Hyderabad: For an entrepreneur who started with posting internship opportunities for students at companies, Santosh Yellajosula, co-founder and vice-president of marketing and sales at Mauka Technologies Pvt. Ltd, himself interned at a string of companies before launching his business.
First in the list was cement and viscose staple fibre manufacturer Grasim Industries Ltd. in Surat during May-July, 2010.
“After interning with Grasim, I realized chemical engineering is not my cup of tea. Everybody has to realize what is good for them. It is not something your teachers or your parents can decide for you. You have to decide for yourself,” says the dual-degree student at Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Pilani, Hyderabad campus.
Yellajosula is in the same class as Mauka co-founder M.V.S.P. Abhiram, vice-president, corporate partnerships, at BITS, where the two are pursuing B.E. (Hons.) in chemical engineering and M.Sc. (Hons.) in biological sciences. The third co-founder, G. Varun Reddy, vice-president of business development at Mauka, graduated this year in chemical engineering.
Mauka originated from a hostel room chat on employability of graduates. “Look at BITS, or IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) or IIITs (Indian Institutes of Information Technology), where you have good industrial relations and opportunities. But it was not the case with other colleges. There we saw a problem,” Yellajosula says.
So, the trio, with an initial investment of Rs.50,000 from Abhiram, designed a basic website (www.mauka.co.in) for posting internship opportunities for college students. But the venture also involved a lot of sweat equity running around sceptical college managements because they were students themselves, says Yellajosula.
“Even now when we go to a college, we don’t introduce ourselves as students. We take care in how we dress up and present ourselves. We act more professional and mature than our age,” the 22-year-old says. “It is a challenge communicating with elders.”
When mauka.co.in was launched in 2011, it placed 123 students, including one from the University of Southern California, with 33 companies. “Then we realised this was a serious problem because there was a good demand,” he says.
They quickly bootstrapped the product with not just job and internship opportunities but also with content sourced from the industry. The Mauka team designs content, both textual information and videos, after taking inputs from human resources managers at companies, on what they look for in potential hires, and the skillsets the industry looks for. By August, when the site is fully operational, the team plans to have dynamic content such as interactive webinar sessions for students.
A few months into their operation, Mauka has evolved into a business-to-business firm. Instead of letting students directly register with the site, Mauka now partners with colleges and provides them a login ID for a fee. The colleges, in turn, register their students by creating student IDs. This ensures monitored learning with colleges as stakeholders, and is a fool-proof way for firms to get genuine information about students.
Mauka expects to have 50 colleges on board by the time it goes fully live. Companies can register for free and only pay based on the number of students tested via Mauka, not the number of students hired. “We don’t have a revenue model like a staffing company or a job portal. This is a recruitment-driven model and simplifies the process of recruitment drives,” Yellajosula says. Companies can list job postings, screen candidates using the portal’s database, stream pre-placement talks across different campuses via Mauka and even conduct assessment tests using the site.
From start-ups and small and medium scale industries to Fortune 500 companies, businesses of all sizes are registered with Mauka. While information technology companies dominate the employer portfolio on Mauka, there are also pharmaceutical, biomedical, mechanical, electronics and electrical companies.
“We were lucky. We did not have the typical start-up challenges because we started early and were in college. We did not struggle as much as we would have if we graduated and found ourselves without a job or steady source of income,” Yellajosula says. “Since there were no strings attached like revenue and staff, it was easier to get clients on board.”
Being students of a premier institute like BITS Pilani helped. Not only did it open doors for the founders but their idea also received support from the college alumni. The liberal and progressive philosophy of BITS Pilani also helped them pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions. BITS Pilani does not have a system of minimum attendance requirement, and has a fairly flexible academic schedule.
For some time, during March to December 2011, the co-founders sustained their venture by freelancing for different projects. Once, when an intern dropped out at the last minute, Yellajosula went in his place and worked with the hospitality company for four weeks to ensure brand Mauka did not take a hit.
The trio’s love for internships continued even after founding the company. Yellajosula interned with NextGen PMS Pvt. Ltd, a clean energy firm incubated at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, in June 2011. “Interning with them helped me scale up Mauka. I learnt why business model is important and why revenues are important,” he says.
When he returned to Hyderabad a month later, Yellajosula and his team got serious about their project. They prepared a robust business plan, identified revenue models, and modelled their business to appeal to prospective venture capitalists during investment pitches. The initial plan was to scale up Mauka only after finishing their academics.
Once the business model was in place, they began approaching potential investors but a pitching opportunity with early stage investor North Alley Llc., which eventually invested an undisclosed sum in Mauka, came by chance. An entrepreneur who was pitching his media start-up to North Alley asked Yellajosula to help him, but could not make it as the investors were interested only in the technology space. The investors had some time to spare, and when Yellajosula explained his business to them, they liked the name and asked him to pitch the next day.
When the Mauka team gave a business pitch, wavelengths matched. “It fit with the investor’s vision,” Yellajosula says. “They were looking to invest in something of this sort.”
Mint is a strategic partner of National Entrepreneurship Network, which hosts the Tata First Dot competition.