Having inspired thousands of young entrepreneurs to brave their 'Anu Aunty (society)' and start up , Varun Agarwal is aiming higher with his new venture. Grades Don't Matter will help Indians excel at alternative careers by learning from the best of the best in different fields.
“There are an estimated 2,000 careers in India for which you don’t need a marksheet (formal education) and that actually pay more than a career attained through an engineering degree,” said Varun Agarwal, the CEO of Grades Don’t Matter, in a conversation with YourStory.
With Grades Don’t Matter, an alternative education platform, Varun aims to help the youth become aware of alternative careers and make better career choices. In 2009, Varun had co-founded Alma Mater, an online store providing apparel and memorabilia to the alumni community of schools and colleges across India. He then shot to fame when his book 'How I braved Anu Aunty and co-founded a million-dollar company' became a bestseller.
Related read from 2014- Life after ‘Anu Aunty’: How Varun Agarwal is living a dream; joins hands with Lenovo
Varun spoke at The INK Conference in 2013 and his talk went viral, clocking 500,000 views on YouTube in just four days. Over the past few years, he has also been invited to speak at various colleges across India to inspire students by sharing lessons from his journey. It was during these interactions that Varun saw an interesting trend. He noticed that youth were generally swayed quite easily and didn’t seem to have clarity of thought in picking the right career path suited for their skills. He noted,
“At one time, there was this sense that everybody wanted to become an entrepreneur because it was cool. Then suddenly, it changed to standup comedy. The next cycle was people who wanted to create the next hit web series.”
Varun realised that there was no formal educational path that one could take to become successful in streams like entrepreneurship, standup comedy, and filmmaking. The best possible way to learn was to talk to successful people, learn how they did it and then learn by doing.
The birth of Grades Don’t Matter
Varun got together a 15-member team, a mix of techies, content, and design people to work on a solution. Anil Reddy, Head of Lollypop Studios, looked after overall design while Nalin and Logesh were key members of the tech team. The team spent about four-five months figuring out alternative education and career streams youngsters couldn’t learn in a conventional manner in current classrooms.
The team narrowed them down to 30 important alternate careers and figured out the most successful people in each of these. They then embarked on a mission of interviewing them and creating a video learning course with a three-phased approach. Varun elaborated on each of the phases:
Phase 1- ‘Basic introduction or Class 101'- What is it to get into this career, how does it work, what skills does one need?
Phase 2- Focuses on teaching the above skills.
Phase 3- Discusses important questions like ‘Is this a viable career option and how much money can one make out of it.’ Varun half-seriously and half-jokingly noted that Phase 3 had been specifically designed for parents.
With these three phases at the back of their mind, Varun and his team interviewed 30 highly successful people and shot over 300 videos.The end result was interesting. They had a collection of tutorials about alternate careers ranging from How to Start your Own Restaurant, Filmmaking, Getting Your Book Published, and even areas like improv, standup comedy, and Beat-Boxing.
Varun noted that they had been able to rope in diverse and accomplished people such as Nitesh Tiwari (the director of Dangal, the highest-grossing Bollywood film in history), Amish Tripathi (the highest selling Indian author of all time) Siddharth Roy Kapur (producer of films like DevD, Rang De Basanti, Dangal) and Ritesh Agarwal (Co-founded Oyo, which is valued at $800 million) to share their experiences and knowledge.
Varun said that he and his team also ensured that they packaged all the content to make it as engaging and immersive as possible. He added that his team also spent some time on figuring out how to ensure that their courses could cater to people with ADHD and could otherwise not focus. Varun said,
“My competition is Netflix, Facebook, and Instagram because this is what distracts the youth the most these days and prevents them from learning…”
Varun said the goal of Grades Don’t Matter was to educate users on how to ideate, develop a systematic approach to practical learning, and then sharpen their skill set in the desired field of interest.
Sometimes figuring out one’s desired field of interest is itself the challenging task. Varun said their three-phased approach has been designed to help anyone confused by the multiple career choices so they can eliminate the ones probably not suited to them. He explained:
“You may see the entrepreneurship course and realise, 'Oh, entrepreneurship was never really for me'. I can eliminate this career choice and move onto another more suitable career.”
How Grades Don’t Matter works
Currently available as a mobile app on Android and iOS platforms, Grades Don’t Matter monetises through in-app purchases. Users can buy each of the courses for Rs 99. On payment, the videos are available for unlimited viewings.
An overview of all the lessons from each course is also available as a 'Workbook' in a downloadable PDF for quick reference. Students also get a digitally signed certificate from the influencer on completion of the course.
YourStory tried out a pre-build version of the app for a few days and went through different courses to get a perspective of the overall experience. Each course is broken down into multiple lessons, which can range from nine to 15 depending on the course.
The camera work is of professional quality and makes great use of jump cuts, animations, and text to keep users engaged throughout the lesson. Each lesson also ends with a quick summary of the key points covered, for easy recall.
Sector overview and future plans
A report by Technavio suggests that the alternate education market is estimated to grow at CAGR of almost 32 percent from 2017 to 2021. Despite the sector being in a nascent stage, the report noted that institutes and students are embracing the concept of following alternative routes to pursue higher studies.
Some of the prominent players in the edtech space include Coursera, Udacity, and edX, which are also sometimes categorised as massive online open course (MOOC) platforms. Then there is San Francisco-based Masterclass, which has raised over $55M across multiple funding rounds and claims to offer online classes from 'the world's best’, with classes such as Malcolm Gladwell teaches writing and Serena Williams teaches tennis.
Closer home in India we have players like Byju’s which has been bullish about the concept of ‘edutainment’ through their educational, interactive video content. Then there is Unacademy which apart from providing courses about formal exams, has categories such as ‘Lifelong learning’.
Varun’s long-term goal with Grades Don't Matter is to go from 30 courses during their launch to 2000 courses over the next two years as they go deeper into sectors like filmography, Bitcoin and stock market trading.
“Don’t technically need to learn filmmaking for three years… You can learn the basics and spend the remaining time hands-on with work…”
The bigger-picture vision for Varun is to aid more Indians to go after creative pursuits they like and shine at the international level and perhaps win Oscars, Grammys, or Nobel Prizes for the country.
Website- Grades Don't Matter