At 16, I already loved startups. So two years later, when I found myself doing law at the national law university of Delhi, I was naturally quite unhappy to not be pursuing my love for startups. After four days in law school, I dropped out and started working on my first startup.
Startups are thrilling. They’re also challenging and require a certain level of maturity, which I’ve learnt over time.
Fast forward a few years – I’m back at college, this time in Singapore. On a backpacking trip to Cambodia, I started thinking of the ideal education system I would want for myself. I decided that I wouldn’t want this system of classes and grades that I’d found myself in time and again. I’d like the ability to learn when I want and what I want. That would allow me to be a digital nomad and work on startup projects with more flexibility.
Two years ago as a law school dropout, I had done something along these lines with online courses on Coursera and EdX, also known as MOOCs. BUT the lack of a peer group and community had been a major downside. The amount I was learning from my peers at college was irreplaceable and there was no way I could learn that from any online course I took. Also, I couldn’t imagine not having a few mentors to guide me. By this time my daydreaming had reached a point that I wanted to actively do something to make it a reality. What made me even more motivated was knowing that there were tons of places in the world gaining the internet but still no quality schools. If we could build such a system, they wouldn’t necessarily need brick and mortar schools anymore to learn and get educated.
What was the initial reaction?
The vision caught a lot of people’s interest. I listed this on angel.co so that I could attract potential co-founders to work with me. Mind you I still didn’t know exactly what I was creating. But before I got ahead of myself, I wanted a tech and design co-founder to compliment by business skills. I got tons of interest, and a few were people I ended up working with.
We also saw a great response from the e-learning community when we started the customer validation process – they were very friendly and very helpful in giving us suggestions and keeping us informed of e-learning trends and behaviors. I loved my users from the onset.
Our first failure
But if there’s a high, there will certainly be lows. Our first low was when we received lukewarm traction and very few sign ups on our first set of features. Trying to test an idea, we created wireframes and put them up on a website to see if people would sign up. The idea was a platform where people could come find other e-learners to do real world projects with. E-learners wanted to have real proof that showed employers their skills. We envisioned that e-learners who had complementary skills could come together on our platform to put their skills into a real project. People learning to code could meet with people learning design and business to create a website or app.
But within a few days of putting up the landing page, we learnt that this wasn’t a real enough problem. E-learners had too little time to pursue a project alongside their course and full-time activity.
The importance of asking your customers what they want
So we pivoted and as they say, went back to the drawing board. This time, we just asked e-learners what they wanted. I know that the customer rarely knows what they want – but after speaking to more than 50 e-learners, we were surprised to find most of them asking for the same thing – small study groups. They all wanted to learn with people online in small groups.
Over the following months, we created a product that enabled group learning. Our product used an algorithm that would connect e-learners to a fitting study group.
The go to market
Looking at fellow competitors, we realized that a lot of them were failing to gain traction. So while my CTO developed the product, I tried to figure out a better go to market than just posting on social media and e-learning forums. We quickly learnt that B2C in edtech is most often a path to failure, so we started considering working with universities or professors.
I cold emailed 10 professors who were teaching online to see if they’d be willing to recommend the tool to their students. To my surprise, three of them responded with a yes. It became increasingly clear that educators loved group learning and were more than willing to use it in their online courses.
Fast forward a few months and we were testing on an online course on Digital Marketing. It was really good to work with the professor teaching the course, but our product, being a prototype was buggy and had some UX issues in the beginning. However, the beta testing was enough for us to understand that there was definitely potential here, though. Sign up rate was high and users (i.e. e-learners) clearly wanted to use it.
Now, we continue to iterate and work closely with online instructors to create a product that makes e-learning more engaging and social. Our vision remains the same. We want to make it possible for people to rely on online learning instead of brick and mortar school by giving them the community and support they need to self-learn.
My favorite part about edtech
I LOVE people in my industry! Unlike a lot of other startup industries, it’s not purely driven by revenue – a lot is driven by the genuine will to improve learning and make the world a better place. Also, e-learners are arguably the most inspiring group of people you’ll meet. They’re driven and curious and are constantly trying to better themselves.
My least favorite part about edtech
We continue to struggle with our B2B approach – while working with professors is an excellent way to acquire users, working with professors, universities or an educational institute is a tedious and slow process. It takes time to figure out who the decision maker at an educational institute is and the product they want to pay for changes often.
Regardless of the ups and downs, I’ve really enjoyed my startup journey so far. Apart from learning a lot professionally, I’ve grown a lot personally and met the most amazing people. Getting out of bed every morning was never this easy.
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