She quit a seemingly perfect job. From JP Morgan she moved to startups and put together an enterprise that focuses on training fresh graduates with some hands-on experience. Aneesha Pillai launched Fresher Foundry. The team addresses challenges faced by students through experiential learning and evaluation, conducting highly engaging, technical sessions for graduate trainees.
Aneesha knows what success means to new job seekers and how it can spur an entire generation.
A 24×7 problem solver; calm, composed and industrious by nature, Aneesha chats with Ria Das about up-skilling, her venture, and how digital India empowers women.
Aneesha Pillai, what attracted you to come back to India though you were poised with a well-paid career in UK and having getting into Entrepreneurship?
Post my MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj, I worked for JP Morgan for two years. Life was fun and money was good. I got married and moved to UK. My husband, Deepak (who is also the cofounder) was working with Jaguar Cars. The original plan was to find a job in one of the international banks. Couple of months passed and I had started interviewing for banks. Meanwhile, Deepak and I used to have long conversations on what we wanted to do in life, our aspirations and dreams. We always ended up talking about education, engineering and how things can be changed.
Deep down, I always wanted to start something of our own. Impulsively, I asked him what if we start a venture to solve the problem. We were at a point in our lives where we had no responsibilities – no kids, minimum liabilities and independent parents. Deepak agreed that ‘now’ was the best time.
We had a tough time convincing our moms though. Now, how would any Indian parent react whose kids have just got settled in UK, bombing on them with a news called ‘entrepreneurship?’ But, we managed and moved back to India. It’s been a rollercoaster ride – never a dull moment.
Most women are brilliant with relationships and business is all about relationships.
What was the response to your idea. How have people taken to ‘Fresher Foundry’?
Businesses want their fresh graduates to contribute faster to their projects and spend less time in classroom training. We conduct experiential training (technical) to ramp up fresh engineering graduates.
Few years ago, Deepak started commissioning machines across the globe. Everyday was a new challenge and his learning curve was sharp. This experience of ’learning by doing’ led to deeper understanding and enhanced retention. Then, why do we still do corporate training in classrooms?
After many coffee-fueled conversations with experiential learning experts and industry leaders, we made a simple observation. We learn best in active and shared learning environment. At Fresher Foundry, we design experiential sessions for graduate engineers – a program which takes them on a journey through a real-life engineering environment.
We are focusing on two areas where we can make an immediate impact – Experiential learning and experiential evaluation. We are currently working with automation and automotive sector. Our next step is to expand to consumer electronics and embedded systems.
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The funding question: How did you manage initially?
Oh! We saved like crazy, paid off our education loan and put together 2 years worth of living expenses. Our business currently works on a service model, so, initial investment is not that high.
And what was the most satisfying piece of this puzzle…
Career/profession is a key source of happiness. It is our identity and it is extremely important for us to know how our work is touching other people’s life. We couldn’t get that in our corporate jobs. Deepak is passionate about experiential engineering and I am passionate about running a business. So, this was an organic progression for us.
Focus and discipline are the secret ingredients
Having worked in JP Morgan, what would you say are the biggest challenges you faced as an entrepreneur?
We suck at sales. Deepak is a techie. So, I took up sales. You got to have this inhuman and unreasonable willingness to follow up with your prospects. It is a bit tough but I am loving it.
What makes an entrepreneur successful?
Focus and discipline. As entrepreneurs, it is tempting to succumb to ‘shiny object syndrome’ with start-up hype all around you. And, 30% of the time you will have to do things that you don’t enjoy. That is where focus and discipline will help you sail across.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement so far?
Acquiring our first customer – L&T and making them happy is something that keeps us upbeat when we are low. Recently, we had a chance to do a program with L&T for their 65 graduates. We had fun.
What is driving the digital boom in India?
Mobile phones will drive the digital boom. Ecommerce and aggregators are leading from front. Education is still hybrid (mix of online and offline medium). It wouldn’t be long before we can create experiences which can deliver knowledge with same/ more impact. With approximately 131 million cellular-phone households in the country, digital platform can bridge the ‘quality education deficit’ for children.
How Digital India empower women?
Digital India empowers women with the power of information and opportunities.
A click on my computer tells me everything from a safe hotel for business stay, a holistic school for my child to a suitable investment strategy. I connect with a like-minded mentor on LinkedIn and he guides and accelerates my entrepreneurial journey. This is how digital India has empowered women like me.
What do you think women bring to the table at startups?
Most women are brilliant with relationships and business is all about relationships. Their ability to empathize goes a long way in customer retention which I believe is more important than customer acquisition.