Another year just flew past for all of us at Gyan Lab. It was only yesterday that we were contemplating on how to plan Gyan Lab’s expansion, till 2012 end all our work was confined to Manipal – Mangalore area in Karnataka and we were focused on having our presence in more locations. We knew what to do but we had no clue how!
This became our stepping stone in 2013. We made our gradual move from Manipal by taking up a place in January 2013 in Yelahanka New Town in far northern Bangalore. In hindsight, it was a stupid decision and cost us four months of extra rent but it atleast made us firm about the move to Bangalore. Come May, we found our perfect little office – neatly tucked in the quiet HSR Layout with nice gardens and wide free roads. Today, our office in Manipal is 20 days away from being permanently being closed and all core operations including R&D are taking place in the 2000 sq. ft. HSR Office. We had a bit of a run of bad luck when our towering Gyan Lab Board fell due to torrential winds. All in all, we were able to do what we had planned to – not in the smoothest manner but with some very serious learning.
While office was an easy task, we had to grow in other cities. We began the year by bagging a contract to work with Pearson Schools. It was a very exciting and challenging task for a company based in Manipal and having just three full-time people. We started planning our expansion. I travelled to various locations including Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad to start knowing the schools we would be working with. It was extremely challenging at times especially keeping in mind that our funds were always short in supply. Come April, we also started working on a strategy to start operations further north of Pune with Kota being our first such centre of operations. Kota was a very wise choice for us given its importance as an education hub and dire need to change education from the monotonous coaching to a more holistic type. It was also much further away from us than we would have been comfortable, but we took the risk. And, all our efforts paid off. We started our operations in Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad along with Pearson Schools with a bang. We made our presence deeper and stronger in Manipal and Mangalore. We also took up a presence in a school in rural areas of Kundapura and started our Kota centre with partnerships with St. Joseph Group of Schools and Resonance PCCP.
A third challenge for us at the beginning of the year was logistics. Till 2012, we were having our manufacturing done in India only. Now, we had a need to ramp us the overall quality of the product in order to stand firm ground against the competition. A lot of deep research and dialogues with over 50 manufacturers across countries such as China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and USA led us to some of the best manufacturers and vendors in this space. In a span of a couple of months, we had a world class product at our disposal which needed to be tested and adjusted to be put up into use in context of Indian Education. We carried off this work beautifully with over 300 completely pictorial manuals prepared in a time span of the next three months which were exactly suited for kids in India. We mapped the curriculum to not only CCE but few other curriculums and curriculum standards from across the globe making the program truly world class. And, then we launched Kidovators Challenge across the Indian sub-continent with an intention to reward innovation among school kids. All this with a bare minimum team was something of a wonder and I am glad all of you had great roles to play in the same.
This brings me to the team. It was very challenging for us to find the right team. Yet, we never had to go out of way to find the people we needed, they always came to us which makes this organization a very special and well knit unit. Srishti and Umanath joined our team at the beginning of the year in administrative and academic capacities at the beginning of the year. I kept juggling between offices in Manipal and Bangalore while everyone else did what they could do best with Sonali completely managing the development work at the Manipal office. Later in the year, Ann joined us in Hyderabad, Ruchira joined us in Pune, and Vinuth joined in Bangalore office. We were also graced with Kriti's and Abhash's presence for Kidovators. We are a complete team and it makes me proud.
Those were our mega challenges in 2013. As we enter 2014, newer challenges are going to come our way. These will make the challenges of 2013 look like tiny dots, but we have to be ready to face them. I want all of us to grow – at a personal and professional level. Each one of us must be a better person today than we were yesterday. That is when the real growth is going to unfold.
Can we make better use of ourselves? Can we beat all odds? Can we be more focussed? We can be all of it given the right intent is there.
I would like to close this letter with a lesson I have adopted in my life and work, and would like you to do the same as well. This is a story by Prof. Sunil Handa of IIM Ahmedabad (if you do not who this person is, look up the internet). I am re-wording it to shorten it. At work, if you are asked to do something say calling up a prospective client. You call him but he does not receive the call. You come back to me and say it did not work out as he did not receive the call. Imagine another situation where your mother is seriously ill (I pray it never happens) and needs some medicine urgently and it is 11:30 PM. You go to a medical store and find it closed. What do you do? Do you come back saying the medicine cannot be availed at this hour? Or, do you go to another medical store? Then another? You find it all closed but do you stop there? You find the house of one of the med store guys and go and wake him up. Won’t you do this? Won’t you go to the world’s end if you had to for this? Then, why not for your work? Your work is your identity, it is who you are and what you do. If you willing to work as if your life depended on it, you will be very successful at Gyan Lab because you will be valued beyond any measure. If not, you will only be a fading memory to us. And, it is my job to ensure that never happens. And you know what is yours.
Let us make the year ahead full of positive memories, good health and an impactful start-up called Gyan Lab. HAPPY NEW YEAR 2014!!!
As a hardware start-up in the education space, life is much more difficult than one would imagine. But, we did not choose to work in this space because it would be easy. We chose this so that we can dent the current structure (education system) to a point where it would be redundant and eventually retired. Now, that is not at all an easy goal given that education system in India is very fragmented. While the whole volume to deal with is smaller in higher education, making regulations comparatively easier to put forward and manage (I am not saying it is easy, it is absolutely not), school education segment is way too humungous to manage. To put perspective to the volume being spoken of, there are 1.4 million (14 lakh) schools in India! It is highly unregulated and, as I said earlier, fragmented. A majority of these schools (close to 85% are Government schools and another 6 – 7% are Government-aided which leaves around 7% as Private.
Now, ADD-on-GYAN was started by a bunch of college kids who are not from affluent families, do not have family businesses or have no experience in running a business. But, we are all middle class kids with decent lifestyles, good education (as prescribed by society, I will touch upon this topic later in this blog) and mega aspirations. We were not rich but have had comfortable lives till the point of starting up. How were we to ever understand what the system needs, how should it change and what were the right steps to bring about that change? We started up with a small capital of Rs 1.5 lakh and in due course of time have invested and a sizeable amount of money into our plan of action for which we are grateful to the incubator, our parents and advisors. The big question back when we started up was what to do and now that has changed to how do we take our values and practices across the length and breadth of this country, where irrespective of the age, gender, economic conditions, a child is able to learn and grow with Gyan Lab.
Life would have been much easier, had we been invested in. But, given the nature of this industry and more bad stories than the good ones (no RedBus in this segment), there is quite low interest among investors. And you cannot really blame them. Traditionally, hardware-based auxiliary product and services companies in education sector need a lot of money and considerable time to actually start scaling up. While this trend can be disputed in words, we have not seen much action which disputes this trend. Hence, the total lack of interest. Moreover, if you are for-profit initiative and not explicitly working for BoP segment in education, you are disqualified as a social initiative which I feel is quite ridiculous. But, this is changing and I have proof. I was recently contacted by one of the larger Social Venture Capital firms who wanted to learn more about what Gyan Lab does and they truly believe that we are social irrespective of the fact that we are for-profit or not-for-profit.
At this point in this, we are at the most special place for the start-up than we have been before. Gyan Lab is functional in schools across four states, we have a retail model coming up, we have worked with close to 1000 underprivileged kids in the last few months and have launched a national level innovation challenge for school kids across 100+ cities. We are gaining momentum, the question is how to keep the momentum growing at an accelerated rate. It is hard to believe that we are just six people in the administrative department pulling off so many things in one go.
A question keeps roving around my head – how to be honest, service-oriented and customer-oriented in an industry which is ridiculously money-oriented. Can we do it? Will we survive if we do so? The answers are clouded and will only come forth as time progresses. But, we have a mandate to be honest, service and customer oriented. Many a times I feel our customers (parents and students) are gullible. They are unable to fight for how true education should be (a lion in a cage does not actually realize its power in the jungle). Sometimes, our partners/prospective-partners (schools/learning centres) are trying very hard to bring innovation to education but are unable to do so due to the heavy bureaucracy and administrative challenges. And, this entire ruckus is keeping some people happy - those who are taking advantage of this situation for personal benefits.
This is what helped us in drafting our grand plan. We will be HONEST and TRUE to our duties as educationists. We will not let money guide our path, we will be guided by MORALITY and indulge in providing the most fantastic SERVICES to students and schools. We will work towards EMPOWERING parents and make them realise the difference between being literate and educated so that their kids can grow up to become good human beings. We will be resisted, we will fail multiple times but every failure will take us one step ahead in our journey. I have already filled myself with a lifetime of inspiration for myself and our team. I always take pride in stating that I am not solving problems that only someone else is facing but problems that I have faced as well. Facing problems first-hand gives us a much wider and deeper perspective. Recently, you must have read an article in a business magazine about an educational services company being reduced to a fraction of its past glory. And, if I not wrong, you will hear more such stories in coming times. This industry is unforgiving to people who are here for the wrong reasons.
To you who is reading this post, I would sincerely request you to support us in any way that you deem fit because without your support we are nothing and would go nowhere close to doing what we have taken up as a task!