Arun Jagannathan, CEO, CrackVerbal speaks to Monarose Sheila Pereira about the joys, thrills and challenges of becoming an entrepreneur and running the business show on your own steam
Firstly, what made you turn entrepreneur?
At the cost of sounding philosophical, the answer is you don’t choose entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship chooses you. What differentiates an entrepreneur is him finding the right opportunity, and right circumstances to execute his plans. In my case, the right opportunity was in plain sight - I had about ten years of test-prep training experience and I had the drive to start up in this space. I had also reached a point in my career and life where I could execute my plans. Education is a very fulfilling profession, as you get to directly impact the career choices of many students. Now that I am here, I think what really matters, is making a difference in the lives of others.
How has your education helped you?
I have a Master’s degree in computers so I cannot say that when I went to college, I had any serious training in entrepreneurship. However, I am self-taught. One of my first books was Guy Kawasaki ‘Art of the Start’. This was followed by watching countless hours of YouTube videos (when the bandwidth was still counted in kbps) and endless articles on the Internet. I also signed up for an accelerator called the Startup Leadership Program (SLP) in Bangalore in 2011, and got mentoring from NEN.
What is your job profile?
I am responsible for three functions within CrackVerbal: Overall strategy and leadership, Marketing and Academics. Under overall strategy, I need to make sure we are doing the right things - as opposed to worrying about doing things right. As the Head of Marketing, I am usually involved in creating and promoting good content so students can discover CrackVerbal. You cannot market without understanding the consumer - in my case, the student. Who better to do this than me? Someone who has spent the last 15 years in the classroom in front of students! Finally, in my role as a teacher, I am responsible for maintaining the bar for CrackVerbal faculty. It is important to not only get the right faculty to teach, but also to ensure that they have the correct training to succeed in the classroom. Apart from this, the less glamorous part of the job is solving questions daily, and keeping oneself abreast of the latest updates in the test.
Did you have to invest heavily in order to start your business?
Financially, the investment has been low as we have been cash-positive from day one. This meant that we really did not have to dig into our pockets to start CrackVerbal. However, the emotional investment in the business sometimes takes a toll on the Founder. In my case, I always tell myself ‘What else would I be doing right now? ‘On most days the answer is ‘Nothing - this is it!’. But on the rare occasions when I feel otherwise, I try to take a break and not worry too much about the problems at hand.
How much can one earn?
A trainer with under one to two years experience, starts off with anywhere between Rs.200 to Rs.300 per hour. Once you gain a reputation for passionate teaching, and are able to directly impact student progress, you can earn anywhere up to Rs.1 lakh a month.
How many years does one take to become a professional?
Though one can start teaching within a few months, it takes at least a few years to understand the subtle nuances of classroom management. However, for you to independently create new lesson plans, conduct large workshops, and manage diverse student queries, it would take a minimum of five years.
What are the advantages of entrepreneurship?
The advantage of entrepreneurship is the joy of building something. It is an indescribable feeling to see something that you started from scratch, take a life of its own. I think the emotional aspect trumps perhaps everything else. From a monetary stand point, an entrepreneur has the upside of making a lot of money. This can also provide valuable equity in the form of the brand name that you create. If you are successful and your company goes public or gets acquired, then the financial rewards are far more than what you would have imagined.
What are the difficulties that you faced in your field?
I think the biggest challenge is, of course, the risk of failure. There are no guarantees in the world of business and the sooner the entrepreneur understands this, the better it is for him to know when to quit. Having said that, I think that in today’s world, starting your own business is as risky as continuing with your 9-to-5 job. There is no guarantee that you are going to succeed in business - but then there is no guarantee you will be able to hold on to your desk job either.
What are your plans for the future?
As the future is evolving to a more digital one, we see CrackVerbal move towards becoming an online learning platform for students wanting to prepare for the GMAT or the GRE. We have already launched products in this space, and are seeing very positive traction from students.
What advice do you have for those who want to be an entrepreneur?
If you want to be an entrepreneur, then remember to pick something that is at the intersection of three things: it should be something you love doing, it should be something you are really skilled at, and it should be something that should provide a real benefit to people. If you are able to find this junction and get on the track, then this will be one rollercoaster ride you would not want to miss!