Leading a larger team of people handling training administration for other customers made Letitia Stefan – Nifty Learning’s CEO, aware of an acute problem in the HR industry: the redundancy of data entry and repetitive actions, plus the lack of an easy reporting tool.
In order to be delivered at the highest level, each training session requires lots of resources and actions to be made before, during and after it happens. That kind of complexity, in the absence of an integrated solution, can get extremely messy and frustrating.
“I noticed an improvement was very necessary: a team this large (over 100 people), working on 30.000 training sessions each year needed a single point of control in which to handle the end to end training admin process for customers. We didn’t have that in-house, so I thought it was a good idea to build one.” remembers Letitia.
And so they did. Three years ago, in October 2016, the (now) team of 5 co-founders had pitched their idea during Startup Weekend Iasi. Being the only B2B solution that entered the event, they won the 2nd place, after managing to understand what they really want to do and to align between themselves.
After working on the project in their spare time for over a year, they received an investment from TBNR in March 2018, which allowed the team to quit their jobs and fully focus on developing the product. Later the same year, they were one of the teams selected to join the 1st edition of KPMG Startup Grow Pad program.
We’ve asked them a few questions to better understand what they’re doing and what are they planning for the future.
What is the exact problem that you are addressing?
Corporate training departments have very specific rules under which they function. Big budgets are allocated and planned for an entire year ahead. Prior to planning the training itself, companies need to centralise all the employee training needs in a format that allows the creation of what is called a training plan.
Once the plan is approved, it needs to be deployed. The next step here is creating a large number of training sessions, at the beginning of the year, over the span of only a couple of weeks. This one can be a nightmare to organize and keep track of. People who are in charge of this activity are the training coordinators.
The entire lifecycle of one training session, all the way from creation to deployment, ranges between 8 and 10 hours of work. Each training session requires over 15 individual resources booked or actions taken, in order to be considered successfully delivered.
For a lot of companies, training coordinators lack the proper tooling to work efficiently. They are using 4 to 7 different software solutions that are not integrated with each other, and as a result of that training coordinators end up performing redundant data entry or repetitive, manual actions. Some examples would be sending the same type of email to a large group of recipients or updating the same name of a trainer, or the amount of the invoice in different places via copy/paste.
Multiplying the number of tools that a training coordinator uses daily with the number of training sessions that they are in charge of creates a huge opportunity for human error, all the while making it impossible for the company to know in real time what they are spending their training budget on.
Globally, there are an estimated 1 million training sessions happening every working day and all of them go through the same process every single time.
What is the story behind your product?
Nifty is a command centre for enterprise training departments. It’s a combination of a project management tool and a CRM software, specifically designed for training administration activities.
It automates any repetitive manual process (for example, the redundant data entry) and gives the training coordinator visual cues to take action at the appropriate point in time. This represents a big shift in their way of working: instead of doing primarily administrative tasks, Nifty takes over this effort and allows training coordinators to focus on value-adding activities: problem solving, responding to urgent requests, focusing on finding the best type of training for employees.
From our past interviews we’ve discovered that up to ⅔ of the time spent at work by a training coordinator is used on administrative tasks. There isn’t enough time to source new training vendors or create better training plans, because most of it is caught up in redundant work. Our goal at Nifty is to automate as much as possible and allow for the more creative and strategic sides of the job to surface.
Who are your clients and why did you choose this particular niche?
The benefit of working on an administrative process is that it is possible to create a standard based on it. From past experience, we know that the process itself of creating a training session is about 80% the same for all companies, regardless of the size, industry or training budget.
This is why our potential market is quite big: our clients can easily be any company of over 100 employees which deploys over 20% of their yearly plan via face to face training activities. The overall size of the corporate training market was $ 367B in 2018 and the expectation is that it will keep growing.
Of course, with a market of this size, there has to be a strategy of how to approach it. We’ve decided to start with SMBs, between 100 and 1000 employees initially, in order to have shorter sales cycles and to be in a position to gather customer feedback sooner.
What was the biggest challenge until now?
The fact that it’s an ongoing learning process can be overwhelming sometimes. Our initial plan after Startup Weekend Iasi was to just use this opportunity to learn, no matter what, since we didn’t think we would end up getting this far. In the meantime, the more we learned about building a business, the more we realized how little we actually know. Having to adjust from a 9 to 5 mentality to the speed at which things change in a startup is even now hard to digest.
Another factor that doesn’t necessarily help is that there aren’t always enough resources in Romania to accelerate startup growth. Or at least, not that we know of. It’s great though that we see more acceleration programs and investment funds opening their business for startups. We believe this will have a positive impact on how Romanians view this particular kind of entrepreneurship – startups.
Why did you choose to join KPMG Startup Grow Pad?
Mircea (KPMG Startup Grow Pad project manager), who has been a wonderful partner for us throughout this experience, contacted us during the application period and asked if we would be interested to have a conversation about the program. It was clear very quickly for us that this is an opportunity we should definitely take, so we applied. The fact that KPMG was very willing to lend their knowledge and support to help us grow showed us this was a very good match from the beginning.
How being a part of an acceleration program helped you move on with your project?
In general, being part of an acceleration program should help open the team’s eyes to their own potential. This can translate into anything from learning how to identify a business opportunity to genuinely understanding that there are more ways to solve the same problem and that communication really does help in this case.
Being part of KPMG Startup Grow Pad has paved our way to getting real user feedback incredibly fast and testing out some assumptions both about our product, and our way of working. It’s been a very successful collaboration and we are grateful to have been working closely with people who understand so well the pain we are trying to solve. We always looked forward to each new interaction and opportunity to get more feedback, and this has helped us grow much faster than we would have on our own.
What’s next for Nifty Learning?
After graduating from KPMG Startup Grow Pad, we set our sights outside the country, for the opportunities presented by the larger acceleration programmes of the world. We ended up in the final selection list for both Y Combinator and Techstars and had the final interview on the same day, only a couple of hours apart. We were actually in San Francisco when we found out we got into Techstars. So between February and May of this year, we were in Berlin, for an amazing entrepreneurial experience. We were exposed to a completely different ball-game, where we worked under the guidance of world-class mentors and former serial entrepreneurs and came in contact with may angel investors and VCs.
The best outcome from Techstars was that we defined our business more precisely and we managed to pave the way to get our first paying customers on board. Our solution is now live, our customers are in love with what we do and they tell us every day. We couldn’t be happier about where we are right now and about the next steps we can now take. We’ll be getting feedback about product usage to continue to refine it, as well as add on more functionality and look at scaling the software. In parallel, we will also accelerate sales, now that we have a more mature software solution. Soon, we will start selling outside the country and also look at raising our seed round, either in Europe or the US, in the beginning of next year. Things are really looking good and we couldn’t be happier! We’re really thankful for the support we’ve received from all of our partners and mentors and we’re glad that it paid off in a big way in the end.Looking back, we realise that going through acceleration programmes can really make a difference in a startup’s life. We really encourage other teams to apply to any and every programme they can. There’s a lot the world has to offer to emerging startups and if there are opportunities, like KPMG Startup Grow Pad was for us, teams should definitely take advantage of them.
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