26 September 2017

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Providing Test Preparation Solutions

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Meet Tuhin Ghosh – the co-founder of PrepGenie. PrepGenie offers test preparation solutions for GAMSAT and other niche university entrance examinations in U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Although, PrepGenie’s target market in U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the USA, the company is based out of India. Find below, extracts of the interview with Tuhin.
Tell us something about your company.
PrepGenie is into providing Test preparation solutions for very niche university entrance exam based in U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. These are not your typical GMAT, GRE which are covered by everybody in the world. So for instance, right now, we are targeting the Australian market and we are targeting two tests called GAMSAT which is like your MBBS and UMAT which is like the Diploma in Medicine in India.

Is this an online model?
This is basically a series of preparatory tools which consist of drills, sectional evaluation, as well as full length tests. 70% of this is delivered online through our LMS (Learning Management System). Since both these tests are actually taken on pen and paper, 30% of it is sent out in print.

Do you have an office in Australia and other countries?
We are based out of India and what we have done is in the last one month, we have done a joint venture with one of our competitors in Australia who give coaching classes. They liked our content and now we have formed a JV. So they provide the contact session that is the coaching classes while we provide the content for different kinds of tests.

Do you have a website for this?

Yes, it is www.prepgenie.com.au.

How did you come up with this idea?

Actually, this was an idea of my friend and business partner - Shantanu Sikdar. He was the ex-founder of Gateforum which is now the number 1 GATE Test Prep solution provider in India. He wanted to venture out in a very niche market which is not catered by any of the bigger players. We started working on the content at a pilot stage right from the beginning of 2010. We started experimenting with content on online support and community forums and only in the last year that is 2011, we started seeing some traction and I joined Shantanu. Today, we have a team of around a dozen people, partially into content and partially into technology and internet marketing.

What were you doing before you started PrepGenie?
I worked in companies like Tata Motors, ICICI and Infosys before starting my consulting company called Blue Stream Management Consultants. That’s how I got reconnected with Shantanu. As far as Shantanu is concerned, he started off with the founding team member of MediTrack which was the number one assessment center in India. He then went on to co-found a company called Gateforum in 2004 and he left Gateforum around 2007. He then started Ensine Knowledge System which is into content development and internet marketing. So, PrepGenie was part of it and then finally PrepGenie was formalized and it’s such a great company now.

How do you see the future of PrepGenie? Are you looking to grow it into a publicly traded company?

We haven’t thought about making it into a Public Limited Company or anything like that but a lot of other things are going to emerge out of this particular business. For instance because we are developing solutions online and we are developing this on the Open-Source Moodle – our LMS, we have kind of got the in-house expertise in some technological pockets like Moodle, LMS, internet marketing.

Then the same kind of services can also be catered to assessment centers, tests in India. So I mean, we can go down to the State education level also. So, after we are stabilized in terms of University Entrance exams, what we need to do is we need to get into registration exams. What I mean by registration exams is that like you have your chartered accountants, right? So you have those exams which are taken online. For instance, US Fire department, real-estate broking, they all have this exam. So, we need to get into registration exams which have got a huge market and then look forward to other similar revenues to extract.

Ideally, end of the day, we should be a content development solution provider driven by analytics and technology where we can provide value for money content for people to prepare for different exams. It can be exams, it can be interviews, it can be other things like that.

What do you see as your main challenges in this business?
One challenge which we recently have overcome is the distance because we are catering only to Australia, New Zealand, U.K., Ireland and U.S. Now, there is definitely a culture gap because when we come from India and you cater to their tests, the one obvious question that they ask is, you are not from Australia, how do you know about different cultural lingos? To overcome this, we did our own in-house research plus now that we have a joint venture partner, we can deliver our products offline as well.

The second challenge is obviously the resource constraint. Resources not only in terms of the money, but also in terms of people. I will say, these are the two key challenges that we face now and of course, there are certain small ones.

Do you think being based out of India; you have an edge?
We have our development team in Kolkata. So you get the best of people in Kolkata in terms of science, in terms of humanities, all the subjects that we cover from colleges like Jadavpur University Residency and other B-Schools at a very reasonable salary.

If I had to hire them in Bangalore, the salaries would have been double but I am sure that I couldn’t have got those kind of qualities here in Bangalore. So, definitely we have a cost and a knowledge edge by being based in Kolkata.

What kind of people are you looking to hire?
One set of people we are looking at are people who can guide the entire content management process. They don’t need to create the content but they need to focus more on the review.

We go through four cycles of review. One is the technical review, then there is proofreading, then there is validation and then the final review. So, somebody to take care of all of this with some project management skills. Then, we are looking at people who can take care of marketing. Our marketing is entirely internet driven and although we have the strategies in place, we need somebody to execute it. So, if somebody has to execute community forum strategy, somebody has to go on to these online communities and keep posting content or if it is something like marketing with Google Ad Words, somebody has to get those banners designed.

On the technology side, we will probably need couple of more developers.

What qualities do you look for in an employee?
I think only one quality that is the ‘right attitude’. I don’t look at pedigree, the experience and stuff like that because there are still a lot of young guys who work with us till midnight and get things done. They are not afraid to make mistakes but they admit their mistakes and try to make it better. I guess the right attitude is the only thing that we look at.

What has been your biggest hiring mistake?
We hired people going with their degrees and experience and we found out that they don’t have the initiative or they are not very creative. Very much lazy minded. So we suffered there. So that’s why we shifted to a much younger team. In fact, the average experience in our team today is not more than 3.5 years.

What do you think are your biggest mistakes so far?
There are lots of them where in sometimes we are in the Chicken and Egg kind of a situation. Either we get the content right but don’t have the resources for the marketing. Then, we get the marketing right, but the content is not in place.

We had committed a lot of mistakes like this initially. Initially, we had a bigger team and then we realized, there was variation in the content. So that is when we started investing a bit higher on freelancers.

Of course, I mean the other very, very common dilemma is where you need to spend, where you don’t need to spend. Not having a review mechanism in place – it was one of our biggest mistake because two years back when we started doing this, since we didn’t have a review mechanism, very silly mistakes actually crept into the content which was not pardonable.

These are some of the mistakes that I can think of at the top of my mind.

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur who is just starting off in business?

I think it’s just one sentence that I would have, believe in your ideas and have some patience and then if you have patience – probably you can be in the 5% that succeeds. Even if you don’t succeed, you will learn a lot and if you again decide to get back into a salaried job, you will carry much higher value by being able to contribute far better to your team.

 

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