The Economic Times Column – STRAIGHT FROM THE GUT – Feb 11, 2011
HE first dropped the class 12th exams to pursue a career in cricket and then cricket to pursue education. Satya Narayanan R, son of a class-three postal services employee, thus started Career Launcher, which today is a 150-crore education service provider. In conversation with Peerzada Abrar of The Economic Times, Satya explains how his entrepreneurial dreams became a reality despite lack of resources.
My early childhood, in Hyderabad, was a very difficult period, full of struggle. We were four children in the family. My father’s salary was below 1,000. The money used to get over before the end of the month. I would attribute the foundation of my entrepreneurial skills to that period, whether it is the value for money or emphasis on education.
ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS A CRICKET MATCH
I once dreamed of playing cricket for India. At the age of 14, I was among the 30 people that former Indian cricketer Bishan Singh Bedi selected out of the 1500 players who had come to hone their cricketing skills under him. At one point, the reason for my existence was cricket. I would eat, sleep and breathe cricket. I played for Delhi state and my college and won many trophies. Sports teaches a lot of skills that are important for an entrepreneur, such as focus, mental fitness, teamwork and an attitude that says that the match is not over until the last ball.
MONEY NOT THE MOTIVATION
The idea to start something on my own was in my head since the day pharmaceutical major Ranbaxy picked me up straight from IIM-B campus. It was a very entrepreneurial company at that time. I became a brand manager from a management trainee, but I wanted to move on — on my own. I conceptualised the idea of training programmes in group discussion and interviews for CAT aspirants. Career Launcher was started in 1995 from my home in Delhi, with a few chairs in the room. I had just 5,000 in the bank as a corpus. But personality development programmes became popular among students. We made 10 lakh in 1997, which became 2 crore in the year 2000. We expanded our services to top B-Schools such as the IIMs, TISS, XLRI, MDI and S P Jain.
The year 2000 was a crazy period of dot-com bubble and bust. VCs were investing aggressively in internet firms. Education start-up Egurucool attracted $10 million that time. But we were not tempted and remained focused on our idea. We also attracted venture capital from Intel and made an acquisition to expand. I learnt that we should not build a business plan for an investor, but for ourselves. An investor is not your god, otherwise he himself would have become an entrepreneur. An investor is incidental to your business plan.
I could see the end of honeymoon period, even though the whole ecosystem was gung-ho about the rapid growth of the education sector. I was restless and trying to decide what to do next. So we started kindergarten to 12th standard schools, a business school and ventured into vocational education. Till the year 2005 we were 100% test prep company with revenues of around 50 crore. We reinvented ourselves and today we are an 150-crore company with 40% of the revenues coming from non-test prep areas. We want to go deep into school, vocational and higher education. The aim is to be a 500-crore firm by 2015.
SATYA NARAYANAN R, CO-FOUNDER, CAREER LAUNCHER