Mikhil Raja is the CEO & Co-founder of SonicJobs, an award-winning job platform revolutionizing the way candidates search and apply for jobs.
One of the fastest-growing business apps in the UK, and just launched in the US, their mission is to help millions of people get better jobs and improve the lives of themselves and their families.
Mikhil walks us through his journey from Mumbai, India to glorious Somerset, graduating from the University of Edinburgh, and then pivoting from Investment Banking at Deutsche Bank to Co-founding SonicJobs.
Mikhil was born in Mumbai, India. He started playing tennis aged 4, which he has “loved ever since his memory started.” Aged 8, he got to the quarter-final of the Indian national under-10 tournament. A scout for Andre Agassi’s coach (Nick Bollettieri) saw him play and invited him to attend the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy at Millfield School, a prestigious boarding school in England.
Millfield School boasts over 300 acres of land with an Olympic swimming pool, a 400-meter athletics track, and most importantly for Mikhil a fully equipped indoor and outdoor tennis facility. Mikhil describes it as paradise: “Growing up in the 90’s in Mumbai, we played on tennis courts that were made from cow manure (cow dung). We’d never seen so much land, and so many courts, particularly the grass and indoor courts. The idea that we would play on these every day and be coached by the best in the world was heaven. They could see the excitement and wonder in our eyes. The coaches wanted to help us fulfill our potential too.”
The school offered a massive scholarship. However, it was still very expensive as Mikhil’s father was earning in Indian Rupees and the school fee was in British Pounds. “My dad worked tirelessly in his business to provide me and my brother the opportunity to go to the academy in England. My mum and dad cut all expenses – home-cooked meals only, no holidays. We knew the long hours and the sacrifice it took to educate us there.” Mikhil and his brother moved to England permanently at the age of 9.
From that point on, Mikhil spent most of his time in England while his parents would spend half the year in India and half in England. “When they were in the UK, I would spend a lot of time with my dad learning about the strategies he had used to grow his business and support our school fees over the years, including launching in new verticals and internationally. ”
Mikhil was intrigued with business and launched his first venture in boarding school at the age of 14. “When VCDs and DVDs gained traction, movies were being released in India before the UK, due to film rights. I made a connection with a shop in India that would send me their latest movies via post, which I would sell in school. I also went into other products like wallets, although they were less successful and I got stuck with unsold inventory as they wouldn’t take returns. I made decent money once I understood how it worked. I started to fall in love with business.”
Mikhil realized his love for business was stronger than tennis and shifted his focus.
His brother, Purav Raja, went on to become a professional doubles tennis player. Purav has played Davis Cup, Wimbledon, and all of the Grand Slams. He’s beaten heavyweights including Stan Wawrinka, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Frances Tiafoe. Playing with the legendary Leander Paes, he’s also beaten our very own Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares at the Australian Open.
Inspiration to build the future
Mikhil graduated with a First in Economics at the prestigious University of Edinburgh. He went on to join Deutsche Bank in the Investment Banking team. “I worked hard and had built a strong reputation and a good career for myself by my mid-20s.”
He spent the last three years at Deutsche Bank working with Auto Trader, transforming their strategy from a magazine to digital-only and enhancing their data, product and pricing ahead of their IPO. “I became obsessed with marketplaces. I came to love businesses that could utilize an incredible amount of data, to bring both parties closer together. Auto Trader knows the price difference (down to the pound) between a green Ford Mondeo and a blue Ford Mondeo. They educate the green car owner to make sure they list the car at a lower price and ensure that it is sold efficiently. Auto Trader, Rightmove and similar businesses are also amazingly high margin at scale: generating 50%+ net profit margin.”
While working with Auto Trader, Mikhil’s family was hit with the news that his dad had stage 3 lung cancer. Mikhil recounts the ordeal: “We fought bravely over five years. We went through 3 surgeries in Mumbai, New York, and Minnesota, multiple rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy. Unfortunately, in 2015, my dad passed away.”
“Experiencing death changed my life.”
“Two thoughts stayed with me:
I knew I wanted to blend my love of marketplaces with the ability to guide people who aren’t as lucky to have a father like mine.”
Mikhil started SonicJobs in 2017. They spent the first three years building the technology needed to bring to life their vision. “Imagine you went on Uber and they redirected you to the local taxi company to fill out your details. Every time you wanted an Uber, you would have to fill out the details again and again.
That’s exactly what applying for a job is like today. Candidates go to the job platform to find a job, and they get redirected to career sites of individual employers to complete their details. They have to re-enter their details for each application. It’s frustrating. Candidates are tired of this which is reflected in the fact that career sites have a 60%+ bounce rate. In fact, only 5% of people that click on a job end up completing the application”.
SonicJobs’ proprietary technology uses Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Computer Vision in order to:
The technology also has ‘memory’ so once a candidate provides a certain piece of information, they never have to do so again. Each application becomes more seamless. Instead of a 5% click-to-apply conversion, SonicJobs delivers a 26% conversion, a 5X better experience for candidates, and ROI for employers.
Mikhil’s experience and love with data adding value to both sides of the marketplace is at the heart of why the technology is so powerful: “Traditional job platforms have ‘shallow data’. They track clicks but don’t know if the application has been made and how many. We control the process end-to-end meaning that we have the candidate’s CV, their past experience, education, location, how many jobs they’ve applied for, at which companies, and much more. We can use this data to guide people.
Employers also do no tech work to advertise with us, and our business model is on a Cost Per Apply (CPA) basis rather than the traditional industry which is Cost Per Click (CPC). Companies are paying for exactly what they need – applicants which will lead to hires, rather than clicks.”
Since the company focussed on commercialization towards the end of 2019, they have gone from strength to strength. SonicJobs was the fastest-growing business app in the UK in 2021. Annual revenues have grown 600% in the last 24 months and a person now applies for a job through them every 9 seconds.
After launching in the US just 8 months ago, SonicJobs is already working with Fortune 500 companies Walmart, Sysco, and Inspire (Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Sonic Drive-In). They have bold ambitions and as Mikhil says they “are just getting started.”
Advice for future founders
Mikhil focuses on mental toughness: “Our board describes me as ‘proper grit’. It comes from my days playing competitive tennis. In my experience, startups don’t die when they run out of money. Startups die when the team runs out of energy. Lots of people will say it can’t be done. They are not you. Focus on your mission and vision.”
On a closing note, the best business book you’ve read?
So many… I’ll go with Messy Middle by Scott Belsky
GBx Global Network Effect
Mikhil was in San Francisco for a couple of months in 2022 as part of SonicJobs’ US launch. He will be spending more time in 2023. “I’m new to the community and really looking forward to getting to know more people. Everyone has been really welcoming. I attended a few events in January and have met some wonderful people.”