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A teacher's journey with TCY

A teacher's journey with TCY

A teacher's journey with TCY

By Admin / Apr 22, 2020


Here let me share a little story. This is the story of my life, of how, with my humble background and credentials, I evolved as a teacher, an author, a curator/editor, an academic facilitator, and whatnot. 

Where shall I begin? Oh yes, today I am in my 67th year. As a 20 something, I believed I was destined to be a teacher. And so I became a college lecturer. I don't know what propelled me towards industry when I moved to the then Fertilizer Corporation of India as an Executive Trainee. I played many roles during the next 20 years, including an occasional assignment with the company's training department. And then, disillusioned with the public sector, I quit the company to start my own business, which again was a lesson on 'what not to do' in life. 

And then I joined TCY, then a small company engaged mainly in test prep for 6-7 entrance exams. We were then just a group of 20 odd people, most of whom were half my age at the time. I was an English trainer where I had to engage with classes of 20 odd students, using teaching material developed by my peers and predecessors. I wondered aloud why we could not use standard material available in the market. But the company said it was important that we use only the material developed in-house as it’d need a lot of proprietary content in the future. Gradually I got more and more involved with content development since the company thought that was my forte. However, my initiation into content writing had problems to start with. I had had little exposure to use of technology and even desktop/laptop was not my ilk. I genuinely thought I could write better and more speedily in hand. But that was against the company policy. Remarkably, however, the team of youngsters around me was steadfast in its technical support. It was refreshing to see even the CEO telling me to do whatever I wanted to do with the laptop. With sustained exposure, I came out rather well. 

Come 2008-09, the company began experimenting with online assessments. I never knew much about online education. Fortunately, the academic content that the company had helped prepare in-house all these years, came in handy. TCY put all the content it had online, and without even batting an eyelid, offered it free to anyone who cared to use it. I was obviously not too supportive of throwing something that we had so painstaking prepared without care. I remember the meetings where it was conveyed clearly ‘’ Yes we’re taking a risk but platforms are seeded like this.” But more importantly, all the content that we had been using in exam prep for 6-7 exam categories through our centres, suddenly appeared like a drop in the ocean. 

So TCY began acquiring content from outside indiscriminately; the term used was UGC- User Generated Content. It turned many a novice into authors and offered them prizes like laptops, even foreign jaunts, in addition to the usual cash payouts. Seeing the quality of some of the tests, being acquired in their thousands, I felt like holding my head in my hands. While some tests were good, mostly they were average, even below par. Some people even tried to pass on blatantly plagiarized content as their own. I was shouting myself hoarse, raising red flags on every conceivable opportunity. But TCY seemed to have gone berserk filling up its academic coffers with average as well as junk grade content. Now the statements in the meetings were “ Let’s get ready for curation. Platforms are curated at the beginning and the best bubbles up to the top.” 

The student community too didn't seem much enthused with what we bought at a price but offered free. Gradually we all joined hands to put filters in place for new content and systems in place for curating the existing content. What came in handy was the experience that the company had gained in writing academic content to US/Canada based multinationals like McGraw Hill and Pearson. We gained a lot of insights from the detailed feedback handed down by them. We kept fine-tuning the systems and processes to curate/filter all content. At the same time, the student rating of our tests kept telling us where we stood and where we wanted to go. Starting with average student ratings below 3 (on a scale of 5), we are proud to have brought it up to 4.6+. Importantly, this rating is not for TCY generated content but for all internal/external content, not for 6-7 categories, but for 190+ exam categories that we have built up since. This would not have been possible if TCY had not kept its sights far into future. 

Not only were we, as a team, super enthusiastic by now, but we also learnt a few lessons. Here are a few hard facts that have continued to intrigue me:

  1.  Entrepreneurs can see what others can’t. They can create things out of thin air. While we're seeing all around us companies burning millions in acquiring content and students, here we had created this self-fuelling engine.
  2. Boldness beats genius any day. Risking own money, not VC money is the real boldness.
       In the last 10-12 years, since TCY moved into the online domain, hundreds of edtech ventures came and shut shop. While there was a lot of possibility of distraction but all models were discussed in deep detail to always stick to the most logical one. Also, seeing decisions to kill the existing revenue streams without even blinking was a shock I had multiple times in the last few years. Every time reason was the same - If it conflicts with or distracts from future, it’s not worth pursuing.
  3. Boldness comes with conviction, which, in turn, comes withknowing customer pain points.
  4. Team structure, focus, and communication can create magic. Chase only one metric in one phase. That’s the mandate. Once teams have clarity on big purpose, they create unimaginable stuff. The channelization of such diverse skills was a rare thing to witness.
  5. Stay lean in good times also. 
  6. Growth without a profitable model is useless. Now that the tide is drawing back, we can clearly see who all were swimming naked. 
  7. The power of network effects and the long tail is a big hidden treasure that I started realizing only a couple of years back. 
  8. Pioneering efforts bring a great innovation culture. You can see it in every function of the organization. 
  9. Make sure every customer using your product makes the product superior for the next customer. 
  10. The most effective online platforms and tools are built by the teams that understand the offline behaviors well. Others are likely to waste resources.

And behold! We soon were adding B2B clients i.e. coaching centres offering seamlessly integrated tutoring/testing & were sending students to them. TCY's B2B base today spans across India (even abroad). To serve these 650 odd B2B centers & a burgeoning number of students, TCY has kept building its author base, taking it beyond 50,000. We even forayed into book publishing through a tie-up with Wiley India Ltd. Books published independently by TCY are taught in all these centres. The content team at TCY mostly involves itself with curation of content generated externally. But curating content across the spectrum of these many exam categories needs highly differentiated expertise, which is difficult to have under one roof. So, a lot of curation too is outsourced.

During all this time, my role has kept evolving. From teacher, to author, to editor, to academic counsellor, to facilitator, to process curator, to mentor and guide. Together we have kept experimenting here and there. I believe l didn't do much on a purpose or a plan, not mine at least. But surely TCY had a purpose, TCY had a plan, not for me alone, but for others around me, young and old. It is this purpose, this plan that made the team deliver, that made me do I never thought I would. 

I have also witnessed the flexibility, the course correction, the resilience of the company. And now, with Covid-19 lock down shutting down most businesses, when it appeared that much of the team has to be laid off, and might even start disintegrating, the company has chosen to flip the roles, to keep things going. I'm sure the company shall not only ride through these difficult times but also come out much stronger. 

Someone rightly said - Sweat in peace so that you don’t bleed in war.

Kulbhushan Sharma

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Last updated on : Nov 27, 2020