SpeakIn’s Deepshikha Kumar is on a Mission to Build the World’s Largest Coaching and Speaker Platform

by Shayna Singh
03 Jun 2024

Access to the right information and networks can make or break a career, something that Deepshikha Kumar learnt early on. This ignited her passion to set up SpeakIn, which is one of Asia’s largest coaching and speaker platforms today.

There’s a saying in India that “the son of a king is a king”. While not particularly erudite, the phrase captures the inherent privileges of being born into wealth, access to information, and powerful connections. This was something that Deepshikha Kumar learnt early on in life, a contrast to her Asian upbringing which emphasised solely the value of a good education.

Her subsequent experiences – pursuing her Master's at the Indian School of Business (with an exchange at Wharton) and working at firms like JD Power and Ernst and Young in India, Europe, and Singapore – reinforced the lesson that connections are as crucial as education.

“I met so many top CEOs and that made me realize that it's not just education, it's also your environment, your ecosystem... and back then, there was a lot of unequal access to information. That access was often determined by who you knew.”

This information gap sparked her desire to start SpeakIn in 2018, now Asia’s largest digital learning platform giving access to coaches and speakers.

The concept wasn’t new, however. In the early 2000s, she and a classmate at ISB created a rudimentary speaker bureau. However, the timing was premature as few speakers in India were paid professionals then.

Fast forward to 2016-2017, and their website started gaining traction, driven by a corporate shift. “People started asking for motivational leadership, behavioral leadership, and organizational change,” explains Kumar, who was a management consultant at Ernst & Young India at that point. “It was clear that organizations needed a different approach.”

Today, the company has operations in eight countries, and has served over 1.5 million learners, through its expert speaker and coaching programmes, and works with companies including DBS, Tata, BCG, BMW, and more “It is about giving access to those who’ve achieved, to people who don’t come from privilege,” says Kumar.

Attesting to SpeakIn’s impact, the Singapore-based entrepreneur has since won numerous awards, including the 2021-22 Economic Times Most Promising Women Leaders, 2021 Google Digital Women Award in Leadership, and the 2019 and 2017 Asia Women Icon Award Singapore. She has also authored a book on public speaking, called 101 Lessons to be a Damn Good Speaker.


Tectonic Shifts

While there are other competitors in the space, they’ve mostly been western players, with little understanding of the Asian market. “The challenge is that most of these organizations coming in tend to generalize the entire Asian community with the same brushstroke.”  

Recognizing the importance of being in tune with the Southeast Asian market, Kumar relocated SpeakIn’s headquarters to Singapore in 2021 from India. This has given SpeakIn a significant advantage. It localizes its product in each market, using coaches and speakers that speak the language and understand cultural nuances and corporate culture.

The Covid-19 pandemic also further accelerated the company’s growth: “The ability to conduct sessions from anywhere in the world opened up opportunities for global speakers,” says Kumar. “All these factors combined led to significant growth for us, with revenues multiplying significantly within months.”

Another turning point was a shift in organizational culture: “Organizations were also shifting towards personalized learning for individuals, rather than a blanket approach. Smarter companies identified a core group of individuals they truly value and want to invest in. This is where coaching as a product gained immense popularity, as it catered to the specific needs of these valued employees.”


An Incredible Network of Speakers

SpeakIn also has speaker bureaus in 30 countries, and receives about 100 applications a week from aspiring speakers. 

An in-house algorithm, called the SpeakIn Quality Index, evaluates each request based on 48 criteria, a selection process that’s becoming even more stringent, says Kumar. “The most important criteria we use is the person’s level of practical experience as a practitioner. This means that if you're an expert on AI, you must have worked on a credible AI project. We also consider the years of experience, the companies you've worked with, the amount of content you've produced on the specific topic, and your past participation in industry events.”

This rigorous selection process ensures the quality of SpeakIn’s expert network, which features notable figures like notable figures like Dr Timothy Low, author and former CEO of Farrer Hospital; as well as Jonty Rhodes, South African cricket coach and global sportsperson. 

With such a network of speakers and mentors at her fingertips, she has access to invaluable advice as she grows the business: “I have no reservations about asking people, ‘What do I do?’ because I don't know everything. In fact, I know very little,” she says, her larger-than-life personality belying an inherent sense of humility.  


All in the Family

2023 marked a pivotal moment for SpeakIn, when Kumar’s husband, Praveen Kumar, joined the business to lead operations. Given his decade-long experience at organizations like GLG, one of the pioneering global expert networks, his expertise has helped elevate the business. “It was the lengthiest hiring cycle because he was initially hesitant about putting all our eggs in one basket.”

She adds, “It’s been a great partnership. He is far more balanced and calculative, while I’m more spontaneous; a shoot-ready-aim kind of person. But I think that contrast works well for the business. He pulls me back when I’m not ready to shoot.”

Do they bring work home? She laughs sheepishly, stating that she never stops thinking about SpeakIn, revealing the burden and blessings of being a founder. Her conversations with her two children, aged 10 and 12, often revolve around the business too. “I sometimes ask them what I should do,” she laughs, “and they give me very sane advice. They are very practical, calculated people. I think I am the only outlier in the family.”

While Kumar acknowledges the challenges of entrepreneurship, her passion for SpeakIn remains unwavering. “I want to see it as the only platform for experts globally,” she declares. “We've laid the groundwork, and now we're building upon that foundation.”