From an engineering student to a CEO
Two years ago, a piece of information posted on a website helped engineering student Ankur Kumar win an essay competition. Gratified by the win, he joined them as a content manager to help other students with similar information. Today, the final year student is already the CEO of the portal. Here's his story
In 2009, engineering student Ankur Kumar took part in a national level essay writing competition by the National Council of Rural Institutes. To his delight, his essay on The Dissemination of Rural Technologies won him second place, and he was awarded a certificate of merit and cash prize of Rs 7,000.
Ankur stumbled upon the competition through Letmeknow.in, a portal that features a gamut of student opportunities from internships, competitions and conferences to workshops, scholarships and jobs, spanning five domains technology, business, mathematics and sciences, arts and design and social sciences.
Inspired by his accomplishment, Ankur wanted to give back to the site that alerted him of the competition. He joined Letmeknow as a content manager while simultaneously pursuing a dual degree in BE Computer Science and Master's in Economics at BITS, Goa. "I wanted to help other students learn of such opportunities," he shares.
Now a final year student, he donned the mantle of CEO of Letmeknow in 2011.
How it began
It all began in 2007 when Nitin Rao, a BTech student at NIT, Suratkal, first blogged (www.letmeknow.wordpress.com) about Tie-ISB's Connect forum.
Armed with more than 425 posts, 268,000+ hits and a nine-member all-student team, the blog migrated to a full-fledged website in December 2008 with a little design and tech help from Grayscale, a design studio floated by four engineering students from BITS Goa.
Now, an advisor to the core team, Nitin went on to pursue his MBA at MIT Sloan School of Management.
The opportunities posted on Letmeknow are diverse -- from the Harvard Project for Asia and International Relations and IIT Delhi's entrepreneurship initiative -- the Small Industries Management Program (SIMAP) to the Young Economist of the Year essay writing competition and interning as an Android developer. And the alerts help!
Ritesh Kumar from IIIT Bangalore stumbled upon IBM's Research lab summer internship, applied and got through.
Saket Jain from SRM University, Chennai, got a heads-up on three national and one international conferences.
This gave him enough time to prepare and present his papers. "These papers finally helped me get admitted to a US university (Western Michigan) to pursue MS in Computer Science," he shares.
What's interesting is that most of Ankur's colleagues are students who do not operate out of one city. While Ankur is currently based in Goa, CTO Karthik (middle column, second photo) is a third-year student at MIT, Manipal.
Content manager Nikita is studying computer science student at St Xavier's, Kolkata. Social media manager Shriya is from Bengal College of Engineering and Technology, Durgapur and sales and marketing manager Mani is at the Institute of Technology, BHU.
Image: Ankur Kumar
The core team of 15 also includes students who handle areas like technology, festival partnerships and campus outreach managers, and techies like Ankur also double up in design.
Working professionals also chip in. Heena Jethanandani, a Fine Arts graduate who now freelances in the health solutions space is a campus outreach manager.
Her role is to manage 100 plus 'student ambassadors' in colleges including IITs, IIMs, NITs, law institutes, engineering and other domains. The profile of the latter are prominently displayed on the site.
Srikanth Challa from Infosys Technologies, Pune who has been following Letmeknow from his college days, moonlights as content manager. "We hired him because he is an avid blogger," says Ankur.
Interestingly, most of them have never met. The team communicates through e-mail, phonecalls and video/ audio conference calls. Even more interesting is that all the work is pro bono i.e. sans pay.
If so, what is the incentive?
Gaining start-up/ entrepreneurial experience, working in a team, a chance to be creative/ take initiative, networking and last but not the least, they get a heads-up on any activity of their interest! And initiative hasn't gone unnoticed.
According to the ticker displayed on its homepage, Letmeknow clocked in 3,979 opportunities and 23,497 subscribers as on June 8. Subscribers get a regular newsletter updating them of the latest opportunities on the site, and you can search the site by category, date of posting or application deadline.
"Technology gets the largest number of hits, while as humanities and arts, the least. Maybe we are not targeting enough institutes and organisations for the latter," Ankur introspects.
Perhaps it is because most students on the core team are engineers save for four members. According to Ankur, "This is by chance and not design. We certainly don't want all techies!" he confesses.
This is how content management works. Companies, institutes and individuals directly post their opportunities, and an in-house content team publishes them.
"They need to check for basic hygiene factors like grammatical errors. Unimaginative headlines have to be made more attractive, 'Internship opportunity' being a popular one!" says Ankur.
The amount of time spent by his colleagues varies. The social media team tweets all opportunities two or three times a day and updates Letmeknow's Facebook and LinkedIn pages.
Festival managers constantly liaison with campus ambassadors to make their presence felt during events, while the campus outreach teams scout for new campuses and opportunities. The tech team needs to be more hands-on, as website glitches need instant resolutions every now and then.
"I skype with Nitin (Founder) once or twice a month and send regular progress reports as well as goals for the year," says Ankur whose targets as CEO include increasing subscriber base to 50,000 plus by year end, reaching more colleges, partnering with professional organisations like TiE, ACM and IEEE and last but not the least, generating revenue.
Of late, Google ad words and 'featured' opportunities, which get more prominence on the homepage, are bringing in some money as are special mailers to their database.
Future plans include focusing on a vertical jobs. As of now, companies can post for free.
How do they plan to utilise these funds?
"Nitin paid for the website domain and hosting and many of us put in our own money for mobile expenses etc. Revenues will cover our costs and enable us to pay interns pay interns," shares Ankur.
A huge challenge faced by the team is in retaining student volunteers. Many become inactive after six months as they move on to other commitments.
Some like Ankur see potential in the organisation and remain associated for a long time. Hence, for a new hire, working for at least a year is a prerequisite, shares Ankur.
This site has been conceived and run with passion and motivation, two other non-negotiable prerequisites.
Srikanth has been following the site since his college days and wanted to help. Heena is passionate about social entrepreneurship. Ankur's predecessor Sarabjeet Singh, now an analyst at a venture capital fund, continues to actively contribute to Letmeknow.
According to his LinkedIn profile, his accomplishments as a student CEO include raising funds from a social venture incubator, increasing traffic by 50 percent and subscribers from 10k to 20k+. And many like Ankur genuinely believe in the need to break the information barrier on student opportunities.
Together, they have successfully harnessed the power of technology and social media, coupled with a well-oiled management and execution strategy to promote awareness across the student community.