How this CA quit his practice & built a thriving manpower training center upskilling 2 lakh youths annually

 

  • Meet Dr. Narendra Shyamsukha, a Chartered Accountant and entrepreneur based in Kolkata (India), who is on a mission to make the youth of India job-ready. 
  • Hailing from a small town in India, he quit his CA practice of almost a decade and founded ICA Edu Skills with the motto of upskilling the Indian youth and connecting them to their first job.
  • What is special about his story? He had a flourishing CA firm that he shut down to follow his passion for training manpower.
  • Here is his story of how he followed his gut and built a thriving venture with a presence in 100+ cities and clocking in $20M plus in revenue.

A brief look at where it all started

I grew up in a small town called Sardar Shahar in the state of Rajasthan (India) where knowledge and awareness of various career opportunities were limited.

I was good at Math, so I decided to pursue the Commerce stream and soon completed my graduation. This was in the mid-80s.

At that time, two people from my town had completed their Chartered Accountancy. The respect they received and the comfortable life that they led, encouraged me to consider CA as a career option.

Accounts & Mathematics were my favorite subjects, so pursuing CA seemed to make perfect sense to me. I knew I had to move out of my small town if I had to pursue the CA course and I did exactly that.

I moved to Kolkata (a metro city) and started with my CA articles. Here I faced several challenges, however, language was my first challenge as I had completed my graduation through Hindi Medium!

Needles to say, I was ready to work hard to face all the challenges.

Fast forward to 1989, I passed the CA exams, becoming the first Chartered Accountant in my family...it was quite a milestone back then!

Entrepreneurial leap: Starting a CA firm

When it was time to decide my career path, I was clear from day one – that I always wanted to start something of my own. 

I knew entrepreneurship gives a lot of freedom in terms of innovation, development, self-satisfaction and I always had this desire to be a job provider instead of a job seeker!

So, in 1991, I started my own CA practice NK Shyamsukha & Co.  

Since I had to start from zero, the initial years there were full of struggle. 

Over a period of time, I developed a few good connections who saw my dedication and started recommending clients to me.

I realized early on that customer service, timely delivery, and keeping the client’s interests ahead of your own are the keys to success.

In just a few years, I had a good set of clients… my practice gave me name, fame, & money.

Starting a training institute & running my CA Firm 

In 1997-98, along with my CA firm, I started data entry accounting services.

I hired commerce graduates, all of whom were freshers and trained them well in accounting & taxation to perform the job...in short, I made them job-ready! 

Within a few months, I noticed how my newly hired ‘inexperienced but well-trained employees’ would end up being hired by my clients at double the salary! 

Naturally, I found this to be a big problem...if I train them well, I can’t retain them and if I don’t train them, they were good for nothing!

I also remember meeting commerce graduates who would struggle to find a job and on the other side, I would speak to my clients who would always cry for a “Dhang ka AAdmi” if you translate "finding the right person for the job".

There was an obvious gap and I knew training could solve it. So, what next?

I decided to start a pilot batch (in 1999) and train freshers in application-oriented courses like Accounting, Finance, Taxation, Computers and Marketing, etc thus making them job-ready.

I would take 2 hours every day from my CA practice and train them...it was more like a passion!

Surprisingly, all my students were placed within no time and there was a demand for 3 times the staff! 

I understood that ‘Practical Training” is the key to the growth of a person and it is the single most important factor to help people get employed.

In a country like India where the unemployed population is a huge challenge, I saw this could be a big opportunity for me.

Now, the big question was – Should I shut my well-established firm to pursue this?

Quitting a well-established firm to start ICA Edu Skills 

Both my CA practice and training program needed my personal time, I knew it would not be possible to run both the ventures simultaneously!

Also, the experience of getting someone job-ready was giving me much higher satisfaction than my regular CA practice! 

When I discussed the same with my family, friends, and well-wishers, you guessed correctly, they all thought otherwise and suggested I continue CA practice only. 

Many a time, in life you need to listen to your gut feeling, I did exactly that.

I shut down my well-established practice of almost a decade and started the first training center in a small room in Kolkata!

Bootstrapping 

When I started out, I bootstrapped from the beginning with a little loan raised from friends and family.

I didn’t have any business plan. I just started with the promise of a “Guaranteed Job” and did everything to help my students find jobs.

I focused on training to solve the problem of students and meet the needs of the employers.

A strong in-house Research and Development team ensures that our courses are most updated, Industry relevant and focused on “Practical Training”.

Adopting a franchise model & going from 1 to 250+ training centres

By 2003, I was eager to grow, and so I adopted a Franchise Model creating a win-win situation.

A captive model would mean, the creeping in of rigid rules and policy enforced by employees of the Company, ignoring local challenges and opportunities. This was the learning I got while running multiple own centres and also, this model would help me grow quickly without much capital.

All our efforts paid off and by 2006, we had 250 centers pan India.

Obstacles

The biggest hurdle was that people were not ready to believe how can some institute give a JOB guarantee, however, with the passing of time and word of mouth publicity, it started picking up.

In 2007, we raised funding from PE and developed 100 more centers. However, we had to consolidate due to the Global slow down during 2008 - 2011.

A lot of our centers got closed down, though we trained and placed every candidate. As we had a huge unutilized capacity, we started picking government projects for skilling and we kept going. 

Apart from this, I face challenges on a daily basis but with the right attitude, all is possible.

As of today, we are the first choice of employers looking for an Accountant.

To be honest, I never thought the day would come when ICA would be training and helping 2,00,000 people every year find their first job.

Timeline of my journey 

1999 - 2001

  • Initially, it was just a passion to train and help people get a job.
  • Within 3-4 months, the center was full and 100% of students were placed on jobs. Just the computer operator of my CA Firm and I were the first trainers to teach the students in ICA.
  • Soon I realized the students can come from nearby areas within 5 km alone to the training center. Hence, I started Franchisees and by 2001 I developed around 10 centers within Kolkata and the surrounding areas. Soon, we were training around 1000 students annually.
  • Later, I used to train trainers and control the quality of delivery and placement. I believed training is a continuous journey and we used to train our faculty rigorously.

2002 - 2006

  • In 2001, one of my clients convinced me to open ICA at his hometown Silchar.
  • Initially, I was a bit skeptical about placement demand. However, once I visited the town and met a few businessmen, CAs, I realized the problem was the same everywhere and there was a demand for trained staff.
  • By 2002, we had 4 centers outside Kolkata, having approximately 150 students each, again with 100% placement.
  • In 2003, we started centers in Delhi, & Mumbai and we had grown to 250 centers by 2006.

2007 - 2012

  • In 2007, we trained around 45000 students.
  • We started picking government projects for skilling.

2013 - 2015

  • ICA got affiliated with NSDC (National Skill Development Corporation) and soon we were on the list of Top 5 Training Institute.
  • We also participated in the PMKVY program and trained approximately 42,000 students in a year.

2016 - 2019

  • The Government set a new Ministry MSDE (Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship) and planned PMKK (Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendra) in every District.
  • PMKK was iconic with an inspirational skill training center of minimum of 8000 sq. ft. and training capacity for 2000 students annually.
  • We established 50 centers in PAN India within a year.
  • We also started skill development training in schools and we are presently training 1200 schools. We also became a training and placement partner to various Universities for BCom and Data science programs to make their degree program job oriented.
  • We started B.Voc program in association with various Universities.
  • We started IDCM (Institute of Digital and Content Marketing) as we realized this is the upcoming program the demand of which will grow 100 times in the next decade.

2020

  • Though we started online delivery also in 2020, I believe in Face-to-Face training is more effective for skilled development courses. Hybrid delivery is better. For example, you can train to drive through simulation, however, to become the perfect commercial driver, you need to do a lot of practice.
  • Presently we have 3000 trainers who train around 2 lakhs people annually. 
  • We have booked a revenue of INR150 crores (over $20M).

Wrapping Up…

I am a lifelong student and, did a Ph.D. on “the challenges of higher education institutions in India”. Everyone has 24 hours. You can always find time for your passion.

The world is full of opportunities. Can you offer some solution to resolve an issue or offer a new product to enhance the experience of people? There are plenty of people who are ready to pay for such solutions.

If you have done CA, this certifies that you have a certain IQ level and you understand finance, cost, tax and are clear about business modeling.

You should listen to your inner voice and do what you like most.

Not taking a risk, is the biggest risk in life.

(Video edited by Ankit Lodhi)

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