Entrepreneur Shraddha P Kumar enjoys the intellectual stimulation teaching Mandarin brings to her life.
The popular Beatles song 'With a Little Help from My Friends' plays in my head as I listen to Shraddha P Kumar, Founder and Chief Faculty, Yellow River Chinese Academy (YRCA), talk about how friends have been an important part of her journey, right from her initial interest in Mandarin to the entrepreneurial plunge.
Although she started her venture in July 2016, her love for the language goes back to 2002, when a close Taiwanese friend got her a Mandarin textbook with an audio cassette. “She laid my foundation for the language by teaching me the phonetics and the five tones,” shares Shraddha.
Though her friend returned to Taiwan, Shraddha continued to study the language. “As I was not attending a class and there was no teacher to push me, the learning was initially slow, with many stops and starts, but I started enjoying it as I got deeper into it,” she reminisces. When her friend visited India a couple of times a year, she would use the time to clear her doubts and practise conversing.
It was only in 2008 that she found herself a teacher who could teach her how to read and write the characters.
Shraddha, who had given up her job to give her children undivided attention, says, “Mandarin was a godsend at a time when I was in need of intellectual stimulation.” Although she had continued to teach classical dance, it was Mandarin that came to her rescue.
Once she had mastered the language, Shraddha decided to start YRCA in Bengaluru because of the lack of good teachers, especially since there were takers for the subject.
“I think Bengaluru was lacking good-quality Chinese language schools with a holistic and interactive approach to teaching, and I believe YRCA has filled that gap. The timing has been perfect, as the need to learn Mandarin is at its peak now, with more people realising this and coming forward to learn it,” reveals Shraddha.
It took her only two months to set things up and get started in Indiranagar in July last year. Things worked quickly as her friends helped her clear an initial hurdle — creating the website.
The other big challenge was to make YRCA pop up in Google search results and create awareness about it among Bengalureans, but with the help of friends, she could incorporate SEO techniques. “Having great testimonials on my website and online reviews from students also helped,” says Shraddha.
Shraddha’s customers span a wide age group. The youngest one till date has been a 17-year-old, while the oldest was over 50. According to her, the majority of students fall in the 20–40 age bracket. Almost 80 percent of students are professionals from the IT, banking, and consultancy firms. The rest are entrepreneurs and students.
Currently, her students are concentrated in Bengaluru, although she has had a student travel from Karur in Tamil Nadu every weekend to attend her classes.
The classes are conducted at well-appointed YRCA classrooms. Shraddha also conducts on-premise training for corporates and has done it for Texas Instruments, Xiaomi, and Watchdata.
‘Let your product do the talking’ is something VCs and experts always advise, and it has worked with YRCA too.
Shraddha, who initially ran advertisements and did free demo classes, soon had no need for either as her students endorsed YRCA through their online testimonials and through word-of-mouth.
“I am happy to say that within months of starting YRCA, my Level-1 classes were at full capacity, and in fact, in the last few batches, I have been unable to accommodate many who wanted to join, and have had to request them to join the next one!”
Though it’s early days, Shraddha is open to scaling and opening up classes in other locations if she has the demand and a good set of teachers.
With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics from Stella Maris College and IIT Bombay, Shraddha went on to work as a software engineer. She took a break in between to focus on her children and in her 50s decided to start up.
About her latest stint, she says,
A teacher feels a sense of fulfilment and completeness when she sees the transformation of a student from a complete beginner to a confident user of the skills taught and, more importantly, to someone who starts enjoying the skills and wants to progress to higher levels. I know there is a lot more that can be done in both areas and that fuels the fire!”
Currently, a one-woman enterprise, Shraddha’s long-term plans are to have a good team of committed and quality teachers at YRCA, open centres across Bengaluru and at some point, across other cities in India, and also start online classes for those with no direct access to the classrooms.
On what keeps her excited, she says: “Well, the fact is that there are a lot of areas left to explore as far as my teaching goes as well as the interesting opportunities that have been coming my way ever since I started YRCA. In short, I have 'miles to go before I sleep,' if you could forgive the cliché!” she ends.