Meet the (former) edtech founder who won’t work hard

For someone who has been in the market for a fitness band that can make them push harder, all this former entrepreneur wants is to stop running.

Ravi HandaBy all accounts, he is a successful Founder of Education Technology who walks by the famous standard of getting out by selling. Now he’s out too non-academicwhich last year acquired the cryptic-named online learning platform, Handa Ka FundaHe is actively looking for a job.

Not any kind of work. He’s totally picky, and here’s his plan: “Ideally, I’m looking for a job where I don’t have to do anything and still get paid a lot of money.”

This ideal does not exist. Certainly not in the over-enthusiastic start-up world where the “hustler” is a badge of honor and the founders endorse 18 working hours. And he knows it.

By Ravi’s own admission, this is the first time in his career that he’s been in an inconspicuous position. But he’s sure of this: “The only thing I know is that I don’t want something full-time. Right now, my priority is to break free of time.”

It’s an interesting concept – not having time – and Ravi gets into the details of it. But it’s not something you often hear that escapes the lips of budding entrepreneurs. Especially not from someone who has passed the precious gates of IIT-Kharagpur, and with a dual degree to boot – BTech and MTech in Computer Science and Engineering.

Hustler, which has been an almost clan motto in startup circles, has recently gotten a bad rep. Constant milling and plowing through meeting after meeting and iteration after iteration is almost inevitable for most founders.

Startup employees have embraced a “work hard, play hard” culture. The ‘Hardest Play’ part has been suspended during the Covid curfew. As companies worked harder to survive, the successes from those efforts were glorified.

Then the virus receded, and the severity of that phase quickly subsided into exhaustion, great surrender, and quiet take-off.

Few of the startup founders who sought to revive the buzz with what sounded like motivational posts on social media in their heads have had to run for cover because a generation is weary of pressure at work.

Yet, as Jasdeep Magu points out, clamor in its toxic form is often self-made as well, with many individuals pursuing their multiple ambitions—”one active project, another passive, one passionate project.” Jasdeep is the co-founder and CEO of Invisible Illness India, a workplace-focused mental health startup.

“Everyone I know has three sources of income. I don’t know a single person who just goes 9 to 5 and goes home and gets chills,” she says in a phone interview. “And that’s what bustle culture really means – the need to take every second of your time to prove you’re someone.”

Jasdeep says this manifests in the office as companies that value people only for their work, not for their person.

With that, she has a good word for startups. Many young companies are changing the narrative not only by pushing numbers but also by engaging their employees in multiple ways and celebrating their impact on the company as a whole.

“Just like when there is a crisis, people have a different goal. It is not only about sales, but also when there is a crisis, we manage it together. Then it is as if, I am not just these numbers, I am more than that.”

Ravi, 40, the son of government doctors with transferable jobs, believes the hustle in startup culture mostly arises because people are significantly overpaid, and considers himself among those who have been.

“Once you overpay people and everyone around you is overpaid, the expectation is, OK, everyone is a superstar, hard-working…once working 12 hours a day becomes the norm, that’s a problem.”

Trust Ravi, the totally funny and enthusiastic guy of Larry David, to embody the absurd to make his point.

“I can tell you the example of a friend of mine who spent a week or 10 days in Bali (when offices were still closed), saying that he still works at his home in Bengaluru. And this is the founder and CEO of a well-funded company. Nobody in his office knows that this boy is He was on my mind and working from there,” Ravi says, visibly amused by the anecdote during a short interview with Zoom.

“At the end of the day, you have to have some way of motivating a large number of people. I understand they need to do it. (But) I also think some of them are overdoing it.”

Ravi talks about his experience as a founder who managed the Handa Ka Funda for eight years with minimal effort (the team at the most were 12 people).

“I think if you give people a certain amount of freedom… they’ll do a good enough job to justify their pay… I think that’s good enough.”

Ravi’s opinion is not necessarily a blow to the clamor. After all, shortly after he tweeted looking for recommendations for a smartwatch to help improve his fitness, Vishal Gondal, founder and CEO of GOQii, burst into the conversation to showcase his sports startup’s smartwatches. (A “talk” was agreed upon the next day, and a watch was obtained.)

Instead, Ravi’s priorities seem long-established, even before his start days. After graduating in 2006, he decided not to take on a job in computer science.

“In college, I realized that the people who work in computer science engineering were smart and hardworking. I realized that it would be difficult to do a job… (but) teaching was something that came naturally to me, or maybe it didn’t seem so difficult.”

So he took up teaching using IMS Learning Resources, training students for entrance exams into management’s first degree programmes, including the Common Entrance Examination administered by the Indian Institutes of Management.

A few years later, he hit a roof. There was more money to be made to help children prepare for exams in engineering courses. So it was either switching to that or moving to the business side of things – in a managerial role or by starting his own exam preparation institute.

Instead, he chose to drop his engineering degree and join sales enablement company MindTickle in Pune.

Meanwhile, Ravi has been posting educational videos on YouTube, both for IMS and on his own. Although he didn’t see any significant effect on those, it was a useful skill. Soon he was promoting it in small institutes and started creating YouTube videos for them, bringing in decent profits.

“That’s when I realized that if other people were paying[for my videos]I should start making them for myself. And the margins were pretty good.”

Ravi established Handa Ka Funda in 2013. Around that time, he also met Gaurav Munjal with a proposal to make training videos for him. Unacademy Gaurav will officially appear two years later.

Handa Ka Funda has done well, peaking in 2016 as prices for Reliance Jio’s data and mobile services reduced the number of people using the Internet. “Revenues went up and everything was going well. But with easy access to the internet, a lot of content creators came in.”

The education technology sector has also been rebounding, with investors flocking to technology-driven startups. And when Covid struck, traditional training centers focused on online classes entered the classroom. (It’s different now that educational technology companies are going the classroom route.)

Ravi had three options: turn into an education technology company and raise money (“but a lot of work would be involved”), and let the company operate until it was eventually closed or sold.

So after eight years of running Handa Ka Funda, mostly from Jaipur, Rajasthan, Ravi sold his startup to Unacademy in March 2021 for an undisclosed amount. It was a good deal, not only because it made Ravi financially secure but also allowed him to focus solely on teaching at Unacademy.

But this order also included certain obligations. He was required to take about 80 live online lessons each month, which meant preparing and scheduling classes in advance, so that his students could prepare.

And that means a lot of preparation for it, too. “Because these were living lessons, much more than work, it’s also about not having the freedom of time,” he says. “Earlier, my schedule was not predetermined or predetermined.”

And so, earlier this month, Ravi exited Unacademy. It can now be “without time”.

“There are a lot of things everyone wants to do in their life. But the three main concerns are whether or not their health allows it, whether or not their finances allow it, or whether or not they have the time to do it,” he says. “I have money to do most of the things I want to do. But I never had the luxury of time.”

Currently, Ravi’s great inspiration is a college friend named Rahul Lodha, former Chief Technology Officer of Aakash EduTech Pvt. Ltd. which now operates LSD Urveera in Chakulia in Jharkhand.

“When other friends share pictures of them drinking or traveling, he shares pictures of a tree and asks us to find a snake in it,” Ravi says. “It seems to be devoid of any struggles I have or my friends see. It is beyond that.”

Right now, Ravi is not looking to start a startup, or even take on a full-time job – considering both options as highly demanding and taking on a great deal of responsibility. He’s ready for part-time assignments, at least for a year or so.

Until then, he’s content with Larry David’s inner guidance: “People tend to have a lot of expectations (from me). And expectations have been ruined for far too long.”

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