My experience of running Edu Tech startup and why it failed

Are you thinking about starting your own startup? If yes, it’s most likely that you may start with an education technology or education related idea.

My first startup was also in education technology space. I was trying to solve the problem of employability among college students using MOOC (Massive Open Online Classes) concept.

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As a technical leader in my previous organization, I was assigned to deliver a billing platform for a new telecom player in India. Customer was not sure what he needs(as always) and to make matters worst, I was given team of college pass-outs in achieving this delivery. They were struggling to be productive, so I spent nights doing all the coding. And in morning hours training new guys in required technology and teaching them fundamentals of coding. Organizational level provided training was not helpful at all. After spending couple of weeks on training with college pass-outs, I was able to deliver this project on time with new team .  And then I faced same kind of problems in  all subsequent projects I have been assigned to.  So here comes an idea, create a platform that will provide employ-ability training to college pass out graduates and help companies get trained resources.

MOOC was a new concept at that time. Platforms like Coursera, Udacity and Edx was gaining a hell lot of popularity and was seen as something that will finally disrupt higher education. Mixing the concept of MOOC and employability made sense to me. I started coding for the platform and it was ready in 2 months. And then we started creating contents using video recording software. So we were up and running with platform named PracLabs.com with courses for enrollment.

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Now comes the bigger challenge of getting required traction and revenue on the platform. After spending few thousands in email marketing we started getting traffic. Students were coming and enrolling in online published courses. We were happy that students are enrolling. But then data showed us that students are enrolling in online courses, but they are not spending time on platform for learning. Similar problem other big MOOC platform’s were also facing, where only 4% to 10% enrolled students complete the course. I started calling students individually to check why they are not learning and taking required online assessments. Few of the issues were related to platform usability, other were related to slow internet problem at their home causing videos to load slowly. But majority of them told me that why they should study online(what’s in for them), or will they get job offers after getting enrolled in these courses. Got the point, students need job opportunity as an end result. The next big challenge was now to get job opportunities for them. But our sales cycle was getting long. You have to chase Students, College TPO(Training & Placement Office), HR people in companies  . And as Alok said in one of its PPT’s that you should have as many less variables as you can in your sales/revenue generation cycle and managing operations.

It was time to seek expert entrepreneurial advice & mentoring. I turn up to Rajender Pawar of NIIT, Rajan Anandan and Alok Kejriwal. All of them has given different inputs and advices, which I am listing down in learning section. Money burning pressure, not getting required traction and revenue lead to more frustration and stress.

And then came the  news, other co-founder was expecting his first kid and want to get back to full time job. After few months I was diagnosed with Thyroid with TSH level reaching 398(at this level you are about of go in comma) . I ran to endocrinologist and he immediately started medication. I lost 13 kgs of weight and it was time to focus on health rather than startup. This entire 2 years journey was kind of roller coaster ride for me and my co-founder. But in all, if I look today, I have no regrets at all, and this has given me immense learning about how to start a startup, how to manage people, how to do sales and above all how to manage oneself.

Here are the key learning’s and takeaways from my journey at PracLabs:-

  • Education is difficult domain to crack and surrounded with many government regulations(Rajender Pawar).Every time you want to do something impactful and want to make profit out of it, regulations comes in between.
  • For online learning platform, you have to make content which is fun to watch and learn from. I still remember Alok said “Nakali Shahrukh ko behi 1 lakh log dekh lengey, but people don’t prefer  learning through boring online courses. You have to focus on content.” Anandan said “he is not able to find single mobile/web app which can make his 8 year old enjoy learning Maths/Science. Thus content is what makes a difference”.
  • Students don’t pay for learning. If they do, why most of them are not studying in college after paying Rs. 5 to 10 lac.
  • College TPO’s are not interested in placing students and getting them required opportunities. They are more interested in getting companies to just show up for recruitment, even if they do not recruit any student.  One TPO even said “sir 2 lakh vasey hein ley lo, bass eak company ley aao, chahey tho koi bancha maat ley key jaao”(Take 2 lakh rupees, get just one company to visit our campus, doesn’t matter if they don’t recruit).
  • Your revenue cycle should be as short as possible. And you should not have many stakeholders involved to get required traction and revenue.
  • Take care of your health and meditate. Understand your physical limitations and don’t mind in asking help from friends and family.
  • Team is very important part for start-up. You need a A team to make it. With good team comes faster execution, with faster execution comes result(success/failure/pivot).   DO NOT execute everything on your own. Entrepreneurs are naturally steroids driven, but you cannot do everything on your own.
  • Answer questions like why you want to do start-up and entrepreneurship honestly and ask your co-founder also same question.
  • Develop your MVP as quickly as possible. I should have developed a simple WordPress page and started listing down online open courses for students to enroll in. And parallel would have developed the contents and the platform.
  • Think Big and act small. I was trying to do too many things at a same time.
  • Get mentoring upfront on your idea from experienced entrepreneurs, preferably from those who have worked in the same domain. Discuss your idea with as many people as you can. Don’t worry that they will steal your idea as its execution that matters more.

India will be the youngest nation in the world by 2020 with an average age of 29.We will become manpower supplier to world and anyone who has data of trained workforce can create something very valuable.Looking at the opportunity, I still feel someone will execute and solve employability problem in effective manner.

Thanks for reading.

Look and Feel founders

There are many ideators/founders that I meet who want to create awesome looking web/mobile platform in their MVP itself. They mainly focus on what all features should be there, what should be color of button, what should be the background image. They seem to show and believe that they are expert UI/UX designers and know everything about usability and what all color combinations will result in high user engagement.

They keep changing background images, button and text fonts. They often do it because that’s the only thing under their control and can give result and instant gratification. And what they forget or don’t focus on is (a) talking to customer whether they want the product or not and/or (b) trying to generate actual business.

Trying to generate business and validate your idea is what should be the focus with which you should develop your MVP. Start selling and try to raise funds as soon as MVP is done. You can always hire great frontend/backend engineers and improve your UI once you know that market is their for your idea.

How to start your MVP – Part 2

In my last post, I have highlighted questions that you should be answering when you are starting your MVP. In this post, I will try to answer those questions for you.

Let’s look at the answers to these questions:-

1) Should I find technology –cofounder or hire freelancers/agency to work on MVP?

If you are not a technology guy, it’s always good to find a experienced technology co-founder who can help you with MVP and can take care if every aspect of technology once your start-up grows. But finding a good technical co-founder is very difficult. Those who have required skill to do start-up are already doing their own, or they are enjoying good salaries in software companies. If you are not able to find any passionate geek in your network, it’s better to hire freelancer or agency (small software company). But this option makes sense only if you have up-front money to invest in building your MVP.

2) Should I start learn coding/designing on my own?

Learning new things is always fun. And believe me if you are a non-techie guy then it’s fun to learn designing and programming. But trade-off will be that you will not able to launch your MVP quickly(which is far more important than spending time in learning programming). Further even creating MVP needs you to write good amount of code. Coding comes through practice(hell lot of it). But it’s better to learning programming not because you should code yourself, but because it will either help you out in choosing your technical co-founder or help you in hiring freelancers or shortlisting digital agencies for your MVP.

3) Which technology stack should I pick up?

If you understand technology then its fine to choose one. If you are not, then don’t try to choose it based on what your IT cousin told you. You will either end up selecting something which doesn’t suites your product or can create hell lot of mess for your product down the line.

4) How I should start defining the flow of my application and wireframes?

There are many tools out there that can help you out. Here is a link that can help you.
http://www.webgranth.com/10-superb-wireframe-and-mockup-tools-for-free
http://www.creativebloq.com/wireframes/top-wireframing-tools-11121302

If you are not familiar with any of the tools or you are sketchpen guy, then go ahead and use chart papers/napkins/whiteboards.

5) How much it will cost me if I outsource MVP to a digital agency?

That depends on the requirement and MVP work that needs to be achieved. Thus minimize the scope of your MVP by putting only those feature you assume your customer need. This will cost you less.DO NOT try to create full product up-front. You don’t even know whether your customer need all those feature or not. So create something minimalistic and launch it.

6) Should I create web application or mobile application or both?

Again it depends on the kind of product you are developing. Looking at the current technology eco-system, mobile provides ease of access to user. They need not to turn their on their laptop, open web browser and access your web application. With mobile customers are always connected to internet. But at a same time not all applications can be created for mobile. Further developing mobile applications are still expensive and difficult as compare to websites. To create native mobile application (native means which are installed in your mobile) are developed using different programming languages (Java/Android SDk for Android and objective-c for iPhone).Strategy should be to choose mobile (probably launch only on one platform – Android or iPhone) if you can afford and able to find someone who can develop that for you.

7) How much time it will take to develop MVP?

That’s the question ideator’s ask me pretty often. And my usual reply is what you want to get developed? And what’s the scope. That’s why it’s very important to minimize the scope/feature set of your product. It will not only cost you less money/time, but will also help you to achieve time to market very quickly. Ideally, your MVP should not take more than 1 to 3 months if executed properly.

How to start your MVP – Part 1

As an ideator you always struggle how to build your MVP quickly and cheaply. Especially if you are not from technology background, then struggle increases a bit. Execution is the key and if you dont take decision quickly, you loss that fire with which you started. In this post, I will list down all the question that you need to answer for starting with your MVP. In next post I will try to answer these questions so that it can help you in better decision making.

1) Should I find technology –cofounder or hire freelancers/agency to work on MVP?

2) Should I start learn coding/designing on my own?

3) Which technology stack should I pick up?

4) How I should start by defining the flow of the application and wireframes?

5) How much it will cost me if I outsource MVP to a digital agency?

6) Should I create web application or mobile application or both?

7) How much time it will take to develop MVP?