Are You Game To Transform Employee Training, Engagement? This Start-up Can Help…

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The New Year has brought us some much-awaited good news on the hiring front and along with that, some concerns. According to experts, it may rain jobs in 2014 as Indian companies are gearing up to add more than 8.5 lakh new employees to their payrolls. But a robust hiring scenario may also see a rise in employee attrition. India Inc. experiences the highest attrition rate globally and one in four employees in the organised sector could be set to switch jobs, according to a Hay Group study.

But there’s another side of the story. Ask employees why many of them tend to take flight and the responses would seem identical. At least 39% are concerned about opportunities regarding learning and development while 36% feel there is no supervisory coaching to ensure their growth. In brief, a lot of attrition seems to be happening because businesses fail to engage with their employees in the right way – be it induction, on-the-job training, breaking down silos or team-building.

Corporate training programmes often turn out to be inadequate as they mostly follow a set pattern, instead of a need-based approach, and uphold the age-old ‘classroom’ training model, instead of making learning fun and interactive. But here is one start-up from Pune that aims to usher in a sea-change in the employee training and engagement space. Two-year-old MindTickle provides a Cloud-based gamified and social learning platform that makes the training experience extremely engaging. As ‘gamification’ gets hot all over the world, MindTickle, too, has created waves globally. Here is a snapshot that captures the start-up’s vision and viability.

Who runs MindTickle (www.mindtickle.com): Four co-foundersDeepak Diwakar, Krishna Depura, Mohit Garg and Nishant Mungali. Deepak has done BTech in Computer Science from IIT Mumbai while Nishant holds a bachelor’s degree in Design from IIT Guwahati. Krishna is an alumnus of IIT Roorkee and ISB, Hyderabad. Mohit is an NSIT grad, has done MSEE from Stanford and holds an MBA from ISB. Krishna and Mohit were also batch mates at ISB.

Prior to starting up, Mohit was a director in PwC’s management consulting practice at New Jersey and worked with a number of telcos in the US, Europe, and India on various strategy projects. In addition, he has done product development for Silicon Valley start-ups such as Aruba Networks. The other three worked with PubMatic before starting MindTickle although Krishna had an earlier stint with Microsoft. The start-up was launched in August 2011 and its products were rolled out in beta in early 2012. Besides its headquarters and development centre in Pune, the company has a sales & marketing office in San Francisco as it is aggressively targeting the US market for expansion.

What inspired the venture: A hobby activity by the foursome led to the Eureka moment. It was called TeraMeraIdea and later evolved into an online platform that allowed users to experiment with new ideas in the Internet, media and social business space. “We had quizzes and knowledge-based treasure hunts covering loads of topics. And people simply loved to learn things through our quizzes,” recalls Krishna, one of the co-founders. That’s when the four realised that learning can be fun and interesting without being scary or boring.

At the same time, they saw the rise of some new technologies and new concepts – Cloud, for instance, and increasing mobile penetration; social networking, casual gaming and gamification. The four of them were quite convinced that a big opportunity was out there to transform the learning experience with the help of social and gamification elements. So they did some more experiments with knowledge-based games, and worked with L&D experts and researchers to learn the best practices in interactive learning. “Finally, we deployed pilots for corporate houses and the feedback was just awesome,” says Krishna. “It was noon-clear that conventional learning would take a backseat in the next few years. So we decided to take the lead and create a next-generation learning platform,” he adds.

What’s the pitch: Effective training and better employee engagement that generate business results. Most businesses are deeply dissatisfied with their training programmes although they have invested a large chunk into their human assets. Classroom methods are near-dead, especially in a corporate environment, as they are resource-heavy, limited in scope (not customisable), and lack the scale and global reach-out required for today’s mobile and distributed workforce. On the other hand, a conventional e-learning system like the CBT or the WBT fails to engage and motivate the end user. “But at MindTickle, we have created a next-gen learning platform that enables enterprises to create and deliver very engaging and effective training,” clarifies Krishna.

Why the name MindTickle: During its research days, the start-up came up with a unique content creation technique that would transform chunks of data into interesting mind tickles – a series of brain-teasers that would help you gain knowledge through problem solving and content discovery. Hence, the name.

How it works: Simply put, MindTickle has created a Cloud-based learning platform, which enables enterprises to deliver their training programmes anywhere, at any time and on any device. Moreover, the same learning platform can be used to train their partners and customers. It features an in-built social and gamification engine that makes the entire learning experience really engaging. This has not only resulted into huge participation, but also ensured increasing level of training completion.

As of now, the focus is on new hire training, product training, sales training and customer service training, but the range can be quite extensive. Also, a SaaS (software as a service) platform means totally hassle-free implementation – enterprises can simply sign up and start creating their own learning/training sites.

The start-up offers an intuitive admin interface with a number of templates that allow companies to create interactive training programmes by using their existing content (audio, video, PPT, PDF, Doc file, etc.). Once that is done, a trainer can invite end-users who can securely access the site via any Web browser. Detailed analytics and reports are also generated on a real-time basis, which trainers can use to measure the effectiveness of their programmes and can also tweak it, based on the feedback. Overall, MindTickle has embraced the SoGaMo (social, gamified and mobile) technologies as its product backbone.

“Our platform has several pre-defined, customisable features, which users can tweak to create their own personalised experience. However, we don’t create custom solutions for specific requirements,” explains Krishna.

Claim to fame: Traction and recognition. MindTickle has been awarded for ‘Best use of engagement techniques in Enterprise HR’ at the Global GSummit in 2012 and 2013. And the traction has been impressive over the past two years. More than 54,736 learners from a number of leading organisations have benefited till date while its customer base includes several Fortune 500 companies and some reputed start-ups such as SAP Labs, Vodafone, eBay, Yahoo! India, InMobi, MakeMyTrip, SHRM and ISB.

Show me the money: Unlike many start-ups, this one is a venture-funded company and raised an undisclosed seed funding from Accel Partners in January 2012. That’s not surprising as globally, the training market is worth $200 billion and growing. MindTickle targets medium-to-large enterprises in India and the US, and has in place a robust per-user subscription model. However, it is a product company that needs constant cash-burning for ongoing design, development and implementation. “To meet that requirement, we are now putting all the money we earn back into the company and we are not margin-focused at present,” says Krishna. “Of course, no one can ignore break-even and profits, but our first priority is to build more and more world-class products and adopt a scalable go-to-market policy,” he adds. The start-up will also raise more funding as and when it requires the money for incremental growth.

Biggest challenge: Not competition, per se, feels Krishna. According to him, MindTickle’s platform actually complements a lot of existing learning solutions, rather than being a direct competition. For instance, the company has tools, which help create great videos from existing PPTs or help record or create screencasts for training. With the help of such platform integration capabilities, companies in the training space can actually improve their offerings by leveraging multiple content formats. On the other hand, quite a few education tech companies like Udemy, Coursera and edX have come up in the MOOC space (Massive Open Online Courses) and they are now entering the enterprise environment. MindTickle is keeping a tab on the latest developments as these may ensure further opportunities for growth and collaboration.

“But one of the biggest challenges is to evangelise the concept – to make people aware of how easy it is to create great training programmes,” admits Krishna. Many of the subject matter experts feel intimidated when faced with the complexity of the current systems. Companies, too, struggle to cope with employee learning and engagement, especially when they are growing very fast or trying to manage a distributed workforce. “Now that we have got a great platform whose effectiveness has been proven globally, our next challenge is to position our brand, create awareness and grow exponentially,” concludes Krishna.
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