How An Unlikely Foursome Competed In Harvard’s Top Business Plan Contest

An example profile created on easyBiodata

An example profile created on easyBiodata

The team plugged away over the summer on their idea: a simple service to create professional-quality biodatas. They named it, appropriately, easyBiodata. They hired a website designer in Slovakia, built a platform, cold-called customers to improve the experience, and fielded help desk tickets around the clock.

EasyBiodata rode a wave of validation after nabbing fourth place out of 150 teams in the FIELD 3 competition. They were running a business and going to B-school on the side. “On a busy week, it’s really a full-time job – preparing for the New Venture Competition, I was up until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. every night,” Kakitsubo says. “We all see all of the help desk tickets – it’s the first thing we check in the morning and last thing we check at night,” adds Pritchett.

Classwork may have taken a backseat, but the team says HBS has been critical to the formation of their business. They use the i-Lab every day, taking advantage of the writeable-wall workspaces, free legal counsel, venture capitalist feedback, and a snack supply that would make nutritionists cringe. “This is how they keep us from switching to investment banking,” quips Luptak, gesturing toward a stash of granola bars, Kraft Easy Mac, and Hershey’s miniatures.

Even class took on a new meaning. The team signed up in trios for Competing With Social Networks, Launching Tech Ventures, and Strategy and Technology. They tailored class projects to tackle areas of the business. After taking Strategy and Technology, Pritchett says the team pivoted from a biodata creation service to a multi-platform strategy that includes matchmaking. Even their fellow classmates proved an important resource. “Whenever you run into people, they’ll ask, ‘How is easyBiodata doing?’ … Everyone has their opinion about things, some of them are extremely helpful and some of them are stupid – no, I’m kidding they’re all helpful,” Kakitsubo adds with a smile.

The team wondered if adding a business plan competition to their already hectic schedule would hinder their progress. Luptak advised against it, fearing it would distract them. It was a legitimate concern, according to entrepreneurship experts who caution MBAs against business plan competition fever.

The team compromised by limiting their circuit to just two – HBS’ contest and the International Business Mode Competition in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is sponsored by the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology at Brigham Young University. Both turned out to be useful, according to Kakitsubo. “Just going through the process and preparing the slides, I realized there were things we needed to work on. We have deadlines we need to meet, and that pushed us to get certain features out. I had to prepare financials and that helped me to put in perspective where the true value of the business was and to hit a number and make it profitable.”

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One year after their fourth place FIELD 3 finish, the founders of easyBiodata (nicknamed the U.N. of biodata by their classmates for their multinational makeup) had a full-fledged business. Now, on the same stage in Burden Hall, they’d have a chance to show the school that they deserved No. 1. More than the check, the contest was a chance at redemption.

By competition day, the site boasted more than 16,000 users and 33,000 unique visitors. Last semester, the team introduced a payment model that charges customers $12 to build and share biodata profiles or users can access it for free by sharing their profile five times or posting a link to Facebook. EasyBiodata is also profitable and growing 15% week-over-week, despite investing $0 in marketing.

But it hasn’t been a straight upward trajectory. For one, the team has had to combat the stigma of arranged marriage in the West. “For me, being American you sometimes get ‘Oh, arranged marriage, it’s so terrible, how could you support an institution like that?'” Pritchett says. It’s a topic that often requires a bit of explanation before people get on board. “Arranged marriage is different from forced marriage,” Kakitsubo points out. He adds that the tradition occurs throughout the world, including in Japan, China, and some countries in Africa.

In fact, like most founders, the team views their mission as more than simply providing a product; they want to change the lives of their users. “We’re trying to push the boundary, so the candidates are more empowered, so they have more control over the process – that’s one thing that needs to be clear,” Kakitsubo says. When the team discovered that 50% of users who create profiles on their site are marriage candidates themselves, they saw an opportunity. “It gave us this idea where we can actually flip the process on its head a little and give more power to the candidate while still being culturally acceptable,” Luptak says. “The market is not yet ready to say, ‘Now we will date like Western people and forget the arranged marriage.’ It’s not going to happen. But we still feel there’s  a huge opportunity for people who are more tech savvy and want to have more control over the process in a traditional way… so suddenly it’s not just a service, but it’s social good, changing the world, and all the stuff that startups want to do.”

EasyBiodata has also faced more mundane hiccups. The team unveiled a coupon code box, and the help desk was quickly inundated with requests for the discount key. Some users even went so far as to unsubscribe unless they received a lower rate. “Indians are very good at making sure we get the best deal,” Agarwal observes. “Building this product is more about getting 300 small decisions right than having five big ideas,” he adds.

The team is in the midst of developing an automated matchmaking service, a Match.com with higher stakes, if you will. To test the market demand for the service, Kakitsubo manually screens several hundred profiles and sends 50 to 100 match emails daily. A math and finance geek, he’s taken a quant approach and scoured MIT research papers for correlations between successfully married couples  – so far, roughly 10% of his matches have responded positively. “It’s Indian matchmaking with Japanese precision,” Luptak says.

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