In conversation with Nitesh Naveen, Co-founder & CEO, UNICOM Learning
How and when did you feel the need to start UNICOM learning? Was it based on a personal experience or did you simply see it as an existing gap in the market?
I am passionate about building communities and platforms to share knowledge and this motivated me to start UNICOM Learning in 2009. Currently based at the Start-up hub and Silicon Valley of India, UNICOM Learning believes in “Continuous Conferencing”. With a team of 30+ highly talented and smart entrepreneurs, we have organized 150+ conferences and 100+ training programs in 14 countries. This number is growing at a rapid pace.
In July 2008 as part of IIM-C immersion program I went to do my international immersion program in London where I was given a live project by UNICOM to come up with a market entry strategy for India. While pursuing this 2-month project, I realized that the Indian market is not disciplined and is largely driven by free-lance trainers or risk-averse individuals who were running it like a lifestyle business.
Post the successful completion of my project, I was offered to start UNICOM with equity capital with a promise to run it like my own company. I grabbed this opportunity in 2009 and since then have seen the company identify its product/solution/customer mix and develop a competitive advantage of building a process that fosters creativity, growth, fast learning and repeatable performance.
Could you give us a business overview in terms of the service, product, revenue and performance?
UNICOM Learning is a B2B multi-channel knowledge sharing brand in emerging technologies and processes for IT industry. With a team of 30+ highly talented and smart entrepreneurs, we are running 150+ conferences and 100+ training programs in 14 countries and growing.
We have two revenue models in place- one wherein the Delegates attending the conference/ workshop have to pay a certain fee and the other where companies interested in capturing the conference/workshop audience, sponsor the conference/ workshop.
In 3 years my team has built communities around –
- Software Testing
- Big Data
- Internet of Things
- Business Development
How big is the ‘knowledge based service industry’ in India and how much of the market has Unicom captured? Please share some numbers, if possible.
Knowledge based industry in India has three verticals –
- Professional Conference Organizing – This is a 1000Cr (INR) industry with the IT sector owning roughly 30% of it. Currently UNICOM has been able to tap 1% of this market. The industry is showing 10% CAGR
- Professional Training (includes e-learning) – This is a 3000Cr (INR) industry with IT industry owning roughly 10%. Currently UNICOM has been able to tap 1% of the market
- B2B Forums – This is a 1000CR (INR) industry in IT sector which provides a platform to bring together the businesses selling their products and business community interested in purchasing those products. Currently UNICOM has been able to tap <1% of this market ever since venturing into this sector since beginning of this year
As for the Global market, the knowledge based industry is a $100bn industry, which a pretty conservative estimation. UNICOM India has ventured into 9 countries at the moment across all key markets.
What is the best marketing move that you’ve initiated which sets you apart from your competitors?
UNICOM has emerged as IT’s largest conference organizing company in terms of footfall and # of events organized. We have emerged with a “conference studio” model where UNICOM organizes events for other companies or communities. There is a market research team that looks after the product design, target segments and audience, and based on the pricing strategy come up with a list of corporates and professionals who would benefit from attending the conference.
We have a community of 75000 IT professionals, 50000 thought leaders, access to influencers, tie ups with corporate magazines and media partners. Our overall aim is to excite people about future conferences, and we do these through quizzes, poster competitions etc.
Our responsibility is to get “X” number of delegates on a day under a roof at any location. “X” depends on the budget and objective of our customers.
What are some of the future trends in this sector that India should look out for?
Conferences and Seminars are going to become the most effective training and networking platform. Currently organizations are realizing that e-learning is not as cost effective as it provides learning to their staffs in silos. E-learning is good enough for basic skills, but for hands on training for senior executives it is not a very beneficial model. CEOs are realizing the worth of group learning and more and more companies are opting for this model. Thought leadership development programs are going to be the most important trend to look out for. UNICOM has a competitive advantage as it is one of the first in this field.
What has been your single biggest challenge in sourcing and retaining talent?
UNICOM’s fast paced growth culture does not suit individuals who are not used to multi-tasking and taking ownership. This is not for anyone looking for a typical 9-5 job, or someone who is not used to a fast paced life where organizing approximately 10 conferences in a month across 9 countries is the norm. Trained manpower is a problem as the industry is very nascent, and mostly professionals don’t know how their career will progress.
What would be your piece of advice for new players entering the knowledge sector in India?
There is an invisible entry barrier which is not very explicit. Some existing conference players have already created a niche for themselves- breaking that is tough, so if someone has already identified a niche, then they should think of entering this market.
This entry barrier can be crossed only when you develop a team of professionals who are growth oriented. One piece of advice for prospective conference organizers is to take some time to figure out their niche, create a team of subject matter experts and then dive in deep without thinking of immediate returns.
Tell us more about your personal journey. How had been your life prior to founding Unicom? Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
I did my primary education from Don Bosco Academy & Science College Patna, Bihar. Post which, I did my engineering in Electronics & Communication from SIT Tumkur in Karnataka. I was hired by ANZ with the highest pay package of my batch during the campus placements.
While working in ANZ, I tried to learn Retail Banking and cards processing. Most importantly I learnt how businesses run. Maybe that’s when I was bit by the entrepreneurial bug. My happiest day in ANZ was when i was nominated for ANZ Chairman’s awards for outstanding contribution to the company in my 4th year of service. I quit ANZ because I got an offer to lead a business in Tesco. It may sound funny, but i worked in multiple roles in by brief stint at Tesco. I started my first month in Bangalore, building the team and developing scope and capability. In my second month i went to Los Angeles for three months to implement Tesco’s celebrated Order & Forecasting Application. Within weeks i was working as a Supply Chain Analyst.
During this period, I got a call from IIMC to pursue a one year PGPEX program and hence had to quit this amazing company- Tesco. After completing my 1 year MBA program at IIM Joka campus I worked with IBM. During my 6 month stint there, I was doing Market Research and consulting for a large European Bank. It was mere Project Management in the guise of Consulting. My passion lay elsewhere – To become a business Leader. So I jumped at the opportunity to start something of my own. Guess what, I quit happily.
I am having a rocking time in UNICOM ever since cofounding it in 2009. With initial seed funding provided by Prof. Gautam Mitra, who is based in UK, I saw UNICOM Learning growing quite rapidly. We have now identified our product/solution/customer mix and have developed an advantage of building a process that fosters creativity, growth, fast learning and repeatable performance.
My focus now is to scale up the company.
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