“You left the world of selling to mobile/telecom operators to jump into a world of selling to non-profit institutions?”, a friend of mine asked me quizzically. I didn’t have a short answer for him then. Here are my thoughts:
Back in 2007, I co-founded a startup in the mobile telecom industry. We were solving the challenge of managing data, web and video content all coming from disparate sources. What transpired in terms of mobile / internet growth was beyond any analyst’s (or our) wildest predictions – with online video leading the way. By late 2011, the early world of MOOCs (for all its goods and bads) at MIT and Stanford got the attention of even people like me outside of the education space. New online video content in an area that everyone feels a connection to (Education)… I needed to understand more.
I spent the next few months just talking to people in the space – university leaders, veterans of the ed-tech industry and anyone else that had an opinion. One of those, Ajay Sharda, the former VP of Technology of WebCT/Blackboard and Experience.com, became my founding partner at Pragya. Vijay Kumar, Senior Strategic Advisor for Digital Learning at MIT and a well known luminary in education who has seen every cycle of ed-tech evolution was another important validating influence. It was apparent that there was a much bigger problem that was unsolved than the ones the MOOCs were addressing. Some context: in early 2012 there were around 200 courses in all the major MOOC platforms combined, while there are more than 2,000 courses in the catalog of any major university.
There was a lot of digital content on campuses already – courses in Learning Management Systems, journal subscriptions in library repositories, content in cloud drives – but very little of it was being used effectively. It was super difficult to find and share any of it… even within the same academic department, let alone across colleges. Wait… haven’t we seen similar problems in other industries? Where are the enterprise search and content management solutions that we find in companies worldwide? The problem was that we weren’t dealing with ordinary file storage repositories in campuses. All the campus systems were like black boxes – what is in an LMS stays in the LMS! But we knew how to talk to these black boxes – our team built those systems. We knew how search and content management worked. Who else is better equipped to solve this problem?
By the end of 2012, we operationally launched Pragya, surrounded ourselves with investors and advisors who knew lot more than us and started building a solution. We were fortunate to have early customer partners like MIT and experienced investors and advisors like John Katzman, Roger Novak, Chris Vento and Jean Hammond who believed in our vision. Along the way, we realized with the help of our early customers that the problem was even bigger than we thought. It wasn’t just about course content. What about information that can help students take the right courses, connect with the right mentors or find the right jobs? Is there a way for students to personalize and align all their learning activities (not just course work) to focused career paths?
Would you rather spend a year selling telecom gear to operators or work with colleges to make sure students graduate and find the right career path?
Easy answer… Pragya.