In February this year, 28-year-old Shivam, a computer operator at a government office in Madhya Pradesh, was looking at ways to upskill as he sought a job that paid better than the Rs 10,000 a month he earned.
He came across a YouTube advertisement of Relevel, operated by SoftBank-backed edtech unicorn Unacademy. Relevel operates on a unique selling proposition—enable job seekers to take a test and secure a job in under 15 days of clearing the test.
Shivam (name changed) immediately applied for an ‘HR & Talent Acquisition Specialist Test’ of Relevel. It was free and guaranteed a package of as much as Rs 10 lakh per annum for successful candidates.
The Relevel Test has often been marketed by Unacademy CEO Gaurav Munjal on Twitter as ‘absolutely free and one that guarantees a job if you clear it.’ Your degree doesn’t matter. You could get your dream job irrespective of educational background by clearing this test, Munjal said.
Too good to be true?
Shivam would soon find out that when something appears too good to be true, it usually isn’t.
He took the test, then took it again, took it a third time, a fourth time- and failed to meet the cut-off score every single time. Just when he was at his wits' end, he received a call from a sales counsellor of Relevel.
The counsellor pitched a Relevel course worth Rs 18,750 and told him that he would be able to clear the test if he takes the course and undergoes training.
The sales counsellor told Shivam that his company noticed that he attempted—and failed— the test three-four times. He warned Shivam against another attempt, saying his profile score would be affected and he would struggle to find a job. “I suggest you take the Relevel course, where you will be taught by professional HR experts,” the counsellor told Shivam.
The counsellor then dangled the promise of better pay. “The average package taken by candidates is Rs 6-8 lakh annually and it can go up to Rs 10 lakh. You will get a job in 15 days after you clear the test,” he said, adding that employers also prefer those who have taken a course.
Shivam took the course, cleared the test, but is yet to secure a job. He said he was offered jobs by at least three companies (through LinkedIn and Glassdoor) in the last six months, but he declined those offers because he was hopeful of getting a better-paying job through Relevel.
Shivam is not alone. By all accounts, the Relevel test is a tough nut to crack.
Candidates such as Shivam, who were unable to clear the Relevel’s free tests, were pitched courses by the company, and were told that they will be able to clear the test without any difficulty if they take the course.
This promise drove at least 300 candidates to take the company’s ‘HR & Talent Acquisition Specialist Test.’ These candidates were also told that they would get a job in 15 days once they clear the test.
But this was a promise Relevel failed to fulfil, leaving many candidates angry and disappointed. Of the 300 candidates, only three got a job, an examination by Moneycontrol found.
That’s not all. The price of the course that was initially Rs 18,000 was hiked to Rs 90,000.
Shashank Murali, CEO, Relevel, contested these outcomes in an interview with Moneycontrol and said of the 300, only 100 took the test after completing the course. Murali joined Unacademy early last year, after the latter acquired his startup TapChief.
Relevel has been able to successfully place around 2,000 candidates to date in India with a cumulative CTC (cost-to-company) of Rs 80 crore, according to him. Relevel has partnered more than 800 companies, including unicorns such as Cred, upGrad, Meesho, Delhivery, and Paytm, among others, he said. He also said that the price of the test was increased over a period of time as they added more products within the course such as doubt solving and also enhanced their curriculum.
As things stand, only 15 of the 300 candidates have managed to clear the test and only three have been able to secure a job so far.
“Some of our learners or test takers, even after the course, we have noticed, require some form of coaching, with respect to how to give interviews, what to focus on, what not to focus on etc. Some candidates need to also be coached on some of the self-inflicted constraints that they put on themselves, where in some will say we will only work from home, we only needed this city, we only needed this kind of a company,” Murali said.
“Now that is never a promise, whether it’s through a course or normally. What we try to do is provide access to, is the best available jobs that we have on the platform to those learners and as long as they wish to go through those, they will sincerely get a job,” Murali added.
Relevel has 11 different test offerings. All these tests are free and are of 1,000 marks, with a cutoff of 500 marks. Five of these test offerings are technical tests, which are taken by candidates who want to upskill their tech knowledge, while five are business tests that include other skills like business development, associate product management, among other offerings.
These tests are conducted in two phases. The first phase is of 400 marks with a cutoff of 200 marks, while the second phase is of 600 marks. Candidates are eligible to give the second phase only if they manage to clear the first phase. The first phase broadly includes questions on aptitude, while the second phase includes tests on softskills like confidence and interviewing capabilities.
Relevel’s business model is such that if any candidates take any of the 11 tests and manage to clear it, they are guaranteed a job by the company in under 15 days. Relevel does not charge the candidates or the employers anything for the free tests and even if they place successful candidates with companies. To be sure, this is a shift from other job guarantee companies that typically charge employers post the placement.
But candidates who don’t manage to clear tests are pitched courses by the company in such a manner that they end up believing that the course will help them in clearing the test. So Relevel typically uses its ‘free tests’ platform as a funnel for leads, as those tests, purely, do not yield any revenue to the company.
“We don’t call anybody and everybody. We only call those who show intent. People who have failed the test is a very small percentage,” Murali said.
“If you go on our platform, one needs to apply for our courses by filling a form that catches a bunch of details and then one is given a time saying we will call you at this hour for admissions. So it is really really far from a sales push,” Murali added.
Candidates like Shivam were also told that there will be a batch of 100 people doing the course together. The duration of the course was supposed to be 90 days. However, when Shivam and other candidates logged in for the orientation lecture on May 2, they saw over 300 people logged in as candidates.
Murali claimed that their sales team do not comment at all on batch sizes. Moneycontrol has seen screenshots of sales executives’ pitches to candidates that mentioned the batch size as 100.
The pay package also suffers from discrepancy. During the orientation, trainers from Relevel told candidates that the average package for successful candidates would be around Rs 2.5 lakh. But Unacademy’s presentation still shows average salary of up to Rs 6 lakh per annum.
“Everyone on the call was shocked. We made a WhatsApp group and were discussing these things. All of a sudden from 6-8 (lakh rupees) they had come down to 2.5. We all were agitated but most of us didn’t even have a job so we decided to not take any immediate action,” Raj (name changed), another candidate, told Moneycontrol.
Murali had no specific answer for this. He said trainers might have done it for motivating candidates to work hard for better packages.
Candidates said when they were pitched these courses by Unacademy, they were told that even if they don’t have basic qualifications like 10th standard, 12th standard and graduation, they will land a job as the placement would be purely based on their test results. However, when they completed their courses and when employers started approaching them, only graduates were short-listed.
“Before joining the course I had specifically asked if graduation was required. I am currently pursuing my BBA (Bachelors in Business Administration) and I have not completed it. But after the course, the job postings that we got from Relevel had clearly mentioned that a graduation degree is a must,” said Shiva Kumar, a 28-year-old candidate.
To this complaint, Murali said Relevel has not only partnered with various companies that need graduation or 10th/12th passing certificates, but also with employers who do not require any such qualifications.
“It happened in one instance (basic graduation requirement was not there on the job posting, but later candidates were told that they would be required to have a degree), where this company was in a transition period, where they would have changed their mind, but we may have not literally updated the job posting, so at best it’s a manual error,” Murali added.
Kumar has now been blocked by Relevel’s employees and his candidacy has been put out of the company’s list. Murali said Kumar misbehaved with Relevel’s employees and so the company had to take action against him.
Another candidate, Poulomy Patra, who took a Relevel test, said she was told that she need not have an MBA degree to get a job after completion of the course.
“When in the first few tries, I wasn't able to clear the cutoff, a representative reached out to me. He said since I did not have an MBA, I could only get a job with a salary of Rs 2-3 lakh per annum, even if I cleared the test with more attempts.”
He assured Patra that after taking the course he was pitching and clearing it, her salary would jump to six to seven lakh per annum.
After the course was over, only those who had an MBA, were able to clear the test, others couldn't. “One of my batchmates who had an MBA cleared the test on her first try. Even she has not received any job offer.”
"I have taken the test at least 50 times. The cutoff is 500 and my scores are always around 492, 496 but never 500,” she said.
Sales in slow lane
Relevel’s alleged aggressive sales tactics come at a time when Unacademy’s core test preparation business is under pressure, as the demand for online coaching ebbs post pandemic. The company has been forced to undertake layoffs and other cost-cutting measures in recent months, in a bid to cut burn and coast towards profitability.
Munjal has been extremely bullish on Relevel in the past year and said in June that Relevel generated an ARR (annualised revenue run rate) of as much as $12 million. But the company has been struggling with placements and has downsized its team by half, Moneycontrol reported exclusively in August.
Nonetheless, Relevel has been central to Munjal’s pitch to investors as he prepares for the next round of fund-raising. “They had relied on Relevel as their growth engine for this year, but that doesn’t seem to be working out,” a person familiar with the matter said.
As a result, the company’s sales tactics are consumed by desperation. One of the company’s sales executives paid a month’s EMI (equated monthly instalment) from his own pocket on behalf of a candidate to get the candidate enrolled because he was falling short of his monthly target.
“You have to just tell them (top management) that I didn’t pay your EMI. I will give you Rs 10,000 every month from my pocket, which you can use for paying your fees of Rs 35,000,” the sales executive told the candidate, Vijay (name changed). Moneycontrol has reviewed the call recording.
“If you don’t do that, I will lose my job. You will have to continue paying the remaining EMIs of Rs 4,000 per month so you won’t get any benefit out of it either. My job is at stake, your money is at stake, let’s mutually decide that I will pay you off this money in tranches, but you please don’t tell them (management) that I paid your first EMI,” the executive added.
Relevel found out about the incident and launched an enquiry. Murali said the sales executive was immediately fired, adding that Unacademy takes strict action against those who breach company policies.
In another instance, Relevel sold one of its courses containing an age limit of 35 years to a 42-year-old lady, Nisha (name changed). Relevel’s website still shows eligibility age for its courses as 18-35.
Nisha, a housewife, left her job as a government employee when she was married. Seven years after her marriage, in an attempt to restart her career, Nisha decided to upskill and take up a new job. She came across the course advertisement and contacted Relevel to inquire about it.
“I called them to ask if it was possible for someone my age to join the course. They were ready, they didn’t even inform me that the course is valid only for people between 18-35,” she said.
During the course, she recalled, the trainer also seemed skeptical if someone of her age can get a job. "No one clearly informed that it wasn’t for me or offered a refund. I did the course with the hope that I might land a job," she said.
"Now I have lost my money, and I am also not able to find a job, or even pass the test. But the worst part is even those who passed the test, didn’t get a job," she added.
Murali said they are looking into the incident.
Lack of clarity over refunds and EMIs
Candidates are also upset at lack of transparency in securing refunds. Thanks to the “guarantee of jobs in 15 days”, candidates were never told that they will get a refund if they don’t get a job unlike a few job guarantee programmes run by other edtech companies such as Simplilearn and upGrad.
Candidates said less than 10 candidates have got a refund. One of them got a refund but only after threatening Unacademy with a suicide note. A copy of the note has been viewed by Moneycontrol.
Other candidates said they feel cheated for not getting a job even after having paid thousands of rupees as fees and even after having taken a three month course. Some candidates like Patra had even taken loans and are still paying EMIs regularly, despite not getting a job, as they fear their CIBIL score (credit score) will get affected.
“Relevel also told me that since the course is for students, they can offer an EMI of Rs 600 per month. I took it up and charged it to my father’s debit card. He later informed me that they have been charging 2,000-3,000 every month,” Patra said.
“When we questioned the student assistant from Relevel, he blocked about 200-300 students from Slack. He even threatened us that if we create any groups we will be blocked from viewing all content from Relevel.”
Hard selling courses has been the bane of the ed tech sector in India, which saw explosive growth in the last year, minting unicorns in categories ranging from school ed tech to test prep to executive education.
While China has already cracked the whip on the edtech sector, the Indian government issued an advisory some months ago advising parents to be careful while deciding on online content and coaching. Edtech companies then formed a self-regulatory body called the India EdTech Consortium, in a bid to prempt any stringent regulation.With the growth engine sputtering, funding slowing down and the spectre of regulation looming large, there are many curveballs that Unacademy and its peers will have to grapple with in the coming months.