My EdTech Startup Journey
I am the co-founder of GreyAtom, a path breaking Technology education company and DataGiri, India’s #1 Data Science meetup community. We are changing the way people learn technology via our revolutionary platform commit.live.
The journey to starting up has been challenging, wonderful and layered. This is how my personal story unfolds.
For the past 12 years, I have been leading transformation initiatives and large engagements in the IT services MNCs and I’ve learnt a great deal. Growing teams, expanding businesses, bringing in new clients, managing the IT landscape across geographies, flying around the world 24 hours for a 2 hour meeting, being part of 3 different org structures in 1 year, getting locked up in a war room for 48 hours before an important deal; the anecdotes are many, each one with its own set of learnings. Been there, had fun! Admittedly, I was drawing a fat paycheck, had no EMIs and life was not bad at all!
But I finally reached a tipping point in my corporate career, where jumping from one designation to another didn’t seem to add any real value personally. The big picture organisational goals seemed to be changing constantly and were comfortably dumbed down by whoever was empowered enough. My dad was a successful 1st gen entrepreneur and I cannot deny that I started having pangs about starting my own entrepreneurial journey ! Maybe it does run in the blood as they say. So when my now co-founders (Mitul & Mayuresh) approached me to join them in building a revolutionary platform for Technology education, I jumped at the idea. Mitul has been a close friend for more than 17 years, but working together was going to be different. I met Mayuresh for the 1st time in 2016. We decided to crawl before walking, walk before running! I continued with my job at Nielsen while we started working over the weekends and late evenings to give a shape and form to our ideas.
Three months later, we came to the conclusion that we had passed the compatibility test and it was time to take that leap of faith! In retrospect, here is a prioritized checklist (in that order) of qualities to look out for in a co-founder
- Strong Moral Compass
- Ability to work infinitely hard
- Ability to say ‘I screwed up — I will fix it’
- Basic sincerity toward the product
We started working, out of my home, a team of 9 people. Fast forward 11 months and we have built a product that’s driving learning outcomes for people learning data science, solving real business problems, we have our own 6500 sq ft. office in Mumbai, have more than 150 students, UK’s largest investment bank as our customer, closed $1 Million funding from Pravega Ventures and are now a team of 29!
Back to the beginning. Jan 2017. Naive and new to the startup game, I thought I will give this thing one year and by then surely, I’ll know if it’s the right thing for me or not. In the initial days, I just wouldn’t take a stand! I was trying to keep everyone happy. And then I realised that I have to let go of this mindset — I can’t make everyone happy. It’s incredibly hard, but there’s just no other way.
I was a first time founder and when I looked at my other founders, they always seemed to have everything figured out. As a first-time founder, I did not have past experiences to draw from, which the boys always had. So in the initial days, I wouldn’t be very affirmative in decision-making. When I look back, there are tons of things I would have done differently back then, but I was just not sure enough! I was ernest, passionate, hungry, but I was not a 100 % sure that I would make it! Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong. Today the thought of fitting back into the corporate seems unimaginable!
We’ve built a v2 of almost everything — our product, our content, our website! Weekdays and weekends have merged into one big blob of work. My family has been extremely supporting as they are endure this craziness that has entered my life. We used to take 2 vacations every year, this year I was in St Petersburg, on a cruise with my laptop open and chatting with my co-founder, discussing our readiness for a bootcamp that was kicking off! What for, you might ask? Well, I wouldn’t have it any other way to begin with. Right, the upsides:
Empowerment — Not just that you want to, but you HAVE to explore new areas of the business that you never had to deal with before. Defining learning outcomes for students, building content first hand, setting up client contracts, making the wireframe of your website, ideating over the logo, setting up your business function from scratch, defining the price of your product …the list doesn’t end. There are no rules to stick to, no tone to comply with, no sign-off to get. You take decisions, see them fail, have the courage to say it backfired and you try again!!
Personal Development — To be honest, I had just begun my journey in learning data science, but over the last year, having built and curated some high quality content, eating up more than 500 hours of videos, spoken at so many meetups, interacted with some of the best minds in this field, including Dr DJ Patil. I have a sharpened knowledge about the subject today. What to learn, in what sequence and how to apply it in real life is something I am able to guide aspirants on!
My ability to absorb stress has increased multifold. With my 2 brave co-founders, this is something I am learning from them everyday!! During this stint, I have realised that I am blessed with the ‘horse sense’. The subtleties that I am able to pick up, the subliminal messages that I can radar in, has added to the quality and speed of our overall decision making!
Fun — I can’t even begin to write stories about the amusing characters we have met along the way in the past 9 months. These are people I wouldn’t have met in a lifetime in my corporate job! From a professor of the top B school in Mumbai who said that learning coding is taking a person’s calibre down, to an intern who entered the room and first wanted to know about the stock options he would get, we have convulsed into uncontrollable fits of laughter in between our meetings and then covered up with a different reason!
Satisfaction — We have kept the student and their learning at the very top of our priority- while building the product, the content and industry projects. Seeing them get kickass high paying jobs, post the program gives a satisfaction unparalleled to anything else! When we were awaiting the offer for our very 1st student, I was more anxious than I was when I got my first job! It’s a win for us when our students come back and say they love our team’s dedication to make them successful! Eventually it does bottle down to the lives touched and the transformation made.
Start-up asks for a lot of blood, sweat and tears. First, being a founder is hard. Period. Man or woman. Why aren’t there more women founders? I don’t know, and I don’t focus on statistical data on the topic. I do know that you have to be willing to take some pretty big personal risks. It comes with the courage to get on a never ending rollercoaster and keep calm on days when everything is upside down! You need to learn to rewire and work with limited resources. You need to get comfortable with chaos, be ready to build the tracks just before the train is going to arrive. But you know what, it’d be my choice again, a thousand times over!
So go for it if you truly dare!