[100 Emerging Women Leaders] Meet Pooja Goyal, the serial entrepreneur whose bootstrapped edtech startup found success
Entrepreneurship isn’t a new vocation for Pooja Goyal. During the Dotcom boom, she had founded a company, which soon shut down. Despite witnessing the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, today, Pooja says, she can’t think of doing anything else.
“For me, building things is important. If there is a problem, I simply cannot ignore it. I have to dig deep and find a solution,” Pooja tells HerStory in a conversation.
In 2020, the serial entrepreneur joined Tarun Bhalla to build Avishkaar into a global brand for robotics and coding education for the K-12 sector.
An IIT-Delhi chemical engineering graduate, Pooja had realised that engineering wasn’t her cup of tea quite early on. But, she says, doing engineering at IIT-Delhi helped her build a strong network of friends, mentors, and people, with whom she could take risks, experiment, and build projects.
Starting up and failing
Pooja launched her first startup in 1999, an enterprise software startup in the Bay Area, US, way before startups were a thing. However, the company went under in the 2001 downturn.
“I then decided to do an MBA and joined INSEAD in France. It was five years after my engineering,” she shares.
Although Pooja stuck with tech, the subject was largely focused on project management. Post INSEAD, she joined a company called PalmSource — the pre-cursor to handheld devices.
“For the first time, we had figured out how to transfer business cards through Bluetooth,” she says, adding that she was building the developer ecosystem. Post this stint, she joined Adobe, where she managed the project marketing team.
While still working with Adobe, in 2007, Pooja decided to move back to India. However, she soon quit her job to start her second startup — Intellitots — which she built with a batchmate from IIT Delhi. The idea for Intelliots came from her own experience.
A problem that cannot be unseen
“For me, the biggest thing then was the flexibility to manage my time. And as I started seeing my children grow, I realised they were learning everything on their own. It was an AI model at work. I wondered what learning model sat inside of my daughter’s brain that allowed her to learn everything quickly — talking, crawling etc. I went down the rabbit hole of genetics and neuroscience to understand the brain and the cognitive processes,” Pooja says.
She realised that the early years of education are very important. But as a society, we don’t pay enough attention during those years.
“Once you see a problem, it simply cannot be unseen. I knew that raising money and the process was a treadmill, and I wanted flexibility, so I chose to bootstrap the company,” says Pooja.
After 10 years of bootstrapping and running Intellitots, the startup was acquired by KLAY.
Post this acquisition, Pooja joined her third startup, Avishkaar, in 2020. The edtech startup has developed a combination of hardware, software, curriculum, and communities to provide curated experiences to schools and children alike.
“Both schools and parents are aware that next-generation technologies, like robotics, AI, coding, IoT, and drones, are going to play a pivotal role in the world of tomorrow. However, no one is clear on how to go about introducing or teaching them to children,” she says.
Avishkaar has developed an “ecosystem type of approach” for children to learn skills in a meaningful manner.
Its robotic kits like — E Series, Tweak, and Maker Board for 5-15-year-olds — provide personalised learning with live online courses led by expert teachers. In fact, the startup enables an active and engaged online community of children who love to code, build, and innovate.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Avishkaar shifted gears to focus on a Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) model through its existing school network and ecommerce channels.
As claimed by the startup, this shift in strategy has accelerated its growth by over five times in the last year.
“As an entrepreneur, there will be a lot of surprises, both of the pleasant and unpleasant variety. You need to learn to work and dodge around those and move ahead,” she says.
Pooja says biases are a part of life, but so far, she has just simply ignored them.
“Be okay with a No; be open to different ideas and advice; seek out connections, and speak to as many people in your industry,” Pooja advises.
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Edited by Suman Singh