MandE: Good Morning, Swaroop and Vivek, Thanks for coming in for this interview. Swaroop and Vivek are founders of “edu-next ventures”, which operates in the education space.
I would like to begin the interview with getting to know your background briefly before you could proceed with what edu-next does.
Swaroop: I am basically from Bangalore. I am a graduate of KREC Suratkal, and then I did my MBA from IIM Bangalore. I then worked with Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) as a consultant for a short while and then I moved to Dell Analytics where I worked in their marketing analytics team. We are now running this venture called Edu-Next which essentially a finishing school for business graduates. We have been working with business schools in India, to provide a careercounseling and mentorship to help students decide better as to what job they would get into and how do they mould themselves to ensure that they get the job.
Vivek: Hi, this is Vivek and I am a graduate of KREC Suratkal,batch of 2006.
MandE:How did the idea of finishing school come to you?
Vivek: During one of us when brainstorming at IIMB we decided that we would work in the space of education and for obvious reasons we landed at the idea of finishing schools – because it is right at the surface. We wanted to skim the surface first and then see how we can work in the other areas in education.
In terms of how we came to the idea itself - India being a very competitive environment does not give enough time to people to think about what they want to do in life? or how they move forward? where they want to grow? What they want to do for the rest of their life?
They are in a hurry and experience enormous peer pressure – thisdrives most career decisions. People do not reflect and think what they done in the past, what they are doing now and what is the personality type, what are their carrier goals, what they can do, what they can’t do, what are the strengths and so on. They approach placement and interviews in a rather unprepared or underprepared fashion. We have also gone experienced similar things.
Individually for me the dilemma was - MBA or no MBA? Should I stick to my own domain or move to something else?How do I shift?What do I need to make this shift? Where do I shift to?These questions are commonplace –especially once people start working. So we want to address this first at the post graduation level and then move to even more impactful level - under graduate and then Pre-University.
In an education driven society like ours, it’s very important for people to make the right decisions about where they want to be, so that they can deliver the best and not be unhappy about where they are, or the decisions they made.
Swaroop: One of the reasons why we got into this space is that I am personally very passionate about education.
I have also seen a lot of heart burn with my own batch mates in MBA who honestly felt very lost!We took the job we got out of campus. But somehow the ability to say this is what is important for me, this is the kind of person I am and this is what I want to choose is lacking even in the best Institutes - We want to reduce that heart burn.May be say after 5 years of working post MBA, how do you ensure that you are doing the right thing? How do you ensure you are happy?
Thesearenot easy questions to answer! And each one has his own questions and must find his own answers. We are trying to use different ways to get students to think and make them ask themselves these questions - we provide a platform for them to make the right choice. This was the primary reason we started this venture.
We alsorealize that sometime it’s too late at the MBA level to take these decisions - Probably they are better off beingmusicians. But that is the question we will answer later. Given that fact that you are doing a MBA, how do we help them to make better choice?
MandE: It was pretty clear about how you went about starting it.
You are targeting the PG section of the education system, and you also realize that most of the career choices are made at the +2 levels.How are you addressing that at the movement?
Swaroop: We are not addressing that at the moment, because we need to learn a lot in that space.
The approach would be slightly different because we still are in a society that promotes engineering because it give a job that pays Rs. 25,000/- or promotes being a doctor. What about being a physicist or mathematician or an artist or a star. While there is increase consciousness that people can have different kinds of career choices, we still are not mature enough to accept some of these things. We have to still figure out a way to address this problem.
There is a sufficient heart burn in MBA world itself for us to address the problem and establish ourselves as a provider of quality career services or career guidance and then we will work at scaling it to other sections of education.
Vivek: Primarily post graduation is one venuewhere you are not left with many choices– a PhD or a job. So there are very few things that you can have to choose from after post graduation,and that is where we are saying what choices they have made; learnmore about these people and then probably move to under graduation and others.
MandE: What is your vision for Edu-next?
Swaroop: The first,I really want Edu-next to be a respected name in the space as - providers of quality career servicesand career guidance/ counseling. We have some challenges I would like to address.
Firstly there is always a distribution in terms of quality of students. Our challenge is to understand this difference in inputs and be able to cater to the difference needs that different kinds of student have. If you take a tier one B-school and comparing with a tier four B-school, the expectations from the course, what is available after the course are so different. We cannot apply the same logic everywhere. So for us able to figure out how to suggest the correct thing for a person is one challenge that I would like to address, and that would go a long way in building our reputation.
The second thing is we are inherently a very people driven business. The biggest problem is how do you scale something like this? Can you build enough tools and bring in enough technology so that sitting out of one city in India we are able to reach a large population. How do you start adapting to different contexts - I don’t even want to restrict it to India, how do you address somebody in US or Brazil or NewZealand?We want to make it a very large forum for people to come and get this service. That is what I am really looking at from the ‘B’ school angle.As far as rest is concerned it is still work in progress, we will keep you posted.
MandE: This question is not directly related to edu-next but would love to ask you – What motivated you to be entrepreneurs?
Vivek: I will be very candid about this. Soon after Engineering, it is a lot of multi pronged peer pressure that you see. Friends went on to do M.S, went on to do MBA and other things – some studied Mathematics, some stuck to their own domain and completed their masters and somebody else doing PhD and othersstuck to their own job. The people in the job would slog it out from 9 to 5 and go out on weekends - Even I went through the same things straight of college. We worked hard and but still like everybody else who has hungry to do more, especially from a college like ours. We had to do something more to satisfy - Probably do much more than what we are doing at present.
MBA? M.S? I asked all these questions to myself and I could not answer most of them well - after a post graduation what next?And given the personal choices that I have made such as where I want to stay, what I want to do and amongst other things, it was not an easy decision to make. Entrepreneurship was also a buzz word during an early 2000, and is even now. We just dabbled with few things - trying to do that, trying to do this. It was more experimental, not knowing where the journey will go.
Being a first generation entrepreneur, it is not very easy to push yourselfto quit your job or do something of your own. Soon I started enjoying the process and not knowing where I to go, itself was fun. You can push yourself that much harder in not in terms of effort but in terms of how much we can take? How many things you can give up?
You generally compare yourself with peers who after MBA buying cars left right and center, Going to the Dalal Street and getting their pay packages. You are still stuck between a Volvo bus and a BMTC normal bus or even an auto rickshaw because you cannot afford to.So this is a hard decision to make. But that is what probably is the right choice! You know once you have made the right choice.I think you will have to experiment a little, not everyone is sure what they want to do unless they try different things. So I started doing whatever I have to do being my own.
Swaroop: I am a crazy control freak! I cannot work for any one. Money is an obvious issue, we will all make money eventually. A very close friend of mine says “we will all die rich”. I have immense faith in his statement. So money is a motivator, as is the immense wealth to be created as part of running your own business but I think the greatest kick is that “I decide what happens to my company, my fortunes”. That is the primary reason why I started off on my own. Opportunity wiseI didn’t have any problem; I could have gotten any job I wanted but that wasn’t what I was looking for.
MandE: In your journey of entrepreneurship, what are the learning that you havethis far?
Vivek: I would like to keep it extremely crisp– In terms of the learning, know what you are trying to do, have the right people with you, stay in touch with all your friends especially entrepreneurs who have taken the off-beat route, because they are the one who can talk with and probably you can relate to. It is extremely important to prioritize as an entrepreneur.
Swaroop: It is ok to not know really where you are headed to and you will figure out along the way. The most important thing is to ensure that working with people who are right for you. There are certain kind of people whom you can work with and certain kind of people you cannot!From personal experience I can tell you that it is very important to choose your team right. It is a good team that can pull off anything.
The other thing is you have to build good will along the way. It is very difficult especially when you have graduated from a top tier Institute.You tend to come with this baggage of entitlement, I am from here, and I have to be given this. Very quickly I have learnt that unless you have something of value and you can prove it, nobody is going to give a damn that you are from certain Institute, or you have gotten a certain degree. It’s humbling in that sense and I am better off now. I am very happy I got rid of my excess baggage that all good institutes put on to you when you graduate and that’s been the best learning so far.
MandE: What is your message for aspiring entrepreneur?
Swaroop: Like they say, the fastest way to solve a problem is right through it.Unless you get in, you are never going to solve the problem.I know lot of people who sit at the dinner table and say, I have got this brilliant idea, I have got the excel sheets, I have got the ppt, I know the VC and all that - but you just frustrate yourself out! Sitting with all the plans and complaining about how corporate life is not or you.
But If you are not goingto jump in and do it, it’s not going to happen. You have to have reasonable plans etc all that jazz would be there,but the tipping point is to say, I am going to get out tomorrow, I am going do this for a while and make sure it works.
We have tried this part time and it doesn’t really work.We have to do it full time and give it what is due. And at least I realize, the faster you get in, the easier it is - because, as you get older, fatter and slower and richer, entrepreneurship becomes more and more difficult. It is like trek to Manasa sorovar. It is best done when you are fifteen. We could possibly do it only by 30. Anything later you might succumb to heart attack, so do it quickly.
Vivek: I have two things,
One - If you have worked in a corporate set up before, and learnt to de-jargonize. Big organizations jargonize to prove their worth! Keep it simple.
Second- Do not fall into the trap of theory of entrepreneurship. If you have a good idea and you think you can pull it off and if you can prove to yourself that you can do it - Forget the scaling, forget everything else. I mean, how would it grow? Will it become a billion dollars business? All such similar questions - probably a hundred of them. The first starting point is you need to be convinced about the idea itself. These points might have been studied, but don’t go by the book at times, do it yourself. It is ok to go off the book that you can always come back and join later on.
MandE: Thank you Swaroop and Vivek for this wonderful interview.