Startup Interview Series – Pesto Tech

Source: Pesto Tech

Looking to sharpen your coding skills? Wish to work with a Fortune500 company? In conversation with Ayush Jaiswal, Co-Founder & CEO, Pesto Tech.

What is Pesto?

Pesto Tech is a career accelerator for India’s top software engineering talent. We aim to bring Indian developers on par with their US counterparts. We are also trying to create a marketplace for engineers in India for overseas clients.

When did your journey start?

Andrew and I started off in 2017 but we were more of a B2C consulting firm then. We were trying to help meet the technical resource requirements of the US tech companies. We made good money but felt there was a missing piece. We were earning well, but the top Indian engineers were not getting their due.

It was only in 2018, that we changed tracks to our current business. We decided to upskill Indian software engineers who want and deserve better pay. We started to focus on upskilling India’s 5 Mn software engineers and pairing them with the world’s top tech companies.

Andrew and I started experimenting and working on different business models to recruit engineers to upgrade their skills and knowledge. We realized that the best way to upskill them was to enhance their coding skills. This made us launch our first work-cum-training program for engineers.

Andrew and I started Pesto Tech to enable Indian engineers to get the same respect, lifestyle and money as their US counterparts. This is only possible when they have coding skills on par.

But my journey started much earlier. Way back in 2013-14, when I was still studying in a school in Varanasi,  I was excited about all things related to technology. I was very good at science and mathematics and was interested in computers but like most schools in India, there were hardly enough computers to go around the class. I did not let that dampen me. On my own, I started learning from the internet.

In 2015, at 18 years, I quit KIET College of Education, Ghaziabad, where I was doing my engineering. Post that, I founded my first startup. It did not do well, but that did not deter me. I quickly moved on from that failure to what Pesto Tech is today.

How did you meet Andrew Linfoot, your Co-Founder?

Before meeting Andrew, I worked with multiple startups trying to figure out what I wanted to do.

I met Andrew at a co-working space and we got talking. Andrew was then on a holiday to India. He said that he was working remotely on special assignments from the US and it was enough to fund his travels. I was zapped to hear this. We found that we had a lot in common and went on to start Pesto.

What is the connecting thread that keeps you two together as a team?

Andrew and I share a common enthusiasm for technology and our passion to create something worthwhile.

We share a common ambition to invest in India’s human capital, so we decided to go beyond being a traditional job portal company and use technology to not only facilitate hiring but also to train the people we were helping get hired.

We also want to help make India a global leader in IT and provide high-end education and employment to Indian engineers.

How would you describe your company?

Pesto Tech is a career accelerator for India’s top software engineering talent. It is a 12-week intensive training program to help software engineers in India break into international tech careers via full-time remote jobs.

What service are you offering to your trainees?

We are offering a 12-week accelerator program for India’s top software talent. We train both fresh engineering graduates and experienced engineers. They are taught the best practices in modern software development.

Students undergo 4 weeks of classroom learning, 4 weeks of building a real application from scratch, followed by 4 weeks of working on an open-source apprenticeship with our international partners.

During the course of our training, trainees write thousands of lines of code, ship a real product to users and build an open-source portfolio. Once they complete the training, we help them get job offers from US companies.

We also train our students on soft skills and how to be effective remote employees.

Who is your target group?

Top engineering students from India who have a drive and enthusiasm for coding.

Who are your major clients?

JumpCut and Hike are our 2 major clients.

We not only work with our clients to find the right candidates, but we also help with the tax, legal and logistical complexities of hiring remote employees from overseas. We have also developed an internal job portal to help our clients and students find the right fit.

Who gave you the initial launchpad?

We got external funding, which helped us to kickstart our business.

How stringent is your selection of trainees?

For our initial batches, we got 40,000 applications and accepted only 40 among them who met our criteria. This is better than IITs.

In 2017 alone, your company secured $350,000+ contracts and made about $200,000+ revenue, which is a commendable achievement. Then you changed your business model. What do the figures look like now?

We started off as a consultancy and did some remarkable business within a short span of time, but in our current business model, we take only 17% of a trainee’s salary once they are placed. We do not charge them anything at the time of admission to our training program.

How is the general pay package of an Indian software engineer as compared to their US counterparts?

The average salaries of Indian software engineers are between $6,600 (entry level) and $11,400 (senior level) per annum but when we compare it to their counterparts in the US, the engineers there make over $120,000 per year on an average at entry level. There is a huge pay gap for similar kind of work.

Why is there a need to upskill our top engineering graduates who are already academically good?

Our engineers are as capable as their US peers, but they fall short as they may not always have the requisite training. They may be very good theoretically but need to get more hands-on exposure to real coding to be at the top of their game. Our efforts are directed at their skill enhancement, so they are on par with their counterparts and are able to increase their market value.

What has been the impact of Pesto Tech so far?

With just 9 students, we have added INR 2.8 crores p.a. to the Indian economy. 27 more students will graduate in 2-3 months across all our batches, i.e. about 4-6 students every month.

Pesto Tech has been very selective so far in the number of students intake. Are you planning to take on more students in the future?

We aim to touch as many engineers as possible. We plan to take a maximum of 30 students in 2 months from now. This will further add INR 9.4 crores every month to the Indian economy.

What is your current track?

We are prepping our students currently on Full-stack javascript. In the future, we will be adding other tracks.

What is the key differentiator that sets you apart from other companies offering similar training?

Our students get trained by the best in the business. They are learning the latest technologies in the market from people who are working in major companies and are at the top of the game.

We consider ourselves as a career accelerator program for engineers.

What does success mean to you?

The kind of exposure that our students experience from the top industry leaders is remarkable. All our students have been placed well and on par with US engineers. This reiterates our belief that we are enabling something good.

What is Pesto Tech’s vision?

Pesto’s vision is to invest in human capital. As founders, we have a commitment to invest in helping engineers become the best version of themselves.

What was your ‘aha’ moment so far?

It is when graduates get placed. When we launched our 1st batch on our partnership portal, our trainees got placed within 3-5 days of their interviews. 72 hours post their job interview, they received a confirmation of their selection. This was definitely a high-point for us.

One of our students, Nikhil got a salary package of INR 30 lakhs p.m. He has also been getting increment. Nikhil comes from a small town and had little financial support earlier. Today, not only are his sisters studying, but he is sponsoring education of other children as well.

Such stories give us immense satisfaction and a sense of achievement in our work.

So far, we have seen only male graduates from Pesto Tech. What are your plans to enable more female engineers to upskill?

We have received very few applications from female engineering graduates to enroll in the program. As such, the internal ratio is low for male: female graduates.

However, Pesto Tech intends to encourage more girls to code. We are happy that there is 1 girl student in the next batch.

We are also excited to share that Pesto Tech is offering Fellowship to girl students. We are financially supporting all their expenses like local travel, food and office space.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

Our challenges change every few months. It has been a roller-coaster ride. We faced a lot of hardship in the early days to get our vision off the ground. As a team, we are facing far fewer challenges today but we have to work very hard. We continue to work 18 hours a day but enjoy the work a lot more now.

You left your graduation mid-way. Do you intend to complete it?

I never planned to complete my studies. I strongly believe that colleges cannot keep up with the changing pace of technology. Technology is going to revolutionize the way we view education. By leveraging technology, we can constantly enhance our skills and knowledge.

Homeschooling is a great option for formal education and the internet is a great way to keep pace with the shifting technology. Most skills can be learned online, nothing like it.

Even Google as a company is no more looking at college grades to hire employees.

What is the mix of students we see at Pesto?

We had students from 7 different states in the first 2 batches. Our intention has always been to take students pan-India.

What is the one thing you do regularly to keep yourself up-to-date?

I read a book every week. It helps me to stay on a learning curve.

What stage of funding is your company in?

We have raised seed funding of $2 Mn from Matrix Partners who are our key investors.

Can you sum up your journey so far.

I was always keen on having my own startup but just didn’t have the resources or support. I had to work a lot harder but odds didn’t seem to be in favor. This is a journey that everyone has to go through. At that time, things seemed impossible. Now, everything seems possible.

It is always tough to go against the grain.

There is very little difference between being crazy and revolutionary. But it was always very clear to me. I was always prepared for hardships but it didn’t seem like hardships.

Ultimately, it is a matter of change in your lifestyle. I had no place to live and struggled to make ends meet but this was a phase when I was actually prepping up for the future. It is like a semester of college when you are trying to find your depth.

Your advice to others who wish to embark on their startup journey.

If they are more senior to me, I would request them to help me out.

For those who are just starting out – it is very easy to get lost with shiny things. At an early stage, a common mistake everyone does is focus on gaining traction and speed. At this point, it is far more important to just focus on your work and get your direction right.

It is also important to get a mentor – a mentor who can throw a brick on your face – who can tell you when you are doing the right things and when you are off the track.

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