On January 1, 2020 I was excited for the year ahead. I recharged during the December holidays and was ready to work on ShaadiShop, the Indian wedding venue marketplace that I founded in 2014.
ShaadiShop is a marketing company, but since we operate in the wedding space, which [obviously] has been impacted by the pandemic, I kissed my 2020 goals goodbye.
A few months later, after processing a milieu of emotions ranging from denial, loss and hopelessness to “ok, I can get through this. And eventually to “ok, I can actually thrive through this.”, that’s when I founded Virtual PreSkool.
Don’t get me wrong. It was hard.
I Gave Myself a Break
During that period where everyone was adjusting to this new way of life, I did something that I wish I had learned to do a long time ago. I gave myself a break. I gave myself time to process everything that I was feeling which enabled me to manage the stress and negativity that was looming in my mind 24/7.
I went for long walks. On many days instead of listening to a podcast or music I opted to listen to myself – my thoughts. That was very healing.
What saved me from going down a dark hole was self awareness. I recognized that:
- I was going through something major
- That I needed time, and
- That things would get better
At particularly dark moments, I reeled myself in by repeating those 3 things to myself like my own personal mantra. It made all the difference because I allowed myself be in the moment.
The Idea for Virtual PreSkool
Pretty much all startups iterate. Virtual PreSkool today is not my original idea. The initial concept was virtual classes for children age 3-5. I partnered with an experienced Pre-k teacher from a top US school district to develop lessons. She taught the classes while I handled all of the business aspects – website, marketing, accounting etc.
However, it wasn’t working out. Teacher’s schedules were already packed, parents wanted classes at all varying hours. Teaching virtually for that age group was a brand new, (unwelcome) concept for parents and teachers. Getting a 4 year old to sit and pay attention to a screen is no joke.
Pivot to Virtual Hindi Classes
After a few months of iterating I abandoned the original concept and pivoted to teaching conversational Hindi, virtually. Many of my friends have asked me to teach Hindi to their kids.
How I Differentiated. My classes are specifically designed for children growing up outside India – just as I did. The use cases and applications of Hindi in everyday life and the learning styles for this market are unique.
So I had this pivot idea. Next I needed to build a minimal viable product.
I built a basic website and announced it on my personal Facebook page. The response was pretty “great”. Prospects were enthusiastic, supportive and seemed interested. But that’s not the same thing as converting to a customer.
Within 1.5 weeks I did get my first student. Which was fantastic…but short lived. They were very happy. But they asked me to lower my prices to an amount that I felt was not worthwhile. I refused and they walked away.
So I did what every startup does – I iterated. Gathered feedback, made product and pricing changes, and discovered my target market. Eventually I got 1 new student in 1 class. Then 2 more and so on.
That was in July 2020. Now, I average 3 classes per day, 5 days a week with students in every US time zone plus Canada.
Cheers to Trying and Failing
I was able to build the website for Virtual Preskool myself, without hiring a developer, in two days because I’d already gone through the learning curve of creating and managing the ShaadiShop website. Otherwise it might have taken a few weeks or longer.
Things That I Have Learned
Teaching online is totally different. Teaching online – well I should say, excellent teaching online, is not simply taking in-class lessons and teaching them virtually. Teaching virtually is completely different.
Shift From B2B to B2C. This is the first time I’ve ever worked in a business-to-consumer company (B2C). The 18+ years of my career have all been in business-to-business products (B2B). A major difference is the length of the sales cycle; which is much much shorter in my B2C business. Simultaneously there’s much more account stewardship compared to my B2B experience. And since I’m working with children so there are more security and safety aspects.
I continuously learn and iterate.
The Experience 7 Months In
I’ve been teaching Hindi classes for 7 months and I love it. I’m stretching my creative muscles constantly. It’s gratifying and fulfilling when a parent shares that their child is enjoying the class, that it has inspired them, and of course, that it’s making a difference in their ability to speak Hindi.
I have my not so great days too and lessons that were a flop. When that happens and the self doubt thoughts seep in, I revert to the method that I shared at the beginning of this post: give myself a break, take time to process and then get back to it. I have had some of my greatest breakthroughs, fresh ideas, and insightful moments during those times.
Starting an EdTech company during the pandemic is my way of turning a bad situation into an opportunity. Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster. There are constant ups and downs. Sometimes a single day is a roller coaster. That’s actually one of my favorite aspects of being an entrepreneur – for me, that’s what makes it exhilarating.
I think a lot of people make it sound glamorous because all too often we hear about the success stories of those who made it ‘big’. And their journey to get there often sounds like it came out of a fairytale where everything was all roses and rainbows.
That’s the opposite of what it’s actually like. It’s lonely. It’s messy. And you fail a lot more than you have wins. But when you do win, that feeling makes up for the failures.