Career coaching start-up founder raises INR 20 lakh
Pooja Khanna, Assistant Professor at UPES School of Liberal Studies, has raised INR 20 lakh through Runway incubator for her start-up ‘Find Your True North’. A Natural Language Programming-based career coaching system, it provides recommendations to people at different levels of their career paths – students, early/mid-career professionals, and even those about to retire
How often does one feel lost or stuck in life? Many people experience the paradox of choice when they get overwhelmed by the barrage of information available; other times, they have nowhere to look and no one to guide them while making a crucial decision, especially about their career. And one misstep can lead to a loss of invaluable time and resources.
This is where ‘Find Your True North’ (FYTN) helps people find their calling. Created by UPES faculty Pooja Khanna, the start-up is a Natural Language Programming (NLP)-based career construction, development and mentoring system. Recently, it received a funding of INR 20 lakh as seed investment through the Runway incubator.
Pooja, Assistant Professor at UPES School of Liberal Studies, has been working in the education sector for the past 15 years. She saw students struggling and being traumatised because their career choices and preparation did not align with their values, interests and personalities (VIP). “It led to internal and external conflicts, disengaged behaviour with family and society, substance abuse and suicides,” she says.
Deeply saddened by this scenario, Pooja wondered if she could do anything. “I wanted to help, and it propelled me into research. I realised that the problem was that we, as university professors, are limited in capacity to support because we meet the students after they have already made a career decision. And going back on these decisions is not only difficult, but also expensive,” she explains.
Through FYTN, Pooja wants to support the youth in finding meaningful work, which aligns with their VIP for a fulfilled life. “The emotional trauma of what I want to do, what I can do, and what I could do is hampering, even paralyzing. Self-awareness and finding your direction at a young age can support immensely in creating a personal development plan. FYTN helps people find the best fit for them,” says Pooja, adding that “adaptability and resilience are key for survival in this dynamic world and FYTN makes navigating change possible, if not easy,” she says.
The proprietary career coaching platform uses a dynamic, non-linear process to help people create their identity through articulating their life stories with the help of a coach. It provides appropriate recommendations based on the complete analysis of an individual’s values, interests and personality, along with their industrial experience(s) and educational background rather than giving standard recommendations based on superficial analysis. The system can add value to people at different levels of their career paths – students, early or mid-career professionals, and even those about to retire. “FYTN becomes your GPS on the journey of your professional life,” Pooja says.
Pooja, in her own words, is the perfect example of a lost soul. She says, “Being a first-generation college-goer, I had no one to guide me. I studied STEM in higher secondary as my father wanted me to be a doctor. I was lost in the classroom of 90 girls, and nobody rescued me from monster mathematics. I shifted to humanities despite my father’s disapproval. For post-graduation, I cleared the entrance test for Master of Mass Communication (MMC) at Panjab University, but my father refused to send me to a hostel in a city that far.”
She adds, “I did my MBA in 2000 and got married in the same year. That year, I got my first professional shock, and my career halted before it took off. I went back to college in 2004 to learn to be a teacher. I managed my responsibilities as a mother along with my aspirations for a career. I kept on working and learning side-by-side. Experimenting and reflecting on the way, I stumbled upon my purpose.”
Pooja realised that more than a teacher, she was a motivator and a creative problem solver. “It led me to life skill training and coaching. It has been 10 years now in this field. My own struggle to create my career and my Ph.D. research on career construction led to the birth of FYTN,” she recounts.
“I realised that a nudge at the right time, empathetic listening and guidance can help individuals navigate this cultural programming of ‘Life is a race’ funda. My endeavour intends to raise self-awareness for listening to the inner voice in this deluge of external noises,” Pooja says.
Given the abundance of career coaching platforms in the market, how will FYTN differentiate itself from the competition? “Most of the career coaching platforms or companies focus on K-12 students helping them to choose subjects for higher education and study abroad. FYTN is a career construction platform, which has solutions not only for K-12 students but also for undergraduates and post-graduates, helping them align their passion and purpose to the right domain, industry, job profile as well right location,” Pooja says.
FYTN makes pivoting easier for early and mid-career professionals also. “Gradually, we will extend our services to professionals planning careers post-retirement as the average lifespan has increased owing to better healthcare and medical innovation,” she adds.
FYTN provides multiple solutions to all, depending on which stage of their career they are. Its machine learning-based aggregator supports the identification of available opportunities along with the challenges presented by the environment. The transition training courses help to acquire the right career resources.
For increasing the reach of her start-up to a wider audience, Pooja is leveraging technology. “We intend to offer our services pan India through our team as well as collaborations. We envision ourselves offering support to people ‘everywhere, anytime’ soon. The globe will not be far behind,” she says.
Pooja intends to offer FYTN services to individuals, schools, colleges, universities, corporates, NGOs and government bodies. “50% of the Indian population is below the age of 25 years. These figures show how India is a land of youngsters waiting to be up-skilled and explored. The ‘India Skills’ report states that only 45.6% of youth graduating out of colleges in India are employable. I see a major reason behind this gap is learning what others asked us to. Out of the 250+ available career options in India, our kids are aware of only a handful. There is immense scope to make parents and youth aware of the various opportunities available,” she says.
Currently, FYTN is at the ideation stage; the Minimum Viable Product is being built and will soon be out for testing. Pooja reveals that the initial research and patenting process of FYTN were bootstrapped. The funding of INR 20 lakh will, thus, give a major push to the start-up. She says, “I am grateful for the support I received from UPES and Runway, especially Runway’s Chief Executive Officer Rahul Nainwal. He has been pivotal in my entrepreneurial journey as it was he who asked me to take my coaching practice to a larger audience. The funding support is a big boost as it enables us to speed up. It will help us build our team and market the platform.”