Quest to Connect

Networking isn’t as easy as it sounds — is Collegefeed a solution?

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Sanjeev Agrawal of CollegefeedSanjeev Agrawal graduated from MIT 20 years ago at the top of his Electrical Engineering and Computer Science class. “As I look back,” says Sanjeev (pictured), “I sometimes wonder what might have been had fate dealt me a different card at a key moment: when I was looking for a job. Had someone told me about a little company called Cisco Systems, whose needs at the time matched my skills perfectly, I might be retired by now!” Back then, Cisco was too small to go on campus even to hire the best and brightest, explains Sanjeev. “So we missed each other and I eventually joined them in 1997,” he says. But he believes his  story isn’t isolated. “Twenty years later, despite all the social networks and job boards and such, my story gets repeated every day. There are many, many such ‘missed connections’ that happen between students,

Everyone tells students they should network all the time to land a job, but that’s not easy for them. In fact, that’s not easy even for experienced professionals. Networking is hard.

employers and alums. It’s just not right. For example, my co-founder (of Collegefeed, Sanjeev’s answer to the problem he outlines) graduated from Stanford GSB last year. The job search was equally painful for him. He was faced with the same questions that plague every young grad. Things like:

- How can I get in the door at companies I want to work at?

- Who might be interested in me? (I don’t know what I don’t know)

- Who should I send my resume to?

- What should I write on my resume?

- Which of the 100 job boards should I apply at?

- Where can I get career advice?”

As they dug into these problems, the co-founders found that it’s not just a one-sided problem. “For companies too, finding college talent is equally painful,” says Sanjeev. “From finding schools to hire from, attending expensive career fairs, vetting candidates on paper, vying for attention – if you aren’t Google or Facebook or a handful of companies students know of, you have a hard time finding quality candidates.” After speaking with hundreds of students and employers, they realized that this is a bigger problem than they had imagined. “When we started, we didn’t know what the right solution should be, but we got married to the problem — because we didn’t want our kids to go through the pain we did.” Here’s more about Sanjeev’s quest and his solution.

Victor: What’s something interesting about it’s development history? 

collegefeed logoSanjeev: Hands down, the amount of insights we gained from talking with thousands of students. The biggest insight we gained is this: everyone tells students they should network all the time to land a job, but that’s not easy for them. In fact, that’s not easy even for experienced professionals. Networking is hard. It takes time and effort to cross the mind blocks to meet new people and successfully build networks. Doing these student sessions and interviews really helped us craft the features you now see on Collegefeed

Victor: Anything interesting about your own background that informed your current approach?

Sanjeev: Every job I’ve taken, every company I started, was a result of serendipity. I ended up meeting someone somewhere that lead to doing something together. This has had so much impact on me, that “I can’t work with you until I work with you.” So Collegefeed as a connections platform is a natural extension of that belief.

Victor: What’s your 60-second pitch to someone on what it is and its benefits?

Sanjeev: The pitch for students and young alums is: People hire people – not companies. Just showcase your potential well through a Collegefeed profile and we will bring the right opportunities to you – the companies that might be interested in you by presenting you to the right people (hiring managers, founders, functional recruiters). If they like you, you land interview offers. As simple as that. Tens of thousands of other students are doing that and getting connected through Collegefeed.

The pitch for companies is: Collegefeed is rapidly growing into the de facto source of college talent through partnerships with Stanford,MIT, CMU, CalPoly, SDSU and several other schools. If you tell us your hiring “bar” we will start sending qualified, relevant candidates straight to your inbox. No more spending money on expensive career fairs, travel, and painful resume sourcing. Over 500 top employers including eBay, Cisco, Google, and many others are now getting a “Collegefeed”. Some are also using Collegefeed to build their brand with students and young grads.

Victor: Do you have any direct or indirect competition?  

Sanjeev: There is no site or social network that is exclusively focused on helping every student and new grad get hired. Sure there are a number of players in the same space like LinkedIn, Monster, Internships.com, etc., but given our approach to this problem we don’t consider them direct competitors. We’re taking a fresh approach that’s very different from traditional resume boards / jobs boards.

Victor: Any highlights about test marketing it, starting out; any interesting feedback or reaction to it? 

Sanjeev: We launched our beta at Stanford, UC Berkeley and Carnegie Mellon back in March 2013. The response was phenomenal and we got a lot of very useful feedback. Then we went nationwide in May and that was more challenging. Since we’re building a two-sided network, it was hard to keep up with the supply and demand. We went through countless iterations on our messaging, many of which didn’t work as expected. We also went through countless iterations on the product and user experience. The three key things I want to emphasize here are:

  1. Understand what growth really means to you - Don’t get carried away by vanity metrics like daily signups, active users. Find your core value proposition, that aha moment and place metrics around THAT. That’s most important. We tried a number of things before we got to where we are.
  2. Talk to as many users as you can, but know when to listen. Customer development is tricky. You have to ask the right questions and read between the answers – what’s the user trying to say, not what’s he saying. We spent an enormous amount of time talking to users and that has been the single most important thing to us thus far.
  3. Stay focused. During the early stages of a startup there’s a lot of noise – users and their activity, investors, advisors, partners, random discussions. It’s like rowing the boat in a sea where anything and everything is possible. In theory. The most important thing is to stay focused on your core beliefs, listen to your inner voice, and take care of the team.

Victor: Anything else about the value or benefit of Collegefeed? 

Sanjeev: For Students:

  • If you’re a junior, senior or young alumnus actively looking for a job or internship, just showcase your potential with a beautiful profile and Collegefeed works behind the scenes to get you inside great companies, many you may not have access to or consider on your own.
  • If you’re a freshman or sophomore and not ready to look for jobs, Collegefeed helps you explore your options. Given my major and interests, what companies should I be looking at, what do they do, what’s the interview process like, etc.

We help you start to craft your brand and your “story” to take to employers because we understand what they are looking for.

For Companies:

  • Whether you’re a recruiter or a hiring manager or a software engineer or a marketing lead, get curated, top quality entry-level candidates delivered to your inbox. Just specify your needs and “minimum bar” and Collegefeed starts sending you “talent feeds” instantly.
  • If you’re looking to hire part-time candidates or just improve your brand on campus, Collegefeed can easily setup a custom, engaging brand site for you – tell your story the way it needs to be told to young millennials and capture their attention.
  • If you want a fully hands off solution to managing your University Relations or campus recruiting efforts, Collegefeed provides white glow managed services for you.

Victor: Anything else in the works? Additional products, features, etc.?

Sanjeev: We’re super focused on connecting students with the right opportunities and heads down on tuning our algorithms, user experience and service. We have a good roadmap of value propositions we’d love to offer on top of this platform but not ready to talk about it yet. We’ll definitely let you know when we’re ready!

Victor: Your thoughts on education in general these days?

Sanjeev: Higher education is clearly going to be massively disrupted in the coming years:

  1. Services like Udemy, CodeAcademy, SkillShare are democratizing education – anyone, anywhere can learn anything online.
  2. Services like Coursera enable anyone across the world take classes from Stanford or MIT — the exact same content that’s available to students on campus.
  3. Companies like The Minerva Project are taking it a step further – you can not only attend classes from Stanford or MIT online, but with Minerva Project you can get a B.S degree that’s “as good as Stanford” but for half the price.
  4. And we’re still scratching the surface with mobile.

I think one of the most impactful and noble outcomes of the explosive growth in internet and mobile all over the world is global access to knowledge and information – very exciting times for education!

Victor: Any guidance or advice to educators these days? 

Sanjeev:

  1. Use new age technology as much as you can to increase the impact of your work.
  2. Get students to work on projects AND showcase them for potential employers. It is time to replace the resume with online reputation – show, don’t tell.

Victor: Anything more you’d like to add or emphasize?

Sanjeev: For college grads: be obsessed with something.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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