“Finding a mentor means looking for your future self with more experience.”
This headline from a Forbes August 2018 article aptly describes the role a mentor plays in the entrepreneurial journey of a startup founder or a wannapreneur. However, with India leading the global charts as the third-largest startup ecosystem — with more than 39K startups and a million more eyes dreaming of their own ventures — finding the right mentor to help start and scale a company is no easy task.
There are platforms like LinkedIn, AngelList, and Meetup that enable entrepreneurs to connect and build links with industry professionals. But the process is broken and time-consuming and there is no guarantee of ‘if and when’ the other person will respond to the shared queries.
Ranchi-based Simran Chhabra faced a similar issue while she was working with Gurugram-based recruitment solution provider Beam Commerce. “I was looking for an alliance with Flipkart but did not know whom to reach out to. I connected with a couple of category managers but that did not help. Reaching out to the right person became a big problem,” she says.
This incident gave her the idea to start Colangels, a startup that facilitates mentor connect, recruitment solutions for startups, and crowdfunding and investment opportunities — all on one platform. She roped in family and friends, including cousin sister Shruti Kaur, Shruti’s husband Aman Singh, and Aman’s friend Prateek Lamechwal. Together, they launched the beta version of the platform in July 2018.
Currently bootstrapped, this Bengaluru and Gurugram-based tech platform has a team of 60. Within just over six months of its launch, it boasts 10K users seeking advice from a network of more than 100 mentors, including Quikr CEO Pranay Chulet, Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma, and GoQii CEO Vishal Gondal. In the field of recruitment, it provides solutions to clients such as Alibaba, Instamojo, ShopX, Chaayos, Urban Ladder, MilkBasket.
Colangels is exploring two segments mainly — recruitment and mentor connect — but both of these are already crowded. For instance, in the money-making recruitment vertical, the competition is tough with established players such as Naukri, HackerRank, MercerMettl, WheeBox. Colangels, however, is offering mentoring opportunities for free at present and is yet to build a monetisation model around it.
So, how does the startup plan to create a differentiation as well as build a sustainable business model to continue in the long run? Inc42 connected with the founding team of Colangels last week to understand this.
Bridging The Gap Between Entrepreneurs And Mentors
Kaur defines Colangels as, “COLlaborate with COmpanies and COLleges in a way so that they GEL with each other for mutual growth and end up becoming an ‘Angel’ for the startup community.”
Simply put, the Colangels founders’ mission is to foster a number of verticals for startups to connect with mentors and investors for angel and crowdfunding investments. On one hand, these connections often open up funding opportunities for startups.
On the other hand, mentors get to learn about exciting technologies, ideas, and efficient teams, which they can make use of in their own ventures. Or they can take advantage of a being first mover and get an equity stake in the promising startups at an early stage.
The startup also facilitates other services such as aggregating coworking spaces, finding potential interns, professional networking, and crowdfunding campaigns. “Colangels can help students with their internships and getting placed in startups where they can showcase their talent and grow exponentially,” adds Chhabra.
How It Works
The user simply has to register on the Colangels platform to connect with mentors. Each profile created on the platform goes through a five-level verification process wherein information such as the idea, team, market size, scalability of the idea, and the revenue model of the startup are verified. This is done so the users can get precisely filtered options of the mentors — termed as “Angels” — that are relevant to their requirements.
Singh explains that users “earn” 150 Angels when they register on the platform, 100 Angels on completing the entire profile, and 25 Angels when they send recommendations to their connections.
“You burn Angels when you try to do an Alliance and when you connect with a Mentor or an Investor. And the burn of Angels while connecting to a featured mentor or investor is high, so we advise startup founders to use their Angels wisely,” he adds.
From the options thrown up by the engine, the user can send elevator pitches to mentors and investors. In order to avoid flooding of inboxes, each user gets a set number of “Angels” (mentors) based on his/her profile whom they can reach out to. Typically, responses are received within 48 hours.
A Startup With Its Heart In The Right Place
Chhabra says that initially, it was difficult for the team to secure time slots with industry experts (CEOs/CXOs, etc) who could be potential mentors on the platform. “But, once we helped them understand the model and the difference the platform can bring in the startup ecosystem, most of them agreed to be a part of it,” she adds.
Today, the startup is going strong. One of the feathers in its cap is an association with the Jharkhand government through which it is helping boost the startup ecosystem of the state. Colangels is also raising funds through a crowdfunding campaign called ‘Voice of Slum’, through which it will help more than 100 slum children across the country get an education and impart the skills to make them employable and give them a better chance at life.
“In the coming months, we will be organising crowdfunding campaigns for social startups as well that have a clear monetisation model in place,” says Chhabra.
With Bengaluru, Delhi/NCR, and Mumbai being the major traction-generating cities, Colangels is also looking to reach a user base of 1 Mn by the end of 2020. Further, the team plans to expand across international borders in mid-2019 starting with Southeast Asia. “That’s when we will take Indian talent from Tier 1 colleges to SEA for internships and full-time placements as there is a massive increase in demand for Indian talent,” added Singh.
Will Colangels Be Able To Succeed?
According to Forrester research, around 65% of the startups that raised funding between 2014-2017 were looking for hiring partners, alliances, and mentor connect. As mentioned earlier, there exist gaps in the startup recruitment and mentor connect segment. With its personalised approach, Colangels can certainly make a difference in enabling startup founders to connect with mentors and the right employees at the right stage of growth.
The business model seems quite difficult to monetise even in the long run considering how price sensitive the Indian audience is. Plus, Colangels doesn’t guarantee that the mentors will answer all of a user’s queries, so there is always the possibility that some questions may go unanswered, creating trust issues for the user.
However, Colangels already has a monetisation model in place with its recruitment solutions and boasts a good list of clients. This can create enough traction for the startup and bring in revenues for it to sustain its efforts in the space of mentor connect.
Also, the fact that Colangels’ recruitment solutions are not specific to a particular segment, with the focus being on startup staffing needs in general, gives the startup the scope to create a much larger portfolio due to the high attrition rates faced by early to growth-stage companies.
The road ahead may be a bit rocky for Colangels, but then entrepreneurship is a tough game altogether. And as Kaur rightly says,
“You will grow automatically if people around you grow.”