The fact that this website has about 365 million registered users speaks volumes. Way2sms.com was the first free SMS portal in India. The man behind this successful tech venture is - Raju Vanapala, who set a new trend and tasted success in the first generation entrepreneurship. Of late, he is all set to revolutionize the online learning space by launching his new platform called “Learnsocial”.
Mr. Raju Vanapala shared his thoughts tech start-ups, higher education, entrepreneurship and his new learning platform with Sakshieducation.com. –
-Interview by D. Sai Charan, Sakshi Education.
- Holding a masters degree in Computer Applications, what made you to choose entrepreneurship than a high paid IT job? And what is the secret behind your success?
A. Beginning from my MCA days, I have the thought to start a business. My brother had his own business that time; it might have provoked me to start my own business. Apart from this, my parents also gave me enough freedom to choose my career path. I came to Hyderabad in 2003 as soon as I finished my MCA. I founded the way2online (the company behind way2sms) in 2004.
My secret of success is - I am very much focused on what I do at every step. I keep in mind what I have to do and I usually do not bother about my competitors.
- You might have faced problems such as societal pressure, financial issues and controversies, what is the motivation factor that made you to stick to your goal?
A.Every problem comes with an opportunity. I see the problems as opportunities. Problems are inevitable to any entrepreneur, so true entrepreneur must have the capability to tackle them wisely. Turning adversities into opportunities makes you more optimistic and enhances your abilities. This is what I believe.
- You have started your entrepreneurial career in 2004 through way2onlinea and then Way2SMS, which has become one of the top 10 most searched tech brands in India as per Google Zeitgeist for almost 3 consecutive years. How did mould a bootstrap company doing a decent all cash deal acquisition with 50 million registered users?
A.Today Way2sms reached every corner of the country. We have large user base from tier-2 and tier-3 cities as well. People are using still SMS for sharing critical information. Way2sms is the best platform to send SMS at free of cost. I am buying SMS in bulk quantities from telecom companies and providing services to customers at no cost. Way2sms earns money through advertisements. We are the category defining company in this area. After the acquisition of 160by2, we do not have competitors in this category.
- Today messaging application field is being overwhelmed by Whatsapp, how can way2sms survive this competition?
A. Yes, we are facing tough time with rapid use of mobile messaging applications now. Today many mobile internet messengers are available. It’s true and I agree with it. Mobile internet is rapidly increasing. It is definitely a challenge. We have launched our way2sms mobile app almost 8 months ago. Our mobile app downloads are growing really well. Our Usage is migrating to mobile. About 65% of our users are now sending messages from their mobile device. We are planning a complete makeover and repositioning of way2sms soon to make it relevant for next few generations.
- There has been growing trend to opt for startups than regular IT jobs, what are the main reasons for this major shift?
A.Yes, I could see more fresh college passouts and dropouts starting companies these days. This is certainly a welcome trend. Earlier we never thought of startups as a career choice soon after passing out of college. Parents want their children to get a good job. They not even dare to think about entrepreneurship in earlier days. Startup companies are becoming billion dollar companies. I think, many of these startup success stories have changed their mindset. Nowadays, if you have the idea, people are ready to invest. Capital is readily available for right ideas and for right teams. Most of the students from IIMs, IITs are going for startups than choosing a high paid jobs.
- Can you define what exactly entrepreneurship is and its role in addressing social problems?
Entrepreneurship is all about building stuff, making the world to approach differently on various things. It can be saving costs to people, or creating better opportunities in the society, or offering convenience or a whole new level of experience. Every great entrepreneurship story has changed the way we look at things. So, entrepreneurship definitely influences society on a large scale.
- You are working on innovative consumer Internet brands? Can you brief us the changing trends in this field and future of this field with respect to careers?
A. We have launched another initiative LearnSocial.com- a Social Learning initiative that offers wide variety of courses to students, jobseekers and professionals. Well, if you want to buy a product you go with Amazon, if you would like to watch a video you go for Youtube and if you need to send an email Gmail appears in your mind. But if you want to learn! No such destination that comes in your mind. We would like to fill that gap. We would like to create a large consumer brand in the learning space. We have high quality self paced video courses and instructor led live courses. With Learnsocial, even students from tier 2 and tier 3 towns can get access to top quality courses and instructors. In one sentence, Learnsocial wants to become an Amazon of learning. You can learn anything be it programming to photography at Learnsocial.
- With respect to Internet space, Can you name areas which are going to gain more attention in coming times?
A. Education, Health and Internet of Things (IOT) will grow at massive scale. Communication between people and machines/devices will become huge. There are not many disruptions happened in health and education from decades. These would undergo massive transformation in the coming years.
- What do you think about the entrepreneurship ecosystem for youngster in India? What are the key areas students have to work up on to become successful?
A.This is the best time for entrepreneurs. We have decent access to the capital now; quality human resources are available. All we need is more and more entrepreneurs. We could see many students and employees launching their new ideas as startups these days. This is a very good trend that is emerging. Students from IITs and IIMs are choosing to start new ventures than going for a job. Highly passionate students are doing really well in their new startups. Students should attend more startup events to understand the ecosystem better. It’s important to have a great team to build a great startup, so students should find right persons who can align with the vision as their initial set of team to drive the vision for the company.
- There is huge gap between industry and academia. In this scenario, how can students develop themselves and build the companies that can rival with big companies and grow into billion Dolor companies?
A. Absolutely there is a huge gap between academia and Industry. Industry is so dynamic that it is always adopts new technologies and trends and try to be relevant to the market demands, whereas academia are not. Institutions do take several years to change their curriculum as per the industry needs. By the time institutions changes the syllabus, industry actually have adopted newer technologies. This is one of the major problem Indian higher education is facing right now. If we fill this gap, we can create wonders. LearnSocial is doing that exact thing. We provide all the latest technologies and relevant courses to make students more employable.
- What are the most common problems faced by the startups and how should they work around them?
A. The major problem faced by the startups is shortage of funds. Most common problems are raising funds and lack of proper guidance. Turning your vision into a reality is the real challenge. It’s important to validate your ideas before moving forward. A bad idea with a good execution cannot solve the purpose. A right idea with bad execution will also lead to failure. Startups need good teams, right ideas that can solve the problems and excellent execution skills to make their idea a reality.
- According to a NASSCOM report, in India each year over 3 million students graduate, which is more than strength of US and China combined. Of these, only 25 % of technical graduates are employable by the industry, which means almost close of 75% students, are unemployable? What can be the reasons for this situation?
A. As I said there is a huge gap between academics and Industry demand. Universities must change curriculum as per the industry demand. It should be dynamic. I think it solves the all problems.
- Quite a few reports state that young entrepreneurs are failing to mark big, due to lack of skills to manage success and more importantly failure? From your experience, can you explain how leaders manage success and failure?
A.One should not forget the fundamentals. One must remember that failure is not the dead end to any journey. Those who do not give up are the real entrepreneurs. Entrepreneur must have the resilience and grit to consume failures and bounce back to turn them in to success. Those who do not stop their journey in the time troubles stand the chance of success one day. So, I believe, entrepreneurs should keep trying various new things to make things work.
- Can you brief us about your new initiative-“LearnSocial”?
A. LearnSocial, forayed into the eLearning industry a year ago. This portal is aiming to revolutionize the e-learning ecosystem in India with its brand new Social Learning Platform - An Open platform where anyone can teach/learn anything from anywhere. LearnSocial’s robust technology platform helps instructors to go live in minutes on any subject they like. Simultaneously, learners can access the courses from anywhere. Instructors can offer two modules of learning to the learners:-
Live Instructor Led - Instructors choose a specific day and time and with a set duration. Learners can take these courses from anywhere and can engage with the instructor by asking questions online, be part of discussion forums, share files, view presentations and much more.
Self Paced - Instructors from across the globe can upload high quality videos of their courses and learners can access these courses at their own pace and time.
- What is your message to young graduates and startups?
Startups are a good choice to consider for those who are passionate of doing something new and something on their own. It’s important to validate the idea before they bet big on it. All I can tell them is remain focused on what they are trying to do.