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The Art of the Pitch Inspires Tech Management Alum’s New Human Capital Startup 

As an experienced tech entrepreneur, Jay Kesavan is no stranger to pitching business plans to investors. But it wasn’t until he enrolled in Columbia’s Executive M.S. in Technology Management program that he truly understood the persuasive power of brevity.

“One of the biggest challenges in leading a digital transformation is how you articulate and frame a problem for people at the C-level,” said Kesavan, '17SPS, who is currently Head of Analytics at Bowery Analytics. “How do you filter and distill it down to two or three talking points?”

This critical lesson from the Columbia program—along with guidance and feedback from his mentors and student peers—helped Kesavan to develop the plan for BlueHippo, an AI-driven talent marketplace platform for data consultants. Originally planning to go live in June, he launched the site in April in response to the job-market turmoil sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Before he decided to return to school, Kesavan had already founded and sold two analytics-based startups. But he recognized that he had “a lot of knowledge gaps” he wanted to address. “I had done a lot of large-scale program management and project management,” he said, “but when I mapped out my skill set, I identified gaps in terms of executive communication.”

Two courses in particular helped him to fill those gaps: the executive seminar with the program’s academic director, Arthur M. Langer, Ed.D, and “Strategic Advocacy,” taught by Lyle Yorks.

“Strategic Advocacy was a most valuable class,” Kesavan said. “I still use Lyle’s slide for mapping and identifying who has power and influence within an organization. That was a direct takeaway.”

Dr. Langer’s seminar was a master class in “how to say a lot in a little,” he joked. Over the course of three semesters, students develop their thesis projects while steadily winnowing their business plans from a 30-page paper down to a single presentation slide.

“You get very good at editing,” Kesavan said. “That presentation was such a phenomenal exercise and went right to my pitch deck.”

The same principle of economy in communication is at the heart of BlueHippo, which requires consultants to pitch themselves for project-based work rather than submit a resume. AI and machine learning help to match candidates with projects.

“We found that the resume process is broken,” Kesavan said. “We thought a better way to approach this was to write the job description as a statement of work—what exactly are we trying to get out of this work. So when people apply, they’re sending a pitch, very tailored to the project, instead of a resume.”

It’s validation from your peer group that persuades you to invest the time and effort. That’s what this program brings to the table.

Jay Kesavan, '17SPS

Although he conceived BlueHippo prior to enrolling in the program, Kesavan credits the experience with helping him to transform it into a viable business, from the mentorship to the input from classmates who volunteered to “brainstorm ideas and hash out how to take this from thesis to go-live and turn it into a product.”

“That’s your target audience. That’s your market research,” he said. “It’s validation from your peer group that persuades you to invest the time and effort. That’s what the program brings to the table.”

That, he added, and learning to articulate the vision: “The way I’m talking to you about it right now—if you would’ve talked to me five years ago, it would’ve been a lot different.”

Learn more about the Executive M.S. in Technology Management program.