Startup Chronicles: Vaave – The Transformational Power of Alumni Networks

The role of networking for schools

The enduring value that school experiences have on the choices and successes of adult careers continues to be debated. Radicals question the very need for “thought control.” Others with a more benevolent approach say that what one learns at school, and more crucially how one learns can have a powerful impact on how well individuals identify and master the domain they want to make their own.

For 34-year old Paresh Masade, a visit to his old school in Telangana’s Adilabad town proved to be a game-changer. Upon finding his former school in poor shape, Paresh felt compelled to do something. But he was clear even then that he didn’t want to merely make cosmetic changes to his rural school’s physical infrastructure. Instead, what he wished for was the setting up of a framework that would generate assured “returns” for generations to come.

A mechanical engineer by training, Paresh was inclined to computers and coding. This interest helped him pick up skills in tinkering with website design and creation. As a result, when he was considering potential ideas that could help “fix” his school, one of the first solutions that came to his mind was the possibility of setting up a rudimentary website for his school. The objective? To help connect former students—some of whom were at the top of their professions in various workstreams—to the institution that had “raised them.” Needless to say, the website gained considerable traction almost instantly, proving to be a huge success with both the school authorities and the alumni network.

The birth of an alumni-focused startup

A few years later, when Paresh was enrolled at the National Institute of Industrial Engineering—a prestigious management institute in Mumbai—he bounced this idea, namely of setting up alumni networks for educational institutions across the country off some of his seniors and professors. In his conversations, he discovered that the need for better infrastructure, linkages and employability were concerns widely shared among a large proportion of schools and colleges across the length and breadth of the country. He also discovered that although web-based alumni networks were a mainstay of educational institutions abroad, it was an opportunity waiting to be mined here.

This opportunity paved the way for start-up Vaave’s inception in 2009. Paresh founded the IT services company “Coherendz” and bootstrapped to build the product Vaave ( Paresh says, “hailing from a humble school in Adilabad, and seeing for myself the transformative power of just having a simple website for all alumni inspired me to set up Vaave.” He was joined by Sanjeev Kosaraju, Yasaswy Peesapati and Jaipal Reddy who went on to become co-founders.

Educating an unreceptive market for alumni networks

The team found the going hard in the start-up’s early days. “Initially, it was a real struggle, as the market was not very receptive,” Paresh says. 

“We used to try getting in touch directly with scores of educational institutes in Hyderabad in an attempt to introduce and validate our product. But not many were convinced of the need to set up such a network nor were they able to see value in investing in what seemed like just a website,” Paresh says. 

To overcome this challenge, Vaave’s founders spent a great deal of their time in the start-up’s early years talking at length to hundreds of educational institutions about the multiple benefits they stood to gain from having a formal, SaaS-enabled online alumni network. It took them about six months to achieve their first breakthrough with a client and another four to tie up with their second. Once their client base began to grow gradually, they shut down their IT services business and focused on just refining, scaling and building their core product: online alumni networks. 

The power of bootstrapping for startups

Although several of Paresh’s well-wishers advised him to set up operations in Bengaluru for easier access to technology and talent, he and the Vaave team decided to stay on in Hyderabad and build the organisation up by leveraging bootstrapping. “Luckily, I had some savings from scholarships from my days as an engineering student and also from a few business plan competitions I had entered and won,” Paresh says. Family and friends also pitched in.

Towards the end of 2013, as Vaave’s clientele base for its alumni network offering started expanding, it caught the eye of an institutional investor, Utthishta. The seed fund-focused accelerator invested INR 20 lakh in Vaave in early 2014, which helped Paresh and his team funnel back resources into product build, more defined sales processes and scale. In its most recent round of funding in 2019, Vaave raised INR 1.2 Cr from Paresh’s alumni at NITIE. 

Building reach and expanding customer-base

Eight years since its inception, the start-up looks on top of its game. It has mastered its offering of a SaaS platform that provides a foundation for educational institutes and corporates to build personalised and exclusive alumni networks. It provides web portals with multiple functionalities including capabilities to manage alumni databases, overseeing and scheduling alumni reunions, roping in alumni for student training and job-oriented development as well as for help in raising funds. 

“We are official alumni engagement partners for 1000+ institutions across 17 nations including premier institutions like IIM Lucknow, IIM Indore, IIT BHU, IIIT Hyderabad, NITs and several institutions across the globe” Paresh says. The start-up has also expanded its reach to include corporate clients such as Qualcomm India, KPIT Technologies, Hero MotoCorp and International organisations like United Nations (GESCI) and Australian Consulate General (Australian Alumni Association).

The drive to connect 5000 organizations to their alumni

Paresh says his team and he have learnt not to take on too many things at the same time but rather be “laser focused” and excel in one area and one market segment. “An excellent product and predictable sales cycles supported by self-driven people are key,” Paresh says. 

The Vaave team wants to connect to 5000 institutions and enable every school, even from some of the remote regions of India, to leverage the power of their alumni networks. “We look forward to Vaave being a part of their story. I know first-hand how powerful and transformative education can be. And I want to enable every institution to reap the benefits of a connected network,” Paresh adds.

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