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Lokvani Talks To Payal Agrawal Divakaran

Ranjani Saigal

Payal Agrawal Divakaran was born and raised in the Boston area. Her parents, Subhash and Kusum Agrawal, currently live in Dracut, MA. She pursued her undergraduate degree at MIT in Electrical Engineering with a minor in Management. She worked for 2 years in Technology Investment Banking at J.P. Morgan and then 3 years in Technology Private Equity at Spectrum Equity before joining Harvard Business School (HBS). She is currently a first-year full-time student at HBS getting her Master's in Business Administration (MBA). Her husband, Sanjay Divakaran, is a second year Internal Medicine resident at Brigham and Women's Hospital. She hopes to return to tech private equity in Boston after HBS and continue to build her strong ties to the Boston Indian community.

What motivated you to start Spotrocket? 

I started SpotRocket with 5 friends from Harvard Business School under the construct of a required course. In the first year of the MBA program, we are required to start a company with very little resources so that we can learn about entrepreneurship and the lean startup model. As we were thinking about the problem we wanted to solve, we realized that the team and all of our classmates were in the middle of recruiting for summer internships. Those who were interested in working at startups had a real challenge in finding those companies and job opportunities at them. When we spoke to undergraduate students at MIT, Harvard, Boston University, and Northeastern, we got the same feedback - students were really interested in working for startups but did not have many resources to find these companies. There were currently no web-based solutions for students to discover new startups and find job opportunities there so we were motivated to solve this problem.

More about Spotrocket at http://www.spotrocket.co 

Can you tell us a little about Spotrocket?   

SpotRocket ranks 10,000+ private companies across the US to find the top-performing startups. Our algorithm uses data that investors currently use to gauge startup performance (investor pedigree, funding, web traffic, growth and more). Login is free and simple using a .edu email, Facebook, or Linkedin. The goal is to help students, in particular, to discover high-potential startups and provide them the information and resources that will help in their job search process such as company profile pages, links to the company’s website, and links to the company’s AngelList (startup job board) page. We launched on April 15th, and as of April 27th, we already have 1,309 total registrations of which ~900 are students from 150+ universities. We are getting really good feedback from our users that they are discovering new startups, the algorithm is reliable, and that they like the resources for the job search process. We are finding that full-time workers, investors, press, and other constituents are finding the website useful as well.  

What are the parameters that you look for to rate a startup? 

Our proprietary algorithm uses data that investors currently use to gauge startup performance such as investor pedigree, funding, web traffic, growth and more. Currently, students have only heard of startups like Dropbox or WhatsApp because those companies have a lot of press or have recently been acquired. However, if students look at startups the way that investors do (or the way that our algorithm tries to mimic), they will discover new startups that are doing just as well and might be in more interesting or relevant sectors to the student's major or area of expertise.

Is a startup successful if its exit potential is good or is it the ability to grow into something great in the future? 

Prior to HBS, I spent 3 years in growth technology private equity at Spectrum Equity in Boston. Spectrum invests in mid-marketing private technology companies and helps them to grow from a board level (some portfolio companies include SurveyMonkey, Seamless, Ancestry.com, ITA Software, and BATS). From that experience, I strongly believe that a company is more valuable and successful in the future if has an inherent value proposition and business model that allows it to grow. The exit opportunities always follow a great company, but if a company builds itself on the presumption of an exit it might have many fundamental flaws.

What is the future of SpotRocket? How does it rank as a startup?

Our goal is to get to 1,000 student users by May 14th (we are way ahead of our targets!). We believe that critical mass of student users is important for us to show relevance of the date and engagement with the product. 1,000 student users is an important milestone for us because it is not only a target we set for ourselves, but we believe it will show a critical mass of students that will get startups, career services centers, and other students to evaluate our offering. We plan to grow the company by expanding into premium paid services for these constituents. We are already in conversations with startups and students to discern what premium services they would be willing to pay for, and we expect to execute on these services if we continue with this business beyond the course at HBS. This ability to monetize the user base will be key to the future ranking of SpotRocket.

Can you tell us some secrets to get into HBS? 

Unfortunately there is no secret formula for getting into HBS or any other top business school. My view is that the application process is easier and authentic if you take some time to introspect and soul search. When you discover your passions, strengths, and weaknesses, you are able to better to tell a story about how business school is going to make you a better leader and how you are going to contribute to the business school community. The admissions committee reads thousands of applications every year - at the end of the day, there are people who are really good at figuring out whether applications are genuine and also able to moved by powerful stories. One other way to get into HBS or any other business school is to make sure that you are a good fit for that institution and vice versa. Each school has a pretty unique identity, so learn more about each one you want to apply to so you can cater to the ones that fit your personality and ambitions.

How have you enjoyed your time at HBS? What has been the greatest gain from HBS? 

HBS has been a tremendously educational, fun, and humbling experience. I have had a strong background in finance and technology, and it has been great to learn about other subject matters and study different companies and industries. You truly don't know what you don't know until you are at a place like HBS. My classmates and the professors have been incredible - I am learning equally as much from both. The people have exceed my expectations, and I know I am making many life-long friends. It's humbling to feel the power of the brand and the network that comes from a place like HBS.

Any advice for people who want to do startups?

If you want to start a company, I have three pieces of advice. The founding team is more important than most might think. We built our team based on complimentary skills, and that structure has been a huge asset to our ability to execute. There are many other ways to form the founding team, but I would advise you to think about whether your structure is the most production or ideal one of the company. The second piece of advice is that people often don't start companies because they believe their idea is not unique. From my experience in investing and at HBS, I have the belief that your startup does not have to be unique but rather needs to have better execution and innovation that its competitors. My last piece of advice is that you can learn a great deal by working at a startup before you start your own. And for finding that startup, you can use SpotRocket!

(Payal is the daughter of Subash and Kusum Agrawal) 

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Top Row: Cherian Kurien, Tim Chaves, Duncan Kauffman, Ross Porter
Bottom Row: Payal Agrawal Divakaran, Hann Yew

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