How a former software engineer-turned-entrepreneur created a successful brand out of her venture
Shreekala, co-founder of Crack Verbal invested all her savings into starting her business. Today, the brand is a well-known platform among GMAT and GRE aspirants. Shreekala talks to us about her entrepreneurial journey.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Born and brought up in Gujarat, I completed my Graduation in Physics after which I did my Masters in Computer Applications. Work took me to Mumbai and then to Bangalore, where I joined Hewlett Packard as a software engineer - eventually growing into a lead role. I spent over a decade in the IT industry and had a great career - the most exciting part of which was travelling across the world to solve client problems.
How did the idea of Crack Verbal come about? What has your entrepreneurial journey been like so far?
My husband (and co-founder) was teaching part-time and had created a small setup that trained students for GMAT. That's when the business-minded Gujarati brain in me started working. I thought - why not take this and create a profitable business out of it? So in 2010, I quit my full time job with Hewlett Packard and started out by renting a small office.
Eventually once I was able to set up things, we hired our first few employees and money started trickling in. This gave my husband confidence to join the business fulltime. From just 9 people in the first batch we now are part of 1200 students’ lives every year with a team of over 20 employees and 5 centers across Bangalore and Chennai.
Can you tell us about some of your biggest challenges as an entrepreneur?
As we did not have any background in business, we learned everything through fixing everyday challenges. Another challenge that we have faced from day 1 is getting the right people in the team. Figuring who is the best fit is a challenge even after 5 yrs.
In the initial stages, how did you fund the operations?
We used our savings for the operations. My PF money was used to pay the rent deposit for our first center. Post that we have been cash positive and remain bootstrapped.
What future plans do you have for the venture and yourself?
We have been successful in creating our brand for all those preparing for GMAT in Bangalore today. Our focus now is to have the same brand recall for other products and services such as GRE coaching and our online courses. I am a tech person at heart so I am always looking at new technology such as introducing mobile apps.
In this sector, which area needs more refinement nationally?
This sector needs to understand that technology is still an enabler - the focus should be on producing world-class content and innovative pedagogy. Unfortunately, we have seen a lot of companies that seem to just focus on the tech platform while ignoring the teaching quality. This might appeal to VCs as it gives the “hockey stick” growth but this will not appeal to a student who is looking at how the tool can help him learn.
What are the biggest mistakes a new entrepreneur should avoid?
Whenever you start with a new venture, pick up something you are passionate about. Don’t think of only profits and money, etc when you start.
Focus should be to solve a real problem and give a kickass product or service.
Also customers and referrals are very important. The life of your product or service will depend a lot on what customers are saying about you.
Can you leave our readers with a few thoughts?
Enjoy every day you go to work. Be positive and remember every problem has a solution. Failures are part of the game. We just have to get into the right gear up and move on.