The higher education industry hasn’t always embraced new technology. Reetu Gupta, CEO and co-founder of Cirkled In, has set out to show universities across the country exactly what they’ve been missing out on. (And the billions of dollars they could be saving each year.) We spoke to Gupta, who is also a member of our WTIA Founder Cohort Program, about what it takes to bridge the gap between two industries that have historically seemed worlds apart.
Tell us about your company and the problem you’re trying to solve.
Cirkled In is “LinkedIn for students and colleges –Only Better!” – a Data Analytics and Machine Learning based college recruitment and matching platform, which matches students and best-fit colleges creating win-win for all. By using Cirkled In’s portfolio platform, students showcase themselves in the best possible way and get discovered by colleges and universities. Just like LinkedIn revolutionized corporate recruiting, Cirkled-In is transforming college recruitment.
Every year, colleges have enrollment goals along with equity & diversity goals. Hence, they proactively recruit high school students spending $10B-$100B. But their insanely inefficient and antiquated marketing methods get them meager 1% returns on this spend, while missing out on most of the goals. It costs them over $2,500 on average to recruit one student. The worst part -without a good fit match, 60% graduation rate is a losing proposition for both students & colleges.
Cirkled In is disrupting this very market, modernizing the recruitment process to be in line with needs of colleges and students, creating win-win. Harnessing the power of data analytics and machine learning, Cirkled In will disrupt the college recruitment market and could be the next unicorn.
What are some of your greatest wins as a company?
I will say – launching a product that resonates with high school teenagers has been the greatest win for us. Cirkled In 2.0 (launched in January 2018) saw a humongous student user growth of 4,500% in just last 12 months. Not only user adoption, Cirkled In has platform stickiness too. Students are spending 3X more time on Cirkled In than other comparable websites. We put students at the center of our circle and it’s great to get some of their love in form of their attention and time on the platform.
Some other wins have been winning the Social Venture Partner 2018 pitch competition that is a testament to our social mission of leveling the playing field for ALL students. Winning Grand American Business Award, given to only 10 companies in US is another accolade that we are proud of. Establishing ourselves as Subject Matter Expert on education, invited to present at highly reputed conferences like SxSWEdu and Grace Hopper Celebration- 2018, invited to exhibit at coveted educational conferences like ISTE startup pavilions (2018 and 2019) are some other wins that we are proud of.
What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced in growing your company?
They are called obstacles only if you don’t have the grit to work through them. Otherwise, they are just speed bumps. They may slow you down for a short while, but they can’t stop you. At the time, these speed bumps may give you a pause to reflect on things and look at the big picture.
The biggest speed bump we faced was raising our first angel seed round. It took a long time, longer than we wanted it to. Usually angel investors invest in local startups and education is not one of the core areas of investment in Seattle region. Even though we are solving a $10B-$100B problem, investors are wary of education industry because of historic slow adoption of new technology.
Right now, timings are good for us because EdTech is going through a huge disruption and infusion of VC funding. For our seed round though, we had to find people who are not only passionate about education but also see this as an industry that is being disrupted as we speak.
What’s one thing you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?
Patience – I was never a patient person and wanted to hit my goals yesterday. Startups require lot more patience and take much longer. I have learned that as a startup, you have to at least double your cost estimate and quadruple your time.
Startup is a long ride and you are in it for a long time. There are no overnight successes. It takes decades to build companies like Concur, Apptio, Tableau – some local successes. So be patient and resilient.
What’s next for your company?
We just launched our College Recruitment Platform in January 2019 and are now marketing that solution. We are seeing great initial response and can’t wait to see where it is by the end of this year. We will also be raising our first institutional funding round this year so that will be interesting.
In addition, we continue to be on the national stage of Education technology in United States in form of speaking, exhibiting and presenting.
What’s one thing you need help with right now?
We could immediate help with building a sales team to sell Cirkled In to higher education market. We built our College Recruitment platform with input from handpicked pilot universities and the output is like an “Excedrin for migraine pain”. Now we need team members who can sell this Excedrin because a lot of colleges and universities have migraine in the area of recruitment and admissions of a great freshman class.
Other help we could use is connection to VCs who are looking to ride the wave of change in EdTech and be part of this disruption that is happening right now.
What organizations have been most helpful for you at your current stage?
Honestly – its’ WTIA. Not saying because we are writing this for WTIA but being pat of founder’s cohort has been one of the best things for us this year. WTIA believed in us and Cirkled In. In addition, Female Founder Alliance has been our village when it comes to female founders’ issues, which are a lot by the way. We have found priceless support in that group.
Are you hiring? If so, what roles?
Yes, Cirkled In is hiring for sales positions. People who have sold before in education market will be our ideal candidate. Else a rock star sales person from other industries can also be a great add to our team.
Things that we look for is if the person is cut out for startup? Do they have what it takes? Do they have passion and willingness to put that passion to work? Grit, hard work and growth mindset are some of the qualities we look for because they will be wearing different hats in our startup culture.