Touching a Life Forever - Sreekar Reddy

Worried you’re on the wrong career path? Gradvine could help you find your dream job! A city-based mentoring platform for companies, universities and interest groups that manages and measures mentoring programs, Gradvine will give a personalised, impactful experience for all its consumers who are looking to expand their knowledge. So how does it works? “The online platform, along with our operations team, acts as the link between our students and mentors. Students/professionals seeking guidance can schedule a free call on our website, and our internal team understands their requirements. We suggest a service and mentor ideally suited to them. They can choose their mentors as well. We have a mentor network of over 1000+ at the finest universities and companies across the globe and see paying customers today from 21 countries. Hence, aspirants worldwide can access high-quality mentorship at a click of a button right from their homes,” founder Sreekar Reddy states. In this interview, Sreekar explains to us how he started the platform in the city.

You have recently been included in the BW Disrupt 30 under 30 Club of achievers. Tell us more about your company, Gradvine. How did the idea evolve?
It was an honour to be included in the 30 under 30 list curated by Business world magazine. It does feel amazing to have been named in a magazine that I’ve seen on my dad’s table since the 90s! Gradvine is the result of my own experiences, plus a desire to create impact. My co-founder Suraj Peri and I made it to the finest global universities for our master’s degrees. I went to Dartmouth (An Ivy League school), and he went to Carnegie Mellon. We had several obstacles in our path, including a real lack of information and consultancies which had vested interests constantly trying to discourage us. I was told I’d never make it by a host of counsellors who wanted to push me to universities they had tie-ups with. Once I made it to Dartmouth, I was also recognised as a Conrades Distinguished Fellow and was funded for a year to come up with an entrepreneurial idea that was imminently scalable. Gradvine was born then. We’ve created a network of mentors who are at the same colleges and companies that 1000s of students aspire to make it to. Today these aspirants can seek guidance directly from people who have been there and done that through our website. Today we are among the biggest education consulting and career guidance platforms globally, with over 7000 students reaching out to us annually from over 21 countries. 

Do you conduct any free learning sessions programmes for students? If yes, how was the response?
Lots! Pre covid we used to travel to college campuses all across the country. Initially, we would travel to different cities to see five people in the hall and deliver quality sessions time after time! It was a struggle. But eventually, we filled out huge auditoriums with over 300 students jammed in and our effort was vindicated. Since the pandemic began, we’ve done 1-2 free mentoring sessions online each month. We regularly see over 100s of registrants for every session. Apart from this, our team constantly puts out articles and videos that help students. We aim to put quality information and content out there, even for those who aren’t taking our services. We have heard from several students that they made it to their dream schools just by following our free content in the past. This is a truly satisfying feeling. 

How tough is it to convince students/professionals to use your service and what do you do about it?
Initially, it was. In 2017 when we started, it was hard to convince someone to trust a mentor who is 1000s of miles away with their careers. Especially since they are used to physical interactions with consultants. The pitch makes a difference. We convinced them that it is better to interact virtually with mentors who have achieved what you aspire to achieve instead of meeting face to face with someone who knows very little to nothing. After our first year, where we scraped to get our customers, our word of mouth carried us since. We get over 7000 students reaching out to us each year. 88% of them come to us through referrals. Hence convincing our customers has become a lot easier due to the quality of our service. Today, a lot of platforms have started with a similar concept due to our success. 

Corona virus has pushed the unemployment rate sky high and changed the job hunting market. How did the pandemic impact the mentoring programme overall?
When the pandemic hit, our sales crashed. We were very uncertain since a significant portion of our clientele is students going abroad to study, which is not a priority when a virus is wreaking havoc! But Covid eventually boosted our business because we were an established, fully online counselling service with an unmatched success record. Our team size has tripled since last year. Not a single employee was laid off due to the pandemic. 

Education is evergreen and the need for mentorship in the increasingly dynamic global scenario is only growing. Hence the pandemic has further pushed demand. Not just for our services but for ed-tech companies in general. Hence the mentoring program has only received a boost post-Covid. 

How does one establish a trusting relationship with an e-mentor/e-mentee?
This is one of the most critical aspects for a business of our nature to scale. We have robust operational protocols and quality control mechanisms. Mentors are screened stringently and on boarded through a fixed, thorough process. Also, a strong operations team in the house (who are also graduates of some fantastic universities) ensures that students are delivered what they’re promised and mentors also have an enriching experience guiding these students. Also, our mentors are very accomplished individuals who are often among the very best in their field at their age. Hence we ensure a combination of quality and promptness. It isn’t easy establishing that trust, but that’s the entire game. 

How can students best prepare for the transition from student to employee/entrepreneur?
I’m still learning since the transition to an entrepreneur is a constantly ongoing process. While leading a company, no two days are the same. You often face challenges that have no past precedent for turning to for a solution. You have to think on your feet and every now and then, you make the wrong decision. It is important to keep learning and own up to your mistakes. I think the transition becomes easier when you are willing to learn and not afraid to try and fail. Remaining in a shell because of the fear of failure won’t help. 

How is Gradvine different from other on-demand mentoring platforms?
A lot of mentoring or ed-tech platforms today focus on making you better at something. I personally don’t believe students who are 10-12 years old have to start coding! The fear of missing out among parents, the desire to get better at things without knowing if that’s what you want, and the perennial rat race is fuelling the demand for a lot of platforms and students are being pushed to excel; at an age where they have to explore! 

Gradvine focuses on helping you find something you like, a path that is good for your career and then helps you get there. Also, we have mentors from a variety of fields. Engineering, Business, Economics, film school, pastry chefs…. hence it is a diverse network that allows younger students to explore their interests and then take on projects/activities to gain proficiency. 

One thing you are looking forward to?
The rollercoaster that is ahead! We are expanding our global footprint, launching a product that will create a major splash in the industry and adding new members to our team. I look forward to the challenges that all of this will bring. My biggest fear is not the failure of our ideas; it is rather the failure to evolve. Today, I’m excited because we are diversifying on multiple fronts and will offer our clients more in the months to come. There is tremendous potential and I look forward to all the triumphs or even failures that it will bring in!                   – as told to Anisha