Founded in 2007, WizIQ is one of the world’s largest cloud-based education platforms. Over 400,000 educators have used WizIQ to deliver more than 1.6 billion minutes of online learning to 4.5 million learners. The platform provides a complete solution to tutors, institutes and organizations to deliver live online classes and launch self-paced courses. WizIQ is easy-to-use, affordable and gives learners the freedom to access the courses from any location and device. With WizIQ, businesses can launch their own custom-branded learning/training portal with features such as virtual classroom, course builder, tests and assessment builder, customized mobile application, eCommerce and reports.
BusinessInterviews.com: What inspired you to launch your business?
Harman SIngh: The injustice in education. This was the first thing that led me to think if there could be a better way to distribute education. Though it is considered the most crucial tool to level up a society, create a sustainable life and address social issues yet often it is the field that suffers the most from financial and quality biases.
Not only this, getting a quality education is becoming less feasible with each passing year. College debt is a serious issue that translates into additional hassles for not only the student but the entire family. Access is another big challenge. Despite the intent and intellect, it’s nearly impossible for a majority of students to enroll in the courses offered by reputable institutions.
The traditional model of education doesn’t take into account these issues. And, to make the matter worse, the curriculum followed is centuries old. Even after spending a fortune, there’s no assurance that you’d be considered employable after you graduate, which, to me, is very disheartening. Why can’t be education made affordable and available to all? What can’t institutions give fair chance and opportunities to everyone who’s willing to learn?
The internet seemed to be my solution to these underlying issues. It appeared to be a medium that had the power to address affordability, accessibility and quality issues of education. All that needed was a platform that could facilitate education online. Having this said, I wasn’t sure how long it would take to materialize, I took a leap of faith without knowing the outcome fully and launched WizIQ.
BusinessInterviews.com: Do you have any recent success stories that you’d like to share with our readers?
Harman SIngh: Back in the late 2000s when we brought WizIQ out to the market, we hadn’t thought that it would really help businesses open up huge opportunities in front of them. Initially, we had individual teachers or a group of tutors using our software to deliver tuitions, homework help, and lessons for competitive exams and saw a considerable increase in their audience base and revenue.
It wasn’t until Aakash, the Indian test prep giant, came onboard to expand their visibility and learner base country-wide, we had anticipated that WizIQ as an education technology platform could facilitate such a massive transformation. It opened up a completely new line of business for them. Until now they have delivered thousands of online classes with 1500+ hours of video content, 1000+ practice tests, and 200+ eBooks.
SWAYAM, the world’s biggest MOOC platform, a program initiated by the Government of India and developed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), is our biggest project ever. In association with Microsoft, we provided them with a platform to host over 2,000 courses with e-content of 80,000 hours, which can be accessed by 30 million learners across the country.
BusinessInterviews.com: What issue does your core product help solve and how so?
Harman SIngh: WizIQ gives companies, education institutions, and individuals an easy way to venture into online training and teaching. The biggest issues that our software solves are affordability and accessibility of instruction and learning, creating a win-win for distributors and consumers of learning. In fact, it has never been so easy to teach and train online.
With WizIQ, you can start almost immediately. It is cloud-based LMS software; thus, eliminates the need for an IT or physical infrastructure to get started. This means the cost of ownership is almost nil. WizIQ also breaks the barriers to software implementation. The ability to start simple and quick shortens the timeline, leaving little room for hitting the road bumps. Because you don’t have to create a sync between hardware and software, the go-live date remains on the track.
It fairly manages the expectations of end users. The Google material design ensures that the platform has a modern feel. So, the adoption is not a challenge with WizIQ. Also, the subscription-based pricing gives much-required flexibility to the users. The discretion to ramp up and ramp down the operations remains with you. There’s no obligation and commitment to continue with the same plan.
Overall, the risk is low – in terms of cost, time, commitment to continuing. Also, we have taken care of the changing needs of instructors and learners and have built mobile apps for iOS and Android, so that learning can be delivered and consumed anytime, anywhere on any device.
Last but not the least, compatibility is not an issue. If you want to continue with your existing system, WizIQ can be integrated easily using Virtual Classroom APIs.
BusinessInterviews.com: What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner and how have you met that challenge?
Harman SIngh: At WizIQ, we had a wonderful product, a powerful vision and an intention to address the most pressing issues that the education fraternity had been experiencing for a couple of decades. The challenge, in the beginning, was – what should be the business model and how to put forward the benefits and impact of educational technology to the institutions who were hell-bent on continuing with the age-old schooling and college systems. Another challenge was to raise capital to bring more people on board who could help us evolve the product into a sophisticated yet easy-to-use platform and support our sales and marketing efforts to grab more eyeballs and strategize the entire move.
As they say, it takes belief in the vision to turn things around. We were pretty much convinced with the power of online learning, and we had a product in place that was sure to disrupt the education scenario. Eventually, we were successful in convincing Kaizen, a private equity firm that invests in education companies, to invest in our business. The investors saw a lot of potential in our product.
I was fortunate enough to have people onboard who helped WizIQ wade through tough times. We were quick on fixing the gaps in the software, set up a full-fledged marketing department and started experimenting with sales.
BusinessInterviews.com: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you/your Company?
Harman SIngh: The abundance of opportunities. Though the concept of online teaching and training has been around for a couple of decades and WizIQ debuted over a decade ago, now are the exciting times ahead. The industry has just started to gain pace. Both the corporates and educators realize the potential of online learning and are focusing on adopting systems that are user-centric, nimble and can accommodate diverse needs of mobile audiences. Also, companies have realized that they have to have some system in place to reach their workers where they are and connect with them and dispense training when required.
There are other trends as well that contribute to the success of SaaS learning management system. One, legacy software is fading out from the scenario. Two, companies and institutions have finally realized that the traditional software is slow to implement, adopt and dispose of, which is not an issue with SaaS-based products. In the coming times, disposing of the software or digital junk would surface as a big challenge, and the cloud comes as a perfect alternative. Third, business agility can be achieved only if the companies have the flexibility to ramp up and ramp down their operations at any given point.
So, we have enormous opportunities ahead of us. And, our product is also ready to take on the market. We recently launched our new software – WizIQ NextGen – that addresses all the mentioned issues. Alongside, we have worked heavily on the user interface of our software. It is integrated and sports a lean UI. We found that 80% of the LMS users across the world are unhappy with the UI of their existing learning management systems. This is the single biggest factor that either leads to resistance or becomes a trigger for switching to alternatives. WizIQ NextGen fits in here. It’s a completely DIY platform that looks simple and is easy to use.
BusinessInterviews.com: Where do you envision your company in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years?
Harman SIngh: Up there where corporates and educators swear by the design, functionality, and ease of using WizIQ!
Usually, people don’t like most of the tools they use at work. The reason could be anything from outdated technology to the difficulty of use, or just plain resistance. While the users have been at the heart of everything we do at WizIQ, we have recently launched brand new product – WizIQ NextGen – which not only looks amazing but is also easy to use with all online teaching options intact at one place. The UI is clean and lean. There’s no need to marry different software platforms to build a full-fledged learning management system. Everything required is already there. With this launch, we are quite hopeful about reaching more high-value customers.
Ten years down the line, I visualize us at a stage where companies and educators across the world are using WizIQ to deliver learning to millions of students. Apart from this, we also have plans to expand internationally. The majority of our customers are in the US, so expanding the office there is a high priority. The opportunities in the Middle East and Africa are humongous, and we have quite a good number of customers from that region. While many of the development and marketing roles would be centered in India, we have been planning to open sales offices across MENA and America.
Having said this, our goal is also to become an employer of choice. After all, a company is what its people are.
BusinessInterviews.com: Have you had any mentors or role models that have influenced you? Describe the impact.
Harman SIngh: Role models – not exactly! For advice, I turn to friends who run their businesses. Sometimes, I actively seek their support. At times, I take clues from their way of working and handling situations.
I also resort to books and articles of and on popular contemporary entrepreneurs who successfully raised multi-million dollars of funding, or have handled certain problems in certain ways. This gives me an alternative perspective on things and helps me in becoming proactive to certain unforeseeable challenges or issues that might surface after some time in WizIQ.
BusinessInterviews.com: Do you consider yourself successful and by what means do you measure success?
Harman SIngh: Success, to me, is an ongoing journey. How you do things, how you motivate your people to achieve something, milestones you hit daily, monthly and quarterly, projects you win. Success is not a definitive term. It’s very subjective. I don’t look at it like there’s any final day or a destination and I have to work towards it. For me, it’s how you do things on a day-to-day basis. It’s a measure of how happy your people are. It’s seeing how our customers grow in their respective businesses by using WizIQ and how we become a partner in their growth.
BusinessInterviews.com: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs and business owners? What do you wish someone told you?
Harman SIngh: I was passionate about something; I took a plunge. It’s all about taking that first step. What I would suggest to other entrepreneurs is – there’s never the right time. It’s when you start. Don’t wait for something to happen or something to finish. Step ahead with total conviction.
In my journey, I have realized it’s more about continuing on your path and not giving up than anything else. There would be challenges – one after the other, delays, setbacks, and total failures. Things might not turn out the way you wanted them to be. Trust me; you’ll be amazed at your own endurance and ability to manage the consequences of your decisions.
What I wish someone told me is – while passion keeps you going, a thorough evaluation helps clear off the fog. A critical analysis of your decisions, actions, and expenses is important because you love something so much that you tend to ignore mistakes, goof-ups, failures. Every decision has an opportunity cost. Every ignored mistake is more expensive than you think.
I also wish someone had told me not to be completely driven by passion. It’s just one side of the coin. You have to have some objective goals. After all, you run a business; you have responsibilities for the sustenance and growth of your people, associates, and customers.
BusinessInterviews.com: What’s the biggest risk that you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?
Harman SIngh: Raising the capital
In today’s business environment, being in a technology business isn’t easy, especially for small companies. In the history of WizIQ, we faced several business risks, one after the another, that could have crippled the entire company. Like any other startup, in the initial years, WizIQ hit a point when we desperately needed external funding to keep the ship afloat. At that juncture, not bringing in money could mean a shutdown. The stakes were high.
The first time I went out, I didn’t realize how hard it was to raise capital. I wasn’t aware of how much money to quote. The dilemma was what it takes to convince investors to put their money into a business – whether it’s the product or a convincing business plan. More or less, it’s like an interview process where you try to get a sense of what the person across the table is looking for and you make a desperate attempt to ‘sell.’
It was very intimidating. I had no other option but to stay put. After a lot of ifs and buts, and amidst yes and no, Kaizen, along with Bertelsmann, finally wrote us a cheque of $ 8 million.
Change in the base technology
While we started to pick the momentum, there was another news making the rounds. ‘Adobe Flash’ would soon phase out. Our entire product was based on Flash, and we were working day in day out to improve our learning delivery software to make it more desirable by corporates and higher ed institutions. Again we were standing at the crossroads, and we had to make a choice. Just when our focus should have been more on marketing and sales, we again had to go back to the drawing board and re-strategize the entire thing.
Simultaneously, we had to sustain our existing business while quickly forming a new team to work on a different technology and build a new product from scratch. And, bringing new clients onboard couldn’t also be ignored. After all, we had to generate revenue to run day-to-day operations and support new product development.
Amidst all the confusion and crisis, we kept going, finally launching WizIQ NextGen – a completely new solution based on the latest technologies – WebRTC and Microsoft Azure. Drawing references from our past mistakes and client feedback, we came up with a leaner and cleaner product with everything required to deliver online learning intact at one place.