Gaurang Torvekar, CEO, Indorse: On finding the right business model for a skills marketplace – with blockchain

James is editor in chief of TechForge Media, with a passion for how technologies influence business and several Mobile World Congress events under his belt. James has interviewed a variety of leading figures in his career, from former Mafia boss Michael Franzese, to Steve Wozniak, and Jean Michel Jarre. James can be found tweeting at @James_T_Bourne.

For any budding entrepreneurs with an idea and a head full of dreams, here are two key lessons that Gaurang Torvekar, CEO of Singapore-based Indorse, has learned: the business model is more important than the idea, and don’t let your technology be the only selling point.

Torvekar (left) firmly describes himself as a founder in the blockchain space, having developed in Ethereum over the past four years among others. Indorse is his second blockchain company. Yet there is no mention of this on the company’s website.  

“The reason we don’t mention blockchain in the page itself? We’re not selling blockchain anymore – we’re selling a solution to a problem,” Torvekar tells Enterprise CIO.

The problem is an age-old one: finding the right technical talent. Technical recruiters can be a godsend, but sometimes they don’t help themselves asking for, say, 10 years’ DevOps experience. For an emerging area, such as data science, employers and candidates can be at odds; the prospective employee hopes to build and train models, yet is exasperated to find the company only wanted a shiny report for board meetings.

Some companies in this space advocate training up ’citizen developers’ from low- and no-code tools. Indorse, however, looks to use its platform to assess developers’ skills to help with recruitment and, in other cases, upskilling.

If this sounds not dissimilar to LinkedIn’s move in September to introduce ‘skill assessments’, albeit two years after Indorse began, then you would be right. Torvekar notes part of the company’s original plan was to ‘disrupt’ LinkedIn, but the idea was scrapped after thinking better of directly competing with the ‘giants’, as he puts it.

Instead of multiple choice questions, Indorse’s formula is to use a panel of industry experts to assess candidates’ coding skills and abilities. Torvekar’s first blockchain bet was around digital certificates, so this can be seen as an expansion of that vision. “Instead of just certificates, what if we put entire professional profiles of a person on the blockchain?” says Torvekar. “Essentially, [we] don’t just limit ourselves to a certificate or a degree, but actually look at the skills of a person in a holistic manner.”

Torvekar took to the continued humanitarian crisis in Syria as inspiration. “You had all these highly qualified people – doctors, lawyers, and engineers – coming from Syria, running away from the country,” he explains. “All of them are highly qualified; yet although they had the skills, the degrees were not recognised.”

Experts include engineers at Mercedes-Benz, Jio, and Google. Torvekar estimates there are around 400 experts using the platform globally, with organic growth – no red tape, they take the time to assess when they can – encouraged. The outlet is there for those who have the inclination, with Torvekar noting the highest payout the previous month was more than $1600.

“It’s like a marketplace,” he says. “On one side you have the experts, the community of experts across the world, and on the other side you have these candidates who want to prove their skills, to prove they can code.”

Yet this alone is not quite enough. The turning point for Indorse, Torvekar says, was shifting from a B2C to a B2B business model. One way Indorse works with clients is through hosting hackathons. Grab, a Singapore-based ride-hailing services provider, hired almost 50 data scientists as a direct result of one of these initiatives. Of the approximately 1000 participants, 150 were shortlisted through a coding test, and Grab took things from there.

Not altogether surprisingly, it is the relationships with large clients that Torvekar stresses – not just for recruitment but for upskilling. “The way we look at any enterprise client is [to have] a very long-term relationship with them,” he says. “We can help them recruit people, and then alongside we can help them upskill people. Once we sign up an enterprise client, they keep using the platform again and again.”

Indorse differs from many blockchain companies in one other aspect: the company is actually making money, having crossed $1 million in revenues late last year. This is not too difficult to link with the company finding its business model of choice. “We spent the whole of 2017 struggling to find the right product market in a way, and when we decided to move to the B2B space, that’s when our growth started accelerating,” says Torvekar.

“We were selling blockchain in 2017 – we were all about ‘hey, we’re a blockchain company, we sell blockchain’ – but then we actually started selling the coding assessment,” he adds. “That’s actually quite a journey for me as a founder, I would say.”

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data ExpoCyber Security & Cloud Expo and 5G Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.

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