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Sean Blagsvedt Is Helping More Than 2.8 Million Indian Job Seekers Find Jobs

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Sean Blagsvedt is the CEO of Babajob.com, which connects employers to informal sector employees in the developing world – such as delivery helpers, maids and drivers – through a combination of mobile phones, location, skill and price filtering and social connections. The site has registered over 2.8 million job seekers, added 2.5 million job positions and raised Series A funding from Vinod Khosla Impact, Gray Ghost Ventures and USAID.

Previously, Sean spent 9 years with Microsoft in the Office, Windows and Research groups. In 2004, Sean moved to Bangalore as the 3rd member of Microsoft Research India, heading the Program Management and Advanced Prototyping team, focusing on novel approaches to mobile phones and technology in emerging markets.

Prior to Microsoft, Sean worked at the White House with the Internet Policy czar, Ira Magaziner. Sean holds dual bachelor degrees in Computer Science and Public Policy from Brown University (1998). He is a TED Fellow and married to Jaaga.in founder Archana Prasad with whom they share a wonderful son, Vyom, and dog, Berlin.

 

In your own words what does your startup do?

Babajob reduces the inefficiency of hiring someone for informal, entry-level and blue-collar jobs. Previously, employers relied on personal recommendations, newspaper ads, or other sources that do not always provide qualified candidates in a timely manner. Through Babajob, they now have access to millions of potential candidates and with our proprietary matching algorithm, they can sort through them instantly.  We offer a range of premium services and support to employers that make hiring easier. We deliver relevant job information to jobseekers for free via internet (web and mobile), an Android app, SMS, and voice services. Jobseekers need only a mobile phone to register on Babajob and apply for jobs.

 

How did you come up with the idea of your startup?

While I was working at Microsoft Research in Bangalore, we had a fairly wide bunch of things that we looked at related to technology in emerging markets like India. One day, our team was presented an academic paper by Anurag Krishna. It had a very basic premise and answered a very simple question: Why do people flow in and out of poverty? What the paper found was that people get trapped in poverty due to health care related debts and people get out by getting different jobs, often through people they know.  I thought that was a very interesting insight and one that I thought possible to be digitised. Upon reading that paper, literally I said, “if we just had LinkedIn for the village we could all go home.” And so there was this germ of an idea; could we digitise all the jobs and jobseekers and make those connections visible.  That was the idea upon which babajob was based. And it was borrowing from things like Craigslist.com and LinkedIn.  That was an idea I began germinating in terms of how do I make a digital job marketplace work? How do I use phones? How do I make connections?

Babajob1

Could you walk us through the process of starting up?

I had to figure out, how do you digitize people who don’t use computers and how to get employers to tell us about their hiring needs? At MSR we had been looking at phone-based solutions and so I literally began sketching and thinking things like “Oh how would this work over SMS?”  Once I explored the use of SMS, I thought that I could make a job portal that notifies people with SMS when they get hired and had the ability for somebody who knew how to use a computer to help out somebody else that didn’t.  The problem for me was important and motivating enough that I just had to see where that idea took me. So I began working with another colleague who saw the prototype and said yes, let’s do this. I recruited my step-farther who had run a couple of software companies in the US to come out to India and then I quit my job. That was the process of starting for me. I had an idea and was super motivated and I began drilling down user interface sketches and the beginning of some initial prototypes of things that I thought might work and was basically encouraged by others to say this is worth trying and you should go for it. So eventually I got up the confidence to be able to quit my day job and say “great I’m going to do this and try to make this happen”.

 

Did you encounter any particular difficulties during startup and if so, how did you guys overcome it?

One problem is that it is always difficult to design from multiple user groups. As a market place we have employers who hire people and we have jobseekers who want jobs and within that there are many different types on both sides. I think a lot of times, the more you can simplify your assumptions about those groups and sub-groups, the easier it is to execute the idea to build something.

One of the difficulties we had was “how do you do outreach to the jobseeker population that are not traditionally digitally connected?”  That is, how do we target delivery guys, drivers, security guards and maids that are not traditionally internet users. And so, for us we have looked at a variety of different models of distribution which were a challenge for us. When we first started we worked along with skill-training NGO’s to get them to tell their clients about what we were doing. These were the people like maid associations, slum dwellers associations. We found that to be very intensive in terms of how much work it took to build relationships with those organisations. We spent 3 to 6 months building relationships with NGO’s only to find that they would sign up 200 people of which maybe only 30 of them would be engaged in the job process and only 5 would be hired. So that didn’t seem like a very good result of our effort. It also did not look very digitally scalable. But we learned that the hard way. We also looked at telephone companies as distribution partners. Especially if we go back to 2008-2009 in India, rather than the internet companies like Amazon and FlipKart, the big fish in town were these mobile VAS companies that were selling caller ringtone and cricket alerts, etc. We tried for 2 years to work with them as a distribution channel to reach jobseekers. We found that we were a bit naive to try to motivate a telephone company to do marketing on our behalf. The jobseekers that we got from this channel were not engaged and it was difficult getting any real traction with these companies.  Now we rely on traditional forms of digital marketing and press articles to attract jobseekers and employers.

 

How have you been developing your company since startup (i.e. what’s the developmental direction)?

Babajob has always been very data-driven in our approach to building the product.  We follow lean principles to quickly prototype and test changes we make to the platform.  This has allowed us to grow and improve our service, while still ensuring a quality experience for employers and jobseekers.  Since starting Babajob in 2007, we have seen exponential user growth.  Our platform is becoming more accessible and effective.  Over the past 4 months, we have rapidly expanded our staff across all areas of the business so that we are able reach millions more jobseekers and employers across the country.

 

What kind of feedback did you get for your startup so far?

Early on, we were encouraged by the board and other trusted advisors to build one visible system and focus on what is the core unit that we are selling, which helped us clarify the business. It took us 5 years to figure out the product and set of features that appeals most to employers.

 

Do you face a lot of competition in this industry?

We compete against some of the largest domestic and international job portals.  What makes Babajob different is it’s focus on entry-level, blue-collar and informal sector jobs and the ways we make opportunities accessible to aspiring jobseekers.  Our strategy is to make ourselves the best service for employers and jobseekers in the focused set of categories that we operate in, which have specific needs that other employment channels are lacking.

 

Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?

We are in constant contact with jobseekers and employers, so we have an evolving understanding of their respective pain points.

We also have a wealth of data on hiring behavior and salary trends across the job categories that are serviced on Babajob.  Users are able to see average salaries for jobs in their category and location when they are posting jobs and applying.  We can use such data to map the change in salary over time in a particular category and location. For example, we know that driver salaries in Bangalore have gone from Rs. 8300 in 2013 to close to Rs. 11400 by the end of 2014.  Given the volume of traffic we get on Babajob, we are confident that these figures are representative of trends in the industry as a whole.

 

How do you plan to stay relevant in this industry?

Babajob will become more relevant in the future as the number of mobile phone users and the number youth entering the work force in India increase.  We are developing more and better ways for jobseekers to access Babajob from their phones.  Babajob is also well suited for small and medium sized enterprises because our service is more affordable and easier to use for hiring managers than other sites. We see the number of SMEs in India increasing rapidly in the coming years and we are hoping to benefit from that growth.

Babajob Team

What is the future of the industry in your opinion?

I think the future of industry is around reliability. By reliable I mean that when people want to hire somebody they can and do so with confidence. We have seen this in other marketplaces that have really done quite well and have shaped industries. In the transportation space, the likes of Uber, Ola and others like them have used an app that has been aggregating supply and demand and then reliably matching suppliers to buyers in real time and in a manner that is transparent for both parties.  We have not yet seen that in the general employment space, especially at the lower end. I think the direction of the industry is moving towards this kind of reliability.

 

Was there anything that disappointed you initially?

When we started working with NGO’s thinking that they would be excite about helping their clients. We were not making money from the jobseekers, since we were charging the employers. When we begin to work with several of them we found that they were charging their clients to register for babajob, which was intended to be free for them. We were saying that this would help the population and they basically figured out how to make money out of it. I don’t think I should have been surprised. But, given that we had an agreement that they weren’t supposed to do that and they still did was disappointing at that time.

 

What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia? Is it harder or easier, why?

I think it’s different. I have never been an entrepreneur anywhere else. I also have never met an entrepreneur who said that their job was super easy. I think sometimes there are useful perspectives that you get coming from a different country. Many Indians I met had biases about traditional caste divisions and the capabilities of people at the bottom of the pyramid. The day before I came to India I went to the Seattle library, which has 200 computers.  If you go there during the day it is entirely used by homeless people. Basically this put the idea in my mind that it is not about income or even skills that creates the barriers to entry for people to use technology.  Everybody is going to use these tools, you just have to make them accessible. That was a helpful perspective and had I not been from the States and seen the very poor in America using digital systems, I don’t think I’d have been so fast to assume that it could happen here.

 

What is your opinion on Asian entrepreneurship vs Western entrepreneurship?

I do think there is a difference. In India, at least, to be successful with a mass-market product you have to consider income ranges that are much larger than most companies would consider in the States. This affects the way you conceptualize a product.  For instance, telephone companies in India are selling their product for $2 a month and being profitable, whereas similar companies are selling the same thing at $50 a month in America. If you want to build mass-market product you do have to think differently just because you have so many different literacy and income levels. You also have to create a product in the absence of the kind of reliable platforms on which businesses in America can build a business. For example, you can assume that people in America have Visa/credit cards so that if want to ask somebody to pay you can just build a web portal for them to do so. We can make that same assumption for our employers; we can’t make that assumption for our jobseekers. If you then look at the companies that have really thrived in India, they’ve figured our clever solutions to get around these challenges.  Also there are no social security numbers so you have to figure out how to approximate trust without that.

 

What is your definition of success?

Being responsible for one hundred million hires would be my definition of success. We achieved a vision that we set out to.  We made a tool that is digital and allows anyone in the working age population to be able to turn on their phone and get information about jobs that are relevant for them. Also we have made it possible for employers also to hire jobseekers digitally.

 

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

When I moved to Bangalore in 2004 with Microsoft, I was in a 3-man group and I found it very fun to work with two other people that I really liked to grow an organisation from the three of us to about 100 people.  So I think that put the startup bug in me, in terms of wanting to repeat that process.

 

What do you think are the most important things entrepreneurs should keep in mind?

Believe in what you do with your wallet and your heart and your head. Otherwise, I think it’ll be difficult to find the motivation required for success. Find people that are as passionate and dedicated to this problem as you are. Also, recognise as an entrepreneur that your job is different; it is to set up cultural standard for your team, project the vision and to make sure you always have money in terms of sales or investment. That ends up becoming your job as an entrepreneur.

 

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

Hustle. All the successful entrepreneurs I know have this innate ability to carry the load and still preserve. So I think you need that.

 

Connect

Website: www.babajob.com

LinkedIn: in.linkedin.com/pub/sean-blagsvedt/0/187/920/en

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/babajob

Twitter: @babajob

Entrepreneurship

Why Angel Investors are Shaking Up the Global Startup Scene

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Candace Johnson is someone who has made a global impact on our modern international telecom and broadcast business. She co-initiated the foundation of SES-Astra and SES Global, which today owns a fleet of 54 satellites and broadcasts 6500 TV channels. And she founded the world’s first Internet-based online service, Europe Online, making it into one of the first broadband Internet services.

But it was in her role as president of EBAN, the European trade association of several hundred business angels, which brought her to Eindhoven’s High Tech Campus recently. She explains why angel investors are making a difference to the global start-up scene and explodes several myths that surrounds the way they do business. She spoke with StartupDelta’s Jonathan Marks.

Building the match between angel investors and hardware startups

“People often think that angel investors are people who do investments around the corner, locally, or in services like e-commerce. To be frank, when the HTCE management told me that they were focussing on the hardware side of things, I was thrilled.”

“What I’m trying to do as President of EBAN, and having incubated MBAN (MENA Business Angels Network) and ABAN (African Business Angels Network) under my presidency, is to extend the scope of angel investments. The vast majority of angels are already tech savvy. But we need to educate our successful angel investors to invest more in hardware and infrastructure. We also need to help start-ups develop a pitch that speaks to the interests of angels, so they can get funding for their initiative.”

“We run the EBAN Training Institute with the goal of raising standards. We’re seeing more and more that the best angel investors are serial entrepreneurs. They bring their trusted network, expertise and experience to the table.”

“Money is important too, but it is not at the top of the list. Business angel investors are high net worth individuals who usually provide smaller amounts of finance (€25,000 to €500,000) at an earlier stage than many venture capital funds are able to invest. They are increasingly investing alongside seed venture capital funds.”

Angels are more important than most people know

“We follow the guidelines and standards developed by the European Venture Capital Association. For over seven years, during the depths of the financial crisis in 2008 until the recent recovery started, it was the angel investors who took over the role of early stage financing. More than €7.5 billion are being invested annually in Europe, with a sustained growth in recent years. Of that €5.5 billion comes from angels. In fact we have had to professionalize our profession to meet the demand of the growth in this early stage ecosystem.”

We always have an exit strategy

“Angel investors can only continue to invest if they have exits. I hear many people talk about investing. Only a few discuss exits. I want to change that. I also stress that proven entrepreneurial success is essential in order to become a member of our association. We need to ensure that useful “lessons learned” are shared with the start-ups. They are always based on hands-on real-world experience. We have no time for people who are using new blood to try and correct mistakes they made in their own failed companies.”

“EBAN was started in 1999 together with the European commission. For the first ten years, I think people were too focussed on the investing part. Now we need to focus on exits and returns on investment. Without returns, business angels are out of business. And remember there is only a short window of opportunity during which start-ups can scale-up to becoming global success stories”.

“Our feeling is that you should not make an investment in a company unless you can see the path for the exit. The exit may be a trade sale, an IPO, etc. The exit also does not have to be 100 %. It does, however, have to bring you a return on your investment so that you can continue to invest. This approach helps you focus on building great companies. There’s always competition in healthy markets, so no-one can afford to waste time. We’re not a charity; we’re doing this because we love building and financing global success stories. We’re therefore looking for companies with a real marketable product, not a prototype or a collection of well-presented ideas.”

Is there specific advice you can share with high-tech startups?

“In the last few years we’ve seen the rise of the accelerators alongside incubators. They have helped raise standards because a good idea needs to be validated by the market before it is the basis for a high-growth company.”

“As investors, we always need to see a start-up demonstrate that they have first clients and initial revenues. We’re not saying that they have had to scale or show market traction. But if we are going to put in our personal money, then we expect the founder to be resourceful enough to work out the first product, to have found the first clients and show us evidence of the first revenues.”

“The incubators who help get an idea into reality and the accelerators have been good at making startups better prepared for angel investment, offering the right coaching to turn an idea into a validated business. That means angel investors are better able to select the growth companies and focus on making a good return on their investment.”

Hanneke Stegweg

“We recognise that young companies need to present their business proposition to the angels attending our annual conference. So we’ve created ways that teams get immediate, honest feedback on the quality of their business presentation. We have one full day of preparation and coaching followed by a Global Investment Forum. The best go on to pitch to the entire network. This year, the “company to watch” category was won by Hanneke Stegweg, who is the Dutch CEO of the iLost company. Together with Neelie Kroes, I am keen to see more women founders lead entrepreneurial teams.”

What needs to change for things to move faster?

“We held this year’s EBAN congress in Eindhoven at the recommendation of several members. They all work in the innovation and financing of innovation field. But this region also came up in our discussions with StartupDelta. We have worked closely with Neelie Kroes when she was with the European Commission.”

“We were tipped off to the High Tech Campus specifically by our Russian members: the Russian Business Angels and the Skolkovo Foundation who are building the Skolkovo science park just outside Moscow.”

“And last, but not least, I know Eindhoven from my work in telecommunications and broadcasting hardware field. We often came here to work with Philips on the establishment of the DVD and MPEG-4 standards.”

“During our visit to the Brainport area it was clear that there is more than enough money in the region and a healthy appetite to invest in innovation. But there are some caveats that we feel need to be addressed.”

“Frankly, I think we are rather tired of the “nice-to-have” e-commerce companies. We would prefer to reinvest in world-class companies who are building something tangible, solving a real-world challenge. They need to demonstrate they can scale and become global.”

“We can see that the efforts by many have helped to raise the bar in the Netherlands and that’s good news for everyone. But remember there is a difference between entrepreneurs and SME’s. Entrepreneurs are the only ones to change our world. They create large companies, worthwhile employment, and that grows into large revenues.”

Failure is not an option

“We should get rid of this talk of failure being an option. If you’re taking angel money, it is NOT OK to fail.”

“If you take third party money, you have a responsibility as an entrepreneur to do everything you can to make a return on the investment of your business angel. The media keeps talking about friends, family and fools. But that’s nonsense! Founders, families and friends build great companies!”

“I have always been a free marketer at heart. Europe and The Netherlands need to create nations of investors. I believe in the power of private sector-led investment. Government needs to follow the leads set by business angels, not the other way round. We are investing our own money and using our years of experience to scale up these companies. An entrepreneur who is not willing to work and dedicate her or his lives 24/7 to achieve the goal should look elsewhere for money!”

“We’re fortunate that the EBAN network acts as a magnet for excellence. We were honoured to have the President of the European Research Council and the Head of Technology Transfer of the European Space Agency address our Congress to show us where the technology trends are going and where we should invest.”

“From a venture and entrepreneurial financing perspective, we were most grateful to our colleagues from the United States who joined with our European, MENA, and African colleagues to set the bar high in creating, building and financing global success stories. Amongst those joining us in Eindhoven from the United States were the president of the Global Accelerator Network from the USA, the president emeritus of the Angel Capital Association of the USA, the President of Start-Up Angels and Board Member of Up Global from the USA. We also welcomed the President Emeritus of the Crowd funding association of the US as well as the chairman of New York Angels. And we were delighted with the presence of David S. Rose, the president of GUST.com. These are some of the world’s best experts in angel investing.”

“They all said they were pleasantly surprised by the high standard of the startups that came to Eindhoven from all over the world. It was well above what they had expected. Start-ups from Africa, Middle East and Europe traditionally explain what they do, rather than explaining to investors why their idea is important. But that’s changing rapidly for the better. Entrepreneurs are also getting better at defining what they need in order to scale-up.”

NEXT STEPS : It’s all about active networking

“I should explain that in expanding our reach in Europe, with have formed alliances with the European Space Agency and the European Research Council. They also have their own accelerators and incubators. I think the onus is on the angel investor community to help bring this scientific community to a higher level of entrepreneurship. They need to think about the market for their inventions from the beginning. I believe we can help these organisations filter out the very best ideas and give those the attention they need to scale ideas into real businesses. There needs to be a validated market need for the technology they are developing.”

“We have two main events. There is the annual EBAN congress, this year in Eindhoven and next year in Porto, Portugal. And we run the EBAN Winter University, this year running from November 17–19th in Copenhagen. We’re doing this with leading organisations active in Europe’s creative industries. And all this is in addition to individual events and competitions organised by EBAN members at a local, regional and national level.

Increasingly we’re assembling cross-border syndicates, both between European countries and increasingly inter-continental networks linking Europe with innovation hubs in Africa, Middle East and North America. As companies scale and go global, it is important they have access to an international shareholder network. It’s a softer landing when they cross continents.

We also believe there is a way in which we can build partnerships with techno-business parks around the globe, led by the flywheel initiatives shown by High Tech Campus Eindhoven over these very fruitful days in the Netherlands.

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About the Author

This article was written by Jonathan Marks, Executive Director at Photon Delta. See more.

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Entrepreneurship

Myths & Facts about Entrepreneurship

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Today, there is a pervasive and nearly deafening mantra insisting that you quit your job and become an entrepreneur. The collective says you should do it today because every day you wait brings you closer to a life of poverty and regret.

A central theme in the entrepreneurial world is challenging the status quo and questioning conventional wisdom in search of new and better ways of doing things. If you’re just going to follow the pack, you may as well just get a real job and call it a day.

Entrepreneurship can be incredibly rewarding. Starting your own business may be the best decision you ever make. But it’s not for everyone. There’s a lot to consider before you take the plunge and a lot of myths to expose, starting with these.

Let’s take a glance at some of the Myths of entrepreneurship:

1. You’ll be Happier

Entrepreneurship can be incredibly rewarding. Starting your own business may be the best decision you ever make. But it’s not for everyone. There’s a lot to consider before you take the plunge and a lot of myths to expose, starting with these.

2. You’ll have more freedom, control and work-life balance

If you’re on your own, chances are you’re going to find yourself wearing all sorts of hats and working 24×7 for a very long time. Work will become your life. There’s nothing wrong with that, but not everyone feels more freedom and control that way.

3.You’ll be more fulfilled

Do we know what just about everyone loves to do? Great work that accomplishes goals they can be proud of. One can do that working for a big company, a small company, or their own company. Fulfillment has nothing to do with business ownership. If one wants to manage, lead, or run a business, it’s better off learning the ropes in a good company before starting your own.

4.There are no jobs; technology and outsourcing killed them all

It is shockingly untrue. If technology destroyed jobs, then which one will you call the most lucrative and fastest-growing industry on the face of the earth.That’s right: technology. If you can’t find a job, chances are you lack in-demand skills or education, in which case, yes, you might want to consider starting a small business which does not require much of exclusive skill sets in particular.

5.Entrepreneurs Live a Glamorous Lifestyle

That’s again untrue. Most entrepreneurs do not live a glamorous lifestyle; if they do, their investors should cringe. Entrepreneurs are notoriously frugal, hard working and opportunity-obsessed with little time for outside activities. These qualities are not hallmarks of the glamorous life.

Now,Let’s look at some of the facts of entrepreneurship.

  1. Most successful entrepreneurs succeed by exceptional execution of ordinary ideas: See Jiffy Lube, Starbucks and Charles Schwab.
  2. Most successful entrepreneurs concentrate on minimizing risk rather than taking huge risk at the time of starting their companies.
  3. Successful entrepreneurs use their innovative passion in many ways, such as buying companies, creating new ventures within larger companies and re-strategising nonprofits.
  4. More than 80 percent of new ventures are boot-strapped from personal savings, credit cards, second mortgages and the like. The median start-up capital is about $10,000. Waste Management began with a single truck; Sam Walton started with $5,000. So, in short access capital is not required to startup.
  5. Being first to execute well and delight customers is not at all important for success. A lot of startups have entered quite late in a particular startup industry and have done well.

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About the Author

This article was written by Utkarsh Sharma.

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