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Exclusive Conversation : Karthikeyan Vijayakumar Founder & CEO of Twenty19.com

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004bb9dKarthikeyan is the Founder & CEO of Twenty19. He has an Engineering Degree from BITS Pilani . In 2009, he went to several colleges in Chennai for talks on entrepreneurship in 2009 and the student’s lack of exposure sowed the seeds for the Twenty19 idea. He believes that every college student can live their dream career, if they get practical exposure and the right guidance during their college days. Through Twenty19, he envisions products that enable students get that exposure and make the right first step. Today, Twenty19 is used by over 5000 companies and over 2 lakh students.  TiE Chennai awarded him the ‘Young Achiever of the Year 2012′ for the work done by Twenty19. In 2009, he was awarded the BITS Global 30 under 30 Award, given to top BITS alumni for outstanding contribution.

What was the idea behind starting Twenty19.com and how did you get your name?

In 2009, i was visiting many colleges to talk to students about entrepreneurship through NEN. During the interactions with students, i got to understand that many lacked practical exposure. At the same time, i was part of the startup community in Chennai and i knew the hiring challenges the companies were facing. We realised that both students and companies would benefit, if they were provided opportunities to intern and get real world exposure. That experience sowed the seeds for Twenty19.com in 2010.

The name Twenty19 comes from the age group of the people we serve. We wanted to transform the lives of people in the late teens and early twenties and hence the name, Twenty19.

Brief us about your business model.

College students across India can get practical exposure & hands-on learning through internships, online courses & events on Twenty19.com. If the students have the necessary skills, they can apply to internships in over 5000 companies. If the students don’t have the necessary skills, they can learn through our online courses and build their skills.  The courses are created by industry experts. Twenty19 online courses are unique – students learn concepts through real-world examples and also mandatorily do a hands-on project while learning the course.

Companies benefit by being able to recruit relevant college talent, from across India. Presently, over 5000 companies use Twenty19.com and recruit interns from colleges across India, sitting in their office.

Tell us about your core team and initial division of work.

Nivedita leads the online courses division. She has worked with the learning division of an MNC, earlier and she is building Twenty19 online courses. Shwetha is a BITS, Pilani graduate and leads marketing at Twenty19. She works on reaching out to companies and students & building the Twenty19 community. Jayant leads the tech team at Twenty19.

How did Twenty19.com get its tipping point?

We had a simple focus at Twenty19 – to support students and companies and ensure they have a good experience. This helped us get the word-of-mouth reference and that really helped us grow at over 150% in the last few years.

Do you plan to get investments? If yes, then what will be your strategy?

Our primary focus is on ensuring our customers get the best experience on Twenty19. When it comes to investments, we are keen that we work with the right partners, who have similar vision for our customers.

How did you get your first 100 users?

We did a lot of on-the-ground running around, to get our initial users. To get out initial student users, we used to hang around college canteens, engage with students and promote the benefits of using Twenty19. We were quite shy and hesitant to hang around college canteens and hand out brochures, since our earlier corporate experience never required us to walk the streets. But we went ahead and looking back, that helped us a lot to get our initial users. We also went to conferences and met companies, to build our company network.

Tell us about your three major challenges and how did you overcome them.

As with any other start-up / company, the biggest challenge was in recruiting the right people to work on the Twenty19 idea. The initial months were hard, since we were pioneering this concept and few people believed in the idea. In fact, many found this work too trivial, initially. But over time, as more companies & students started benefiting, people started to believe in the vision and recruitment got easier.

Companies didn’t take to the internship concept easily. They weren’t convinced that student interns could be beneficial to them. We went ahead and worked with the few companies who believed in this concept. Their success stories helped in convincing the other companies.  When we started, less than 5% of the companies paid a stipend to students. But now, over 95% of the companies pay a stipend. That is a clear validation of the value that students provide the companies.

What is your USP to tackle competition?

Twenty19 is the largest internship platform in India. We have more companies & students than all of our key competitors. Importantly, we are uniquely positioned to support college students through an all-round approach that covers internships, online courses and events. This integrated support helps college students right from the 1st year to the final year.  Since Twenty19 is able to attract relevant college student talent, companies benefit from the Twenty19 experience as well.

We pioneered many tools in this domain and we will continue to improve the student & company experience at Twenty19.

What is your future plan?Twenty19 Team Photo

All of us hear reports about college students being unemployable in India.  However, We at Twenty19 believe that college students are naturally curious and they just need the right opportunities & guidance to hone their skills. We believe that an integrated approach that helps students gain practical exposure and learn hands-on skills, is the best way to solve the un-employability problem among students. Twenty19 envisions this transformation of college students in India over the next 5-7 years. As the quality of student talent improves, the companies would naturally benefit from the quality talent as well.

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Amisha Singh

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