There was something more assertive in the tone of the young entrepreneur who still in his twenties has nearly 8 years of work experience tucked under his belt. When posed how, he answered ‘well, I have been working since school days. I managed my own graduation and worked night shifts to support myself and the savings to seed fund my own company.” Was it tough? “Yes, but it was an amazing learning experience that helped me realize the hardships as education can prove expensive. I could sense that struggle in some of my classmates. Looking back, the entrepreneurial streak sparked during the discussion with fellow mates airing grievances about affording good education. The ground work would begin few years later though but that spark was definitely at college.” Irfan Sharief is the founder and CEO of iCert Global, a edutech startup with headquarters in Houston, Texas, United Sates and offers its services across the atlas, with prominent presence in 3 continents. Besides, United States of America, they are very active in the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, India, and United Arab Emirates. The company’s footprints gradually are all over the place. Initially the operations were limited to key geographical locations. Maintaining a very low-profile and prefer to let the results speak, he adds, ‘every role performed by a professional here is something I have dirtied my hands-on. I have cut my teeth in the industry by slogging for some years, more for the apprenticeship to learn the industry well before taking off on my own. It helps to be hands-on. To stay relevant in this industry, you must realign and reskill.” iCert Global is a Registered professional certification organization in the areas of Project Management [PMP®, PRINCE2®, MSP], Service management [ITIL Foundation, Intermediate, MALC and Expert Track], Quality Management [Six Sigma Green Belt & Lean Six Sigma Black Belt], Agile & Scrum [CSM, PMI-ACP®, CSPO], Citrix, Cisco and Emerging Technologies. The Reason and rationale Irfan Sharief founded iCert Global aiming at closing the competency gap by effectively using internet as a platform to provide quality education at affordable cost. Irfan countered “When internet sparked a revolution in ecommerce, why not education? In fact, the cost of education is significantly lower. If so, what stops them? What do you get in a college that would be missed in virtual classes? A certificate endorsing the education? Fair enough. What about getting something similar online as well? It was then the governing bodies stepped up and started issuing online certification. If one cares to look around, the pace and ease with which customers took to the change by ‘going digital’ is by far the best in market response. Brick and mortar options for college system are limited in number to cater to the ever growing educational needs. The best alternative can be provided by internet. The founding thoughts on iCert Global were primarily connecting the corners of the globe in imparting exceptional education at remarkably low-priced classes. When queried about the etymology or the reason choosing such a name for his company, Irfan came out candidly “ Many ask me, why name iCert Global? Well, that embodies and epitomizes our mission and vision statement. iCert means online certifications, and ‘Global’ represents ‘world-wide audience’. You just have to connect.” Starting from scratch Recalling the stint served in learning the ropes, Irfan accepts “Whatever earned during the stint as ‘apprentice’ was pooled as seed funding to start the company.” The concern was not capital but crew. The challenge right at the start was to enroll talent that can get behind him in steering ahead. “Admittedly, it was very difficult, and understandably, who would want to drop what they are doing to join me in a startup.” So known contacts that trusted his vision and versatility agreed to pitch in and joined aboard. It was a start from scratch with few who followed the founder. Back in 2013, it wasn’t neither crowded by competition nor funded with so many investors. The pick-up was slow and the pace sluggish. The company took a year to establish and by the second started gaining steam mostly by word of mouth. Was it prescient or path breaking? “Neither” responded Irfan “as there was not much leveraging of the online experience towards education. We had great difficulty to accept the concept of college empowered by internet. This certainly was something I chewed on endlessly.” When iCert Global became operational, the last two quarters reported on lead conversions and business was done. The first two were consumed with the typical activities in setting up, and bootstrapping. The need for skilled professionals led to the growth of the online. A professional feels incomplete without a ‘professional certification.’ So why not empower? One look at the growing user base will be a good start to uncover the startling growth realized in the years. On a year on year basis, the sales pushed the needles and still at it. The company initially riding on the big wave of the courses and slowly emerged from its own shadow banking on its strong word of mouth marketing, to outperform its own forecasts. “When I hear newly coined vocations like ‘new collar’, it might sound prescient but I wouldn’t feign prediction. Projection is the word. One could see the gap widen between the supply and demand. We have resources but not quality resources who qualify to the needs. That’s how the gap gets widened. And if you look into the investments, notably the footfalls that walk in ready to invest, the private equity firms’ readiness to fund nearly $208 million into the education sector presents the incredible scope to scale higher. And if you look into our offering, we have broadened in every category and the pipeline is lined up with the latest offerings ready to roll anytime.,” opined Irfan. From modest start to 400% Irfan isn’t taken in by surprise nor exudes overconfidence. “During our start, sales were in spurts. In fact even in those days of setting up office, calls started trickling in and I was quite sure and confident of creating an impact. The figures are for the record, but what really matters is the customer’s experience. Not one in the industry has a track record of 99% success rate, and this I state with humility. You may ask how? Once a participant completes the training, its not end for us, rather credibility is earned during post-sales. We follow-up with our customer (read a participant), and those who couldn’t, for some reason, clear in the first attempt is offered revision session to brush up the basics to advance without any charge. Likewise, the examination fee charged is makes the eligible to appear for one exam. In case candidate fails, we make them reappear after prepping up without charging for the examination. This was done without any publicity or fanfare and soon the word spread around and we saw our sales spike, and witnessed unprecedented growth year after year. That’s how, aided by our client’s expectation and desire to exceed their expectation, we set the norm and outperform” concluded the founder sounding upbeat about the year’s achievement and remains very optimistic about the outcome.
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