10 titles and 1.5 million books later, CAT guru Arun Sharma bets on online learning with Mindworkzz


Back in 1995, when Arun Sharma graduated from IIM-Bangalore, he took a path that very few of his classmates dared to follow.

The entrepreneurship bug had bitten him early. He gave up a cushy corporate job and started his first enterprise -- a computer education centre in Patna. This was a franchise from one of the leading brands of the time, TULEC. Unfortunately, due to changed market dynamics and lack of resources, the project failed. “Within two years of graduating from IIM Bangalore, I was literally on the road with no job, no career, a failed entrepreneurial experiment and a loan of close to Rs 20 lacs on my head, with no visible source to pay from,” Arun recalls.

But looking back at that point in his life, Arun is only grateful. “That situation completely changed how I thought, planned and acted. The only opportunity offered itself to me -- train students for management entrance programs, aptitude testing in general, career aspirations, and personality development etc. I had no option but to be good at it.”

Today, Arun Sharma is a name that every CAT aspirant surely knows of. He is the well-known author of two of the most sought after books on CAT preparation, namely, 'How to prepare for Quantitative Aptitude for the CAT' and 'How to prepare for Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning for the CAT’. Arun has prepared thousands of students for several exams, who have gone on to crack them. He has himself not been able to give up the CAT ‘keeda’ and is a serial-CAT-taker, who has been cracking the exam for the past 14 years. He has over 10 titles to his name, and over 1.5 million copies of his books have been sold till date.

Education and upbringing

“My father was a bureaucrat and hence I had a typical multicultural, multi-school, multi-city exposure as I grew up. Most of my childhood years were spent in the smaller towns of Maharashtra, and throughout school I was never 'the one'. Just slightly above average grades and performance in school, led to a mechanical engineering degree from a private engineering college, MIT, Pune, where I barely managed to keep myself in the first class,” he says. It was only when he picked up a challenge to break into one of the IIMs that Arun’s life and attitude towards it changed drastically.

The opportunity

Arun wanted to create world class content for aptitude test preparation. “I realised that most students do not get access to good quality content for their preparation process. I got lucky that a renowned publisher like McGraw Hill picked up my very first book ‘Quantitative Aptitude for CAT’. Over 10 titles and, 1.5 million copies later, looks like I was able to solve the challenge of providing world class preparation content to the India student preparing for aptitude exams,” he explains.

Mindworkzz and online learning

“At Mindworkzz, we are now addressing the challenge of creating and delivering high quality digital courses and content to the industry and to the student community,” says Arun. Education is constantly moving into the digital space and the day is not far when even a country like India would be a highly digitized marketplace for education. In this space, there are a whole lot of technology providers, but a very strong dearth of quality content providers. Mindworkzz is into courses for CAT, UPSC-CSAT, GATE, GMAT as well as digital content for CBSE boards. “In each of these markets, we are either creating content or delivering live tuitions or courses,” he adds.

On being a trainer and a teacher

Arun teaches a gamut of subjects which can be divided into two broad categories:

Aptitude - Quantitative thinking, logical analysis and reasoning, data Interpretation

Life & Soft skills - Intelligence development, life skills, emotional intelligence, time management etc.

“In each of these areas I have developed my own unique perspectives going beyond what a normal teacher/trainer does. The simple mantras for each of my sessions are:

a) Every session is an event.

b) Make the students see new perspectives into the thinking of any of the areas I teach/train.

c) Try to bring back the fun aspect to the learning process of the subjects I teach.”

On being an entrepreneur and a driver for the Mindworkzz vision

Apart from generating new opportunities and tie-ups, Arun’s managerial role at Mindworkzz is mostly strategic. “I periodically look at role definitions, output assessment from the team, quality of output, defining the critical tasks and challenges to be undertaken and their priorities. Of course, the teaching element comes in where I take care of anything to do with quantitative thinking/math, personal growth, reasoning, and data interpretation.”

The Mindworkzz team

The Mindworkzz team

Meenakshi Upadhay, a well-known trainer herself and Arun’s wife, handles diverse roles like being the editor of the website, the Chief Knowledge officer, the HR Head of the company, while also being the go-to person for anything to do with English and communication skills.

Arun Chaturvedi from NITIE is the VP in-charge of Operations & Strategic Alliances.

Dr. Randhir Mishra is a fellow from IIM-Bangalore and handles the strategic goal setting and is personally involved in helping and training students in issues like personal goal setting, life skills, personality development etc.

“As we started growing, we got other key hires and we keep having interns from IIM-Lucknow which is next door for us,” he adds.

Online learning in India – a huge business

Online learning in India is growing by leaps and bounds. The only restriction currently is related to the mindset of students. “As a teacher I do not see any restrictions while teaching in the online space. In fact, for a lot of things, it is much better than a typical offline training program. The convenience of course is huge -- you do not waste your time in traveling, you can do the classes from wherever you are, you can access missed classes or review and revise the classes as required, you can access the classes from any device -- phone, tablet or computer,” he encapsulates the positive points.

“There are no restrictions on what and how I can communicate, and in many instances the online teaching environment provides you with much greater resources to communicate your point correctly. I find the online space to be far superior in terms of the options it gives me about how I would want to communicate a point,” he adds.

Revenue and other statistics

Turnover of Mindworkzz: First year: INR 8 lacs; Second year: INR 65 lacs

For 2014-2015:

Projected revenue: INR 1.5 Cr

Projected number of users: 800-1000 paid users

Marketing spend: INR 6-8 lacs,

Per user acquisition cost: INR 600-800

Website hits per day: 2K

Scaling and future plans

“The model is extremely scalable as there is no limit to the number of students who can join our courses. So the scaling challenge is essentially a marketing one. We expect to maintain over 100% year on year growth in the coming 5-7 years.”

The entrance exam test preparation space is largely dominated by individual teachers. Hence, the moat strategy for any player is content. The magnitude and quality of content is the biggest entry barrier. Bigger traditional players whose model depends on offline modes are not warming up to digital and this may be the reason why they see online education as a threat rather than an opportunity. This is the reason why online and content players like Mindworkzz, Byju’s classes and Handa ka Funda are thriving in the market.

The opportunity is still ripe and we will see entry of more and more players. The challenge is to control the quality of what is in your hands and let the ecosystem take care of the results. This is definitely a market to be on the lookout for in years to come.

Visit Mindworkzz

What do you think about online training and test preparation? Is it an idea whose time has come? Let us know in the comments.

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