clarity on how things function on the ground. Even when you do not accept a suggestion/advice have your rationale behind it understood, don’t just notify team members.
- Have a clear sales/marketing/user acquisition strategy. How would you scale them, would scaling those mean linear expense growth or it will come down with scale. You need answers to these and alternatives if the plan A for these does not work.
- Determine beforehand what is smallest contained market segment where you can test and perfect your product and what is your strategy to dominate that segment. Determine if the market is growing, what does the future looks like for this market, does your product still fit/stay relevant post this macro change?
- Chalk up your expansion plans. It’s paramount both for investors and users how much you can grow, determine what are the segments that you can expand into, what is the size of those segments?
- You can’t just stay ahead by owning intellectual property. Sooner than later there will be competitors who will offer your product with slight or no variations for a much cheaper price, how will you innovate to stay ahead of the competition.
CE: When did you decide to quit your job? What was going on your mind at that time?
Shivansh Tyagi: I wanted to start my own company since mid-college years so the decision was made long ago. But I wanted to gain solid understanding of building products and organization before taking the plunge, finally in second quarter of 2014, after working with MobStac and after helping other startups, I decided to start my own company. I had been working on the College Connector idea for more than a year and half and felt that I can devote my foreseeable future to solve this problem plaguing students and professionals.
I was ecstatic about reaching a milestone that I have been aiming for since my teen years. There are always self-doubts about timing, but then there could be no perfect timing, plus the support of my wife and family made it quite easy.
CE: Why did you choose to work in the field of education? Why EdificationHub?
Shivansh Tyagi: In past century our perceptions and expectations from education have not changed much, we are still mired in the industrial revolution era notions as schools and colleges being the churning mills for the labour force(no matter how qualified or technically skilled) .We try to push people into various fields terming “industry trends” and “market demands”, without much thought given to a student’s aptitude, attitude, and motivations. When it comes to choosing an academic or professional career or courses we try to fit the same shoe on all feet arguing that it’s the feet that needs to change it’s shape rather than the shoe; and that it’ll be for the best for the feet in the long run, this too in an era when there are almost an uncountable variety of shoes available.
I only feel purposeful while building a lasting sustainable business which can solve a tangible hard problem instead of the next delivery/ecomm/messaging app or an Uber for XYZ.
At EdificaitonHub we are building an AI that will help in identification of natural inclinations, aptitude and motivations of an individual and map it to the very specific set of colleges that will be able to leverage all of an individual's area of strengths rather than just saying you are good at solving questions of a set of subjects. For example, an individual might have great mathematical aptitude, a great hand at sketching/design and love for travelling so what is set of colleges and courses which offer avenues for all of the above mentioned attributes for a given student.
CE: Tell us about the other key people in your organization.
Shivansh Tyagi: Gaurav Singh who is responsible for mathematical modelling and algorithm design has research experience from IIT Madras and was previously working with VMWare’s for its virtualization technology platform.
Nishant Gaurav has been a UI developer since early college years, he helped create engaging interfaces for a college social network startup before and has been part of Entrepreneurship Cell IIT Bombay.
Bhashkar Sharma is responsible for engineering platform, he is one of the earliest engineers at MobStac and has been building products since seven years now.
Kriti Sarda has worked with both education field giant like Pearson Education and data product startups like Unbxd in the field of marketing and has an intricate understanding of marketing novel tech products.
Mayur Bhansali is our design lead an NIFT and NID alum and has headed design projects for companies like Prozo, Nokia Experience Lab, Hindustan Unilever et al.
Shivam Sahai is our UX architect who has almost a decade long experience in architecting tech products and systems, and is the author of white papers and posts on UX research.
CE: Could you explain the technology behind EdificationHub?
Shivansh Tyagi: There are two broad areas of technology focus at EdificationHub, these are:
- Data Science for private peer reviewed data gathering network
- Artificial Intelligence specifically neural network models for attitudes, aptitudes and mapping them to courses, colleges and professional career paths.
The reason to use these technologies is simple: no human can possibly do transformations and processing around millions of data points to recommend the most optimal set of courses and colleges and very accurately identify areas of strength for a student.
CE: How would you pitch EdificationHub to a potential client and an investor?
To a client (parent/student): “We will help you identify the career path that will play to all of your strengths and which will let you thrive in the long run, while saving you all the money, time and effort that you would have spent evaluating courses and colleges and changing career streams later on.”
To an investor: “We are working to tap into a market segment where the size of sub niche of a niche segment is 4 million users and growing at 15% per annum (engineering undergrad applicants in India two years ago). We have a great team with clear business models and clearly defined sales and marketing channels. This presents an opportunity for a real sustainable business (not just valuations) which has clear signs of growth for the next two decades.”
CE: Tell us more about your first product the 'College Connector'? How does it work?
Shivansh Tyagi: College Connector addresses two of the most important concerns when it comes to identifying career paths and choosing courses and colleges :
- Identify and weigh attitudes, aptitudes, motivations of a student and matching the fine balance with the deeply granular and authenticated, independently gathered data from colleges across the nation.
- Unbiased and precise recommendation of courses, colleges and career paths with student centered business models with zero promotion or collaboration of colleges.
CE: What are the team's efforts currently focused on? Are there any other products in the pipeline?
Shivansh Tyagi: We are completely focused on College Connector as the market size and segments are humongous and it will require a lot of coordinated effort to just tackle one segment.
Inside the EdificationHub Office
CE: Where do you see yourself 2-3 years from now?
Shivansh Tyagi: Being the product of choice and the most trusted authority when it comes to making the most important decision of choosing the career paths.
CE: Who are your biggest competitors in this domain? How do you maintain an edge over them?
Shivansh Tyagi: There are no one to one competitors that offer the same product or service. There are substitutes like online forums and directories and friendly neighbourhood education counsellors, but their proposition is a very small subset of what we intend to offer.
CE: What do you like the most about being an entrepreneur?
Shivansh Tyagi: That you have visibility and a saying in all matters of the product and organization, (as cliche this may sound) because only a harmony of engineering, design, marketing, user experience, employee satisfaction and investor confidence can build something that can stand the tests of time and forever changing market expectations.
CE: Any message to your readers?
For parents and educators - We need a system that asks each child, “How are you intelligent?” not “How intelligent are you?” (quote by education reporter John Merrow)
For students and fresh professionals - You face an uphill task, the amount of information and knowledge that you need to acquire is piling up each day and world is under rapid and unforgiving change, I have seen ample of professionals changing course of their career after a decade at immense personal and monetary costs, so it's of paramount importance that you choose your career paths with utmost care evaluating and balancing and matching all of your attributes and the attributes of the various professional/academic fields
At EdificationHub, we understand the long lasting impact this decision will have on your future and are determined to solve this problem for you. Come to Edification Hub and we'll guide you to a career full of satisfaction, growth and purpose just cut and stitched for YOU.