By Co-Founders Ashwin Damera and Chaitanya Kalipatnapu
On October 26th 2020, the Eruditus group completes a decade of making high quality education accessible and affordable. Over these 10 years, we have played a small but significant role in imparting high quality professional education to over 100,000 students from across 80+ countries. We recently announced our Series D fundraise and as we plan for the next phase of impacting professionals around the world, we can’t help but relive the moments that have shaped this decade-long journey.
1. We failed, before we found success
It’s quite glamorous to talk about success, but it was the failure of our first program that played an important role in shaping our business model. We launched a 3-month executive program in the Indian market with the idea that we can assemble the best faculty and practitioners, with an equal dose of lectures, applications, and projects to create a blockbuster program.
While it had all the ingredients of success, after a three-month-long marketing cycle, we were only able to enroll 21 participants. We ran the program, of course, at a huge loss but it gave us invaluable experience on how to position and execute a world-class program. We realized that it was not enough just to have the best of faculty; we also needed a brand on which to carry the program. This helped us define our “product-market-fit”, made us navigate towards collaborating with top universities and defined our business model going forward.
2. Knocking on INSEAD’s Doors, Our 10-year association with INSEAD
Learning from that failure, we were hyper-focused to work with a top academic institution to deliver a high quality program. Thus came the collaboration with INSEAD in 2011 to launch a one-year-long general management program — INSEAD Leadership Programme for Senior Executives (ILPSE).
INSEAD wanted to expand its executive education portfolio and was keen to launch a management program in India. We pitched (and repitched!) a multi-modular program for senior executives leveraging their on-campus locations, India and Technology (Telepresence). Thanks to the willingness to experiment from Miklos Sarvary (its then Exec-ed Dean) and Martin Garguilo (Asia Dean for Exec-ed) along with the phenomenal vision of Prof. Paddy Padmanabhan and Prof. Bala Vissa, ILPSE was born. But for their bet, it’s safe to say we would have been far off our mark!
It is now in the 10th year of running, which is a testimony to our business model and has set the ball rolling for such collaborations. We are extremely grateful to the faculty team who have taught over the years and to the leadership of Mary Kwan, Mark Roberts, and the splendid team of INSEAD Program Coordinators for being tremendous partners and helping us grow the partnership!
3. Momentum with top universities
Partnering with INSEAD built momentum for us to sign up the next four schools — Wharton (University of Pennsylvania), MIT, Columbia Business School, and Tuck@Dartmouth, to offer in-class and blended programs for senior executives in emerging markets.
Prof. Harbir Singh was excited to launch Wharton programs in India in 2012. We were privileged that our very first Wharton program was taught by Prof. Jagmohan Raju, under whose visionary leadership the partnership has continued to grow. We have managed to scale the impact further, with programs now being offered in the Middle-east and online.
The pioneering spirit of Prof. Vijay Govindarajan (Tuck), Prof. Suresh Sunderasan (Columbia Business School), Prof. Charlie Fine (MIT Sloan) and Prof. Sanjay Sarma (MIT), helped us launch new courses with their respective schools, all of which were very successful.
This effort was ably supported by administrators of these phenomenal institutions: Maria Pitone (Wharton), Mike Malefakis (Wharton, ex-CBS), Katherine Lewis (CBS), Martin Hackett (ex-Wharton), Peter Hirst (MIT Sloan), Paul Smith (MIT Sloan), Ann Marie Maxwell (MIT Sloan), Bhaskar Pant (MIT), Clara Piloto (MIT), Lily Fu (ex-MIT), Tc Haldi (MIT ODL), Clark Callahan (ex-Tuck) and Phil Barta (Tuck), who had the vision and the belief to collaborate with Eruditus, a nascent venture at that time! We are indebted to them for reposing their faith in us.
4. Embracing Online: SPOC not MOOC
The first phase of our journey was focused on in-class and blended programs. With the launch of Coursera in 2013 and edX in 2014, universities evinced more interest and were willing to experiment with online. We were excited by the ability of online education to scale access but we were clear that we want to scale with high impact learning outcomes.
We set out to create Emeritus as a platform to provide online courses, in collaboration with MIT Sloan, Columbia Business School, and Tuck. And in the process helped define the market for Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs).
The first course which helped set the standard was aptly the seminal work on 3 Box Approach by Prof. Vijay Govindarajan. Our frugal team (Ashwin and Shaun especially!) wore multiple hats from Instructional Design to Slide preparation to Pre-production to innumerable hours of video editing and LMS Administration. It was literally building the plane as we flew!
We are also indebted to Prof. Gita Johar (ex-Head of Online Initiatives, CBS) for her guidance in scaling this new initiative and defining the category of Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs). We also fondly remember and cherish the support of late Prof. Katherine Phillips (CBS) for being one of the pioneers to experiment and encourage us in delivering high quality education in this format. Without their support, we wouldn’t have gotten the traction we did.
5. Our first institutional fundraise: Bertelsmann
We were rejected by nearly 20 funds, and there was a point when we wondered if we should raise capital at all. It didn’t seem like investors were buying into the aspiration we had that we could create a scalable global venture out of India. But then came Bertelsmann, who understood education and global scale very well. They were a great fit! They pushed us to think about looking at other regional markets like LATAM and China. We are grateful to Shobhna Mohn, Pankaj Makkar and Pranjal Kumar for their insane trust in us and to constantly challenge in helping us find our “Right to win!”
Raising our Series C funding with Sequoia in late 2018 was another huge shot in the arm. Beyond their philosophy of backing enduring companies, they introduced us to an enviable ecosystem, be it other portfolio companies or the talent that we were able to attract, which has helped us create a truly global company. Thanks to GV Ravishankar (GV) and team, we have accelerated our investments to highlight the “tech” of “edtech” and have reinforced our efforts in building an enduring company! GV always pushed us to think of how we can become an “enduring company”, a term that Sequoia uses to describe companies that dominate their category (e.g. Google, YouTube, Zoom, Airbnb etc). Read more here
7. Our leap onto the global stage
Our mission of providing access to affordable, high-quality education could not have happened without going global. Working with world-class institutions and in the online format, helped us expand the canvas beyond India, Middle East, and APAC, which had been our market in the initial years. We now offer over 100 programs in more than 80 geographies and in the process are reaching over 100,000 working professionals.
8. Our team culture drove our growth
This journey would not have been possible without the combination of people and culture that we were able to nurture. We are extremely fortunate to have a mission-driven team! Their shared vision to make high quality education more accessible and affordable, along with the emphasis to collaborate and to challenge, has helped us scale. Many of our early team members are still with us. It is great validation for us that we have people who share the passion for our mission and enjoy working at Eruditus group. We now have more than 630 team members across 7 geographies, with 44% being women.
With the growth pains of a venture and its demanding responsibilities, besides frequent spells of long hours, we acknowledge the sacrifices the team had to make at the expense of their family time and other commitments. We are extremely blessed and proud to have such a team!
9. We walked the talk
As an EdTech company, we have a ringside view of some of the foremost thought leaders in action. It’s not just the participants who learn from this amazing faculty but we as a company have had that privilege as well. Be it Prof. Vijay Govindarajan’s Three Box Solution which helped us launch new lines of business, Prof. Sanjay Sarma’s vision on the future of learning, applying design thinking by Prof. Steve Eppinger in creating courses, the power of networking by Prof. Balagopal Vissa in expanding our ecosystem, the Talent on Demand framework by Prof. Peter Cappelli, Prof. Harbir Singh’s global strategy which influenced our global business growth, Prof. Jagmohan Raju’s approaches for Smart Pricing, Prof. David Rogers’ frameworks on Digital Transformation, Prof. Mohan Sawhney’s approaches on bolder bets, and Prof. Paddy Padmanabhan’s succinct principles in finding opportunities from crises, — each of Thought Leaders have influenced and refined our strategy and we have applied their frameworks in various phases of our journey.
10. The compatibility factor
And finally, it is important to have that “founder fit” and we have been extremely fortunate to have met each other. We share a common passion for making high-quality education accessible and affordable, and we have stuck together through the crests and troughs of this decade-long journey. And what more, we became family in the process!
It is imperative to acknowledge the support and sacrifices of our spouses, Bhagyashree Damera and Emmanuelle Perraud, so that we can put in the effort, energy and time towards the venture. Without them and our families, none of this would have been possible!
When we started Eruditus ten years ago, we didn’t think even in our wildest dreams that we would partner with 28 world-class institutions and positively impact more than 100,000 professionals across 80-plus countries. With the support of our University partners, our passionate team and the belief in our mission from our Series D investors – Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Leeds Equity and Naspers, we are sticking our necks out and asking, “Why can’t we make this impact 10X?”