Sunday, December 02, 2012

Breakpoint: Another Pivot

Start-up life is exciting: Disappointments and rejections come thick and fast. Just when one thinks that there is light at the end of tunnel, another endless tunnel starts. In what could be the reverse of bungee-jumping, indeed one would imagine the sky having gravity after talking to any aspiring entrepreneur, one lives the life in spurts of joy and endless despair thereafter; indeed, it is this experience that is thrilling, indeed only after all of it is over, and would be material for heroic stories for telling one's grandchildren, minus the silly bits. 

There are lots of silly bits, unavoidably perhaps. At this time, slightly sulking from the latest disappointments, I am onto this what's-going-wrong quandary, and the thinking whether the whole project is quixotic, only to realize quickly that the main problem Quixote had was of not accepting the world as it was. The mantra of what I am doing now is to be able to pivot, to change and to adapt; and my solace should come from good old Darwin - the one who adapts, survives.

We are trying to build a college from ground up with entirely start-up finance, which is too complex for a lot of people. Besides, we are right in the middle of the fault line of two investment mindsets: The education investors are somewhat horrified at our audacity to build a new college with shoe-string investment, whereas technology investors won't touch such a regulated industry with a bargepole. It seems we are too ambitious - a fault I freely acknowledge but it seems to be catching up with me - and trying to do much. 

So, this may be the time for a pivot, the word I am growing find of. It may be time for us to choose one mindset, of technology or of education, rather than trying to ride two horses together. This may mean giving up on being a 'college', at least for the moment, and focus on creating a supplement to college education. We can still do what we set out to do: Create a business education programme for post-recession world, which will talk less about steady lifelong big company careers and more about the real life, of change, disruption and innovative possibilities, that a graduate actually has to live. And, besides, we shall make it a really global proposition, allowing students to travel and study, to see global businesses from inside.

To achieve this, and yet give students something they would want, we are building partnerships with colleges, in different countries, to weave together a programme, which will sit alongside their regular programmes, on global business, which will blend travel and study, combine online and offline interaction and be based on student research, even at the undergraduate level. We would stay outside the Diploma marketplace and the regulatory rigmarole that comes with it, and rather build innovative programmes offering life-changing experiences and deep learning, which can then sit alongside various education offerings our partners already have. Where we shall add value is to bring the global and local together, at the time when globalization is hotly contested and localism is back with vengence, just in its most intolerant, chauvinistic form. This is indeed a bot of swimming against the tide, but for better, I would hope.

We use technology to do what we are proposing to do: But technology isn't the main thing here. The whole thing wouldn't happen without technology. What we are not trying to do is to sell British degrees abroad, which is the only bit the investment community often gets. What we are trying to do is to bring a global community together, on shared values and ideals of global exchange and communication, and the assumption that all businesses are now irreversibly global. We would often say that we are building a platform - allowing our audience to indulge and think that we are talking about sophisticated technology - but how we see platform as a combination of technology, people, process and relationships together, and indeed, values, sharing across the board a deep faith in globalism and of openness, collaboration and toleration.

What we do is nothing new, nor too expensive (we are funding it with our personal savings and credit cards so far) - but measured by the rejections we have so far got, from investors who want something tried and tested, I am ecstatic that we are on the path to build something really novel. I know how that statement sounds, and I am fully conscious of the risk of self-delusion, but even before we got into the rejection territory, I wrote in this blog that investors are yet to understand the mechanics of education business, particularly Higher Ed. They would usually want a factory proposition, because most models the business schools teach them are about reducing everything to a factory model. They are slightly foxed by what educators do: From this disconnect comes the really bad oxymoron such as result oriented research, balanced scorecard for education institutions and all that. In fact, I am so interested in how the investment community see higher education, and indeed, if there is a business model of higher ed which fits the private investment mindset, that I have now made this the subject of the thesis that I write for my Masters at UCL.

So, here I am - pivoting and adapting - at a rare moment in life when I am presented with an opportunity to build something. I am overwhelmed, however, by the goodwill of friends, who came over and offered investments, small sums but enough to get us going, get the model and the first courses established. There is a hard road ahead, and I am bracing myself for a long period of hard work, but this experience, if anything, is more rewarding than anything else I have ever done: This is a special moment when change, more than continuity, is smarter strategy.    

3 comments:

MSB said...

Hi Supriyo

Exciting, to say, the least. Path breaking is what I expect. However, to be honest, what you have written makes hundreds of questions go around my mind - what is the "business" model (if I could use the word), who are stake holders, who are target students, what do they get upon completion of course, etc.. etc.. I am sure you have all this worked out. But do you have a place where one could see this in little more detail? Cheers and really want to see this take wings...

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

Mandeep

Thanks for this comment.

The idea is to offer Higher Education using a 'blended' model, where the students are taught by UK university tutors using online learning technology, and supported, locally and face to face, by local mentors. The curriculum is global-local, where they study for an UK degree at this time, but the training is contextualized, within the framework, for the students' home countries. The learning cohorts are global - the students will learn in groups drawn from all over the world. The business proposition is that this is delivered through partnership with colleges in different countries - so these programmes will sit alongside the usual programmes in an educational institution, let's say, in India - and the students will get the benefit not just of a 'foreign' degree but the learning experience in the global setting.

It is indeed early days (as reflected in my post perhaps) but we have a simple information site up and running at www.u-aspire.co.uk. I should hopefully be in India in late January, and would look forward to catch up with you at some point.

Supriyo

MSB said...

Hi Supriyo

Thanks for your revert. Good to hear you are coming to India in Jan. Look forward to catching up with you and discussing your venture further. Let me know your dates.
Cheers.
Mandeep

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