BrandSutra: For Unacademy’s Karan Shroff, life is all about learning

You started out in the events industry and then turned marketer with brands such as Herbalife, Xiaomi and now Unacademy. Take us through your journey.

It’s been a crazy journey. I started working in the events industry as a teenage volunteer in Bangalore, earning my pocket money from walk-in jobs. Being young and fresh, seeing large scale events, working for different kinds of businesses, gave me very good exposure and insights into the industry. Even when I ventured into college, I worked post college hours as events were mostly held in the evenings. It being a high delivery industry, with no room to go wrong, the learning curve was always about ensuring clients’ satisfaction. I have always been eager to take on more and more of any kind of work. That opened doors for me – I was at Wizcraft, and used to handle Herbalife events, when the Director at Herbalife offered me a job. My boss Rohit Samuel at Wizcraft, who has been my mentor ever since, said he was happy to see me grow. So I joined Herbalife, handling events, social media, endorsements and closing deals. From there, I went to Xiaomi, working with Hugo Barra and Manu Jain, who have been great mentors too. Manu gave me the opportunity to lead the brand entirely. Now at Unacademy, Gaurav Munjal has been the most inspiring and empowering boss I have had till date. It’s been nothing short of magical, the kind of faith and support that I’ve received from him. Hopefully, I can do justice to it.

Karan Shroff’s mother Jyothi Shroff
Karan Shroff’s mother Jyothi Shroff
“One thing I have learnt from my mother is – ‘It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice’. I remember as a kid, I was misbehaving at a birthday party and she told me, ‘Hey, you know, you need to be nice!’ Irrespective of where I go, it’s the one principle I follow. This industry works on relationships; being nice to people goes a long way.” - Karan Shroff

Edutech companies are becoming a crowded category in COVID times. How does Unacademy stand out from the clutter?

One is the live learning aspect through interactive classes. A student can type in the questions and the teacher will respond. We have additional doubt-clearing sessions over the weekends. All our classes are streamed at low bandwidth, so you don’t need a high-speed Internet connection. Moreover, the class is recorded, so you can go back and revise if you’ve not understood something. We also send out notes summarising the class content. We offer this high-quality, high-intent learning across 35+categories covering majority of the competitive exams across the country, engaging India’s top educators.

What has been the marketing outcome of your highly visible #Let’sCrackIt campaign?

The campaign really encapsulates what the student goes through in the learning journey overall. For example, the girl in Ladakh works at a family restaurant, then says she is going out for her classes, and gets into her car to study. For the first time on television, education was portrayed in that manner. Education is usually about ranks and numbers, but for Unacademy, it’s about empowering students, irrespective of where they are, stoking their passion to learn. The campaign made us grow multifold, and made ‘crack’ a word synonymous with learning and with Unacademy.

What are the top priorities for Unacademy right now?

The business vision is to democratise education – that more people should have access to high quality education. The core focus for us is to make Unacademy a household name from a marketing perspective. In terms of vision for the brand, it is the same – democratising education. We are planning a lot of campaigns that’ll convey this message.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career so far? What have been the learnings from there?

There are multiple such scenarios — campaigns have been shot down, people haven’t believed in stuff... I’ve probably cried alone when things haven’t gone well. But I’ve always had faith in myself. When you stand by your thoughts, leaders tend to believe in you. I’ve been empowered at multiple points in my career by different leaders. That’s something that I want to do for other people if I can. Leadership is about empowering other people and helping them grow, more than anything else. Also, life is all about learning. The moment we feel that we know everything, is when things start going wrong. As a practice, I ask myself ‘What did I learn today?’ On multiple days, if the answer is ‘Nothing’, then I get worried. I need to learn at least one or two new things every day.

(With inputs from Shamita Roy)

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