One of the most fascinating experiences that you can have is engaging in an active conversation with a toddler. The next time you are accosted by that four-year-old in the elevator, observe the conversation – the vocabulary, the grammar, the phrases used. How is it that this little child, who has barely entered a formal school, can use language so effectively and communicate?
C P Vishwanath, the founder of Karadi Path, has the answer.
Karadi Path is the result of a man’s passion towards language and learning which resulted in a company which aims to enable kids of all backgrounds and ages to learn the English language – by mimicking the process through which they learnt their mother tongue.
As part of our social impact investment series, we understand from the founder, the manner in which he went about finding the right investor, on making the right hires, and learning from previous mistakes.
Language is not learnt in classrooms
One of the most interesting things that Vishwanath told me during our conversation was that kids do not learn a language in classrooms. A key point that he and his team learnt at the beginning of their venture was that kids with exposure to multiple languages in their environment usually speak two to three languages from very early on in life. Understanding this was perhaps significant in coming up with modules that facilitated the kids to learn English.
“The methodology that we have adopted helps kids learn without being taught vocabulary or grammar. So whether I come from an elite background or not, it doesn’t make any difference to the amount of information gathered,” he says.
Birth of Karadi Path in 2010
In December 2010, Karadi Path came into existence. “We realised that Karadi Path was not like Karadi Tales; the primary difference was that Karadi Path had a service component to it and it was a programme and a process that was embedded into a school. So the entire structure was so different that it warranted a new company for itself,” says Vishwanath.
The first round of investments
With Karadi Path being around for only a year before its first investment came through, one would assume it was a quick deal. However, Vishwanath takes us through the process it entailed and tells us why it wasn’t as quick as it seems.
He says, “I wouldn’t say we struggled to raise capital. Our track record and the credibility we had garnered with Karadi Tales did help us a fair bit.”
In the ten years of Karadi Tales’ existence, it went through numerous disasters, which included court cases. It is a story by itself – in fact, Vishwanath himself says that no other company would have survived the kind of assault that Karadi Tales went through.
What kept him going?
“At no point in time was the thought process entrepreneurial. It was always the belief that what we were doing was of value and we enjoyed what we were doing. The intent was to continue deriving the joy we were, personally,” he says.
The financial constraints or the non-success of it was not the primary driving force for Vishwanath. “We were never looking for an exit out of the difficult situations,” he says.
“Yes, the idea of creating a profitable enterprise is very important, and we have very practical views on what an enterprise must do. However, in the off chance that it did not happen we would not have crumbled. It is the joy of ‘creating’ that keeps us going,” he shares.
Edtech – the next big boom in India?
A common problem in Indian schools is the skewed student-to-teacher ratio. It has been observed that the rising student-to-teacher ratios often compromise a complete learning experience for students.
To bridge this gap, there has been a spike in the number of edtech companies over the last decade.
Speaking about the edtech market today, Vishwanath says, “While there are many products out there. What I have found is that there are substantial missing pieces in what is happening today. Edtech is the next big thing but unfortunately, if a company has the tech knowledge, then they seem to lack in the ‘ed’ space. There is no pedagogy or learning idea, and with just a platform or app, one is trying to revolutionise the existing systems,” he says.
Having a fantabulous idea and getting it validated in the market are two very different things, he points out.
Social Impact investments in India
According to Vishwanath, “India, unfortunately, does not have an ecosystem for social impact investing. If, as an investor, you are looking for quick returns, then this space will not make any sense to you. If you want to make an impact and also want the enterprise to be profitable and make money, then the runway you must provide should be twice as long as the conventional investments.”
Picking the right team
Contrary to popular belief and the buzz that surrounds start-ups, Vishwanath says, “Start-ups aren’t really favoured workplaces for many, especially social impact start-ups. Stories of youngsters giving up lucrative jobs to do something in the social impact sector are far and in-between.”
As a leader, Vishwanath believes that it is important to inspire the team working with you.
“The leadership has to pick a team which has some skills and then train them to perfection. You’re not going to find the kind of people who can quickly download all the information that needs to be downloaded. Look at the potential, and within the first three months you should be able to gauge how far the person can go.”
There has to be an element of DNA in the individual that enjoys social impact work – look for that, he says.
Finding the right fit in the fund that invests in your venture
Having met various analysts, fund managers, and decision makers, Vishwanath says, “If you are lucky enough to get a meeting with a senior partner and you have a good product, then the time taken to understand it is reasonably quick. In the same way, if your product does not fit into their larger vision, then you will get that answer also fairly immediately.
“The inexperience of analysts and junior-level staff who do a lot of number-crunching and excel sheet analysis sometimes tends to exhaust you. For a start-up, these numbers are just being built. What is essential is to get a feel for what they are doing and the passion they have.”
Vishwanath strongly feels that it is important for the senior management to meet the entrepreneur to understand where he is coming from. An analyst will not have that experience, and it is unfair to expect that of them.
Important takeaways from Vishwanath:
1. Meet the right person in the fund
2. As investors, create spaces for relationships outside of conferences and elevator pitches
3. Believe in your product and pitch it with that passion
4. Pick the right investment banker to present your product/service; they must be as excited about your product as you are
Karadi Path has come a long way since 2010. They work with 3000+ schools across 17 states in India, impacting 7,50,000+ learners. They have also successfully trained 25,000+ teachers in these schools. Karadi Path is now looking to raise their third fund and is busy with creating value with each programme they launch.
The Better India wishes them all the very best!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)