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.
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.
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.