My First (Entrepreneurial) Success!

In: Entrepreneurship

By Bakshi Gulam

8 Jun 2014

Is Failure the Only Option?

A year back I wrote a post titled “Indeed, FAILURE is the only option for me too!” narrating series of failures I encountered in my Entrepreneurial Journey. The last one was a failure in building a Technical Training venture which specializes in Open Source technologies. The major reason for that failure was identified to be “failure to arrange required Classroom Infrastructure”. Once I moved to Chennai, I thought I could better arrange such Classroom here than in Cuddalore.

Search for Infrastructure has Begun!

Being working professionals, I and my co-founder decided to keep our commitment as low as possible for these kind of entrepreneurial experiments. Hence we decided to conduct workshops planned for One-Day. And our first workshop was planned on Open Source Content Management System – Joomla! We then started desperately searching for Classrooms with computers suitable for Technical Trainings and started calculating cost per participant of the workshop. The major issue we had was “Fixing a Date”. Since we were unsure whether participants would turn or not, we were not able to negotiate with infrastructure partner firmly. Luckily, we found a infrastructure partner who is flexible for start-ups like us. We explained our problems to them. They understood us and provided various options to choose from which eventually led us to a win-win situation.

Students – Key Customers of Any Education Business

Now we have infrastructure in place. The next plan is all about “selling the seats”. And the current education ground in India/Tamilnadu/Chennai is not in favor of someone who wants to bring some change to it. It is so resistant to change and it has made our students “monkeys” as I mentioned in my previous posts. Even if someone says “Hey! Come on guys!! I’ll teach you some practical stuff.”, their reaction will be “Who wants?” or “Why should I?”

Reputation Matters

If the same course is offered by some reputed institution, same people who asked above questions will consider joining them – not because the course is relevant to them but just because it’s being offered by “reputed institution” and they will be given a certificate at the end of the course which they value the most. I know this fact well and I even know I can’t build that reputation over a night. But still I wanted to create a decent level of confidence on me. It is at that time, my co-founder introduced me to some service called “ThinkVidya”. I was impressed by their business model and felt it was the right tool to gain confidence among my participants. ThinkVidya collects the course fee from participants and holds it till the course is conducted as promised and only then it pays to the tutor. If the course is not conducted as promised, it returns the money back to participants. It is this feature of ThinkVidya that convinced me that I can create some decent level of confidence among my students.

Students’ Response was Really Disappointing

I created a profile in ThinkVidya and created a new course too. Next comes “Marketing & Sales”. Being in above stated education environment, I was seriously thinking how to market my course. Since online marketing is cheap and easy, I started off with that. I created ads in sites like Olx, Quikr, etc. I posted in various social networking sites too. Even after a week’s time, there was absolutely no response. When I had lost hope on reaching right people, one of my best friend suggested me to try distributing handbills. I made my mind to try the last marketing strategy – “distributing bills by hand”. We printed around 1500 bills and started distributing it standing in front of engineering college entrances. The advantage of offline marketing (esp. handbills) is that we can get to know our customer’s response immediately and more precisely. That kind of response we got was not really encouraging. And indeed, it was very disappointing.

Offline Marketing Still Rocks!

Since the response was not that good, we got discouraged and slowed down our aggressive campaign. Hence we could distribute only around 500 handbills in select colleges. I told my co-founder “See! We have done our best. Now let’s take a back seat and watch the show. If people turn up, we’ll book the classroom and conduct the workshop. We’ll quit this experiment, otherwise.” Even one week before the announced date, there were no registrations. We prepared ourselves to shut the shop. In the last week, we slowly started getting registrations. We realized our offline marketing strategy had really paid off. But the rate of registration was not that impressive. When there were only 3 days for the workshop, there were only 5 to 7 registrations which was 50% far behind from our no-loss criterion – “minimum of 15 participants”.

On the Horns of a Dilemma

This made of situation even worse and posed a tough test for our decision making skills. Either we had to cancel the workshop or conduct it bearing the losses. Canceling the workshop will save us from losses but will devastate our reputation/confidence. Conducting workshop will retain or even increase the confidence but will bring heavy loss for us. Neither of horns was comfortable. Since we were just starting-up, we decided “reputation” was more important than “profit” to us at that time. Hence we decided to go ahead and book the classroom and do other arrangements.

The Wind is in Favor of Us

As we started preparing for the workshop, registrations were also soaring up. And Alhamdhulillah! on the day of workshop, including last-minute registrations, there were 15 participants satisfying our no-loss criterion. Though there were small glitches in the planned schedule, other things went well up to participants’ expectations. At the end of that day, we too left the tower with an unknown feeling of happiness – may be a feeling of accomplishment ;-)

Visit Gulam.in ==> Trainings ==> Joomla! for course details and some photos of the course.

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This is Bakshi Gulam. I’m a programmer, a blogger and an open-source lover interested in anything related to computer systems. Click here to read my bio.

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