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13 Untold truths of selling to schools in India

The education industry in India is considered to be a multi-billion market. First-time entrepreneurs (like me) plunge into a startup with the aim to sell to schools/parents to make a lot of money with ease. This ease becomes unease in a couple of months when it becomes f*cking difficult to get the first appointment with the school principal.

Education and Healthcare are two such categories where no one wants to compromise. People spend a hefty amount on child’s education and family health. I thought that schools are making so much money, so why can’t I sell something to schools and be part of their success?

With poor analysis and wrong thought process, I started my first startup in the education domain. I started building Zomato like review platform for schools but pivoted to cloud ERP in few months. We built features to improve communication between teachers and parents with the aim of addressing student’s behavioral issues.

My experience with schools was not that great in my first startup. We had a hard time to cross the gatekeeper and speak to the principal of the school. Our first few customers (schools) were from references only and other schools were not interested in our product. We were clueless why schools wanted to struggle with excel files and poor software when we were ready to provide better software at a cheap price. 

I had to shutdown my startup, because of my own mistakes. But I learned many things about the schooling industry. I am sharing few points with my experience of selling to schools.

1.    Most of the schools do not care about student’s education. They are running a business and all they care about making $$$ money. (Exceptions are always there)

2.    They are interested in the product that can be sold to parents irrespective of its benefits to the students. I have seen smart boards in some schools that appear to be rarely used for teaching. Those schools just joined the race of becoming a smart school to charge more money from the parents.

3.    They don’t even buy your product free of cost if it’s not a money earning instrument. You keep 30% schools keep 70%, your product may be sold. (Understood very late)

4.    Don’t talk about benefit of student’s learning, better humans, and relationship with parents — Talk about how to lure parents to get more admissions!! (Smart Class tactics)

5.    They don’t look at your brochures. Leave it at reception or their desk and it will go straight to the dustbin. I think it’s better to find some hacks to meet the decision maker than wasting time on distributing brochures. 

6.    Most of the email-ids mentioned on their website do not exist, yes, emails bounce from their official email-ids!!! Surprised?

7.    Some email-ids exist but no one opens, if someone open emails then forget to respond!! Very low ROI from email marketing. It only works with mature & internet savvy schools (very few in percentage).

8.    It’s difficult to find the decision-maker. Sorry to say but the Principal works like a puppet in many schools, most of the time without any power to take decisions (regarding education products). He is the top profile for parents and teachers but not for startups.

9.    Decision makers do not sit inside schools. They are running their own businesses somewhere else (Builders, Trustees, Management Directors, Owners)

10.    It takes about 4 to 6 months to close a deal with school. If you are lucky, they will pay on time. 

11.    No one knows what sort of software is required in their school. They believe they are running the super efficient software, but you will find them working on excel sheets.

12.    They don’t really care about technology, next generation software, go-green initiative, data protection or security unless you solve their real pain point.

13.    Don’t even talk about transparency of activities through software!! Their business involves black money and they are scared to hell to disclose anything. Ssshhh…

But the time demands a revolution in the education field. I shared my experience with different schools in Gurgaon, Delhi, and Chandigarh area. Like humans, all schools are not the same. There are always exceptions. Some schools are doing awesome work for students and teachers. It all depends on their management.

I learned that If you care about student development, then stop selling to schools and shift your focus on selling directly to parents. Only parents can appreciate student-focused products because they are genuinely interested in better future of their kid.

If we can fix education, many other things will be fixed automatically. Better human beings make better societies.

Create something to add value to the future generation. There are lots of fresh engineers, commerce & arts graduates, but companies are struggling to find talent. Make something to make students skilled & employable. Or build something that can reach masses at low cost and add high value to their lives (English teaching mobile apps).

I failed at my education venture, but you can learn from my mistakes and build next big thing. Now I am running a personal finance blog CashOverflow, financial education but not focused on schools. 

This post appeared first on NextBigWhat

You can reach out to me at my email pardeep[at]cashoverflow.in or via Twitter  

Photo Credit: Flikr

Don’t consider schools as Cash cows or Low hanging fruits.

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29 Comments

  1. Profile photo of asha chaudhry

    wow. you really have burned your fingers in a lot of places pardeep!

  2. Profile photo of Rohit Kuttappan

    Thanks for sharing your sharing your experience, Pradeep. Anyone who’s been associated with a education startup would vouch for what you have shared, so what’s the way around? 

    I also have a education startup, Yuva (http://projectyuva.org.in) which is in the career counselling, skill development and mentoring category. In the northern market, my experience was exactly like yours, but the southern market, especially Kerala and Tamil Nadu, are a whole new experience, where schools actually care for their students, and they are amply supported by the government. 

    If you have a work around, a way to crack the northern market, I’d love to hear about it. Thanks a lot for sharing and all the best for your new venture. 

  3. Profile photo of Abhishek

    Quite an interesting perspective, for a long time, had an idea in education. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  4. Profile photo of Madhavi Deshpande

    What an eye-opener! Thanks!

  5. Profile photo of Arpit Choudhury

    This is a really good article and I love the blatancy and agree with everything you said. You missed adding private colleges to this list I guess, they are even worse (have dealt with the top management at Sharda University and the experience is ineffable). Skill development is paramount but most schools don’t care about those which is sad. Anyhow, hope this changes soon and the money-making-mongers are clearly identified and shunned. 

  6. Profile photo of Pardeep Goyal

    Hi Arpit,

    I do not have any experience with colleges but I can understand where their roots are. 

    I know couple of guys doing good work in education industry and hope more will join in improving education in India. 

  7. Profile photo of Pardeep Goyal

    I am glad it was helpful 🙂

  8. Profile photo of Pardeep Goyal

    I wish you best for your idea. 

    I hope you will learn from my mistakes and do better job than me 🙂

  9. Profile photo of Pardeep Goyal

    Very true… but the experience and the people that I have gained.. worth the pain.. 

  10. Profile photo of Pardeep Goyal

    Hi Rohit,

    I also heard that schools in south India are more aware about education practices and open to try technology solutions. 

    There is no quick fix for schools in north India (or anywhere else). It is just a matter of time. Education will improve with the awareness of parents and educators. 

  11. Profile photo of Abhishek Pareek

    Hi Pradeep. Did you think teaching is a noble profession? It once was. Your post tells me that you have found out that it is no more even a profession, leave aside it being noble. Education is now an “industry”, that is, it is a means of earning (a lot of) money, it has pained me to know this from many people who are into the education, especially the school “business”. I would not blame the school owners alone, they give what the parents demand. Parents want to give their children the best but do not know what is that best, so they go by the look and feel of things and the “latest trend”. Schools (businesses) know about this weakness of parents and make the most of it. This “business” mentality is education troubles me a lot. I understand that quality has its own cost but the education in most of the schools today lacks quality.

    I wish you the best my friend, don’t be dejected, have a good heart, there will be good business opportunities for you.

  12. Profile photo of Prasad Roodagi

    Hi Pradeep

    I can understand the pains in your journey with schools …true for an outsider it looks like every school tries to give the best quality for students its not so…they try to sell the school to parents and rightly pointed out by Abhishek in reply parents also don’t know what is quality…this fooling around business is on…me being in education since 18 years made me agree with you…..Its not much different in south also

    Now i am working on an App on english vocabulary BUT directly marketing to parents, there is hope that they will accept…for parents its WOM plays a role…Thanks for sharing your experiences Its an eye opener for many who wants become edupreneures

  13. Profile photo of Alok Rodinhood Kejriwal

    I love this part “Decision makers do not sit inside schools. They are running their own businesses somewhere else (Builders, Trustees, Management Directors, Owners)”

  14. Profile photo of Kamlesh Jangid

    Hi Pradeep, Thanks for sharing your experience. It will help many out there. Could any one please tell that is it necessary (in legal terms) to take NOC from a business to list it in a online directory? And what if the directory is user-generated?

  15. Profile photo of Sridhar Rajendran

    Lots of grim insights about edu-tech space. Many schools and educational institutions are run by people in their 50s who have old school thoughts. Besides the parents also rely most on peer review and feedback to this day. Ending up in a restaurant serving bad food fooled by a review is way less traumatic than having children ending up in a wrong school; especially with the growing incidents of child molestation. So the situation is kind of like a double edged sword with both the schools and parents relying on word of mouth and personal recommendations. If I were a parent, even I would trust the judgement of my friends more than GreatDad1234 on a website. Coming up with a way to build trust might help to solve problems in the edu-tech space.

  16. Profile photo of Rahul Mehta

    No real surprises here, especially since many schools and colleges in India also have political affiliations!

    Besides, although the teachers and staff in the school are generally not tech-savvy, they also cannot easily be “taught” anything by “a new kid on the block”!!! 🙂

    There are many cases in the past where larger education solutions companies have faced similar issues and have been forced to change their business models. A study of their experience will help a lot!

    All the best in your new venture…

  17. Profile photo of Manisha Sinha

    I share exactly the same experience and views as you Pardeep, which I experienced while promoting my writing portal http://www.markmythoughts.com

    Ultimately I stopped visiting schools because no one there really cares about the students. It’s all about the moolah that can be raked in.

  18. Profile photo of Chetan Potdar

    Hi Pardeep ,

    Great write up. Precise, to the point,very candid, helpful, insightful and detailed. Re read it 3 times and learned a lot.

    Allow my two humble cents…..

    1. what and who was the product for?   Looks like the schools definitely dint want it!   seems to me that your want to make money was definitely overriding the need of the schools and parents.Why would they, then buy?

    2. It definitely wasn’t for the parents,….parents just want the kids to go to ‘best’ schools and then best colleges and then the best degree…..and best schools must have to provide the best education….right?

    3. Schooling and education is a business,….and why not?

    4. How come a product was designed without knowing the customer/ consumer – fat cat trustees who decide?

    5. How can we tell them to do their business better when we dont know their business at all. May be Excel is a damn good product anyway? 

    6. Why should they trust you with your product being “better” (eg than Excel sheets) when their existing system and process are more than adequate?

    7. may be they know and do care of the education -as the way they see it – may be we do not that yet!

    8.How come a business was kick started with out knowing the payment time lines……..thats the most important for your business….

    9. why should schools really care for all new tech when it is not needed? everything seems to work well enough no?….just sayin’

    10. Never sell,….allow and enable for ppl to buy your products.Always works! guaranteed.

    We do need a revolution in education,…….however…the schools know that business better than you and me.They have been doing that for the last multiple months.

    Dont get me wrong,we have multiple learning’s here and my points are to make us think and question more…

    Like I said,…my 2 humble cents.

     

  19. Profile photo of Pardeep Goyal

    Hi Chetan,

    Thanks for shooting so many questions.. actually good for everyone that we discuss the points in details..

    1. what and who was the product for?   Looks like the schools definitely dint want it!   seems to me that your want to make money was definitely overriding the need of the schools and parents.Why would they, then buy?

    Our product was cloud based ERP for schools. They use one or another type of ERP solutions, every school has different story. “they didn’t want it”- is ruled out – the open question is why they need that system from us (We did a lot of mistakes, result was that we had to shutdown our company. Some ERP companies are still doing good business even with similar tech capabilities like us.)

    2. It definitely wasn’t for the parents,….parents just want the kids to go to ‘best’ schools and then best colleges and then the best degree…..and best schools must have to provide the best education….right?

    What was visible, was not directly sellable to parents. Our intentions were to serve parents, but again our startup died like a pre-mature baby. 

    3. Schooling and education is a business,….and why not?

    Question is not very clear…. in general business does mean just money for shareholder but education can not be put in that category. Its primary objective should be education…

    4. How come a product was designed without knowing the customer/ consumer – fat cat trustees who decide?

    We pivoted multiple times, modified product based on competitors and schools.. Its debatable how useful was our product but it was sufficient to take care of school needs. 

    5. How can we tell them to do their business better when we dont know their business at all. May be Excel is a damn good product anyway? 

    Any person who ever sold anything to schools can answer this question.. school principal think that they have everything they need while admins & teachers are not happy with whatever they are using. Everyone has different opinion about what is required and decision maker is clueless what is working well and what’s not.. Not convinced.. then see how smart classes are being used in middle level school [not sure about high end schools who never let me inside 😉 ]

    6. Why should they trust you with your product being “better” (eg than Excel sheets) when their existing system and process are more than adequate?

    They know that something is not complete in their system but they don’t know what can really help them. A lot of companies pitch them daily and they keep pushing back good/average/bad products with same intensity. They trust referrals, bhai-bhatija and in some cases bribes… unfortunately..

    7. may be they know and do care of the education -as the way they see it – may be we do not that yet!

    there is a joke somewhere in the question 😉

    Read about “integral education”, unschooling, homeschooling, school history.. and you will know what I am talking about..

    8.How come a business was kick started with out knowing the payment time lines……..thats the most important for your business….

    We were at mistake.. we should be clear about our offering and the value exchange.. a great learning for me..

    9. why should schools really care for all new tech when it is not needed? everything seems to work well enough no?….just sayin’

    they should care about education.. not about tech & all stuff.. but unfortunately they care about tech that can generate more leads (or increase per student revenue) not better way to nourish child’s creativity.

    10. Never sell,….allow and enable for ppl to buy your products.Always works! guaranteed.

    That’s true… but when reality hits the ground of Indian education system you realize that you can sell three things – admissions, marks/ranks and jobs. It always works! guaranteed. 

  20. Profile photo of Pardeep Goyal

    Hi Manisha,

    You don’t have to visit schools for a writing portal, I guess you can re-position the same for parents and they will gladly accept you as their well-wisher. 

  21. Profile photo of Pardeep Goyal

    Rahul,

    Story is not single sided… even parents push schools to introduce weird things..

    I know a school in Mohali that was doing good work initially (less assignments, practical based learning, less importance to marks) but parents started comparing them with other schools..

    “Neighbour’s child started reading this much… why you are not introducing that stuff.. my kid will not be competitive enough..” – that bring corruption in the system.. schools have to focus on what customer demands..

  22. Profile photo of Pardeep Goyal

    Everything have to get involved in the system… not alone schools.. not alone parents.. not alone educators..

    It will take time..

  23. Profile photo of Pardeep Goyal

    Are you talking about just-dial type listing? I don’t think anyone take NOC for that purpose.. people will die collecting NOCs from schools 😉

  24. Profile photo of Pardeep Goyal

    That is very true.. and worst part is when you come to know after following up with school principal for 3-4 months 😉 

    You feel like hitting him on head.. “salle pehle kyu nahi bataya ke tere hath mei kuch nahi hai”

  25. Profile photo of Pardeep Goyal

    Teaching is still a noble profession but .. there are so many but(s)…

    Most of teachers are those people who got rejected by industry.. “Jisko kahi naukri nahi milti woh teacher toh ban he jata hai”… very unfortunate… 

    but you will still find people doing selfless work for education.. like my co-founder of second startup (PocketScience) joined as facilitator in integral education school – Coveda (Chandigarh). He is an IITian, extremely talented & passionate entrepreneur.. but decided to work in education school on survival salary..

    I am happy to share that today my son got admission in Coveda – you have to read about unschooling and “integral education” to understand concept of Coveda.

  26. Profile photo of Manisha Sinha

    That’s what I did ultimately. I had earlier approached schools so that I could get a larger parent/student audience.

  27. Profile photo of Sunaina Shenoy

    there couldn’t be more truth in all the above statements pardeep.. you have rightly mentioned them. all they care about is just getting more admissions and not a step beyond.. & the 10 pointer is a gospel, 4 months later i’m still following up with a well known school chain for clearing invoices..

  28. Profile photo of Mahie

    Thank you for sharing it on facebook page that I read this important piece from 2015. I am somehow working on a similar platform – schools / colleges and (now) also training centres in Chandigarh, Haryana, Punjab and Himachal.

    I must say I agree word by word to your experiences. (point no 3 is so exact, they ask this amount on face !!) 

    I wish I could have read this in 2015 !! Anyways, made many changes in my work since then and still learning. 

    These 13 lessons make me jump and reply you here. Now no more a silent rodinhooder.

  29. Profile photo of asha chaudhry

    wow mahie!

    you signed up to comment on this post reinforces the fact that we need to keep sharing these stories over and over again to help others! 

    y’day i shared this over all of our social networks – fb, twitter, linkedin – so this comment of yours serves as awesome feedback! thanks for sharing. and am so happy you aren’t gonna be a silent rodinhooder any more 🙂

    all the best for your venture. pls feel free to feature it in showcase or reach out to the community for anything.

    do check ASK PRIYADEEP – http://therodinhoods.com/forum/topics/ask-priyadeep-about-ed-tech-student-entrepreneurship

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