Benjamin Franklin, polymath and one of the founding fathers of the United States, famously said: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Deepshikha Kumar and Vithal Donakonda seem to have taken this to heart, starting their knowledge-based startup SpeakIn to make knowledge dissemination easy.
Founded in 2016, Noida-based SpeakIn brings the “excellence of content and credibility to knowledge and learning initiatives worldwide”. With over 15,000 experts in more than 500 different genres, the company brings top professional experts to global organisations in India and overseas on to a single platform.
The lineup of experts on the platform is a veritable who’s who of politicians, entrepreneurs, tech experts, authors, and motivational speakers. These include Jairam Ramesh, economist and politician; Anu Acharya, CEO, Mapmygenome; Aditya Ghosh, CEO, OYO Rooms; Pullela Gopichand, national coach for Indian badminton team; Kailash Satyarthi, Founder, Satyarthi Children's Foundation; Anita Dongre, Founder, House of Anita Dongre; and Boman Irani, actor.
The expert network engages with business organisations, academic institutions, associations, and investment management companies to access curated experts for one-on-one discussions or forum-based knowledge sessions. Individuals can also engage experts for personal guidance and mentorship.
The company claims to be Asia’s largest network of business experts and thought leaders.
“Our aim is to minimise the six degrees of separation among the who’s who of the world’s top thought leaders to zero. The company boasts of multiple online and offline platforms, which have brought an entire generation of thought leaders online onto one single platform for unparalleled knowledge intermediation,” says Deepshikha Kumar, Founder and Managing Partner of SpeakIn.
“Traditional ways of knowledge sharing are no longer relevant. An ‘InExpert’ can provide in five minutes the same information that takes institutions weeks and months to acquire through their due diligence and secondary data analysis. Our platform caters to client requirements, be it content, genre, pricing, home location, availability of experts, and their rating to make accurate matches,” she adds.
SpeakIn, which aims to bring the power of insights to decisions, was founded by Deepshikha and Vithal, batchmates at Indian School of Business (ISB), in 2016.
Deepshikha has spent over 15 years in business consulting at organisations like Ernst & Young, Accenture and JDPower, Singapore. Passionate about education, she serves as honorary faculty for MBA students at Fortune Institute of International Business, New Delhi, and for Executive Business Education at Bridge School of Management, Gurgaon. She also writes actively on industry interests for newspapers and association journals for FADA, SIAM, and FICCI.
Vithal is a senior management professional with over 17 years of experience in the procurement, operations, and digitisation space across pharmaceutical and FMCG industries. Over the years, he has been associated with industry leaders such as Unilever, Genpact, GEP Solutions, Novartis, and Infosys.
He came up with the idea of a startup focused on matching knowledge seekers to domain experts in one of their first-year business classes. Based on this idea, the duo launched the website www.indianspeakerbureau.com in their college days, in 2007. It created organic traction, which kept giving the duo organic leads.
“At first, it was just academic institutions that would seek pro-bono speakers. It was only around early 2016 that we started seeing more traction from the corporate world, and organisations and event hosts were willing to pay big money for bringing in quality speakers,” Deepshikha says.
Numbers do the talking
Since then, SpeakIn has expanded its network of experts to over 12 countries in Asia, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Israel, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand, Bangladesh, Philippines, and Vietnam. From a demand perspective, their focus regions are the UAE, the UK, and the US.
“We have created a seamless process for our clients to connect and engage with global thought leaders and industry experts. Each experience for a SpeakIn expert is structured as a two-way communication, which is not just economically rewarding but also contributes to an expert’s personal and professional development goals. As soon as we get a client request that matches an expert’s area of expertise, we share the profile with the clients for further review,” Deepshikha says.
SpeakIn's engagements are pro bono as well as paid. Not all engagements are commercial and depends on the topics of the speech.
SpeakIn, now a team of 17 people, has helped deliver keynote presentations, motivational, business and technical sessions, and workshops to over 125 clients in India and abroad. Their client list includes Barclays, Hyundai, IBM, Accenture, NASSCOM, FICCI, European Business Federation, IIM-K, Wizcraft, Viacom 18, Zee Media, and more.
“We continue to bring the best of speakers and experts to the market to deliver on impact, communication, innovation, leadership, digital transformation and more,” Deepshikha says.
Market and future plans
In 2018, SpeakIn raised half a million dollars from investors such as Vinod K Dasari, CEO, Royal Enfield; Padma Shri Dr Pradeep Chowbey, Chairman, Max Institute; Mohit Arora, Partner, Mondriaan Group, Singapore; and Ashish Kale, Managing Director Provincial Group. The company also counts seasoned corporate leaders such as Nakul Beri, Managing Director, Standard Chartered, Singapore, among its key advisors.
In 2019, it also raised an undisclosed amount of funding from OYO South Asia CEO Aditya Ghosh-backed Homage Ventures.
The expert network industry generates over $1 billion globally in revenue with a CAGR of 20 percent. Similar to SpeakIn, there are few other platforms that help connect speakers globally. These include GLG, GuidePointGlobal, London Speaker's Bureau, and LinkedIn.
In the last quarter, the company has built its open search-platform and simultaneously expanded its operations to Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Singapore. Garnering an eight-digit turnover, the founders are expecting a 15x jump in revenues this year, riding on the platform and its global expansion into key Asian markets like Singapore and Hong Kong.
SpeakIn aims to build a network of at least 75,000 experts from India and abroad, and reach 100 percent of Fortune 500 companies in the country by 2020. It also has plans to expand globally and connect to PE and VC firms from the US, the UK, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
“Our future plans include developing four core programmes around speech, communication, leadership, and cross-functional collaboration,” Deepshikha says.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)