While pursuing an MBA programme at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, Sanjoe Tom Jose and Subramanian Mani K helped conduct mock interviews as part of the placement process. During these sessions, the alumni would interview students and provide feedback, preparing them for the actual process.
Coordinating the mock interviews was not easy. The biggest challenge was making these available to all the alumni across geographies.
For this, Jose and Mani, recorded the interviews and made these available online, so that the alumni, busy with their professional duties, could take a look whenever they were free.
The alumni, who had faced similar hurdle while recruiting for their companies, were impressed.
That was in 2011. India had made its mark in the information-technology space, but the start-up boom was a few years away. Jose and Mani would leave their mark on it.
In May 2012, they were joined by two more friends, Tom Jose and Jobin Jose. Both were engineers, with experience in audio-video codec space and assessment. They founded Interview Master, now Talview, an asynchronous online video interview tool. A cloud-based technology hiring platform, it has a full suite of assessment, engagement and analytic tools.
"Back then, it was an untouched segment, with only a few players in the US," said Sanjoe.
The secret of its success is that Talview, unlike other engineering tools, is a mass-market product.
Now, it has more than a million video responses from across 102 countries. The platform has been used by clients to hire from nine IITs and 13 Indian Institutes of Management. In the current placement season, it has facilitated 3,964 assessments.
Recruitment is a time-consuming process, taking a toll on both recruiters and candidates. Often, the right opportunity eludes the right candidate.
This gap was the opportunity the four friends from IIT mined.
Two years into its existence, the company has the likes of Cognizant, Hinduja, GSK, Cipla, and Wockhardt, as well as a few US firms, including Forune 100 companies, on its client list.
"A simple technology with an intuitive interface. I will not be surprised if Interview Master (Talview) changes the way we perceive and operate in our work environments," said Kartik Swaminathan, assistant vice-president (human resource), Wockhardt Pharma.
What started as a video interview tool with only one product in the portfolio has now developed tools that assist a recruiter conduct live interviews, written assessments and code evaluations.
The co-founders rechristened Interview Master as Talview in line with the expanded product portfolio and also to ease search engine optimisation. The other international players in the recruitment segment are Hirevue and Montage.
It is a $20-billion market globally, says Sanjoe. "Globally, in terms of number of assessments completed, we are the second-largest player."
According to Sanjoe, what led the team to co-found a company in the recruitment segment was the realisation that the use of technology was minimal in this area.
For instance, Sanjoe claims the Bengaluru-based start-up was the first in India to do a video proctor, a written assessment through which a company can monitor screening tests in different geographies on a single screen. The process involves taking video feeds from candidates and multiplexing these, whereby a recruiter can monitor up to 64 candidates on a screen. When a candidate takes an online test, the application accesses the webcam and microphone of the system they are using and likewise, the evaluator can monitor the candidates of malpractices.
The company works on a subscription model and generates revenue by selling annual licences to clients.
"To start with, we had put in around Rs 30 lakh of our savings," says Sanjoe.
Talview raised seed-funding of Rs 60 lakh from Venture Nursery in early 2013. In July 2014, it was provided an undisclosed amount in series-A funding by Mayfield Venture.
Nikhil Khattau, managing partner of Mayfield Advisors, said: "Hiring is proving to be an enormous pain, particularly in an emerging market such as India. Companies using such recruitment services have improved efficiency 50-80 per cent. You're in a hyper-growth mode where you're staffing up very significantly because business volume is growing."
This year, Talview expects a turnover of about Rs 4 crore. It is targeting annual business of Rs 300 crore in five years. It plans to raise more funds in three to six months, says Sanjoe, adding it expects to breakeven by the end of this calender year.
"In India, we have a large client base, with direct sales presence. We are expanding it to more Asian economies, especially in West Asia, Singapore and the Philippines. Our focus is on manpower-intensive sectors and economies," said Sanjoe.
"We have an advantage because we are the leading company from an emerging economy. We had a robust platform and captured a lot of interest. Now, we are investing on the inside-sales pool, where we are focused on foreign medium-size businesses that have presence in multiple geographies," said Sanjoe.
Mobile platform is another area of investment.
Talview is also trying to expand its portfolio by tapping the analytics segment. "Very little analytics has been used in hiring so far. All these years, the data generated were not captured anywhere. Talview is changing this," added Sanjoe.
Now, the company is using analytics to give inputs to institutions to train students and better equip them for placements.
When one takes an overall view of the recruitment process, especially the volume of hiring programmes, the key elements are sourcing, interviewing and background checking. Talview occupies an important part of the value chain by facilitating the assessment process.
In my experience, organisations have always struggled to get the most critical part right, which is sourcing, especially for specialist functions or remote locations.
Talview which offers only interviewing solutions does not solve this problem. Talview is an impersonal tool and candidates do require a certain degree of sophistication and familiarity to ensure effective deployment. Also, it is not suitable for candidates beyond entry or junior management levels.
Also, at present, Talview requires a desktop or a laptop for a candidate to get interviewed. A smartphone or tablet app will be a useful addition. Talview is a great solution which falls short of addressing the real problem in hiring which is more effective sourcing of potential candidates. For Talview to remain viable, extract value and rapidly scale up, it will make sense to bundle its services with a sourcing platform.
K Sudarshan, The author is Regional Managing Partner - Asia, EMA Partners International, a global executive search firm