Reetu Gupta is Co-Founder and CEO of Cirkled In, an award-winning 21st-century recruitment platform matching high school students with colleges and universities. Cirkled In is used by over 150,000 students. Before Cirkled In, Gupta spent 20 years in corporate America working in a variety of environments from startups to Fortune 500 companies. She earned her MBA (valedictorian) in Technology Management from the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington and her master’s and bachelor’s degrees from the National Institutes of Technology, India.
How did your education and previous professional experience shape your current work at Cirkled In?
I grew up in a very small town in India in the late 70s when illiteracy was 70%. There wasn’t much to look forward to for the future. The only thing in my favor was that my mom was a teacher. She started a school when I was 8 years old and dragged me into helping run it, knocking on people’s doors and convincing them to send their kids to school. Without me knowing, the importance of education went deep into my DNA. I remember hearing Nelson Mandela’s quote, "Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world," and believing that to have a good future I needed to get a college degree. All that propelled me to go to engineering school, complete a master’s, and start my career in software engineering.
I developed a sense of continuous learning, which is why in 2009 I went for an MBA at the University of Washington. I now have two kids who are going through the current K-12 education system and I'm seeing how the education industry is under-served by technology. A personal pain-point with an application process for my daughter became the genesis of Cirkled In.
The value of education from my early days in India to having almost 20 years of work experience in engineering, marketing, and business gave me the skills I needed to start Cirkled In. You take out any one component, and Cirkled In wouldn’t exist today.
What has been the response to Cirkled In from the recruiters and students who use the platform?
Cirkled In has resonated extremely well with students. We launched Cirkled In 2.0 in January 2018 and we have grown over 5,000% since then. Not only are students signing up on Cirkled In, they are also spending three times more time on Cirkled In than on other comparable websites (as per Google analytics). Anecdotally, we have heard stories from students like Adam, a junior in high school, who was completely scattered and didn’t know what he wanted to do. Then he put his Cirkled In profile together, compiling all his activities and accomplishments and uploading all his media files. This allowed him to see all he had done and he reported higher confidence. He also found Cirkled In easy super easy to use and "almost fun." The efficacy of Cirkled In was proven when Adam got an internship within four weeks of putting his profile together. We're really excited to see the platform resonating so well with students.
As for the recruiters, we just launched our college recruitment portal (CRP) and we have had an amazing response from colleges and universities. They are loving the idea of getting a holistic view of students, finding the best-fit candidates, and making a match that results in a win-win. The current outreach and recruitment processes are so antiquated and expensive that Cirkled In is a breath of fresh air in this industry. By making a best-fit match, Cirkled In not only helps with recruitment goals but also improves the flow of metrics of retention, graduation, and employability. With Cirkled In, we’re looking to disrupt the whole college recruitment and admissions market.
We have won many awards already. In 2017, Cirkled In won the Grand Award from the American Business Awards (given to the top 10 companies in the U.S.). Cirkled In is also the top winner of the People’s Choice Award by being the only company to win two People’s Choice Awards. In 2018-19, we won many pitch competitions, including the Social Venture Partners Fast Pitch 2018. We were also selected to pitch at Grace Hopper Conference 2018. Our talk about future of college admissions had an amazing response at SXSW 2019. Overall, Cirkled In is resonating very well with the whole education ecosystem.
What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
I think education technology and the education sector in general is coming out of hibernation. It has suddenly woken up and it's like, oh my God, I need to be in line with the rest of the world. In 10 years’ time, college admissions will not have a traditional application process at all. Everything will be based on what is out there about you as a student on the internet right now. Colleges are moving away from the SAT and ACT to a more holistic view of a candidate. Over 1,000 colleges have made the SAT and ACT optional because the skill set needed to be successful in the workforce is not what it used to be five decades ago. So higher ed is coming into sync with the needs of the workforce, more focused on soft skills, leadership, creativity, and innovation.
This will impact K-12 education, leading it to be more in line with life skills as well as more career-focused. I think we are going to bring a lot more life skills into the classroom rather than just teaching derivatives and integration that you never use in your real life. Project-based learning will be more prevalent, not just textbook learning. Storytelling will be a huge part of this transition, too. Students must be able to tell their story holistically and authentically. And platforms like Cirkled In will be the norm, not a brand-new, category-defining solution.
What, if any, are future plans for Cirkled In?
Cirkled In has a grand vision and mission of being the de-facto platform for all youth recruitment and admissions, whether for college or the job market. We are starting with colleges and eventually we will grow into the employment market as well. As you know, technology knows no geographical boundaries, which means we will expand internationally as well.
Harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning, Cirkled In will disrupt the college recruitment market. We will add data analytics to answer the questions that are not even being asked today but that are extremely critical for the existence of higher education as well as improving the returns on K-12 education. With Cirkled In, we will connect the dots between K- 12, higher education, and the workforce.
Who are the most interesting people you are following on Twitter?
People that I love to follow on Twitter are educators, teachers, and successful entrepreneurs. It’s impressive to see how educators and teachers are using Twitter to exchange ideas and share knowledge.
Image: Courtesy Reetu Gupta