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!