I just do one thing very well at a time: Whitehat Jr’s CEO Karan Bajaj
I just do one thing very well at a time: Whitehat Jr’s CEO Karan Bajaj
First Person

Best-selling author, yoga expert, management consultant, marketer, broadcaster and now entrepreneur, KARAN BAJAJ, Founder and CEO of Whitehat Jr, indeed has worn many hats. He has also experienced life in its stark hues, taking a year off to travel and learn yoga in the Himalayas, living with little more than his belongings in a rucksack. The $300 million acquisition of his ed-tech start-up by Byju’s is the latest feather in his cap, as he looks to expand globally and make a difference in people’s lives. Here, Karan Bajaj takes us through his spectacular journey in his own words.

The idea of WhiteHat Jr…

I wanted to bring an idea to life. I was convinced after my research that kids should learn coding, because it makes them builders for life. As they start to put things together, they get the psychological feeling that they can build things in this world. Then, on the teacher side, there are thousands of extremely educated, qualified women in India who are not represented in the workforce and through this, we would be able to train them to become coding teachers for kids all over the world. A couple of things from my background shaped the idea too. When I started writing novels around 2008, I realized creative activity expanded my mind and world. My whole relationship with life changed. So I thought kids should have that great feeling of doing creative stuff very early.

Earlier, I had seen my extremely qualified mother sacrificing her career as my dad was an Armyman and we had to move frequently with his postings. Location became an obstacle. Then, because I backpacked a lot, I was certain that the product I would create would be global. So we were very quick to launch in the US, immediately after the India product hit stability. All of these different pieces, my boundary-less vision of the world, knowing the women workforce in India very well through my mom and her experiences, and then believing in the power of childhood creativity - all of that came together in the journey of WhiteHat Jr.

WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN…
“I just tell myself that I can focus on the input, but the output is not for me to control...” - Karan Bajaj

100% of our teachers are women…

All 11,000 teachers on our platform are women. Considering the warmth, compassion and patience it takes to conduct a one-on-one class with a child and also the matter of Internet safety, we thought women teachers would suit us very well. At some point, we could recruit male teachers, but we would have to set up the systems to do that. Right now, the teachers are predominantly from India. We've just started recruiting women from the Philippines and South Africa.

Almost all the women have a story of their own. One teacher, for instance, was stuck in a bad marriage and litigation, and could not get out of it as she wasn’t financially independent. When she discovered WhiteHat Jr, she was able to work from home and make money to support herself and her kid; settle the court case, get her own land and house. That happened within three-four months of her joining WhiteHat Jr.

Post the Byju’s acquisition…

Byju had the same feeling as me that an Indian ed-tech product could go global, and should go global. That is the big synergy of the acquisition. Like WhiteHat Jr, Byju’s was already in the US. After the acquisition, we expanded to Australia, and we are slowly going to Brazil, Mexico, etc. Byju has been a teacher all his life. We have learnt a lot from him about education, that's accelerated some of our new products. To ensure quality with the scale we now have (more than 4 million subscribers, revenue upwards of $220 million), we need two ingredients. The first is very strong middle management, because suddenly you go from 100 to 1,000 to 5,000 people as in our case. Our strong middle management is the fundamental ingredient of our success. The second is a very strong product and technology organisation, because much of what you do can be made much better with automation.

My mission of creating jobs…

During the lockdown, I was very impacted by the fact that thousands of people were losing their jobs daily. I took it very seriously, the responsibility of an entrepreneur to create jobs in this period, because entrepreneurship exists to create value in the world. It was very important for companies like us to step up, push ourselves to the limit and create a lot of jobs. It became a very personal mission for me during the lockdown. I was quite obsessed with it. Since the lockdown started, we pushed ourselves as an organisation to double the business, double the revenue so that we could just keep adding people, creating jobs and being a force of good in the world.

My wife saw my ups and downs…

My wife (Kerry Bajaj) is an American, and we met in the US. The most important decision in entrepreneurship is linked to the partner you have. Most people will tell you that your idea won't work. Somebody else's belief in you is very formidable at that stage. My wife has lived through a lot of ups and downs - I've left jobs, started new things, things have not worked, things have started again. But she's had this enduring belief in the fact that I've worked very hard. For me, that is very important. My daughters - six and four - do the WhiteHatJr course. They're also backpackers right from the start, and have learnt minimalistic living… I am very happy about that.

What next from Karan Bajaj…

I'm a person who does only one thing at a time, and gets completely consumed by it. It becomes both my professional and my personal thing. In the background, it looks like I'm doing a lot of things, but actually, I'm devoted and single-minded to one task. So when I'm writing a novel, I'm just writing a novel, with all my energy thrown into it. Right now, I'm still very consumed by the start-up. After the Byju’s acquisition, we still have a lot of room to grow globally, to create a very high-quality product that has the same response in every market that it had in India. We are going to go horizontally into many countries with a one-on-one coding product, and then we are going to launch in a new category, like Maths.

(To download our E-paper please click here. The publishers permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)

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