Great companies are built on obsession and paranoia, says Gaurav Munjal of Unacademy
Gaurav Munjal, Co-founder and CEO of Unacademy, calls himself one of Shah Rukh Khan’s biggest fans. Incidentally, he met King Khan at a shoot for Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) in 2001, and gave him a note.
It read, "Gaurav would be so big one day that the star actor would want to meet him," and SRK responded with a smile.
He also recalls that he once told his parents that he would build a company as big as Microsoft and they smiled at him in response.
Gaurav says, when he started Unacademy, his objective was very clear – to build the largest educational platform in the world.
He says, “Maybe I will achieve these. Maybe I won’t. But I’ll always aim higher. I’ll always dream big. Remember, you will never achieve more than you aim for.”
Gaurav graduated from NMIMS University, Mumbai, with a Computer Science degree.
At the age of 12, Gaurav created a quiz similar to Amitabh Bachchan’s Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC), which was demonstrated among his classmates and in his school. Many years later, he created another quiz similar to KBC, which was again demonstrated in his school.
A builder since the beginning, in 2013, Gaurav started Flat.to, a real estate platform for college students and bachelors in India, which later became FlatChat and got acquired by CommonFloor in 2014.
In 2015, he co-founded Unacademy, which was originally a YouTube channel. Today, Unacademy is one of the largest edtech startups in India, which gets more than 140 million views every month on all its distribution channels.
Founded by Gaurav, Roman Saini, and Hemesh Singh in 2015, the platform currently has more than 10,000 registered educators and 13 million users.
Siddhartha Ahluwalia, Head of Community at Prime Venture Partners, caught up with Gaurav Munjal in this episode of 100x entrepreneur podcast, a series featuring founders, venture capitalists, and angel investors.
Tune in to listen to Gaurav in conversation with Siddhartha:
Obsessed founders v/s relaxed founders
“Every single mistake that entrepreneurs do, 99 percent of that is already documented somewhere,” says Gaurav.
He uses the word 'obsession' consistently in the conversation, which is one of his leadership principles. He calls himself an obsessive founder when it comes to building something and that it gives him an edge over his rather relaxed counterparts.
The negative side is that he has trouble sleeping on most days because he is too worried about everything. But the positive side, according to him, is that the startup is effectively moving towards reshaping the industry.
Most of Unacademy’s competitors are worried about – What will Unacademy do next? Will they come in our segment or not?
But it’s not particularly something Gaurav wants to be proud of, but he and his team are proud of helping reshape the industry in general. He says every other edtech player is taking some pages from Unacademy’s playbook, like the subscription model.
“It makes me happy because we are changing the industry. I feel great companies are built on obsession and paranoia. It’s not needed if you just want to build a successful company. But if you want to build a successful company, which also creates a dent and moves the industry forward, you need to build that. Andy Grove, the guy who invented OKRs as we know, wrote that only the paranoid survive,” says Gaurav
Pressure of having an elite board?
Siddhartha asks Gaurav the reason behind consecutive fundraises when Unacademy clearly did not need that kind of money.
In context, the startup raised $50 million in Series D round in June 2018. The round saw participation from Steadview Capital, Sequoia India, Nexus Venture Partners, Blume Ventures, Haptik CEO Aakrit Vaish, and Udaan CEO Sujeet Kumar.
In response, Gaurav says, “If I’m getting a great partner on the board, why not? These people will help me reach where all of us want to reach, and that is why we raised funding in quick succession.”
He further says he does not have any pressure while in it because it makes the game all the more challenging, and that is when real growth happens.
“That’s how you evolve. That’s how your team evolves. I mean, if anybody is given a bigger opportunity, why would a person not take it and shoot for the moon? My life’s principle was always to choose the more difficult path, always,” he says.
Gaurav mentions that one of his most helpful mentors has been Kunal Shah, Founder of Cred and FreeCharge.
Gaurav calls Kunal one of the most candid mentors, for he had always given brutal feedback, which helped him improve as an entrepreneur.
“It’s also an advice to other entrepreneurs. Please have mentors who tell you the reality when nobody else can. Because very few people will be honest and brutal. And if they are, don’t take it personally and don’t get offended by their brutal feedback,” he says.
(Edited by Megha Reddy)