Co-Founder & CEO, MeritTrac Services Pvt.Ltd
My Diary: 5th July 2000
“ Woke up to a bright sunny morning – which is quite unusual in this season. Quite disoriented – the fact that I have quit my “job” yesterday and started-off on my own to do something in testing, is yet to sink in. “Unemployed” is the word that keeps buzzing in my head – even though I know that I am
stepping into a new life where I am creating my “own employment”. This sounds both exciting & scary at the same time… I get ready and lock myself up in my bedroom – a makeshift office with my old battered computer. I call up Murli & Mohan(my would-be co-founders) trying to figure out what I should be doing – now that I am full-time into this. The things on the agenda are – to pick a name for this venture, put a full fledged business plan in place, run after some prospects trying to generate some business and also try to raise some money to get the venture going. Seems like quite a lot of things to do … Lunch at home (Ah! the small pleasures of being on your own…) and the bed looks pretty inviting for an afternoon siesta. I fight off this urge and get to work on the business plan. I call up some contacts at Wipro & IBM and bingo! – I have got my first meeting with the Head-Recruitment of IBM!
Not a bad first day – managed to get some semblance of a start-up…I hit the sack with a prayer on my lips… God: help us !” These are the actual excerpts from my diary on the day I started out on this dream called MertTrac. Even now, from a detached perspective, the only sense I get out of this posting is hope, belief and a sense of adventure: pre-requisites for any entrepreneurial venture. And given this start, let me share my story and some experiences of balancing dreams and reality! I stumbled onto the idea of providing assessments & testing services quite by accident; the thought was triggered by a comment from a friend who was running a financial software products company – and he had got this request from an IT
company to develop a question bank management software. The need from this company was that they were recruiting large number of software engineers and wanted to test all applicants – and hence the requirement of a question bank management software. This set me thinking that such companies would probably require assistance in the entire process of testing – right from developing scientifically validated tests to administering these tests in a secure environment across the country. This thought was also backed by the fact that knowledge services economy was slated to grow exponentially – and the core asset of any knowledge-led economy is quality of manpower. Therefore a service to measure “quality” of
manpower objectively will be very valuable. And so was born the idea of an assessments-only company! A belief in the idea is essential but it has to be backed by cold and solid math. The most important part of starting off on your own is in developing a business plan for your brainchild. Simply put, it is the ability to make money out of your idea and the way of doing it. Every future step will depend on a business philosophy and a way of doing business- “why
will someone pay you for this service/product?” will be the most important question that you need to convince yourself on. All other things like create/outsource, delivery mechanisms, costs, etc. are the next set of relevant questions that need to be answered. We shut ourselves in a room for 3 days to build our first draft of the business plan and I still have that sheet with me- I am amazed at how true the model that we envisioned has played out. After building the business plan, the feeling was that we will get funding immediately and we can subsequently quit our jobs to start off full-time. I still remember the day when I realized how wrong we were! We had gone to meet with a Venture Capitalist (VC’s) office with our business plan He only asked us one question: “how many of you are in it full time?” When we told him that none of us are, he was furious – “how dare we try to convince him to invest when none of us are convinced enough to quit our jobs??” I resigned from my job the next day to start off full-time on MeritTrac! Next is the grueling hard work that one needs to put in to get the start-up off the ground – and it is linked again to your belief and hope. Getting your first client and realizing the first rupee of sale is a realization of yourself as a person. There are tough markets & easy markets, but the most difficult ones are pioneering markets – like when MeritTrac was started. In the first few months of starting MeritTrac, we managed to get an angel investor to invest into MeritTrac – but the 9/11 event changed everything! The nascent IT/BPO industry stopped hiring, the stock markets crashed, our investor went bust
and we almost had to shut down! It is only the sheer support of all our employees who stopped taking salaries for several months, that MeritTrac survived through this rough patch. After surviving 2002, things started improving rapidly. Between 2002 – 2005, our revenues rew 12.5 times and we started thinking about the future. We re-casted our business plan and started looking for investors to raise around US$ 4 million. Given our unique positioning in India and the prospects, we attracted significant interest from various investors. In October 2005, we raised US$ 3.8 million from HSBC Private Equity. In 2007, we started looking at diversifying into the educational assessment sector and we brought on board Manipal Education Group as Strategic investors into MeritTrac. While there are quite a few stories about “vulture capitalists”, we have been very fortunate to have extremely supportive
and positive investors all through our journey! As an entrepreneurial entity, we have been tested in every possible way; running out of cash, economic downturns, losing a large client, very tough/demanding customers and making tough calls on people. But we have looked at every problem as an opportunity and tried to search for the silver lining in every dark cloud.
In my journey over the last 10 years as an entrepreneur, I have been through three stages of evolution; phase one of “I’ll do it” – where you take up every task upon yourself and execute it, phase two of “ I’ll get it done” – where you direct and rely on your team to deliver, and phase three of “ It’ll happen” – where there are robust organizational systems and processes to make sure that client promises are delivered. Today, MeritTrac has delivered over 9 million exams till date – both in a paper-pencil mode and online mode. With 300+ full-time employees, we are headquartered in Bangalore and have a presence in 16 cities in India, including a network
of company-owned testing centres. With our own test research & test development teams, we have created a battery of 300+ validated tests spanning areas like communication skills, general abilities, domain and behavioural skills. Our test delivery teams have delivered tests in over 250+ cities in the country – with the distinction of having delivered 1 million
exams in a period of 10 days across 175+ cities. MeritTrac has created India’s largest test center network of 50,000 terminals with Authorised Pariksha Centres being activated in 185 cities in India. In the Education sector, we have worked with several prestigious institutions like Gujarat Tehnological University, JIPMER, IIIT-Bangalore, Manipal University & Sikkim Manipal University. Some of its clients in the Government/PSU include Govt. of Orissa, Govt. of Gujarat and over 12 large Public Sector Units. HP, Microsoft, Accenture, Cognizant,
Wipro, ICICI Bank, Titan, Axis Bank, Jindal Steel and over 100+ organisations use our assessments for pre-recruitment & employee assessments. We are also the exclusive assessment partner to NASSCOM for its NAC-Tech certification Program and an accredited Assessment body for the Modular Employable Skills (MES) program by DGET, Ministry of Labour & Employment. We have been an acknowledged leader and pioneer in the field of testing and has been bestowed several awards & recognitions like the eIndia ICT Award & Manthan South Asia Award for the online Gujarat Common Entrance Test (GCET)
project and NASSCOM IT Innovation Award 2007 We are also a full-member of Association of Test Publishers (ATP), US which is one of the prestigious associations of test publishing companies – the first company from India to be admitted to this association. In all, the road to entrepreneurship is one of sweat, toil and occasionally tears but it is also a path of supreme satisfaction. Setting up your own enterprise and running it successfully is a thrill few have experienced and a league inhabited by people like Bill Gates, Dhirubhai Ambani, Narayana Murthy and other legends. And I am proud and privileged to be treading on such a path in a small, but significant way!