Whenever I interview any School Founder, I feel really great. I remember sitting in school and mulling my time, sometimes it really felt like a cage. The Maths period was really the worst of it all with teachers lurking over me for not knowing anything whereas History, Geography, English, Hindi and other periods were a powerhouse of knowledge I still remember and cherish. It was really great chatting up with Sugandh Jolly who shared a great vision for the future generation.
Please describe your startup. What does it offer and why is it unique?
Indian education system has been evolving like never before and today we are in dire need of a global learning environment for our children to help them become better leaders. My startup is a private play school/preschool located in the heart of Gurugram inspired by a refined international curriculum and the best of global practices.
It offers a creative environment for children to nurture with the best of caretakers and the best teachers cum mentors. Our extreme focus on creating a perfect outdoor learning experience for our children is what makes us unique and our infrastructure plays a major role here. We encourage outdoor learning classrooms for our children to help them interact with Mother Nature and learn through the most natural ways. Our global curriculum is well equipped and provides all the necessary tools and resources to help our children feel intellectually enlightened and aroused while they are playing or exploring the outdoors.
We aim to redefine the early education program by following one of a kind approach to building up a child’s curiosity by innovating and redesigning learning spaces.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur or rather a MOMpreneur?
I believe that every woman has a multidimensional personality, which comes quite naturally to this gender. My inspiration is my children who are not just my daily dose of happiness but also my motivating forces. When I was desperately seeking the best school for my children, I felt the lack of quality and innovation in the current education industry. Since I was fortunate enough to have resources and ample support from my family, I embarked on the journey of setting up this global preschool model for parents looking for an institution that can provide them with quality, creativity and an international environment for their children.
What are some challenges that you faced initially when you started out? Please share specific examples with advice to entrepreneurs on overcoming their challenges?
Unfortunately, the education industry in India is not growing at the pace we want it to grow at. There are only a handful of teachers who are willing to teach for the cause of education.
Commercialization is deeply rooted in the system and it is becoming harder to get the right teachers, who are not just passionate but also are working towards the cause of creating a better learning experience. Hiring quality staff was the most difficult task to get the school to start functioning. My personal experience with hiring has many interesting examples and I would like to share one with you. While my hiring spree, I got ample of resumes but the best ones came from certain headhunting companies I had hired which sent me the most exclusive profiles of candidates with excellent portfolios. Later, I hired most of my staff from the list sent by my recruitment company. I learnt my lesson and that as an entrepreneur one should master the art of delegating and not try to do everything themselves. Delegation saves you time, effort and money and makes sure you spend your time transforming your vision into a reality and not spend your time doing things, which are better left to the hands of experts.
What are all the things that an entrepreneur needs to keep in mind? i.e. apart from your great idea, what do you need to be armed with?
The foundation of your idea is certainly your USP and once you have that, you should make that your biggest weapon and strength at the same time. Build on your vision on this USP and prove your viability to the market.
Getting your legalities in place is the most basic yet most ignored fundamental which entrepreneurs take for granted. Acquiring licenses and getting paperwork in place can help you be calm and confident later in case of legal hassles. Hire a part-time/ full-time legal advisor and take expert consultations when required. Some entrepreneurs rely solely on the expertise of their in-house team, which could prove to be ineffective at times.
Another important factor is having a vision for scalability and sustainability, which entrepreneurs tend to ignore at the preliminary stage. If your business is not sustainable and futuristic with its approach, the business is most likely to face problems when it is least expected to.
Did you have a mentor to guide you through your entrepreneurial journey? In your opinion, what does a mentor bring to the table?
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a mentor to help me through this journey but I do understand the importance of one in today’s world. I believe a mentor can really help you build a viable business model inspired by their own set of hardships and experiences. I believe they are more than just role models because you share a more mature relationship, which evolves over time directed towards creating something exemplary. Your personal dedication related to doing your homework, setting up goals, being dedicated to the cause and being consistent with your actions play a major role in defining your relationship with your mentor. Since mentors are highly professional experts in their respective fields, one should be highly reverent towards their suggestions and feedback. Your dedication towards fulfilling the set of tasks makes way for longevity in the relationship.
How did you recruit your first team? What advice do you have for building and nurturing teams in your startup?
As I have mentioned previously, one of my biggest challenges was to hire the right faculty for my school and delegating it to an expert really helped me get the right people on board. One great advice to all budding entrepreneurs is don’t try to do everything yourself because then you end up doing nothing.
Keeping your team motivated throughout is a task and you need to constantly make sure that they are happy and encouraged enough to put their heart and soul in their work. Just asking them simple questions throughout the day about their life and work in general makes them feel important and wanted, which is very important to retain employees. Enquiring about their well-being and out of work activities will make them want to work for you even more. The key is to bond with them on a personal level and make them feel like they deserve to be here. Also, not to forget doing timely activities for them like bringing speakers on board or health enthusiasts to make them feel that they are being taken care of is imperative.
Please describe some successes and failures you have experienced as an entrepreneur.
I have had my share of successes and failures (more like experiences). My list of successful milestones includes something as basic as the first admission in the school to the first successful annual day ceremony. What I have learnt is to not take too much pride in my successes and share it with my faculty to the utmost because the more you share your happiness and success with others, chances are they will grow at a faster pace.
Failures aka mistakes have been innumerable and I do take immense pride in making corrections thereafter. I was trying to be the best mother, daughter-in-law and the most daring entrepreneur.
I had forgotten that without sacrifices and compromises, you couldn’t win a game. I felt miserable not being there for my family when they needed me but I stopped feeling guilty after a while because I knew I was building something worthwhile and patience is the key.
I was trying to be a part-time entrepreneur and part-time housewife, but the truth is you can only be one at a time. Once that dilemma was solved, I was at ease with my self.
What are 3 key lessons that you have learned as an entrepreneur?
Create and protect your company culture: Your aim should be to foster an enriching culture and an environment, which nurtures growth.
Delegate your tasks to the right people: By delegating work you are indirectly empowering your employee and sharing responsibility in a way to help them grow.
Follow up is key: As an entrepreneur, I have learnt that it is an art to get work done from people and being persistent is a trait one needs to imbibe. Following up and cold calling sounds cliché but it certainly is the most important marketing tactic to make sure your work gets done.
I hope you learnt and enjoyed reading this interview as much as we loved interviewing and writing these.
Keep on reading,