The figures are daunting. Ten million juniors and seniors around the world are trying to enter the job market. Most have little or no work experience and many lack appropriate guidance counseling.
Meanwhile corporations spend at least $5,000 per recruit if they advertise on websites like www.monster.com and www.careerbuilder.com — more if they recruit personally at the colleges. “They compete fiercely for the best applicants and worry about their yield — the percentage of students who accept the jobs offered — because they want to maintain prestige in the hearts and minds of increasingly image conscious students,” says Nicky Kedia.
In 2001 Kedia founded Bramha Infotech, a multinational IT services company that annually hires and brings to the United States more than 50 recent graduates of Indian universities. Now he has embarked on a totally different journey, to guide college graduates, particularly those in the IT field, to the right job. His new company, StudentJobExchange LLC (SJX), will provide an unusual networking platform to connect students with each other and with international firms.
“I’m very excited and feeling very alive again,” Kedia says. “Once again I am doing something new. As an entrepreneur it is important to try new things. I am excited because the idea has been lingering in my mind for a long time, from when I was a student, but I never had the means to do anything about it.” He sees a serious flaw in the job matching system. “Many students think that doing do A and B will help them in their career. Yet when they graduate, they find their education is not in synch with the job market. I don’t think the education has changed to match business needs.”
“Online, students are already looking for jobs,” says Kedia, “but none of the employers really say ‘I want to hire 10 students with no experience but the zeal to do it.’ They always say they want experience. It is a chicken and egg situation.” All too often, job candidates fudge their resumes so that it looks like they have experience when they don’t.
He believes that StudentJobExchange “will not be just another job site. It will be a site where students all over the United States and around the world can talk to each other. If somebody in Iowa has always wanted to study in New York, he can talk to a live student — these are the courses I am taking, this is what I want. There will be mentoring, career guidance, and counseling.”
Kedia is funding the start-up himself. Though he estimates it could cost up to $500,000, he claims not to have set a limit. “The moment you set a limit the idea will never prosper. I am a cost-conscious guy, but this is beyond calculation. You do some things in life that are beyond profit and loss.”
He is not taking investment now “but, down the line, I want investors who believe in it and believe we can make it big. If it is just going to be another dotcom, I don’t even want it. We are doing this to make a difference.”
Kedia’s determination was strengthened by the career confusion he sees every day. “When you ask a programmer how they became a Java or Dotnet programmer, they really don’t know — why Java versus Dotnet. They took the first job that was offered.” As the result of the first job, that person is a Java developer, or a data base administrator, or a data base designer — and it is next to impossible to shift career tracks without taking a big pay cut.
Through SJX Kedia wants to offer the tools so everyone can investigate all the IT careers. “What is missing is the chance to have a road map for their careers.” He believes the site will be especially helpful for international students.
He tells of his own bad job-hunting experience. “I did my MBA at Clark University, outside Boston, and had a problem finding the right job, for several different reasons. In retrospect, you look and ask, what did I do wrong? Only the approach students take is wrong.”
Bramha has seven staffers on Alexander Road and will be scaling up to 12, plus 55 at customer sites. Three of the seven are working on the SJX project part-time now and 10 more are in the process of emigrating from India. About 15 people will be working in India.
For the design, Kedia knew it could not be geeky. “Even if students like it, they will not recommend it to anybody.” He did not find what he needed in India. “Letting creative juices flow was never easy in India.” He has hired a firm from Argentina to make the site look “young, fresh, creative, crisp.”
He has also hired Jeremy Johnson as a consultant, because of Johnson’s experience with higher education and youth marketing (U.S. 1, August 22). Johnson co-founded a college admission site Zandigo (now morphed into Admish.com) and is on a leave of absence from Princeton University to pursue this and other ventures.
Kedia’s brother, Rakesh, manages the recruiting and overseas business development for the IT company, Bramha Infotech, and he is also on board for StudentJobExchange. He is a trader on the Bombay and National Stock Exchanges and has been involved in Indian firms doing private placements. Also at the helm of SJX is Khalid Sadik, a recent MBA who has had successful marketing record.
He sees huge potential. “I won’t be the one to take it to the second or third level. To make the site a success, I will need people bigger than me, smarter than me, better than me. If I feel it is my baby, I will ruin the idea. My idea is for it to change hands.”
His business model involves free services to students and recruiters, who will have to be invited to the site at first. Students will be able to purchase upgrades including personal coaching, editing of cover letters, and critiquing of resumes. Recruiters will have some access to search resumes and profiles, but additional access can be purchased, as can opportunities to publicize their brands and contribute stories about life at their company.
A facebook-style application will allow globally minded students to network while learning about opportunities abroad and why a career in international business or in a foreign country might work for them.
A series of contests will drive page views and bolster the initial user-base. They will include prizes for the best video resume and the best “dream job” essay.
Entries in the video resume contest will be used for promotional purposes. “It will provide us with potential sample material to help newcomers understand the concept of video resumes and how to make them effective,” he says.
For the dream job contest, SJX will offer to hire the winner, an applicant from India, for an above average salary of $75,000 to $80,000. “The premium will attract significant attention from bright young students and will help drive attention to the site itself,” Kedia says. Users will pick the winner from summaries of the top ten applicants.
His marketing plans, for India, involve billboard ads, which he predicts will bring hundreds of thousands of registrants. “In the U.S. there is a lot of distraction, so here content has to be the key.” The backbone of the site will be content — such tools as where to find jobs, what skills are needed, and where to get skills. Kedia expects to tap his extensive list of contacts. “If someone has good material on resume writing. we will contact them. take their material, and put it on our site,” he says.
He wants his site developers to pick the brains of people who are “in the trenches,” so to speak, answering questions like what was their education, why did they choose that education, what was their goal, where are they today, how did they get there, and what does it take for somebody to get there. “If I know a business analyst who has been working in the financial domain for five to eight years, I will involve him to get some insights.”
Kedia’s wife is from Nepal, and they met through friends in Delhi. He grew up in Bombay, where his parents imported raw materials for plastics and petrochemical manufacturing, and his elder brother has a software firm. “All the business I learned was in the first 14 years of my life,” he says. “The rest was a finishing school.” Kedia’s father died as he was finishing his schooling (University of Bombay, Class of 1993, and a master’s degree at Clark University in Boston).
He worked for a fast-growing company, Novasoft, and earned himself a Rolex and a leased Mercedes Benz for his efforts. After four years, in 2001, Kedia founded Software Arts, which grew to $8 million in revenues in three years, expanding in 2003 from 2304 Brunswick Pike to Lawrence Commons.
That year he founded Bramha InfoTech, which grew from zero to $6 million in revenues in one year. Earlier this summer, eager to bring the wheel full circle, he moved to the Alexander Road building where Novasoft began.
Kedia is certainly idealistic but he doesn’t want to be perceived as a do-gooder. “I would rather position myself as a very sharp businessman rather than a good guy. When people see that you are doing something for good, they think you are soft. In staffing we see it every single day. If you try to be nice, people think they can take advantage of you.”
He also can’t afford to be perceived as low profile. “In our family business, we didn’t need to put on a show. In the real world of the U.S., they want the flashy office, the closed door meetings. I was not brought up that way. but if that’s what gets the job done, I’ll do it.”
Only communication can promote international exchange, he believes. “When I was growing up I heard the terms ‘third world country’ and ‘developing nation.’ Now I know that the real difference between countries is the thought process — the lifestyle, what you spend money on and don’t spend money on, what things you take for granted and don’t take for granted.”
Academic grades are more crucial in India. “The student enters the rat race right from the very beginning,” says Kedia. “In a lot of places in India the student competes every single day of his school life, and parents get too involved in the success of the student. The grades you need to get into computer science or engineering must be in the top five percent, because even if you are very keen and have the intellect, the colleges won’t accept you. Once out of college, the graduate will get a job, not necessarily one that he likes, but he must support his family.”
“Here, when you are born in the United States, the thought process is different. Those in the middle class can expect to have a decent apartment, car, and TV. Here you don’t have to fight for the basics. If, in India you have to get your basics in place, it takes so much out of you, you don’t get to the next level.”
“What excites us,” says Kedia, “is the challenge. It is simple to get a website up and running. It is not simple to get a concept, a revolution, up and running. We need people who are bigger, better and smarter than we are.”
Bramha Infotech, 707 Alexander Road, Suite 204, Princeton 08540; 609-520-9800; fax, 609-520-9801. Nicky Kedia. Home page: www.bramhainfotech.com.