Ten Tips for Indian Edupreneurs
[Editor’s Note: Srikanth Jadcherla is the CEO of California and Bangalore-based Seer Akademi, a higher education online-offline startup bringing US-style Masters degree programs and UC-Berkeley’s continuing education program to Indian students. Jadcherla undertook a staggering 3-year journey across 250+ engineering colleges across India as part of Seer Akademi. In this guest post, which reads part rant and part advice, he outlines 10 tips for Indian edupreneurs, some lessons he learnt the hard way himself.]
- Its not a market: As much as everyone would like to portray it that way and VCs/Angels and PE funds salivate at the huge TAMs, it is not your usual ‘market’. Education is a system, regulated or unregulated, where the consumer is connecting many many dots – your product has to have an incremental fit and a great benefit to be accepted into this dotted diagram.
- Customers have aspirations: This is especially true for India – education is a means to an end – which is usually a ‘job’. Parents and students don’t have larger aspirations – at least not a large majority of them. Instead of criticizing such unwise denizens of the planet, get to the heart of this. When you don’t have access to regular electricity, medical care, clean water, and toilets, there is nothing wrong with wanting just a job – a job that takes you to a better place. A career is simply not on the radar. So forgive your customers for looking at everything through the job lens.
- Who is the customer? If you answered “parent”, full marks to you. The students choices are almost always filtered, tweaked and influenced by the parents (Yes – we are talking India). The student is the user, not the customer. The parents seem to have an influence even in the continuing education market!
- There is a science to it: Education, whether at the K12 level or college level, instructional design and instructional aid design has actually got a science to it. You’d be surprised how many edupreneurs have no clue what cognitive science is (not that I’m claiming to be an expert). Don’t put together something that completely ignores the science of learning.
- University officials know what you don’t: Granted, most of the folks at any university know less than you on the subject – even two years into the industry. That doesn’t mean you know everything. These guys know the context, absorption rates, applicability and the legal/regulatory aspects much better. For example, let’s say you have a new kit that teaches a B.Tech student everything about solar power. Some university has been looking to add a course on solar power. Should be a slam dunk, right? Not really. The university’s job is to formally evaluate the kit, the vendor/people, the material and the scalability, adaptability, affordability and measurability of your product. The university has only 8 semesters i.e. 720 days of instruction to complete its work for a B.Tech. See #1 again and map the dots.
- Did you ever get a Purchase Order from a large company? If you haven’t, you have NO idea how hard selling is or how long the sales cycle can be – even if your offering is the next best thing after Gobi Manchurian (now, isn’t this better than sliced bread?). Selling takes convincing leaf level users, influencers, convincing objectors, strengthening champions and getting the executive go ahead. It then involves managing the contract and the payment process. In other words, universities and colleges are no different from the classic sales cycle.
- You are from the industry, not Brahmalok: Industry folks, especially in India, walk in with an attitude –Been there, done that and I am here to tell you what your opinion is and btw, what kind of a shirt is that? Just because you spent X years in the industry doesn’t mean you know how to handle college kids or their parents. The first time they left me alone with 60 engineering students (3rd and 4th year at Nandyal), I was ready to clutch the Principal’s coat tails and scream “please don’t leave me alone with them – they look rather hungry”. The one thing they can assess in a jiffy is this – were you a star in your industry? So.. less attitude, dude! I am also constantly surprised at the number of edupreneurs who don’t know the basics of accounting, marketing and business regulations. Take a class!
- Ten guys come every day: The college principals are besieged with someone or the other trying to sell a product/service to the education ‘market’. They have no magic formula for separating the wheat from the chaff. Hang in there, persist and convince them.
- Cost is an issue: The colleges (especially those operating under AICTE provisions and UGC pay scales) are not rolling in money – a fact pointed out in a recent study. Make sure the management has a clear path to recovering your product’s investment in one academic year.
- Kill the soft skills programs: See #4.