“The money in teaching about money is a multi-billion dollar opportunity globally. One just needs to execute well,” says Venkatesh Varadachari, Co-founder of Money Wizards.
Venkatesh is a Chennai born entrepreneur. He has been a proprietary trader for over a decade before he co-founded Money Wizards with his IIM Bangalore classmate Thillai Rajan.
Venkatesh has worked in the Asia Pacific region with global trading companies and hedge funds such as Cargill, Black River Asset Management, Indea Capital and Millennium Partners. Thillai is an Associate Professor in the Department of Management Studies at IIT Madras. His research areas include Corporate Finance, Project and Infrastructure Finance, Public Private Partnerships and Venture Capital.
He wanted a change. He wanted to build a business that can grow steadily, rather than the ups and downs of a financial market related business, and possibly make a social impact. While Venkatesh was working in Singapore as a portfolio manager, Thillai had switched from industry to academics. Venkatesh bounced off the idea of Money Wizards to Thillai and they decided to start up in 2012.
Money Wizards is a financial literacy and money education company. According to MasterCard’s 2013 annual index for financial literacy, India has the lowest score among the 16 countries of the Asia Pacific region when it comes to overall financial literacy. Venkatesh says, “Those who need financial education do not perceive it as a need at all. As our tagline suggests, we want people to become their own money experts. Any change takes time and so is the case with eliminating financial illiteracy. We see ourselves as catalysts of change as far as the Indian education sector is concerned. We bring courses to market that add significant value.”
Money Wizards’ courses span across topics such as banking, insurance, taxation, investment in stock markets, elementary economics, bond markets, commodity markets, derivatives and also touch upon ideas from new fields such as behavioural finance to help in sound financial decision making. At present, they are a team of six, including the co-founders. Trainers and designers work with them on project basis. They are based out of Chennai with presence in Hyderabad, Mumbai and Bangalore. Money Wizards serve schools, colleges, working adults and corporates etc with their paid courses. They have worked with over 25 schools and over 2,000 students in the last one year of rollout.
Since the need for financial literacy is universal and there are hardly any established players in this area globally, the potential market is wide open for Money Wizards. The blend of industry experience and academia that Venkatesh and Thillai possess gives them an edge in the market too. Money Wizards is also venturing into innovative technology courses for school children like Scratch Ninja (Scratch programming), Pi Wizards (for mastering Raspberry Pi), 3D printing and Arduino Wizards (for mastering Arduino).
Venkatesh says, “Financial services companies have financial literacy programmes but most of these have very low editorial independence as there is a conflict of interest between educating people and making money out of their ignorance. If credit card companies, insurance agents and brokers start educating people genuinely, they would go out of business.” He considers Everfi, a Jeff Bezos funded education company, as a global competitor.
In the near future, they are looking to tie up with distribution partners who have footprints in various schools and colleges both in India and abroad. They are also evaluating several content distribution platforms to expand their reach and customer base.
Venkatesh knows that an education startup is a hard grind and there are significant scaling issues. He says, “In India, there is a mindset that education cannot be for profit. Yet, given the way our educational institutions operate, they need outside vendors like us to come up with quality educational products. Getting people to pay for quality is a challenge in India. Secondly, there is a less perceived need for educational products that enhance life skills or benefit people over a long term. It is easier to monetize financial products that solve some immediate problem like getting a job or cracking the exam.”
As first time entrepreneurs, Venkatesh and Thillai have made numerous mistakes; hiring problems and underestimating what it takes to execute are the major ones. “We try and learn from them. Every entrepreneur has to pay his/her dues and learn certain lessons the hard way. The earlier the better. It is good to have faced certain problems earlier than later as they would have proven to be very costly. Hopefully, we will not be making the same mistakes again at least,” says Venkatesh.
At present, Money Wizards is on the lookout for the best fit be it employees or investors.
Do you think you have a good level of financial literacy? Would you take a course to improve it? Let us know in the comments below.