A Chartered Accountant (CA) herself, Sonia Singal understood that there was a dire need to merge the demand and supply of CAs in the industry. While there was an abundance of both CAs and jobs, there was no organised platform to meet the two. Singal founded a platform to cater to specific jobs in this industry. She catches up with Poorvi Gupta on her inspiration and story.
1. You studied to become a chartered accountant. Where in that journey did entrepreneurship happen?
I started my career with Deloitte in the consulting practice. I serviced clients spanning four continents – Europe, Australia, North America and Asia. After this wholesome experience, I returned to Kolkata from Hyderabad in February 2011 for marriage and took a break in my professional careers.
Once my daughter turned 2 years, I started looking out for opportunities and decided to get involved in cajobportal.com as a co-founder.
2. What were the early lessons at your first job. And how did that help you in your stint as an entrepreneur?
Life at Deloitte was indeed quite instructive in multiple ways. It taught me to stand on my feet independently, away from the comfort zone back home in Kolkata. Work hours used to be stretched as I used to work on multiple client projects at any given point of time.
I think, post marriage, it becomes tough for a female to walk the tight rope between being a wife, mother, daughter-in-law and a professional. However I must acknowledge that I found a lot of support from my family members, when I decided to resume my professional career after a gap of 3 years.
In industry also, people respect you for your efforts and a lot many are willing to give you that one crucial break. I am amazed by the warmth exuded by senior HRs as well as business leaders when I approach them with respect to cajobportal.com.
I must acknowledge that I found a lot of support from my family members, when I decided to resume my professional career after a gap of 3 years.
3. India’s had a rough run with jobs for youth. Where did the idea of a jobs portal come about and why did you choose to target your audience to chartered accountants?
During interaction with CA Freshers, we realized that just 25-30% of them could ace jobs in the competitive ICAI’s campus placement process. The rest lacked on communication skills, took multiple attempts etc. They relied on friends and relatives to channelize resumes. Consultants had no specific focus on this space. This led to the genesis of cajobportal.com in Aug 2013 as India’s first recruitment website exclusively for CAs.
My husband, Anurag, was pursuing his 1 year MBA at IIM Ahmedabad and I accompanied him to campus. On IIMA campus, we decided that time to go commercial as CSR mode was not sustainable. The strategy classes made us ponder on our Sustainable Competitive Positioning. We realised that our model was replicable and could get lost in the overcrowded recruitment space. There were no entry barriers and users perceived little differentiation amongst the various portals.
4. Give us a fair picture of the job market at the moment?
There is an abundance of Corporates, SMEs, MLEs, Startups, Professional service firms and KPOs who seek to recruit for Finance & Strategy function at CHQ, manufacturing plants and sales offices etc. The challenge is to bridge the demand-supply gap for those who may not score high on their communication skills, internship & professional experience etc. However we feel that with a bit of handholding, they can be quite stable and productive resources for companies and that too at a relatively lower cost.
5. How did you build credibility? CAJobportal has a good pipeline of clients like Unilever, Cipla, Caterpillar, Titan etc. How did you achieve that?
It has been tough competing with the big daddies of the B2B recruitment space. However I must acknowledge here my firm belief in “The Alchemist” where strangers along the path help you realise your ultimate destiny.
Having the first initial sign ups was tough. TCS and Unilever were our first clients; for them working with a start-up, it was a leap of faith. Fortunately, we help them close crucial positions with high ratings on KPIs such ‘Quality of hire’, ‘Time to fill’ etc.
Leveraging our domain expertise, the ability to talk IFRS, Forex and EV/EBITDA, than just the clichéd terms like CTC and notice period, we delivered up to 4x conversion ratios. Now, the business model has gained the trust of 50+ marquee brands in India and abroad.
We are now finance hiring partners for 37.5% of BSE-30 companies (private sector)
6. You also cater to women who take a break from working professionally due to personal commitments. What’s the scenario there?
It was driven more by personal empathy. In the past, in-spite of being a top decile performer at Deloitte-Hyderabad, I had struggled to find a job in Kolkata after break due to marriage and maternity.
I realised how difficult it could be for talented women to find work in the corporate world under specific personal situations.
We wanted to engage them on professional ‘work from home assignments’ which led to a steady income stream as well as professional fulfilment without a major compromise on the quality of their family life
7. Working for a company as a CA and founding a company are totally different things. Where does the twain meet. Does it at all?
As an entrepreneur, life takes a complete U-turn. From loathing work on Sundays as an employee, you start celebrating Sunday shifts as it indicates you’ve got abundant work.
There are multiple bumps you face on the road, a wide gamut of challenges, from attracting talent as a start up to facing steep resistance to a new idea by potential clients , insensitivity to your efforts – “We already have multiple vendors” etc. But at the end of the day, entrepreneurship brings the wonderful feeling of creating something new and impacting lives.
8. What kind of numbers are you doing at the jobs portal?
The response has been very encouraging. Since 2013, we’ve clocked more than 1.2 million page-views on our website and a run rate of ’one visitor every minute’.
Since 2014, when we got into B2B recruitment, we have gained the trust of over 50 prestigious brands in India and abroad and closed mandates with CTC aggregating to about Rs.4 crore, posting revenues of Rs 3 million in the current fiscal.
9. Marketing this was a challenge?
It was tough sending multiple emails or calling up board-lines of companies and requesting access to the HRs- our primary customers. We faced a lot of rejection as well.
But I guess out of 100 people in the word, there are just 2% who are good, open to change and empathise with others. If you are lucky enough to tap them, you need not bother about the remaining 98%. We tapped social media and analytics immensely to our advantage. We got a lot of good ‘word of mouth’ publicity from our initial clients. We performed well in Masterplan and ‘Czars of the Online Bazaar’ contests at IIM, Tata First Dot Awards, and ET Power of Ideas etc. Rediff, TOI, Business Standard and DNA covered us as a start-up.
10. What are your three leadership mantras?
- Lead by example. If your employees see you getting your hands dirty, rather than just dictate orders, it has a salutary impact on the entire team dynamics.
- Respect people. Set your expectations clear and handhold them in the initial period. Alone you cannot go anywhere; it’s the team which delivers. People are your only key source of competitive advantage.
- If you accept that the world existed and will continue to exist without our start-up as well, you become humble and the sense of false entitlement goes away. This helps a lot in the entrepreneurial journey