When you look back, you can sometimes connect the dots. A journey that is being undertaken has its roots in time that stood still decades back.
October 10, 2016
The year - 1999. The Place - The office of a multinational beverage manufacturer in Gurgaon. That is where I met Sanjay Singh for the first time. We were from unconnected backgrounds; I was an IT infrastructure and data communication professional and he, a Database and Applications expert. We worked together on getting automation done within the enterprise to get the company’s bottling plants operational and IT enabled.
Being in IT management those days, opportunities came up soon enough, and in close succession, we moved to a leading national daily, where we worked in the corporate IT team. Fate separated us after a year or two and both went our own ways. And pretty much out of touch, save an occasional phone call once in a while. Many years later, as if the same fate brought us back together - in 2013, while I was finishing off my consulting assignment with a mining company and Sanjay managing his consulting firm.
From this moment, the seeds of Zigya were sown. Our idea of getting together and pooling in our skill sets was naturally where it all started. With time though, the idea matured into the education sector, not because of the potential the sector had, but because by that time, both of us through our own experiences of educating our children realized the mess that the industry was in and how people were being taken for a ride, just because the consumer gets drowned in the noise - advertising, hype, expectations and uncertainty, together providing a lethal mix, so much so that parents think it best to sail with the wind.
As we delved deeper and deeper through our research, talking to many people from all walks of life, we realized that the problem was indeed acute. Never did we earlier view this in terms of national proportions. Of course, a Big-Bang approach to change is never a good idea, more so for people with modest means. So we decided to start small. Towards the end of 2013, after numerous discussions over Skype, few coffee shop meetings, a lot of document exchanges and brainstorming, we decided that we needed a place where we can put it altogether now. We found a humble office, gratis for us by one of Sanjay's friends, and began our work.
Thus we began our joint entrepreneurial journey. One thing followed another; we met scores of people - this time with a presentation, explaining our concept. There were takers, well wishers, people who supported the idea and people who argued with us about the sustainability of the concept. Some said that our concept might be successful in the west, citing the ubiquitous Facebook, but India is a different ball game altogether. But then, having spent 23 years in the industry, working with people from laborers to company presidents, we were very confident that our idea would see the light of day.
Like with any journey that you start, you meet a few people on the way. Some enrich the experience, some make you get into a shell wondering whether you did the right thing, but all in all, each one gave us a lesson to learn. In our short span of two years, I think we have made our share of mistakes, not that I'm saying we're immune to them now. And I won't even say it was great learning, because everyone is wise on the hindsight. I would think they were rough patches on the path that we're treading and we crossed them.
We have had a few well-wishers who did an early investment in our company, mostly friends, who have seen us work and are today shareholders of the company. We have had people who agreed to work with us because they believed in the cause and would like to contribute to it while not being actively engaged and we have had people who are watching us, who time and again pat our backs in a rather strange sort of way. We take it as encouragement when they say that they did not expect us to get make it till here.
Zigya.com today, is still a fledgling company. Today we are catering to students studying in CBSE schools and the Gujarat board. Our endeavour is to be a multi-lingual platform spanning most of the 37 board that we have in this country. Today, we are delivering just about a couple of thousands page views on an average day and our audience pans across states and national boundaries. It's not a company that catches the fancy of an astute investor though. You see, we don't sell education. We refuse to treat the child as an incidental commodity in the education industry. In an industry that is buzzing, projecting the child at the centre of the universe, but is just focussed on the commerce going on because of it, we stand at a distance. We would not like to participate by charging the child (or rather the parent) money because we wanted to teach (again!) the same concepts that s/he was taught in school. As a society we exist in a paradox, while we are advocates of stress-free education, when it comes to school we want our children to get good grades always. Never mind what questions s/he has in his/her minds on why s/he's studying it. "Just get the grades first so that you get to a good university", we seem to exude. "Of course, while you're at it, we would like you to be an ace in debating, drama, singing, dancing, football and basketball too".
It is our children that we are talking about. We are also talking about the children of the underprivileged, whose only fault was being born in that family. They can't hope to get quality education because it costs a whole lot of money. Poverty begets poverty and only a handful of outliers might hope to emerge through sheer grit and circumstances. These are the people who'll build the nation. We are talking about the children who go to the 'cattle fairs' of studying for IIT's and because they can't handle the pressure, get demoralised (along with their parents), and even kill themselves. We get to hear the stories of the people who make it there, is there anyone who follows up on those who don’t? What happens to people who come from modest backgrounds and spend lakhs of Rupees in anticipation of a better future.
Zigya has been created with a vision to remove this disparity within the education community. We help a child satiate his/her curiosity by coming to the platform and getting answers to questions that they would have had while studying their curriculum books in school or at home. We help the child, not let go of their self-esteem by suppressing their questions, in the fear that someone in the class would laugh at them. We are working so that a child doesn’t have to attend a coaching class right after getting back from school, since all they can do better than a school, is make you practice. The platform gives the child the flexibility to study whenever s/he pleases, never mind how many retries are required, Above all, we are there to provide resources to the hundreds and thousands of children who either do not have the means or the access, to get external coaching for self-amelioration.
Moving beyond the virtual world, even in this early stage of the business lifecycle, Zigya has been chosen as a partner for designing and implementing the education technology initiative for Centre for Equity and Inclusion (CEQUIN), for the women and children belonging to the marginalized community in our society, that they work with. In this program, Zigya would work with the community members, understand their issues, provide education guidance and curriculum based pedagogical support through various learning aids and technologies.
As promoters, we realize the magnitude of the task that we have taken up and we are aware that this needs widespread concerted participation of like-minded people and institutions to make this a success. We are always on the lookout of people who can join in in this movement and make this journey even more worthwhile.