Software of Substance

As an entrepreneur, I dream of creating a vibrant training hub of quality content and robust learning methodology which ultimately helps IT professionals move up the value chain. says Abhishek Srivastava

January 01, 1970 5:30 IST | Sudhir Raikar
Abhishek Srivastava is not your everyday entrepreneur. He is one of those few passionate innovators who relish the pain of trials as much as they cherish the pleasure of triumphs.

The failure of his debut venture, far from impairing his entrepreneurial vision, gave him a whole new perspective that saw the birth of Techcanvass, a Mumbai-based software company into Health care and Technology Training solutions. His never-say-die spirit is worthy of adulation and emulation for the umpteen professionals of IT sector who mistake green cards for their identity cards. In this Q & A with IIFL’s Sudhir Raikar, he unfolds the value proposition of his new venture. 

How and when was ‘Techcanvass’ born?
I have always believed that the fundamental domains of healthcare and education leave a lot to be desired, more so in India. Accordingly, in my first venture that I founded with my friends, we focused on the healthcare sector. We went on develop a product and enjoyed reasonable success before all fell apart in 2011. Soon after, I decided to opt out. During this period, I enjoyed the luxury of some free time and that's when Techcanvass was conceptualized. I continued my intermittent tryst with healthcare but this time around, I decided to probe the root cause in the light of personal experience. My father is a diabetic for more than 35 years and hence I have seen the challenges involved in the disease management from close quarters. I also know for sure that well-managed diabetes cannot hamper normal lifestyle. As a testimony, we are celebrating our parents' 50th marriage anniversary in July this year. I was now obsessed with developing a software solution that would help hospitals as well as patients in systematic management of ailments like diabetes to prevent complications that disrupt life for patients. To cut a long story short, I conceived Techcanvass to come up with a chronic disease management system somewhere in late 2011.

Solutions for the health sector coupled with Software training – isn’t it an offbeat, eclectic mix of offerings?
Startups invariably grapple with limited budgets and I had already suffered massive financial bleed in my first venture, having grossly underestimated developmental effort while overestimating customer response. We managed our funds through outsourced projects and that's why the product development was rather protracted. The product was finally launched in July 2013. The concept was well received by doctors and hospitals but there was clearly no market yet for our product. Of course, we had the remote option of external funding but I was not sure if our product was fundable in the first place. We enjoyed limited success with our Disease management system. We also designed solutions like the website and the hospital management system essentially as services hovering around the principal product to generate revenue. But there were not enough breakthroughs in this space. 

During this time, I was wrestling with another recurring issue. The young graduates we hired as interns, despite their B. Tech and MCA degrees from reputed institutes, invariably took at least two to three months to become fully productive. Our education system has, from time immemorial, not been able to produce employable graduates. To attack this generic problem, we began imparting ‘finishing school’ training to young graduates. That marked our foray into education domain.

The most striking aspect of your persona is undoubtedly your sincerity and humility as a founder. Your blog says: “Entrepreneur since 2008 with one failed start up under his belt, which has made him wiser.” – So what were the learnings?
"Failure is the stepping stone to success" may have been reduced a cliché today but I firmly believe in that adage. My last venture was a virtual eye opener for me. A few lessons I learnt were:
  • Friends and acquaintances are part of the social support system but when it comes to business, unless visions and wavelengths match, d isaster is a foregone conclusion.
  • As a founder, one needs to be in constant touch with the junior most employees of the organization who tell you the ‘real story’.
  • Once you don the entrepreneur’s hat, the probability of things going wrong becomes very high but that should not deter you from your ultimate goal.
How do you decide on your course offerings and faculties – is it demand centric (based on actual market and career needs) or supply centric (based on the availability of trainers of niche technologies).
Right now, we are working on a hybrid model. On the one hand, we conduct courses based on demand like Java and Automation testing tools. On the other hand, we also design niche courses like MongoDB, a NoSQL database and part of Big Data technology solution stack. I would also put our "Campus to Corporate” Program under the latter category. This is a niche offering that aims to bridge the great divide between academia and industry. Of all the courses, Java sessions have elicited the maximum response. In contrast, Android development course has not found enough takers.

In future, would you look to tap more traffic through the online route – say conducting 100 percent online certifications for students spread across the globe?
Yes, that's definitely on and I am very keen on creating high quality content to be delivered online. My personal opinion is that online training is the next big thing provided the content is of good quality and delivered efficiently.

You have clubbed Placements as part of your offerings. How critical is this component and does it any way dilute your conviction as a pure training solutions provider?
As far as freshers are concerned, this is the most important factor and as a service provider, we can't ignore this market need. We have strengthened our recruitment team, which will be working with greater focus and purpose to provide better placement facilities for our students.

Going forward, how do you plan to multiply your reach?
We see engineering and degree colleges as our biggest target customer base across India. Of course, we would need partners for a Pan India reach. As we are developing the content and validating our model, it will provide us a platform to be able to replicate this model further. Standardization of content and delivery methodology will be the key.

Tell us in brief about your formative years, past stints and future aspirations.
I spent my early years of upbringing and schooling in Ranchi, a happening city during that time. Long years of hostel life made me independent and taught me to think on my feet. My father was very influential in shaping my formative years. He taught me the most important lesson in my life - if you have the right approach, you can learn and master anything. As an IT professional, I had fruitful stints with esteemed companies like Mastek and 3i Infotech providing software and business solutions to the BFSI segment. As an entrepreneur, I dream of creating a vibrant training hub of quality content and robust learning methodology which ultimately helps IT professionals move up the value chain.

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