The journey to founding his startup started in the second year of his insti life, when he began tutoring students as a part of the Acad Buddy program. Taran Singh, an alumnus of the 2019 batch of the dual degree program of the Aerospace Department, tells us his story on founding Melvano.
Besides Acad Buddy, Taran had begun to home tutor students nearby, who were preparing for JEE, and realized his passion for teaching. He understood the core problems faced by students who were preparing for competitive exams by distance learning programs or even those who went to coaching centers. These learning programs have a very structured approach, which isn’t tweaked for the requirements of their students. If they needed more attention than these programs provided, they would have to pay for a personal tutor. “There was a lack of personalization, a lack of continuous feedback to assess loopholes, no hand-holding, and no mapping out of the learning journey. There’s only so much time students can spend researching on resources and understanding their weak areas on their own and so, the idea of Melvano was born”, Taran says.
He wasn’t very entrepreneurial in his initial insti years, “ I was quite popular in my first and second year. I experimented with almost all the extracurriculars that IITM had to offer. Melvano was an idea I developed with a group of my friends in my third year. By my fourth year, a lot of them left because they weren’t into the idea of entrepreneurship or risks. It was this year that I met my tech co-partner and started working on the product that came to be Melvano.”
Melvano comes from Tamil word Malivana, which means affordable since it aligned with our vision. Essentially, Melvano is a learning assistant that takes a diagnostic test, which is able to assess the weak areas of the aspirant and creates modules to help them fill these holes in their preparation. After completing the modules, the final matrix, which is handled by AI at its core, is shared with the aspirant. “ Being from an IIT, content creation for Melvano wasn’t a big problem. We had over 200 tutors from IITs assisting us with the content for JEE prep.” There were days of planning and iteration, and sometimes they would have to scrap everything and start from scratch. “ We wanted to develop a solution to the problems with the current preparation system. The client wouldn’t pay if he sees the IITian tag; they would pay for the solution. It’s this solution that becomes a brand.”, says Taran. The first win for Melvano was in 2018, when it got funding at a networking event in the idea stage itself, ensuring cashflows. After this, it went on to win HedNxt 2018 as the most innovative startup. By January 2019, Melvano had crossed one lakh users.
The road to making an idea a reality is never easy. Besides developing the whole system that would enable him to address the problems he saw, Taran had to maneuver through other problems. One of those being convincing his parents, who wanted him to sit for placements like almost every Indian parent. “They could see this idea was very close to my heart and they were aware of the efforts I was making. In the end, I could convince them. Their belief in my idea solidified after we won HedNxt’18 and received subsequent funding.” Managing academics and attendance was another. “The courses didn’t supplement my entrepreneurial journey and attendance shortage did lead to backlogs in some. But it was all worth it. These situations only made my resilience and dedication grow”, says Taran.
Besides academics, there were also co-curriculars. He realized he didn’t really need a PoR to build his resume. “I came to understand that a lot of my friends chose PoRs and preparing for internships/placements over working in a startup. I think there is a lot of misguidance and a fear of FOMO when it comes to PoRs in insti life. Sure, the PoRs do provide benefits when it comes to internships and placements, but none of it matters if you’re blindly following the crowd. There’s no hurry to make a career decision while still a fledgling. There’s plenty of time to research and explore!”, he exclaims. Qualification of PoRs won’t make a difference if you’re not interested in what you’re doing, or you don’t pick up people skills. “Sometimes, taking up a PoR might give you what you want, not what you need. I remember, in my second year, I contested in the elections in my hostel. I didn’t win the position I campaigned for, even though I believed I had the support and the skills. Now I realize, if I had won, I might have stayed in my shell”, Taran recalls, “It would have given me an additional responsibility, and I wouldn’t have had the time or the energy to explore my passion- teaching.”
He asks students not to have a rigid approach to PoRs and jobs in general. “I believe students shouldn’t rely on institute provided internships and placements. Rather, they should try to build soft skills, make connections, and learn to sell themselves. A lot of the students that the companies take are on contract with the institute. When it comes to a global crisis like we have this year, it would lead to layoffs like we have had”, he says. “Let me explain- any company, when facing a shortage of cashflows in an economic recession, would look to reduce costs. It can try to do it in any part of its supply chain. As bad as it sounds, the most expendable part is the workforce”, he explains, “ So the company ends up firing employees that do not add any value to it. This is why lay-offs happen.”
“To ensure that you stay relevant, you will need experience. You gather valuable experience if you get to work on real-world problems, and be accountable for the output of the company. Simply put, I recommend working in a startup. They are the ideal place to gather field experience, soft-skills, and work in close proximity to its founders. At the end of the day, whatever work you do, you should have gained something from it.” He advises students to choose the place they work at carefully- as not all startups would give students what they are looking for. “I joined a startup as an intern in my second year for a period of three months, but I decided to leave it within two because the work wasn’t challenging or engaging for me. I did get a certificate for it, but I don’t value it because I didn’t gain from that experience.” Apart from this, he also advises students to choose their companies carefully. “As students, you need to be aware of the market, the economy, its trends, and requirements. In the current and post COVID world, companies/startups with high offline dependencies would have to make changes if they want to stay relevant in the disrupted market. For example, companies like BookMyShow have had to switch to an online viewing platform, which they do not specialise in. Whereas streaming sites like Netflix are at an all-time high of user engagement. Similarly, in the case of online education platforms, business and funding have not taken a hit when compared to offline coaching institutes.”
He believes such a change can only be brought about with a change of mindset from that of a job seeker to an opportunist learner, “At the end of the day, if you wish to thrive, what matters to the economy is a relevant skillset. While the technical aspects keep changing, whether it is Machine Learning or Artificial Intelligence, the newest marketing trend or the latest investment instrument, the social sector and soft skills will never become irrelevant. No level of Artificial Intelligence can possibly replace human warmth, emotion, and understanding.”
“The worst thing that can happen is a failure, so why wait to start on your idea or your passion? Starting from scratch is not a bad thing. All it needs is sincere effort and some dedication from our side and we are bound to arrive at some conclusion. There has always been a path to walk on, but I believe the future lies in creating it.”