Remote & Virtual Work Force

Karunjit Kumar Dhir provides a sneak preview of “SCIKEY MindMatch” that enables AI-powered job & culture fitment and shares his top priorities for 2021.

In this Research NXT Interview, Karunjit Kumar Dhir, Co-Founder at SCIKEY, talks to us about his journey, or transition so far from start-up to corporate and back to the start-up world. Additionally, he shares his findings of the top roles and sectors that are much in action in the new normal.

Key takeaways from this Research NXT interview:

  • Use cases of SCIKEY MindMatch and how SCIKEY helps businesses & professionals to ‘Be Better’.
  • Most active roles and sectors in their platform currently.
  • Top trends that are going to dominate the strategic planning of organizations in 2021 and beyond.

Here are some extracts from the insightful conversation we had with Karunjit.

Hi Karunjit, thanks for joining us today for this conversation. So, I would like to start with your professional journey and co-founding SCIKEY?

Karunjit:  My journey of SCIKEY is a little different as against normal founders who do start-ups. I spent about 15 plus years of my early career in the technology consulting space, and I was one of the first global employees to join my previous organization. Back then, in 2006, it was a start-up. So, that’s how I got exposed to the world of start-ups, and I spent about 12 plus years starting as a management trainee to being someone who was first heading their P&L for India, and then subsequently, Malaysia. While I was focused on scaling the business, at some point in time in my career I started feeling the need for change, not only in terms of a job change but change to do something different than what I was doing. Something was amiss and I had started feeling that I wanted to be happier. But at the same time, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was caught between going for a bigger role with another corporate, being with another start-up from scratch or something else with a start-up flavor. Then, probably as God would have planned it out for me, I was approached by one of my early days’ customers & a mentor who had already partnered with the family office of SRK Exports, a multi-billion-dollar global enterprise. They were looking to invest and create technology lead ventures, since all this while their investments primarily were around diamonds, solar, manufacturing and jewellery, etc. They are also the largest exporters of polished diamonds out of India and have investments in aviation, solar, and green-tech sectors but not in the pure technology space. So, I think I was fortunate enough to be invited to be a part of this early team, who would then be responsible for conceiving, creating, nurturing multiple start-ups, and building a portfolio of tech ventures. That is how it happened for me, and it allowed me to go back to the start-up world again that I have always been passionate about. And yet, not just worry about being a solopreneur trying to build something again from scratch because I could leverage the existing ecosystem’s resources and support with a large business backing.

This allowed me to focus on getting the right business model and an initial set of team members in place fairly fast. So that is how we started to build SCIKEY about three years ago. And as we speak, SCIKEY is a multi-million dollar business present in five global markets, with members and paying customers from the US, UK, India, Malaysia, and now we are also planning to launch or platform in the rest of Southeast Asia. In a nutshell, this was my journey, or transition from a start-up to corporate and back to the start-up.

" We are now trying to be that tech-enabled middle layer providing assurance and consistency of security, quality and delivery between the enterprise customers and the providers."

Thanks for taking us through the journey so far. If you could share more details about what SCIKEY is into and what exactly you guys do and make a difference in the market?

Karunjit:  In very simple terms, SCIKEY helps create work and business opportunities for billion minds using technology and our digital market network, a combination of an online marketplace supported by a professional network. Our goal is to help businesses & professionals ‘Be Better’ by leveraging the power of our digital platform that is supported by a professional network and an integrated services ecosystem. You could also compare it to a fusion of LinkedIn and Upwork, so that’s the kind of model we have. We have employers, organizations, or enterprises who create work. They come to our platform as a part of the demand side. We have work-seekers or service providers that could be either individual job-seekers, freelancers, small to midsize companies, or even large service providers who form the marketplace’s supply side. Our entire ecosystem over the SCIKEY platform enables the right matches and provides an end-to-end and consistent transaction journey. I’m using the word assurance and consistency because when you look at large corporations, they typically are not very accepting to the usual freelancing as opposed to a mainstream option to get the work done. Freelancing or online services has predominantly been the space for individuals or small to midsize companies or start-ups. It was never a mainstream play for large enterprises, and that’s a big gap noticed. So, we are now trying to be that middle layer providing assurance, quality and consistency of security and delivery between the enterprise customers and the providers. In the SCIKEY platform, the enterprise customers do not have to worry about negotiating individually or consistency of outcomes, which is a flip side of the freelancing model. Our business model is also unique in the sense that at the SCIKEY platform we crowdsource all the work, but we assure the end customer of the desired outcomes offering a much better services assurance at par with any large professional services provider to offer the best of both worlds – digital & physical. This allows us to keep our fixed cost-base quite lean & perhaps that is one of the key reasons why we are operating cash-positive already. Like an Amazon Prime or Netflix premium, we have the ‘SCIKEY Assured’ label, an integrated service offering from SCIKEY especially crafted for our Enterprise & Global customers who deserve a premium service, that has our team of SCIKEY certified experts taking care of all the platform transactions on behalf of the customers if need be. This is briefly how we operate

" SCIKEY MindMatch data and insights are utilized to understand patterns of individual employee traits needed to create the optimal remote work model and take it to the next level, till it is finally operated at scale."

The new normal is a time where hybrid teams of in-house staff, remote contributors, and now, managed talent are increasingly being accepted. And it’s great that SCIKEY had predicted and created a unique marketplace to find such teams already, and that too backed by AI and the “SCIKEY MindMatch” algorithm. Could you please elaborate on this and the resultant impact on businesses browsing the SCIKEY Market?

Karunjit: To give you a sneak preview of “SCIKEY MindMatch” in very simple terms, this is an algorithm that helps you read or decode an individual’s mindset. The applications of it can be numerous. Here are a few applications of the SCIKEY MindMatch algorithm:

  1. One use case as an example is where we have presented a study at the United Nations whereby this very algorithm was utilized to assess the mindset of thousands of entrepreneurs, or wannabe entrepreneurs, founders, co-founders, and give them a map of how the mindset of a founding team has a direct impact on the success or failure of the venture. This was highly applauded by the investors & VC(venture capitalist) community as well, as it gives them some form of scientific input on the mindset of the founding teams of the ventures they have invested in or would like to invest in.
  2. Another use case is, any organization or customers on our platform can also utilize this SCIKEY MindMatch algorithm to assess the fitment between the job with the mindset of the individual who’s expected to do that job – the job applicants. 
  3. A next level use case identifies a team or corporate culture’s effect on individuals operating capabilities. We all understand that individuals seldom operate as individuals in a professional setting. Individuals always operate or have to work as a part of the team. So even if the individuals might have a mindset of their own, they tend to exhibit certain team behaviour when exposed to it. For example, if someone who has a very creative mindset is put in a team or an organizational setup with other attributes but not creative, then the creative individual will not feel engaged, will be less motivated, and overall their output will be significantly affected. So, the “SCIKEY MindMatch” algorithm tries to propel the right mind’s idea for the right work with the right team and in the right organization. If all these four variables are in sync, that is when, you know, the individual will enjoy the work, and the organization will reap the best benefit.
  4. This is how we are trying to take this whole concept of “SCIKEY MindMatch” by integrating it in the marketplace and a professional network model and scale it up to make it available for the masses. As individuals come to our platform, they can take up a 15-minute “SCIKEY MindMatch” assessment online, and their scores are logged in their MindMatch profile. This ultimately allows any potential employer to understand the service provider not only by the technical skills, but they can also better understand how the service provider thinks and how they would behave in a certain setting, leading to a much better job fitment. So, this is the whole concept of SCIKEY MindMatch.

" After the wave of remote or work from anywhere trend, the extension of that trend will be many employers also allowing for the ‘BYOD - Bring Your own Device’. And because of this, the whole IT security landscape will evolve."

The new normal is a time where hybrid teams of in-house staff, remote contributors, and now, managed or outsourced talent are increasingly being accepted. Have companies been more adaptive to having a managed team anywhere or individuals working for them who are not part of the organization?

Karunjit: Let me share an interesting experience with you. So, as soon as the pandemic hit around March 2020, the first knee-jerk reaction all organizations had was to stop their spend on any such platforms like us and use whatever tools were available to them internally. Hiring went on a standstill, any external engagement that needed extra spend, was put on hold. That’s the same thing that happened to us as well. Suddenly, the platform’s net new demand almost came to a stall with literally no new work or jobs coming to the platform for about two months in a row. However, from June and July onwards, we saw a surge of brands coming onto the platform, and interestingly, we were able to onboard about a hundred brands on the platform in a matter of just last three or four months. This is the same number that we managed to onboard in the last two years till March 2020, since we started. This was particularly because the idea of remote work & talent started to sink in with most of the organizations.

As organizations, their first two months were spent on the preparation mode meeting the top two priorities ensuring that the people are safe, so they introduced work from home. Secondly, they wanted all their business as usual, and that the customers were taken care of. So we assumed that the first two months of the standstill were because of this, and when they had stabilized the tools, technology, and work from home arrangements, we saw a surge of native brands and work listings or job listings on the platform. There was a surge on the supply side as well with thousands of net new members signing up as job seekers, perhaps due to the job losses or insecurity. That is what I think happened as the immediate impact of the pandemic. 

Once the organizations started experimenting with the remote teams working from home, the first feedback we got from almost all the customers we spoke to was an initial dip in productivity and engagement as people were not used to this kind of working arrangement. However, that phase also went through, and this is again one major area, where we utilized our SCIKEY MindMatch data and insights to understand patterns of individual employee mindset & traits needed to create the optimal remote work model talent alignment and take it to the next level, till it is finally operated at scale. 

In terms of certain specific skill sets, or industries, the more active ones have been technology, eCommerce, pharma, chemical, digital payments, medical equipment sectors and the D2C(Direct to Consumer) brands. And within technology, the more relevant skills are digital-first roles like cloud, DevOps, IT & data security, etc., for obvious reasons. We also saw many searching in the roles around data analytics, data engineering, data modelling, and regular analysis, reporting, and business intelligence. So, I think these are a few areas; we saw much action in.

As someone who is very close to the future of work & talent industry, who has developed solutions in this space, what would be your suggestion on the top three aspects to anyone who’s planning a business strategy for the upcoming year?

Karunjit: I can share my perspective and how we are looking at getting ready for 2021. This includes learning from many of our customers from the tech space, so I think two or three common themes are emerging. They are:

  1. Adoption of Digital-first and digital fast is going to be a big trend. I am not only referring to the technology-driven organizations because they anyways have easy access to all the latest tools & tech. I’m also referring to essentially non-tech organizations embracing a lot more new technology and trying to be as digitally active as possible. Obviously, a manufacturing setup cannot go a hundred percent remote or digital, but they would still make better use of technology to optimize the floor’s manpower requirement, inventory planning, outcomes, consumer insights & more.
  2. Secondly, after the wave of remote or work from anywhere trend, the extension of that trend will be many employers also allowing for the ‘BYOD – Bring Your own Device’. And because of this, the whole IT security landscape will evolve as organisations will need to deal with remote talent or distributed teams across different cities or countries, continents with many of them using their own devices to connect to the company’s network & assets for delivering their work.
  3. Thirdly, with most employers allowing a remote or hybrid working model for good with their people working from anywhere, the large set of working-class based in metros would not mind a move back to their hometown to tier 2 or 3 cities as well. And therefore, the real estate prices or cost of living, pollution, population congestion, and everything in big cities will change. This reverse migration of people going back to their hometowns, or whatever places of choice will lead to a correction in the metros in all aspects. And at the same time, administrations of the newfound workplaces i.e., the place of choice of the working class, will be indirectly forced to improve the infrastructure in terms of the internet, telecom and even the basics, i.e., electricity, water, roads over a longer period, benefitting all.
  4. Along with all these things, organizations will also have access to a much wider talent pool now, especially in the Indian context where many women earlier had to sacrifice certain part of their professional career as they had to juggle other responsibilities at home, but now, with work from anywhere, there will be more professional involvement. 

Further, owing to a global macro-economic environment, a favourable sentiment and a large technology talent pool that India has, we will witness a lot more FDI into India with a lot of foreign multi-nationals creating many more tech jobs in India by setting up a COE(center-of-excellence), an ODC(offshore-development-centre), a virtual captive or even distributed tech teams working from anywhere. So, all of this interesting stuff is going to happen in 2021 and beyond.