The Fund Founder Spotlight Interview: Madhav Krishna of Vahan
The Fund is a founder community and early stage fund, by founders for founders.
Welcome to The Founder Spotlight where we highlight the incredible people behind the companies we’ve backed at The Fund. This week the spotlight is on Madhav Krishna CEO and founder of Vahan, an Indian company that uses Artificial Intelligence based technology to match job seekers and employers.
India has close to half a billion smartphone users with the cheapest mobile data rates in the world. Madhav Krishna is using this booming tech ecosystem as a launching pad to help people find jobs. He founded Vahan with the mission to help people get access to opportunities by using AI based technology to match job seekers and employers. They are currently focused on jobs, but in the future are looking to build a financial wellness platform that can also support people getting loans to start a business and assist with upskilling opportunities so people can grow in their lives and their careers.
Madhav grew up in India and moved to the United States to get his Master’s in Computer Science at Columbia University. His professional background includes working as a software engineer at various startups, one of which got acquired. He was also an ambassador at FWD.us where he lobbied for immigration reform on Capitol Hill. Vahan is Madhav’s first company and was part of the 2019 Y Combinator program. Vahan is having great success and they are on track to become India’s largest recruitment platform in the next year.
How does Vahan inspire customer love?
I’m going to answer that in two ways.
1. On the job seeker side, our technology leverages existing user behavior. We're not trying to change the way people find jobs, which is mostly through networks and friends. We’ve productized this human driven approach and that’s been our success story. We also focus very highly on reducing turnaround time, so about 97% of the people who get placed through us get a job within seven days.
2. On the employer side, we recruit at high velocity and at scale. For most of our customers, we are their largest recruitment partner.
What makes Vahan a “must-have” vs a “nice-to-have”?
We experienced that learning curve through the early stages of our company. When we started off, we were actually working on helping people learn skills to make them more employable. We found that it was a “nice to have” for people. It was more of a vitamin and less of a painkiller. At the end of the day, the audience we’re serving just needs a job to bring in an income, which is the real painkiller. We learned that, especially in developing economies such as India, you have to be very, very clear in your mind whether you're building a vitamin or painkiller, and only if you build a painkiller will you be able to build a big, sustainable, profitable business over time. We pivoted to the job space in late 2018 and that became our product-market fit. Given the way we're scaling, we're clearly solving a very deep pain point for both sides of the marketplace, making it a “must have.”
What were some of your greatest challenges founding Vahan?
I think one of the biggest challenges and lessons has been navigating the market in India. I spent a lot of time in the US and when I moved back to India, my understanding of the market wasn't as deep. At first we built software that we thought would bring in efficiencies for people. We realized that in India people don't really care about software because people are largely time rich, and the cost of labor is low. You can literally throw people at problems, and not worry about inefficiencies creeping in.
Tell us about a recent milestone.
We crossed 1million ARR (annual recurring revenue) this year so that was a huge milestone for us.
Where do you get your motivation?
I have a deep desire to do something impactful. I feel very privileged that I was born into a middle class family in India because that’s given me the opportunity to get a good education and then use that education to do something meaningful. I realize that a lot of people in the world don't have the same opportunity. Warren Buffett has a very apt term for it; he calls it the “Ovarian Lottery.” Where you're born is almost like a lottery ticket and that's fundamentally the problem that we're trying to solve by helping people get access to opportunities.