On Starting Up at 38 - Ram Badrinathan of 'Pawan Ko Kahin Dekha Kya?'
What does it take to leave a plush job and step into the uncertain world of entrepreneurship? How does it feel to step down from the pedestal of an expert / guru and become a salesperson? What does it take to spark a learning revolution? What does it take to give up all the security and perks with two kids? For me, it was the unconditional backing of my wife Shobhana, the cautious support of my family and the guidance of some mentors who showed me the light.Not giving up the dream
I am not a serial entrepreneur but all my chips were in. I am a first time entrepreneur and I feel, unless there is a combination of purity of conviction, madness, reason and validation from mentors, individuals don’t step into entrepreneurship. For me, the first source of conviction came from my faith in the brilliance of one of my mentors, Sourabh Sarkar (www.ky21c.org) who, I believe, is going to revolutionise education. An entrepreneur and a KarmYogi, Sourabh-ji has been a living source of influence and inspiration to many like me.
It has been a four year journey of being passionate about scaling effective education: three years as an employee of my previous organization and one year as an entrepreneur. Despite everything, I never gave up on this dream.
Age and domain knowledge has value particularly in the education space:
Before starting GlobalTHEN, I was heading the Asia Pacific Region for PhocusWright, a leading Travel, Tourism & Hospitality (TTH) Research Company. I was with the company for almost a decade and was considered one of the leading thinkers and researchers in the online travel space in the Asia Pacific region. I have advised top TTH companies on future strategies of online travel distribution in the APAC. It was a company I loved dearly, because it had a fantastic culture and was entrepreneurial.
Validate proof of concept and commitment
It was while at PhocusWright that I realised that the availability and quality of a skilled workforce is, and will be the key challenge of the TTH industry in emerging economies. While at PhocusWright, we worked on a pilot product and created a MasterClass for training a travel industry company’s workforce on “Digital Travel Revolution” where front line executives could learn from Philip Wolf (then CEO of PhoCusWright) and myself, at low cost. The program was well received in the industry.
This product validation was important for the initial marquee angel investors in my new company where they realized that I was committed to the journey of providing industry workforce education.
Be a part of learning eco-system: autonomy and communion
Being an entrepreneur is a self fullfiling journey and there is great freedom and your indivduality gets expressed. But it is also a lonely journey. This does not happen when a bunch of people get together to start a business. But in that case the need to manage the team can compromise the agility required to survive the initial years. I feel an entrepreneur needs to balance individual initiative and drive, and yet be part of a collective or a community. The explosion of incubators is, I think, an expression of this desire. When I left PhoCusWright, I became part of a focused incubator KarmYog Ventures (led by Chuck Schreiner and Sourabh) which was incubating education entrepreneurs who wanted to build saleable IP businesses in different industry verticals. Being a part of this incubator has been such a boon to me. It allows me to be completely entrepreneurial yet feel I am part of a buzzing community.
Conviction to meet Challenges post product launch
No matter how convinced you are about your product, you always waits with baited breath to hear that it is a hit in the market. In our case, we have left no stone unturned right from the ideation, design and then the development to the launch stages to ensure that we go to market with an unbeatable product. OmniDELTM – which is the magic recipe that my Driver Education product is made of – is already doing amazing things to transform learning experiences. Based on this success, we have been able to rapidly build a sales pipeline that will be the envy of any start-up: twice my entire investment within 2 months of product launch. But, the next challenge is to convert this pipeline into revenues.
I think the first sale is a milestone even if it is a small amount. Once small amounts start coming in, your conviction grows for the big ticket sales. Large sales pipelines get built but conversions takes longer. One needs mentors, a support system, lateral sales strategies and everything needs to be focused on sales once you have a great product. Small wins matter even as you keep pushing for the big deals.
In conclusion, here are some pointers that Deep Kalra gave me when I was raising the angel round:
- Do something you are proud of
- Be Singularly focused -150% of your time
- Manage your time well
There is no greater satisfaction (our first product Pawan Ko Kahin Dekha Kyan) than having BPO drivers who have not slept for 24 hours to undergo a workshop and say “We didn’t realize how time flew by”
- Ram Badrinathan, Founder GlobalThen