Job hunting can be a tedious process, right from polishing a resume and finding the right opportunity to having to fill out several forms and then waiting to hear from a prospective employer. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, 60 percent of job seekers quit filling out an employment application if it’s too long or complex to understand. On the other hand, recruiters often have to sift through piles of job applications and even then, they sometimes end up hiring the wrong person for a job.
How convenient would it be if a candidate could get automatic recommendations for suitable jobs? Or companies could find the right candidate fit for the job role and the company’s culture? The seemingly difficult task could be made a reality by leveraging Artificial Intelligence as it can help recruiters make smarter and more informed decisions. The case for AI-powered models transforming the recruitment space is pretty strong and it allowed companies like FastNext to build an incredibly successful product and be acquired by Talent500 to disrupt how recruiting was taking place globally.
The Bengaluru-based startup was founded by Akhyansh Mohapatra and Naveen Benny. Its recommendation technology analysed millions of potential candidate profiles to help enterprises make more informed hiring choices and boost their businesses’ productivity.
An idea that stemmed from college walls
The journey of FastNext began in 2016 when Akhyansh was doing his second year of engineering in IIT-Madras. However, FastNext wasn’t his first tryst with entrepreneurship. He started Quabl, a collaborative learning platform for advanced undergraduate courses as a student. While the placement model was great, the revenue model wasn’t straightforward.
Many iterations later, Akhyansh was able to tweak the model to make it more scalable and decided to rechristen it as FastNext. “We looked at the market and realised that we’re missing a huge part of the pie if we leave out those who are already in the industry. We expanded from the initial university placements and started building for the broader tech recruitment market,” says Akhyansh Mohapatra, Co-founder and Head – Product & Sales, FastNext.
When Akhyansh was looking for a co-founder, he met Naveen, a seasoned entrepreneur with several years of experience building B2B SaaS products primarily in the cutting-edge Computer Vision and NLP space. He started his career with a stint at Mu Sigma after graduating from BITS Goa and later moved to Freecharge. Before launching his entrepreneurial journey with FastNext, Naveen worked as an independent AI consultant with both startups and Fortune 500 clients, designing and building large-scale Deep Learning systems.
“Our goal was to make opportunities more data-driven. But there was a huge disparity between candidates at both the top and bottom of the funnel for any job across companies of all sizes. With FastNext, the idea was to expand the top of the funnel, and help candidates create an exhaustive representation of themselves on the platform, so that they could find the right opportunity and the recruiter could hire the right candidate,” says Naveen Benny, Co-founder and Head – AI & Data Science, FastNext.
Helping enterprises make informed hiring choices
There were a lot of players in the recruitment space, and with hiring being a tedious and chaotic process, it was overwhelming for both recruiters and candidates. You had to manually go through thousands of applications, but end up finding only a few worthy of an interview. FastNext wanted to solve this fitment problem by ultimately recommending to companies the best talent for their needs.
Many talented professionals who were a strong fit for specific roles were happy with their current jobs and were less inclined to apply for open roles in the market. FastNext discovered these passive profiles via LinkedIn and developer forums and reached out to them to solicit a response and get them to apply. “You could find talent on FastNext that you couldn’t otherwise get an idea about just by looking at a resume. We looked at a lot of data points and algorithms to identify cultural fitment at a deeper level than other companies,” says Akhyansh.
On the other side, there were companies who wanted to fill positions very quickly for standardised profiles. These were requirements that were more tactical than strategic, and you just wanted the job done. For such positions, FastNext had systems like job boards to reach out to candidates.
One of the reasons that made FastNext stand out in the market is that while companies were solving for technical fitment, FastNext was using Deep Learning and Artificial Intelligence to identify cultural fitment. “A proxy to measure cultural fitment is the experiences a person has had while working in other companies. We created a library of companies and how they’re similar to other firms. Deep Learning helped screen candidates in an automated and seamless fashion, to match those suitable for a particular company,” says Akhyansh.
Another thing that set the startup apart was the model’s technology and AI reach. While a lot of companies sold the hype of AI and algorithms, FastNext’s objective was to build simple products that solved a problem directly and provide simple metrics. For this, they spent a lot of time with recruiters trying to understand their general mindset and how they recruit.
“AI can read the resume like a recruiter, identify candidates with more experience and make sound hiring decisions,” says Naveen. He adds, “Our idea was to give enterprises AI on Day zero. In the demo, they could see how our algorithm helped them identify the best candidate.”
The larger mission under the acquisition by Talent500
FastNext was a B2B enterprise until 2019, and it was always compliant with General Data Protection Regulation, which meant candidates could exercise their right and ask for data that the company had about them to be deleted. “We were using data Google had access to from a recruitment standpoint, but candidates were not signing up with us. The amount of data we had about candidates was limited by the data they were putting in other places,” says Akhyansh.
The founders realised that to build their product algorithm further, they needed to build a consumer product where candidates could directly come and apply for jobs. They began to build FastNext Apply and soon realised that it was very similar to what Vikram Ahuja of ANSR and Talent500 was evangelising.
ANSR is a global leader helping multinational firms and Fortune 500 companies set up their global capability centres (GCCs) in India and Talent500 was the product helping these enterprises hire top professionals and build large teams. Having hired more than 75,000 professionals, ANSR seemed like the perfect home for FastNext to make an impact on a global scale.
Over a few months of conversation, the acquisition was finalised. “It was like telepathy and we thought why not do it together. It was as much an acquisition as it was a fairly strategic move on our part because ANSR had tons of Fortune 500 clients that we could work with right away,” says Akhyansh.
“At the time of the acquisition, Fastnext also had CoffeeBeans Consulting as their primary technology partner. Its founders, Sagar Reddy, Mitesh Bulsara, Adishesh Kishore, Madhu Lakshmanan and Naveen Kunappareddy were integral in shaping the direction of the product since 2017.”
Post acquisition, FastNext is now a part of the Talent500 suite, and together, they are handling the recruitment funnel end-to-end, right from sourcing to performance management. The suite today boasts of products such as Canvas – a workflow automation tool for the recruiting funnel, Carta – a remote teams payroll and operations tool and multiple other tools to help automate sourcing and screening.
Talent500 today helps global organisations of all sizes build remote teams with top remote talent and delivers end-to-end management solutions (payroll, benefits, ongoing engagement) via a cloud-based platform. Talent500’s core differentiator is a subscription-based talent-as-a-service proposition, that has been largely driven by the underlying AI and data-driven tools from FastNext and the ability to recommend fitment between companies and global talent.
“Working with ANSR is super exciting as we get insights into how they approach recruitment. They’ve hired more than 75,000 candidates and processed a vast amount of data in the past and we’re trying to slowly model that. Our goal is to refine our architecture to facilitate tremendous accuracy when it comes to hiring the ideal candidate,” says Naveen.
Paving a new era of AI-led talent acquisition market
Like most startups, the founders’ journey hasn’t been without challenges. They initially faced some resistance from investors, but their product spoke for them. After the acquisition by Talent 500, they have worked with more than 50 big enterprises like Pepsi, Nike, Uber, Target, Lowe’s, Morgan Stanely, JCPenney, among others.
The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely changed the way companies operate and a number of AI products and solutions designed by the founders are tailored to help companies with such a transformation.
They are building algorithms customised for remote workers and remote jobs, targeting global companies looking to access remote talent in a post-pandemic world and experimenting with new kinds of engagement models. “Our current business stays and continues to thrive, but we’re expanding the definition of what we’re doing. We now have more access to data and candidate behaviour. At the same time, cultural fitment has taken a bigger definition, where we have to look at other aspects such as remote fitment. We’re trying to collect more data and modify our architecture to solve this challenge,” says Akhyansh.
It’s an exciting time for the team as Talent500 establishes itself into the fastest-growing remote team builder in the world. Akhyansh and Naveen’s mission of disrupting recruitment, not just in India, but globally, is finally coming to life.