Word Cloud for This Episode Episode Transcript
people, students, learning, mentors, build, called, business, helping, months, journey, india, company, platform, university admissions, shared, happened, education, career, larger, year
Krishna Jonnakadla, Akshay Chaturvedi, Nida Sahar
Krishna Jonnakadla 00:01
This is Maharajas of skill, a podcast where we go behind the scenes and talk to founders who are demolishing the myths around building and scaling a big business in India. These are the stories that have shattered the assumptions around Indian consumers and of changing the game completely. I am Krishna Jonnakadla, serial entrepreneur, co founder of flip the fashion located in town and start mentor bringing you these stories. Hey everyone, this is your host Krishna Jonnakadla from Maharajas of scale. They say a great education is a passport to terrific success in life and especially if that is one earn from a reputable University. All the more so right. It can become the wind beneath your wings. Today we have an exciting entrepreneur amongst us Akshay Chaturvedi, who's giving wings to lots of dreams of studying abroad and getting accepted in a fantastic overseas University. Akshay Welcome to the show.
Hi, thank you so much for having me. It's an absolute pleasure.
Krishna Jonnakadla 01:00
So, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you're working on right now. Sure, Krishna.
Akshay Chaturvedi 01:04
Thank you. Thank you again for having me. So as you rightly pointed out Iran leverage edu.com about 80% of our business. So we help Indian students get into a University of their choice. Rather, we say that our dream University of their choice 80% of our businesses, Indian students who choose to go to universities abroad, and 20% of our businesses, actually people who choose to go to universities in India, so largely anybody who's aspiring for higher education after their school gets over there, our target set and we essentially work with the students to help them achieve their dreams. So to kind of just been a corollary for you very quickly by that at 20. That's because in India largely you have test prep, let admissions for example if you want to get to the best institutions of this country, largely up till here, you would give the je or you will give the need will give the class all of those things that is changing quickly. Of course you have that next set of Ivy League's coming in in India you have the show cars and the regionals and Korea blocks all these new Universities, which are what applications lead traditionally, in the West, it's always been applications LED, the script has a much lower impact in the overall candidacy of a person making it to a university. So our admission focus is more applications LED, and 80% of it is abroad, everywhere the West is everywhere and 20% of it essentially India, in these institutions, which are kind of changing the paradigm right now changing the scene and making it more Ivy League sites. So yeah, that's that's what we do. And, again, very excited to be here and be sharing more about my journey and be sharing more about what we do, and how we are essentially helping our students achieve their dreams every single day in different ways in two different products.
Krishna Jonnakadla 02:37
That's fantastic. Usually, success means being the right person at the right place at the right time. And in your case, I suppose you helped thousands of students share some interesting numbers about your startup, what sort of scale have you achieved? What sort of impact Have you already delivered?
Akshay Chaturvedi 02:53
Sure. So very quickly, we have we are three years plus into the journey we have already impacted about 13,000 Plus students, we are now helping people apply to courses and universities across the words. We started from the US. But now our business comes from right across, we have a very big presence in the UK, we have a big presence in countries like Canada, Australia, just before we kind of went live, I was telling you about interesting things that are happening in New Zealand, France, Germany. So that that is that part. And we have raised three rounds of Finance. We are right now in five cities in India, and we are about 120, a team of 120 people who are kind of staggered across different teams, technology, production counselors, and marketing, so on and so forth. So we are still still a very small startup, in some sense, get into large scale, and learning a lot along the journey. And hopefully, we'll get to where we want to and make a really beautiful company out of India in the space.
Krishna Jonnakadla 03:47
So our research actually tells us that about a million students actually do their research with you. Is that true?
Akshay Chaturvedi 03:54
Correct. So these are paid students and we have over in fact, 1.3 million people who come onto the platform. That's that's a female version, they come onto the platform every single month to just be on the platform. So we have a beautiful platform that is an AI tool that tells you based on your previous background based on your previous attacks, what university you can make out, make it to you have a search query, you can download and you can download ebooks, you can search thousands of videos, q&a. So we have a lot more people coming in from tier two, tier three, tier four cities who want to search information about higher education careers, just like I think you can think of it as entertainment slash education, you'll always have a lot of people who are curious who want to know more. And that aligns with that larger impact. We don't want to monetize it, you want to make sure that the basic career advice is free for everybody. And then we have over 30,000 plus people who we essentially engage with them in a one to one free career counseling. We don't monetize that but as well. And then from there, we essentially have a couple of 400 500 people every single month who go on and become a paid customers. Interesting
Krishna Jonnakadla 04:53
what's your own personal background?
Akshay Chaturvedi 04:55
Sure, Krishna so and it aligns with leverage tools as well very early. So I've grown up In Delhi right throughout, my dad was a journalist. My mom was a teacher, my dad moved to Delhi in 1878. I've grown up in the city right to love the city, in fact, but I've lived in Bangalore as well for a year. So I love the city as well. And I was talking about this before we went live. I grew up in Delhi. When I was in my undergrad in Delhi University, I joined an organization called Isaac Isaac is this world's largest youth organization of sorts, which helps people move from one country to another for interesting experiences for internships, so on and so forth. So I essentially love the concept of student mobility from a very early age when I was 17, or 18. And I got to spend a lot of time doing that in my undergrad. First, Howard worked in finance consulting KPMG with eBuy a bunch of interesting since they're learned the hard way what what building something really means in an MNC such as sa scale, thankfully, which really helps me today. And then I went on to essentially do my own post graduation write to a bunch of schools and was lucky enough to be having admitted Indian School of Business as well in Hyderabad went to ISP, and this is the second Watch the light, the connection happens with what I'm doing today, I got elected to the to be a director of the student board. And because of that, that gave me an opportunity to to kind of represent the school understand admissions in a slightly better way than I already did understand marketing really well understand the higher education ecosystem really well. And then it was like a nobody. So I was like, I really, I love the concept of student mobility for my undergrad. I was seeing admissions marketing higher education thing out while I was kind of working for the school in at one year. And that's where leverage essentially formed it was performed out of dorm room. And I remember the first guy ran up to to share the idea with the music agneta who's now my chief operating officer and partner in crime. So, so So, so things started from that here at ISV when it was an entrepreneurial project. It got selected to be a part of this fellowship in Silicon Valley called Draper University. About 28 projects slash people got selected was lucky to be one of them spent about six months there still felt that idea wasn't really ready, but slightly different from back then. It was an ad That helps students meet mentors, just like it is right now. But but essentially students were not charged. And mentors would get karma points, and they could redeem it at coffee outlets, and so on and so forth. So we were kind of monetizing it to the merchant ecosystem. And then we realized that so this was 2015. I had grown up in love with the startup ecosystem from the pupils in from 2008 onwards. So I had the sense that, okay, you let's, let's get to 5 million users first, and then we'll make revenue, but that accent came crashing into the 15. When everybody would ask, this was a kind of outline of the rise that we had seen for the last many years. And everybody would kind of ask that they were the Fs and various ad revenue. And I was like, Okay, you know what you need to think about it. So I took a step back and worked in the internet ecosystem for a fair bit join Snapdeal which was great time in my career enjoyed a lot there. No, alcohol was kind enough to kind of sponsor my tickets when I went to the US so so that kind of that that's how that connection happened. If Carla had recommended me to Thai, which sponsored my living costs, so I had a lot of help from the startup ecosystem in some way publicly grown in front of the Indian startup ecosystem since 2008 2009. onwards. And yeah, so when I first Snapdeal, I worked for a year and a half at a very interesting company called Baba jobs calm, which was the Word, which was India's largest, sorry, India's largest blue collar job marketplace, and had a lot of fun building it. The founders leadership as an angel in the company now and learned a lot by working alongside him for one year and kind of going deeper into the Indian startup scene. And sometime in early 2017 began leverage YouTube. And yeah, we have had our crazy right since then. We have grown the company we have had, we've been lucky to essentially have a lot of interesting backers, Bloom ventures PSE consumer partner, some very interesting angels who have really championed That's right. Michelle condell serial entrepreneurs, actually learning from sama capital amrish Rao, who sold his company previously to pay you now the CEO of pine labs along with a ship they were announcing a shoe at the perimeter of year a lot of six people gentlemen's a bunch of interest Very interesting people, I think, who have been great mentors and great supporters, some of whom have essentially also kind of invested into subsequent rounds, and really backed the company through and through. And yeah, so we are very, a very interesting time of a journey right now, given everything that is happening to edtech with the current onslaught. So yeah, thank you so much, again, for asking me that question. That also helps me put the journey into perspective every time I do that.
Krishna Jonnakadla 09:22
Interesting. Well, you covered a lot in that response. In fact, I happen to know I sec, I applied to iseq, way back, I think, in 1993, or something. And I've always been interested in, you know, joining international organizations. Unfortunately, I didn't make it for whatever reason, the weird thing is all the people that went on to join Isaac banglore, I've traveled more than them have done more than him. So but that's a discussion for another day. So so let's dig into that 2015 start a little bit. What happened to that app? What sort of scale did you achieve? It sounds like an interesting idea, per se Given that free charge itself was about providing a coupon that you could monetize or get a discount on somewhere else, it feels like that's an idea that had like, What What happened?
Akshay Chaturvedi 10:10
It's very interesting that you see it from the other lens, I think the my founder lens, right from the perspective of it was a mentor marketplace at the end of the day, and I could see a bunch of other mental marketplaces as well. And I realized that I think while it MB is not really celebrated in the ecosystem, I think they really helped me put things into perspective to say that how I'm gonna build a billion dollar revenue business out of this, this can this can get to a lot of users, it can get to an XYZ valuation, if you are able to raise money when things are good, but how do I make a very sustainable, deeply rooted deeply mode driven business which I was very keen on, which is something I'm very passionate about even right now. It is what I obsess about right now as well. So what we did back then it wasn't download staff was working very well. But still we had the sense that it will not never be able to scale or have them back that we needed to have because when somebody is kind of giving a service for free, you essentially don't either have the user taking as much interest to get to a certain point. And when it's career when it's education, you want the seriousness from both sides of the marketplace to be a little bit more. So when we essentially launched back again, and we, in fact, we launched three categories on the marketplace, we said, okay, we don't really know, in 2017 January launched the categories that check that the students could take help from mentors, either for Career Guidance very early on next school career guidance, or university admissions, or helping get it helping kind of get them ready for the first job. It so turned out in three months to realize that university admissions was like the bazooka of this and kind of helped us grow very, very fast in the first couple of months itself. So yeah, and again, if I have to go back in time and kind of take a decision, I will make the same decision again, because I've realized over time, I've seen two cycles. Now the 14 to 16 cycle, if you want to call it a cycle and what's happened, what's happening right now, and never realize that the 16 is fine, but more than sexy, it's important that our business is fundamentally very, very strong and you are creating real For the users, at the end of the day, it should work in some, in some sense, like a book on, if I'm going to go to Khan and I'm taking a break, I'm happy, I paid 2025 rupees, whatever for the bread, I'm gonna come home and like, slice it out and have that bread. So it has to work in a very tangential concept where the user is deriving value that he or she is happy with. That's very, very core. It's the simplest easiest explanation of something and and how it should work. So that's what I realized. And that's what I would essentially build
Krishna Jonnakadla 12:29
again and again, awesome. So 8000 downloads, how long was that journey feels pretty quick, or was it just several months
Akshay Chaturvedi 12:37
shows up several months. We started sometime in October, November 2014. was closely working with Professor of mine and India hosts visiting professor at IP from NYU stern. And yeah, so we had an orb downloads use a lot of those typical routes 101 stuff, and we kind of shut it down sometime in June or July 2015. So we had a run of about close to six to eight months. Okay. I've seen light period of about three to four months. But yes, it was fun doing that it was under building something which is only looking at amassing more users and just helping them get to the next level. So we will be used to feel really happy when somebody used to get an advice. But we realized that if you really want to get to build a business out of this in animation, right, like one off advice is complemented by a full service around what can essentially happens in our platform. It's sort of one of advice. This mentor on the platform works with the student over a period of two to three months, help them get to the choice of university bunch of universities. And in fact, the mentors and the students keep in touch for many years after that, too. And we'll click that I think that really helped me sleep well at night that the fact that so many relationships are being formed in the platform every single day, and in some form, all of these people will remember literature to for the rest of their lives.
Krishna Jonnakadla 13:47
It's pretty interesting isn't it usually feels a bit counterintuitive, usual startup success or journey would say you start with a niche and then you outgrow and then become full service. In your case, in order to actually establish something that you could monetize, you had to go a little full service, and then eventually find a, you know, an aspect that was picking up in that. So it's pretty interesting
Akshay Chaturvedi 14:14
where it will set in fact, kind of just to complete that loop. Right. So even now we are launching as part of the overall platform, we've been launching multiple smaller products. So in fact, we have just one beta with a product that we have launched in schools, which is an absolute it is already seen some 10,000 12,000 souls just doing a very basic thing, helping a student make a career tree, figure out how is the career going to play out based on their interest today, and give them access to like videos like say, a guitarist who's kind of teaching them how to play guitar, or somebody who's teaching them how to be a sports nutritionist, or somebody who's kind of teaching them hey, this is what happens in luxury brand management. So we launched a simple couriers app, I won't divulge the name right now in schools and about like, close to nine schools in Delhi. It's such a huge hit. So now we're essentially going the other way around, exactly like you said, and saying it okay. The larger reason for doing that is you want to get to users much early on, and be able to be want to be available to them. Because that's part of the larger impact story. Also, we want to be there for them when they take that decision on how should I pursue my education from here. So it all integrates very beautifully. But we're doing this we built a new platform called uni Connect, which helps universities meet students at the click of a button helps the student cannot just click Apply now in their application entirely, that actually goes to the university.
Krishna Jonnakadla 15:25
So like removing the broker from between. So now building a lot of products that integrated in that journey, and the woman goes away out. So you very beautifully kind of summed it out. Interesting. Let's dig into that starting point in 2017. A little bit. Sure. So you had all of this learning from Snapdeal, your ISP education and also the previous app that you did, and initially, did you launch all three of them? Just peel the onion a bit and go in? What was that startling?
Akshay Chaturvedi 15:56
No, that's what we did. We went ahead and just launched very busy website, a marketplace of sorts to a marketplace and wanted to see where will traffic emerge out. It happened at university admissions is a hot topic like I shared with you. And we, I think there was also a selection in mind. And I also learned over time, that space was really big. Not a lot of people could see it at that point of time. Some are right now, interestingly enough, and I think that's why we've been able to get the backgrounds that we have. But at that time, not a lot of people essentially see how deep this industry really goes. Because if you think of it, every single kid in this world needs to figure out what they will do after school, they could be going to a larger university, they could be going to a smaller community college, they could be learning coding, they could be going to nursing, they could be acting, they could be getting into sports, whatnot. So they're like hundreds of thousands of professions and you need to really figure out what you want to do. So we realize that it's a it's a huge problem and why don't we essentially go deeper into the university admissions vertical. So in the beginning, we saw business relevant respectively focus only on us focus on STEM programs or management programs. And then we eventually ventured into a couple of months on the line into other programs within the US, then into other countries. And then it's kind of taken us say, up till earlier early this year to kind of go out and fully have all courses, and all countries and available on a platform and today we have a larger brand where people come in and if you will see, we are the most reputed company, by the way, despite having much larger brick and mortar competitors, with the most good company on the internet. And people see us for the value that leverage to is an organization leverage YouTube as a platform, which will tell us what's right for a career. If a student is for example, say you know, because right like the past Canada, the legendary chest, if we ask him when he was in class, well, we were told, no, no, you know what, you work a little bit harder. Why don't you do this data science degree and why don't you do the stem degrees, you would have lost a very big talent and that essentially The very crux of what our platform does, it makes sure that somebody who's good in coronary artery follows that somebody who's good in nutrition follows somebody within sports management. So we'll go to St. Mary's in London and get a job at ESPN or Chelsea Football Club, and not essentially be slogging out in our investment bank or in a data lead company where he or she is doubled down to the full potential. I think that becomes very, very important.
Krishna Jonnakadla 18:23
So the initial part where the university admissions part kicked off, so you launched a website, how did people come to know offer it? How did your first few users get you? How did all of that happened?
Akshay Chaturvedi 18:36
Short so I think slightly easier because for the first couple of months, only focused on ISP admissions, so because I was an alum of ISP, I had been doing this for a while on the side helping people get to ies we had great results. I had everybody who was coaching making it to ISP, so I developed some kind of online reputation for helping people get to their MBA colleges. I quoted a bunch of early employees who also some way came from India. See, and we were able to essentially help other guys as well. Then we started getting more and more mentors in the platform mentors all the way from a Yale or Stanford or NCR, ISP, or a what? And in all of these guys, essentially, together, the larger messaging that went out with every single, every single time essentially went out was that Why do you have to go to a Tom, Dick and Harry on the street, when you can essentially get advice from somebody who's actually walked into your shoes for that messaging was very, very impactful right in the beginning, because we had really invested a lot of time in a algorithm together and seeing that as a mentee, you will work with somebody who's like you, if I am from Kanpur, I get to work with somebody who's also from a conqueror with similar likes and dislikes sushi to sushi aplu epl said, I am working with somebody I really aspire to be like, in the mental side, I'm working with somebody I feel like hey, you know what, this is what I was like five years back in the day, I really want to help this person sort of relatability gets kicked in. And I think that was very special point right in the beginning, that we could help people get advice from somebody who was like them, somebody wouldn't say them really well. So that initially helped us bit pick up a lot of traction. And thankfully, because the mentors are well paid on the platform, the first 50 mentors came by way of me begging all my friends and asking them to be there. But over time, we had Reddit threads. We had Cora threads where people would recommend being a mentor. And we had more and more mentor speaking. Today, we have 2000 plus mentors on the platform, by the way, so it's have to kind of knuckle it down. I would say it was very important that a we had the right messaging. And we of course, we hustled a lot. For example, I had the money to run ads on Facebook or Google. So I would go from college to college and do these big workshops, sitting in canteens and asking student unions to kind of put up with a set of like minded people together for me and try and inspire them and share my journey. Tell them that, hey, this is what they need to do for their career. And that's how a lot of those early customers came and we moved from pillar to pillar in the first six months of the visuals. Interesting. When did you get a sense That I know traffic picked up. You got all of these people, people who are like me, well, that's an amazing hack. And every personality coach or every person who studies humans or anthropologists will tell you that people who are like me is the first thing that possibly people relate to. Right? Absolutely. group discussion, you go to accompany people who come from the same background, people who come from the same locality, you relate to them. And that's a terrific hack, maybe in hindsight, right. But that is great. At what point of time did it occur to you that you had something serious going here? Something could really take shape here? Sure. So I've got about two parts. The first part is that it wasn't so much of a revelation for us to have a mentor marketplace because that's where we came from. So we went to university admissions committee later in a mentor marketplace first. And we're always figuring out what should we do with a bunch of these mentors that you already have on the platform. So the fact that we moved from mentor marketplace Etsy category is open to moving to a platform where these mentors would only focus in university admissions was a very easy choice. Such a framework was in like, kind of very tough at that point of time. For me. Second pieces, I think, again, I was kind of fortunate enough to have worked in the solid ecosystem before and kind of, like I've said, always said, roll up in front of the public publicly in front of the Indian startup ecosystem. So I think within three months of starting the business, or four months of starting the business, I had a lot of people who were kind of knocking on doors and saying that you know, what I want to invest, and why don't you go out and raise a seed round. And I think that's what it did. And in about 15 days, we closed our first round of money, with a lot of influential angels coming in and kind of support a lot of help from mentors who I could learn from, on how to scale from there. And from there on, we started kind of building the first one, even the first search and the team crossing 10 employees causing like 12 employees get into office from a co working space, and some inkling of an organization kind of started to come in those first nine to 10 months. I think that was that was really key. So yeah, in some sense, you can say that the past experience, both related to leverage in its previous form, as well as the fact that I had worked very closely with a lot of people who had some belief in me that helped us kind of do the first I don't know what to say is the first liftoff essentially happened because of these guys in the first six months of the business. Amazing.
Krishna Jonnakadla 23:15
So the first four months you were bootstrapped?
Akshay Chaturvedi 23:17
Yeah. The first three to four months we have bootstrap. That's right. Okay, we are profitable. Very interestingly, I go back in time I now I feel like okay, we are trying to get to profitability in the moment. And it's happening shared with the team, you know, what is the first first four to six months we were profitable. I remember one of my mentors. He's now one of our loveliest champions. He came to the office at the end of six months and told him Hey, you know what, like, you're profitable revenue minus cost is equal to profit is like, like, what the heck are you doing? Why are you not reinvesting this annual growth? And you also have like money that you have to raise right now. Like, you're right at something so basic, but But yeah, I think in hindsight, it was very important to have advice coming in from a lot of people. I am a big fan of podcasts myself like these benefit of reading a lot of books. So it's very important that you have the right advice at every stage, every week, every month to be able to understand how you will move to the next level because none of us have done it before. And every day, every week, every month, we are learning more and more. So we have to be like absolutely crazy obsessive learning machines to be able to scale a company the way it's supposed to be and be able to kind of make it a very, very large business that has massive impact. Yeah,
Krishna Jonnakadla 24:26
you're absolutely right. I follow a principle I've shared this on past episodes that I call it the fruit on the tree principle. I learned it somewhere else. uncannily I remember way, way back when I was embarking to become a chartered accountant lovely. I was in a class of 120 people. I was one of two people who actually opted to go the route of commerce and become a chartered accountant and my I still remember all the way people would tease me you got such good marks. Why are you taking commerce and becoming a common man huh? I would say I would actually tell them, Hey, you know what, I'm not going to be common. I'm going to be somebody exceptional. And who are you to tell me you have not done a CA, you not really made it a career. So I'm not going to listen to you. And I'm going to listen to somebody who actually has done a CA and so much so that my dad took me to a chartered accountant who was the CFO of big run tires at that point in time. And he shared the perspectives that he would share with me, versus the perspective that you would hear outside is so different. You're absolutely right. That the right mentor at the right time makes a huge difference. Exactly what we do. Yeah,
Akshay Chaturvedi 25:36
absolutely. Yeah. Your story, the story that you shared. The story that you shared right now is exactly what we do on the platform. And I think that's what makes it so special.
Krishna Jonnakadla 25:47
The weird thing is, I didn't get a lot of input from that mentor. He only took one line, just one line, and said, Don't come to me only when you need me. And the other thing is never be an also ran. Well,
Akshay Chaturvedi 26:02
it worked. It seemed like it seemed like it work. So
Krishna Jonnakadla 26:07
those are the only two things for three years when I was studying I, you know, I I swore that I would never go back to him without ever succeeding and having become a chartered accountant. And every time you know, the going felt tough, I would tell myself, you know, I don't want to be an also ran, I don't want to go out into the world and say, Hey, I tried it too. And that is a philosophy that has stayed with me. Sometimes it stops you from giving up on the things that you should so but anyway,
Akshay Chaturvedi 26:34
no Beautiful, beautiful, we all needed fire. We all needed fire to be coming from somewhere.
Krishna Jonnakadla 26:40
This was it for you. Yeah,
Akshay Chaturvedi 26:42
this is what we're supposed to this is this is what the ethos of the platform is. That is what we essentially try and do by using machine learning and by you giving the students a dashboard and kind of building multiple motivational tools and techniques for them to kind of make sure that they're able to get to the target because yeah, it is it is a tough journey for every single bustles got to kind of getting onto a track like this, to be able to make something out of themselves to be able to, I always often say and this is something I really believe in, at the very core. This is the like the mission of the company, that every single time a person's life is transformed, this family's life is transformed. It's a family's life spirit gets leveled up, if you can essentially do that for every single time between you for one student, you essentially leveling up a family of 510 people. So to me, there's nothing more impactful or more important than that I can do in my life, and hence, I devote every single second, every single living second that I have. I'm going to do that for the many coming decades from here, and hopefully have a much, much much massive impact while doing it.
Krishna Jonnakadla 27:41
No, no, no question about it. The first time I actually became privy to what goes on into the college admission process is when I read a book called fat antelope frenzy, way back, I think in 2008 to 2009 I think it was written by a lady called I don't remember there was one lady who was the assistant or Director of Admissions at Dartmouth College in the US, and she shares her story of five students who the ups and downs that they go through because being accepted into a US Ivy League college means much more than just showing a certificate with a bunch of scores in it right by the Indian education system is still a bit rudimentary, very driven off of certificates. The essays that you need to write it makes it it squeezes every ounce of you, you know, the all the various talents that you have. And that was just the story of five students. If you and now based on the numbers, you're you shared with us 13,000 students. So talk to us about some of the first initial students that had the breakthroughs that went to a US college and what sort of stories did they have? What sort of impact did you observe that you had on them,
Akshay Chaturvedi 28:53
so very interesting. And I do miss that part. So till about December 2017, which is, first of all, the company That's when I kind of lost work to the student myself. After that I kind of moved on. I was I was getting completely choked. But till then I remember for the first time that I can barely keep up with an engagement once in a while now, probably two students in India or something like that just kind of be in touch and make sure I know what's happening on the ground, I think for not just us, but a lot of people, when you see that what they started with back then slightly confused, some really motivated, but not really sure where to kind of put that material or what direction to put that motivation and some slightly varied some constant in the wrong sense. And when in a very, like, not very sure about what those goals should really look like, and going in a direction that they're not supposed to. The very fact that you could give them you could essentially give them somebody who could relate to them. And somebody who had been in the shoes that made so much of a difference. I knew that you know what, like, Okay, I have a certain personality type, and I won't be able to kind of get and that such an important word. Get everybody but you know what, like, if somebody who's also a full boiler who devotes a lot of their time outside work or outside college football. And who has built a career for themselves right now working in sports or ESPN, if that person didn't tell them the importance of adding studies or adding finance or adding management or adding something else to football that will really kind of work for them. Or if this undergrad student who's in class or if this school student was in class 11 right now looking to pursue their undergraduate studies, his parents are told that don't push this guy to give us give us SATs or IDs or TOEFL, but have this have your kid and have really fulfilled his ambition of studying football and doing something in the space. You know what you could be working at, like I said, a football club in the UK. You could be working at one of the sports channels, and they would turn the headset option. The third option really exists. And we learned hey, yeah, that that absolutely exists. And that is something that your daughter or son would be really happy at. And to ensure that so if I have to pick one word, just out of here This is so low in India, about a diversity of career options that we have Forgive me happiness in that first year was that so many more people were becoming aware of what's the right thing to do that used to just like bloom of marriage. And to a large extent itself does you have people who are kind of going out and doing studying photosynthesis, because they love that aspect of the word. Some people are going in studying the about vines in, you know, Strathclyde in Scotland, and they will come out and they will open some of the business laws and breweries in Bangalore and Delhi at you and I will be at. So we need people from all kinds and there, people can be successful in different professions. I mentioned, Shepherd casca. earlier on, he's such an inspiration right now. He's feeding millions and millions during this lockdown. And I think that just is an example of what people can do if they kind of focus in the right thing, which is natural to them. And that is something which is very important towards that it's very inherent to us at collaborative,
Krishna Jonnakadla 31:57
amazing. Coaching students is always a full Filling experience. Actually, I think about 20 years ago, there was a startup just out of college that I was running along with my co founder. And we, we didn't have money. We didn't. We didn't. We did also not know the concept of funding back then. So we were building a case for automation software somewhat like a SAS tool. But it was on premise. So we didn't have money to fund that. So what we ended up doing was we were doing a lot of coaching, career coaching. We were taking students in tier two towns, and putting them in touch with companies like Philips software in Bangalore, and I must have personally covered about 2000 students over a period of about 18 months. And the funny thing is, for example, we would go to a town like Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, and we would meet students there would be a class of 200 students that talking about the lack of awareness about career options, we would ask a class of 200 Read students who are pursuing bc or PCA, or MCA and ask them, What is your plan? And then they would say, hey, I want to be a lecturer teaching computer science in Tirupati. And then I would turn around and tell them look at you, there are 200 of you in this room alone. And then if every one of you wants to be a lecturer, there aren't 200 colleges in South India. So, once I encountered something of that sort, I decided that we need to create awareness. So so I would go around colleges, and I used to do one to one and a half hour long presentations, I will talk about innovation trends. I would talk and this was a time when that Silicon Valley the.com bubble had burst, right. So there was a lot of negativity around similar to Stanford like the COVID scenario right now. So people used to think okay, internet is down the future is bleak. So and that is why one of the other reasons they wanted to be a lecturer because it is sort of dependable I'll turn around and say, guys, these are all the innovations that are going on. There's a lot of life ahead, you know, come work with us come to different projects. So we will have a subset of students that would say, I just want to, I just want to buy a project from you, you code the project and give it to me and represent it as my own. And that was 95% of the student and they would be willing to pay any price. And then we had another set of students that would say, Okay, I want to be original, you know, I took the high road back then, did not work with any of the 95%. We said, even if it means only putting a few handful of students who do it the right way, we'll do it that way. So all of them eventually ended up I think about 40 odd out of the guys who did original projects, all of them ended up in the US, and some of them are entrepreneurs to today. So and back in India, very interesting. So yeah, it can be very fulfilling. So let's talk about your also by the way, also, by the way, yeah, go on.
Akshay Chaturvedi 35:00
college admissions is a very popular route to start the entrepreneurial journey event. Spiegel from Snapchat. His first company was called admissions couldn't work it out and then started snap. So yeah, it's been it's been the path for a lot of people out there. Yeah, it's already. Okay. I
Krishna Jonnakadla 35:15
wasn't aware of that. Well, I guess it'll be your journey to fulfill were even failed, you'll succeed. Absolutely.
Akshay Chaturvedi 35:23
That's what we are hopeful of. That's what we are working towards very excited about.
Krishna Jonnakadla 35:26
Talk to us a little bit about your founding team, co founders. And how did you put that together?
Akshay Chaturvedi 35:32
Sure. So let me so so we call it like the management team. Couple of us left we can have briefly talk about some of them. I think up from the very beginning, when you're kind of sprinkling something. I had a friend by the name of a man who was running who was a founder himself who's running a beautiful tech services company mission of Google. So he built out the first few versions of leverage, and he was largely he was playing a very active role on the sites. I was one of his one of his important slacks. declines. And I think when we, I kept pursuing him, I kept asking him to essentially come over and join the ship. And when we raised our first institutional round from bloom NTSC, that's when he kind of came on board. And he's been with us as a co founder for the last one and a half years now. So that's someone who leads tech. And I told you about the vj, which was the first guy and we start and I'm very excited to discuss this idea together. The Witcher went on to have a great journey. himself in the last couple of years, he went into matrix partners, right precisely then, but at McKinsey and Company for about four to five years. And late last year when he was done figuring out what next to do again, we had a chat epilim Hey, thanks. Why don't essentially come on board and join the ship. Let's kind of build a gigantic amount of it and make sure we are having a massive impact bilaterally. So they came on board. He's our chief operating officer. And then we have a board of essentially the Chief Business Officer who I was lucky to kind of bump into by Sunday afternoon in Bangalore itself in koramangala innovative And we had a great chat, there was alignment on a bunch of values. And he kind of comes in and leads a lot of important functions in the company today. And then we have a bunch of very interesting folks. Right across, it will be unfair for me to kind of miss out one for the other. So I'm going to keep our take a skip, but very, very fortunate to be working with some really interesting colleagues. And some really accomplished individuals who I learned a lot from every single day.
Krishna Jonnakadla 37:27
And it just shows your humility, Akshay. from the get go, you know I can I can make out how humble you are, and how excited you are. It's a rare, rare combination. People who are grounded, we're humble, we're excited all at the same time. So I think it's no surprise that you have found a leadership team like that.
Akshay Chaturvedi 37:49
Thank you. So thank you. I'll, my wife has taught me to accept compliments and say thank you when somebody say something good to you. So thank you very much for that.
Krishna Jonnakadla 37:57
Sure. Let's give credit where it's due right? So you've already touched upon the funding journey a little bit. And you bootstrap, you are profitable. So I'm just assuming that the first is it right on my part to assume that the first five or six months when you were profitable, you funded it. And then you immediately started making so you were not very worried about the money part. And you did not actively seek funds? Or is a funding story a little different, a little different?
Akshay Chaturvedi 38:27
So it again, depends, right? Like, what do you want to build? You want to build a business, which does XYZ revenue and XYZ impact and you're happy with it? Do you want to essentially build something which has impact that you cannot imagine today? I think my idea of building a business or to always build a very, very large business and when you're looking to build a very large business person, you need capital to kind of fuel that growth. So the I think the capital raising journey has been kind of it's been in parallel. So after every six to eight months, essentially lined up at the door of interesting people. Who you think you want to partner with? I because I had, again, been in the ecosystem. I had my eyes on a bunch of people who I had a lot of respect for. And I approached them saying, Hey, you know, what I've looked for you, would you like to be essentially kind of build it together with me. And I think I was lucky enough to have that. So even though when we raised the first instance, large seed round, we were kind of figuring out how to get institutional capital in the company, because that will kind of really rock it out growth. So that's what happened. And I think perhaps, say eight to 10 months after we raised the seed round, we were able to get about five term sheets for institutional rounds for our VC round. And we, again, I will use the same word fortunate, fortunately, kind of selected the best two of them people I was kind of really excited to work with, learn from get mentored by. And I think that decision has that decision taken about almost two years back now, four and a half, two years back, I think has been very pivotal in terms of how we have grown in terms of how I've also kind of grown personally as an entrepreneur in my own personal journeys.
Krishna Jonnakadla 40:00
Interesting, a terrific lesson. It's a great situation to be in where you have multiple term sheets to choose from most people are on the other side, right. But let's take a little bit of a digression and discuss what we have going on today. The COVID situation has disrupted a lot of business, disrupted life in general, across the world. And here is as an entrepreneur, I want your perspective because like Steve Jobs says, the toughest part, and even Great Investors say the art that you need to really develop is the art of saying no, right? You you right now are in the education business, let's say tangentially. So because you're enabling people to get on the path of education. Correct? Correct. But you already have a recognizable brand. You have lakhs of students that are coming to your site on a regular basis. So you have funding VC, a lot of companies that are just about Going for the kill, so to speak, just jumping in. I know a lot of entrepreneurs personally that I know for saying, Hey, I was working on something looks like COVID has disrupted it, why don't I just jump into the online learning space? Right? So it is one thing to be opportunistic, but a totally different thing to be only opportunistic, right? Because then what it means is you will never put a stake in the ground and say, Hey, this is something that I'm going to work with. How do you see that scenario?
Akshay Chaturvedi 41:30
Oh, sure. Interesting, very interesting remarks. So very, very, very limited view on online learning per se. ve essentially have a light learning network called average life where we essentially use it as a value added services tool, where people who come onto our platform will want to get to college if they want test prep for a particular course like an IEP s or tofield. On chimichurri sat as well. We help them engage with about 50 plus educators who are there in the laboratory marketplace. So not our core business, but we essentially have that piece going on as well. But what I've seen Seen a crusher there is that it's it's great that a lot of lot of people are excited about it like, of course, it was a very different from when it started up. But I just feel and I'm saying this to somebody else. Also the other day, I would be more excited if the same if the same people the same etic entrepreneurs, if that's what I want to say, focus on solving the real problems that are out there, for example, even an online learning, if you look at it from a supply chain framework, a bunch of things that are essentially needed. If you're looking at online education in schools, it's an ocean right now needs to be imagined gone up, you can't put the same zoom infrastructure, give it to a teacher, give it to a student and ask them to essentially conduct a classroom. So that online education piece needs to be imagined count up so not one inhibition needs to come to it. I need to figure out okay, what's the what are the different tech pieces that will make sure that this is functioning properly? Can we essentially build a company which is just helping the teachers that teacher training piece that is so big that it's a massive in itself? Can we build a company which is giving this helpings some of the larger attacks, get teaching assistance that can be added opportunity to think it's very important that people understand the problem. And at its very core, let's solve the issues that really matter. And it can it just kind of replicating what somebody else is doing. And being a control C control, it doesn't really, I don't think that's the right approach to really kind of being an entrepreneur, you really want to kind of solve something which is very, very good. And that will give you a key guy and as I call it, and make sure you are able to be have a very large impact in a very quick time. That is one piece to it. second piece to it is our case, again, I think we were fortunate. It's been a great learning experience for me personally as well. So we went out and realized that you know what, in our case, a lot of brick and mortar competitors are out there. And they're going to shut the shop for for quite a while because of the lockdown because of what's happening in the scene. And that gave us a great opportunity to kind of build tools built online tools to get ahead of the market. And if you've heard this quote, I love this you can get ahead of the garden front, only when it's raining, and we knew that it was pouring man like it was pouring like crazy. So we will A new tool that we launched became very famous sometime in April called uni Connect, which was a life fair platform, which would help students make like hundreds of universities. So we want to build all these universities in about two to three weeks. And these universities would get a booth to themselves a virtual booth, a student could log on to the booth, enter the booth discuss one so one video, what are the career aspirations that you speak to the university isn't it is click on Apply Now, application goes right into the college, we launched this new product on the career site that I was talking about in schools. So I realized it gives us a great time to go on and build new things and solve problems that are like kind of really cool to the situation that is right now, or we will do the work that is essentially essentially moving down to and I think that's an upgrade as is evidenced our revenue has increased by about three x from pre commit to today monthly revenues. I told you before the thing when you when you were chatting about this that you've kind of been growing 20% month over month for a while now we in fact went out and we put out about 100 open positions at the company right I mean hiring across four cities at the moment. So the fact that this opportunity, and we saw conservatively in the beginning to begin with, by the way, we said, okay, let's conserve resources, let's not make those ATL spends, we don't need to go to Pennsylvania to put up fullpage as we wanted to in April, we don't need to go and find we had just partnered with a movie called angrezi medium in March, we want to get up to out and talk about it as much as possible. But we couldn't do that, sadly, one can pass away as well. And a lot more things that we had planned to do in a very different way to a big marketing, Blitz, all of that, but we realized, okay, let's pivot the strategy a little bit. Let's focus on building tools that'll really matter in the coming through for a month because that's, that's not going anywhere. People will need the right support ecosystems to be able to take the right decisions and to be able to kind of achieve their dreams. But that's what we did. I think that the numbers kind of spoke for themselves at the end of the day. And also while we while we chase revenues, we had a cash flow coming on about one third. So so that's what I was. That's what I tell myself that maybe I think the covert period taught me to be better or not. Be more granular, in some sense with everything that is happening on a day to day basis. Interesting that you should say we have to do things from the ground up. I share that immensely. Actually, one of the things that is sort of lacking severely in our education system today is I don't know if you remember this back when I was growing up, I think when I was a teenager, or maybe a little earlier, we used to have two kinds of institutions, we have multiple kinds, whatever they were, one was called a Polytechnic where people would go and learn certain abilities. Correct? Correct, right, like a to machiner. And then there are there was another set, maybe polytechnics were part of the same group called job oriented courses, right. So people who came out of those jobs had a certain ability, they could be a late expert, they could be a machiner. Eventually, we can manufacturing for whatever reason, so much so that today we have we are awash with people who just pedal around paper. Right, four years ago, when we were recruiting interns, tech interns, for our company, we had to go through 500 people just to hire four people. And these are all qualified tech people who had completed their fourth year. And the funny thing is fourth year or on the verge of completing their fourth year, out of all of that, only that 500 only about 20 people really knew how to code. And they had gone to all these, you know, well known institutions. So we have people who have knowledge but have no ability, right? I don't believe in all this cobit Online Learning part as it as it is you're not getting your hands dirty. And yeah, you know, software might be something that you can learn with the with just a computer and you behind that. But real learning comes from, you know, working with fraternity of people, exchanging concepts and then doing things together. That's real learning, right? You don't create things in isolation. Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. No, no I completely agree with you. And I think the Indian Education ecosystem at that tier two tier three level need to massively change. I spend a lot of my time in the UK, which is a very important area for us right now we have large India, UK student mobility happening thanks to the Prime Minister opening up the PSF with the post study work visa a couple of weeks back, and we were anticipating this for about last year right now. And when I when I kind of, like meet so many universities I've met like easily some hundred plus universities in the UK, in the last one year, almost all of them have a mandatory either a plus one year to do an internship or a couple of projects lined up alongside three working days, and three Saturdays already consensually, essentially do a lot of things practically and learn very, very quickly on the while you are essentially pursuing a degree. And I think that that approach that resonates approach of education, I think I'm a big I'm a big fan of that. And I think that needs to essentially be brought in into the tier two. I think it already happens in some of our best interviews across the country, but need to be brought in and kind of really, I wish somebody would have mentioned me Get a policy considered, Hey, you know what, there has to be a completely mandatory one year of internship across three companies, you need to do these x, y, z skills, otherwise you won't be given the degree you won't graduate. Right? Yeah, those changes need to happen. And yeah, it is it is our duty, I think yours mine, a lot of other folks in education ecosystem to make sure that stuff like this happens in the next couple of years so that Together, we can make sure that the next generation gets gets the jobs that they really deserve to be at.
Krishna Jonnakadla 49:28
I agree. I agree. In fact, having that last year of internship is something that I an idea that I've toyed with. I also think it needs to go a step further chain in terms of developing multi multi capabilities. Right. So the chef, because kana that you spoke about, he did not become a chef overnight, right? He there were multiple sources of inspirations. I remember reading a book called fluid by a guy called Ashish Jain swan. And in one of the chapters he talks about, I think this Parana Vishnu thermotherapy puranam and in that there is a small passage where Arjuna has won the battle. And eventually markandeya csh markandeya tells Arjuna Hey, you know what you need to spread Krishna awareness across the world or across the known universe. So therefore start constructing temples, right? And then that is a king Roger king called King budgeter takes takes that up. And then he asked the state saying, how is it can I build a temple Please tell me and then the sage actually goes into circular reasoning method. He says, I cannot tell you how to build a temple or a statue. Unless and until you learn the principle of sketching. So the kingdom says, okay, teach me the principle of sketching. He tells him, I cannot teach you the principle of sketching if you don't know the principles of dancing, and then he says, Okay, then teach me the all of these and then dancing, and he tells him, I cannot teach you that without teaching the brain. sequence of musical instruments and then he goes on and on. The point the sages trying to make is behind every great piece of knowledge or giving birth to something. There are multifaceted areas that we need to invite. And that range of expertise is not something that our education system even in some sense, the US education system starts pigeonholing people starts pushing people to specialize. Whereas, you know, that range development is something that should happen.
Akshay Chaturvedi 51:33
That's very true. No, no, you made a very poignant point. And I think a lot of people I think, had a chance to speak to a lot of policymakers in the US. So they're up in arms and they think that system in the US exchanges well, but I think a few countries were changing it like we were speaking about New Zealand before we went on this call, they are kind of bringing in a lot of change. Australia is bringing about change UK is bringing in so much change China, for all all that has happened in the recent months, China has brought in a lot of good change in their education system. So yeah, a lot lot more needs to be Then of course, we need to reiterate the story that you shared again and again with hundreds and thousands of people to be able to make sure that we are able to build up something which is very attractive, which sets things in motion going forward. Awesome.
Krishna Jonnakadla 52:13
We've covered a whole hour rock shade never felt like it. It has been such a breezing conversation. Thanks for you. Well, thanks to you as well. So for the listeners of maharajahs of scale entrepreneurs, who are considering or contemplating starting out, what would your words of wisdom be?
Akshay Chaturvedi 52:31
So? Interesting question. I don't if I'm qualified to answer it as get Silbury early on in my journey, just three years out a couple of rounds of financing, we 100 100 people, but based on my limited experience, I would say the only thing that really matters at the end of the day is perseverance. Because everything that has to go wrong will go wrong hundred percent every day you will have at least like 10 different fires that you need to kind of put off you will have the worst possible days. The glamour of setting up will disappear. In the first 15 days of you starting up, and then every day, essentially, it's just like, it's a survival mode that you'll have to play on so many days, the happy days, the happiest days will essentially will will essentially tell you that, hey, you know what to take this offense, but now I need to essentially move to the next piece. So essentially, there is no there is no end goal per se, there is no point that you're trying to read, you're just kind of moving from one village to another and then to another as you're trying to build a big company. So what really matters during times like those is when when things go really tough, and I'm sure like this is out there and millions of books already. Perseverance is the only thing that really counts. and building a company they assume that every single day I think every single life yeah, so that is if there's one thing I wanted to kind of push off towards the end of this episode, that will beat Krishna. That's awesome. And also I think, I think one connector advice which I think will be, of course it arranged to the platform. Also make sure that you're investing in yourself, and like massively investing in yourself because you really need to learn at a crazy pace. To be able to run a company, and you need to have the right mentors to guide you and to be with you, as you scale this journey, most likely people who have essentially pondered the journey themselves. So pick up people who you think you are close to who you think you are, like, in some way. And that's going to be a really, really important part of a journey as well, having the right mentors, investing in yourself so much, and just kind of being there and like kind of having the perseverance to stick it out. And then show me good things will happen. We are a country of entrepreneurs. We are going to definitely triple and quadruple our output very, very soon. And we are temporary, an economy, hopefully, very optimistic about all of those aspects. Fantastic.
Krishna Jonnakadla 54:40
So it's a it speaks volumes for your own humility. I think your own story is a story of persistence. You started it in 2015. And you you picked it up where you had lifted off, you went out, you said I have to figure something that makes money out here and came back and leverage all the lessons that you learn from your first outing. Which was about the mentorship network. So awesome. This has been a fantastic conversation. And I know this is just the beginning, you're just getting started. Education is an evergreen or industry that is going to exist as long as humanity exists. And with your own humble self and your, you know, humility driven leadership, I'm sure you'll scale greater heights margin of scale will be there to cheer you and also to talk to you again, you know, when you scale a new peak and say, how does that vantage point looks like look like? What are some new learnings that you want to share
Akshay Chaturvedi 55:34
very kind of you very, very kind of you. You are very humble. I'm really appreciative of the sorts and I really look forward to being back and sharing more as I move forward in the journey. Thank you really, thank you very much.
Krishna Jonnakadla 55:45
Thank you Akshay, we wish you the very best.
Akshay Chaturvedi 55:47
Nida Sahar 55:48
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