Networking -> Good Connections -> Success. This is the road map for today’s Gen C to walk a step ahead of their competitors in any area of their choice. Whether it’s about launching a startup, or expanding business; for higher studies or taking job referrals, everyone realizes the role networking plays. And it would be like ‘icing on the cake’ if one can get in his network more and more trusted and reliable resources.
Keeping this in mind, the duo in 2011 from DA-IICT (Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information & Communication Technology), Swapnil Khandelwal and Rubish Gupta laid down the foundation of AlmaConnect – a social platform based on private alumni networks. This Gurgaon based portal aims at solving the problem of ‘Sustained Alumni Engagement’, thereby bridging the alumni interaction gap and creating a strong network based on TRUST.
As said by Rubish, “the main idea is to provide a platform where people can get trusted help from their alumni networks”. “There are alumni websites where there is no engagement and then there are email / Facebook/ LinkedIn groups where there is engagement but it becomes spam over a period of time,” added Swapnil.
The prime stakeholders to this service are Alums, Students and Institutes (Schools/Colleges). Alumni networks are set up as separate sub-domains. The students/individuals can choose and connect to their respective alum groups via Email, Facebook or LinkedIn. Any update to the profiles in these networks, will automatically update the profile information at AlmaConnect for all. In case any college is not added, an alumni can fill up a request online and can start building his institute network there.
The colleges on the other hand, can start with their existing database and by sending invites to join the network. This gives them an updated alumni database and helps them in branding and organizing placement drives. Although, there is no fees for signing up, the institutes/schools can sign up to host their official alumni portals by paying an annual subscription fees. The portal can then be used for having private announcements, discussions, etc.
What Advantages Does It Offers?
The key feature of the platform is ‘News about Alumni’. AlmaConnect has an algorithm that tracks alumni mentions on the web especially media websites. The product fetch news and updates about alumni and use machine learning & NLP to ensure the accuracy of these mentions and to figure out which one should be shown to which alumni ensuring only relevant updates are seen by a user.
Here is a snapshot of how a webpage for IIT-Delhi domain on Almaconnect will look like. The news featuring alums or related to alums are listed alongside the alum details in relation to the news article. The alum details include his/her name, batch year and current employer. The news feeds also mentioned the original media source, to prove complete authenticity to the information.
“This feature is being loved by our users as it helps them discover & connect with the relevant alums and this is some information they are not able to get anywhere else. It also helps entrepreneurs get visibility in their alumni network which further helps them in their ventures,” said Swapnil.
The other features include aggregation of job openings in companies where alums work, facilitate referral jobs, managing Events, Directory, Donations and more.
Market Opportunity, Current Traction And Monetization Plans
Alumni networking has potential to cater to 100+ Mn people as alumni share a trust among each other that is existent from a school, to an undergrad college to post graduation to one’s ex-company. Where for most of the colleges there is no alumni portal, majority has just a static alumni site/pages. The founders in the initial phase are targeting 100 million Indian graduates from top 20,000 schools & colleges.
With a four member team, AlmaConnect is currently having 150,000 Signed up users which includes 30% daily & 70% weekly active users. Almost 10,000 news articles are tracked every day. 100+ colleges are paying them an annual subscription fee including the ‘likes’ of IIT Roorkee, St. Stephen’s College, University of Mauritius, St. Paul’s School, etc. “We have colleges associated with us from all over India – Majority of them being from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, North, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu & Andhra Pradesh alongside some foreign colleges like Nanynag Business School,” said Swapnil.
They have earlier raised $ 300,000 from CIIE IIM Ahmedabad, IXORA Ventures, Dharmendra Yashovardhan (Co-Founder, IXIGO), DiscountShop.com and some more angels. “We are in talks to raise approx. $ 2 Mn to expand our user base to a million active users which will allow us to experiment with new revenue models..,” said Swapnil. The founders have other plans of monetization too, but do not wish to disclose them yet.
Competition and Challenges
The biggest competition as of now is from existing alumni groups on emails and social media platforms. However, as per Rubish, they are more like radio channels and cannot work for large communities such as alumni groups in a sustained manner. When asked about the challenges, the founders believe that the biggest challenge has always been user engagement.
“We are on our way to become the first real social network from India. It is hard to find people who understand social networks in India and getting the right people to believe and back us up is what we think will be a major challenge for us,” said Swapnil.
“Every now and then you see alumni websites spring up, but rarely find any retention there. It took us a lot of time and experimentations to crack engagement on our platform. However, we are fortunate enough to make our client colleges believe in us to work with us and invest in our company to crack the problem,” added Rubish.
Historically, bringing people together has been one of the biggest growth drivers for technology firms. Ed-tech has been slow to catch-on. At the same time, massive opportunities have been created in this space riding on this fundamental human need to connect. Dharmendra Yashovardhan, an investor in AlmaConnect, believes that Technology, Relationships, Awareness of the Consumer Context and Ambition are the four key factors that will differentiate the massively successful firms from the also-rans. So, what lies in future for these startups in the ed-tech space? Will we see more such initiatives? Will we see any profit graph here or it would be like other freemium models, running on losses?