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BW Businessworld

‘We Both Have The View That An Indian EdTech Product Can Go Across The world’ Karan Bajaj, CEO of Discovery Networksand entrepreneur

Our stated mission is to bring live learning to one in three kids in the world and create a hundred thousand teaching jobs in India.

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A novelist,meditation motivator,a former CEO of Discovery Networksand entrepreneur, Karan Bajaj, dwells in a multi-dimensional world.The Founder and CEO of the coding coaching platform White Hat Jr., recently entered into a partnership with Byju’s. In an exclusive conversation with BW Businessworld Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, Annurag Batra, Bajaj says the unique product he had developed could achieve the scaling model of Uber. Read on for an insight into this unique personality’s mind as he holds forth on the Ed Tech space in India, success, failure and entrepreneurship. Excerpts:

How have the last 150 days been?

In the last 150 days since the lockdown, surprisingly enough, our business went through a transformation, not because of the lockdown, but before the lockdown.

In February, we had made a decision that we would really start scaling 10x. All the fundamentals of the business – the technology, the product – everything was working very strongly.

We doubled the business just a month before in March. We went from a team of 300 people to 3,000 – 4000 people and from 1,000 teachers in March to 5,000 teachers in the last three to four months. So, I would say, in the last 150 days, the organisation scaled multi-fold – all of that was happening remotely. I think it was very interesting to be able to do that.

There was no playbook to do that, obviously. It was very interesting to scale the organisation and keep it running and functioning.

How does it feel to partner and be able to create value in all facets?

I think what has happened is that over the last decade or so, there has been a lot of input going into various creative endeavours. I have been consumed by what I have done. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. My destiny is to build and create and give me best input to what I have been doing.

I think life is a bit like a slot ma- chine, the only duty you have is to play the slots with full energy. Sometimes you hit a jackpot and sometimes you get broke. So, I have kind of, main- tained that in the last decade.

Tell us how this relationship with Byju’s and Byju Raveendran came about.

We have known of each other but have never known each other – un- til six or seven weeks ago, when Byju reached out to me on WhatsApp. We never met in person of course, and the entire deal happened over Zoom. In some ways we are very similar people. He has a very boundaryless view of the world. We both have the view that an Indian EdTech product could go across the world. I think it will be great for the industry overall. Instead of going on our own, we will join hands. 

Our stated mission is to bring live learning to one in three kids in the world and create a hundred thousand teaching jobs in India. And that’s possible because of the scale and the expertise that Byju’s has already built, helped along with our energy as a new entrant. So that combination is great for the overall eco- system.

What does this relationship hold for the future?

Over the next two to three years, we are going to scale the coding category all over the world. The demand for coding is very liquid all over the world – kids are keen to learn it. The scaling model of our business is similar to that of Uber’s. We recognise that this is a unique product and has a demand all over the world. As a matter of fact, we are going to develop another product for Live Maths – with Byju’s expertise – to make the learning mathemat- ics easier.

What values did you see in Byju?

When I met him for the first time, I sensed an incredibly high level of decisiveness. I think a good entrepreneur is very deci- sive. You will never have perfect information to make any deci- sion and, a solid entrepreneur would use a combination of in- stinct and whatever informa- tion, and converge to a decision quickly. ‘Good’ now is better now than ‘great’ later. He is a ‘good now’ kind of a person.

So, I think he is a person who is decisive, makes big bets, and does not hold back and does not give up when something is not work- ing. He is decisive, which is a good long-term thing and will have the persistence to continue with it.

And what values do you suppose he saw in you?

My sense is that he saw something of a similar personality in me, one that is wanting to make a large impact and is slightly impatient and restless.

Where is the EdTech domain headed and what is your advice to EdTech entrepreneurs?

My advice to EdTech entrepreneurs is not dissimilar to any other entrepreneur. I think overall, the core is to launch quickly, whatever your idea is. In our case, we had launched the first version of the product in December 2018. The heart of an entrepreneur- ship journey is action and launching. 

The consumer feedback loop is most important in every entrepreneurial journey to know whether you have a sustainable idea or not. I think the earlier you get to know, the better you will able to optimise and make it move faster.

What are your views on success and failure?

My general sense is that failure looks good on the resume after a success. But, when you are going through it, there is a severe impact. My general sense is that big, creative endeav- ours will more likely fail than succeed. That’s the nature of things. For instance, my first novel did really well, the second lost money, the third was a complete failure, Discovery did not work, and the latest one worked. I am lucky that two of five worked.

I measure life in decades and not in days. I have always felt if you are consumed by what you are doing with high integrity and come each day with energy, then over the long term, it kind of pays off. I have lived through these times so much that I have kind of become unshakable.

“The power of EdTech is two- fold. First, it allows customised learning for every individual.

The second pillar of EdTech is experiential learning. So, when you are meeting these two promises, that’s where EdTech comes up with the so- lution, which is superior to the physical world.”

In your view, what have you done right in the last 18 months at White Hat Jr?

I would say two things, even though both are diametrically opposite to each other. The first is, not to scale until the product is very high quality. On October 2018, I started the company. The official registration was done by about April 2019. We were just six or seven people in the company. Our focus in the beginning was to just get the product right.

When that mark was hit, I was totally uninhibited in scaling. In a diametrically opposite way, I did not care – I was doubling every month. I was like, things will break, but we have a good product and we should keep scaling.

What I have seen is entrepreneurs get impatient in the early days because people want media and validation of their efforts. But it’s good to be very patient, when you are scaling, you should not be afraid.

Even during the lockdown, we were doubling – we were adding 200 people a week, 1000 teachers a month. We were very unapologetic, we knew we were going to make mistakes, but we had to do it.

Do you see a big market in India for content that is educational? Is there a defined market?

The power of EdTech is two-fold. First, it allows customised learning for every individual. The second pil- lar of EdTech is experiential learning. So, when you are meeting these two promises, that’s where EdTech comes up with the solution, which is superior to the physical world.

What is your opinion of the New Education Policy? 

The education policy is very positive. The detail is in the operation. As a philosophy, it’s very powerful.

Where do you draw your inspiration from? Any book recommendations?

I read a lot – both fiction and non-fiction. That’s an important part of my life. So, a lot of my ideas are actually, and thankfully, shaped from them. I havn’t followed any particular entrepreneur’s journey. I have read a lot of re- spected people and developed my views around that.

In terms of books, I would mention Growth Hacking by Sean Ellis, books on Gamification to get a deeper under- standing of how to build products, Hooked – How to Build Habit Forming Products. I would say every entrepreneurial journey is a journey of some building and creation, so a book like Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl.