How Rakhi Chawla Built Ed3D By Turning Her Passion Into Profession
Born and brought up in Agra, one of the most business oriented towns in India, Rakhi Chawla grew up in the support and care of parents who were unconventional in their thinking. Even though she came from a city where girls were married off really early, Rakhi's parents let her and her sister choose subjects of their own choice and did all they could to help them fulfil their dreams. Rakhi always wanted to become an Engineer from IIT. Her dad was very supportive but her mother wanted her to go for a safe career choice - something that would be conducive to domesticity and did not want her daughter to leave the city to study elsewhere. Therefore Rakhi settled for her second choice, and completed her B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Mathematics and Computers from DEI, Agra.
Fast forward a few years and Rakhi finally had a chance to study at her dream college - IIT-Delhi for completing M.Tech. in Computer Applications. She then worked as a Software R&D Engineer at MNCs in Hyderabad and Noida and also became a guest lecturer for MBA and Engineering students in Agra.
One thing that bothered her at her different workplaces was the lack of innovative thinking. After becoming a mother, she was overwhelmed by the degenerative effects of traditional teaching methods that she saw on her son’s experience at primary school. That's when Rakhi decided to call it quits and decided to bring Ed3D to life. Ed-3d.com is Rakhi's first entrepreneurial venture, a teaching program for mathematics, english, computers & logic building for learners of the age 4 to 14 years. Her programs are designed with a balanced approach towards technology and various teaching tools such as interactive videos, lectures, educational kits and even comics. To this day, her son remains a willing subject for her adventurous educational experiments.
We got Rakhi Chawla to feature in an exclusive interview with us to talk about her exciting and inspirational journey for every womanpreneur out there to use their talent and skills for the betterment of society. Read on to know what Rakhi has to say.
Rakhi Chawla, Founder - ED-3D
CE: How did IIT Delhi happen? How was your experience working as software research engineer at MNCs in Hyderabad and Noida?
Rakhi: During graduation, I got selected for MTTS (Mathematics Training & Talent Search Program) held at IIT Mumbai conducted by Mumbai University. It was a month long course attended by Mathematics Undergraduate students. It became a turning point in my life, firmly establishing my interest in Mathematics as a career choice. After Mumbai, I went to IIT Kanpur for around 8 months for a Research Project and it was there that I decided to do M.Tech.
I started preparing for GATE on my own and managed to surprise myself with an All India Rank 66! I enrolled in the M.Tech. program at IIT Delhi, elated at the realization of a life-long dream.
During the last semester of M.Tech, I was placed in a well-known MNC at Hyderabad, with lucrative package and started working there soon after. It was challenging enough professionally but I felt the lack of innovative methods while working. There was this understated inclination towards set methods of operation. My personal life was more challenging at this point. My husband Vikash was working with Schlumberger in UAE and we met each other rarely. Things got tougher when our son was born in 2009 and after two years of trying to balance my job while trying to be an attentive mother, I shifted back to Agra in 2011 for parental support and stability.
CE: When did the idea of creating a startup surrounding child education first hit you?
Rakhi: During my initial days at Agra, I opted to teach as a guest lecturer for Mathematics & Computer Science subjects to MBA, Engineering & other graduate courses at various colleges. I started realizing the poor state of Education at this level as a teacher. Students were only concentrating on marks & degrees, with no emphasis on actual learning. I tried teaching for 2.5 years, using different methodologies, discussed educational problems with peers but there was very little change.
During that time, I started researching the causes for this malaise and began volunteer summer classes for grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 to see where the problem was. The problem was at primary & secondary levels but instead of eliminating the root cause, all attention was focused on marks and entrance exams at the K12 level, creating a stressful environment that took away all pleasure from learning.
Moreover, I realized that my son, who had now started school, was being taught using the same techniques that I learned from 30 years ago. Simply put, our education system is stagnant. Schools today undoubtedly have better infrastructure, modern equipment, extracurricular opportunities, smart classes, etc. but what we’re forgetting is that we don’t just need smart classes, WE NEED SMART TEACHERS, SMART METHODOLOGIES, SMART MINDS TO LEARN & REACT. At this point, I decided it was time to begin the change and ideas about an educational program began to take shape.
CE: When did your husband Vikash Kumar and you both agree to work on this idea? What were your baby steps into the startup world as a team?
Rakhi: My co-founder Vikash is also my husband and I often get teased about badgering him to co-found Ed3d! We met in college in Agra and we grew to support each other emotionally and professionally. We’re both passionate about education and have struggled considerably to achieve our goals. When Vikash saw how passionate I was about doing something to reinvent education, he decided to support me in every way that was needed.
We started with after school classes at our centre and yearly summer camps where we could implement our innovative techniques and improvise them if necessary. We did everything together, from scouting for locations, to setting up the place, to marketing and implementation of our techniques. The most challenging part was to observe, present and communicate at the level of children since they were our primary audience.
CE: Was it difficult to convince family & friends about your decision to quit your job?
Rakhi: My parents were initially a little sceptical about my switch from a lucrative job to an obscure educational venture but they’re coming around now. My sister and brother-in-law are going through their own entrepreneurial journey so they can understand all the highs & lows one faces. Our overnight discussions, planning and campaigning, has made our bonds even stronger. My friends from childhood, college, IIT, and the ones I’ve made recently during the course of my work keep giving their suggestions and advice on how to improvise.
As for my husband, he is the most important reason I have come this far. From financing Ed3D, to setting up the two centres, to babysitting our little son when I worked nights even when he was on leave sometimes. Vikash has done it all with a tremendous sense of pride in my vision & capability.
CE: What kind of research & planning went on behind the startup?
Rakhi: While teaching 9th to 12th graders as part of my research, I talked to family & friends who had school going kids. I communicated with people from the local community including students from the best schools of the city to government schools. People from all economic sectors were a part of my survey. I was also in constant touch with teachers, principals and friends who had new ideas and anyone remotely associated with, or interested in the education sector were included in my research. Marketing professionals in my circle were also consulted during this period. The most important part of my research was my son. I practised all my teaching techniques on him and watched his responses closely.
CE: What were the initial challenges that you faced while starting up Ed3D? How did you tackle them?
The most challenging part of this whole journey was convincing parents to try out the new methods of teaching we use at Ed3d. All that the parents want these days is someone to help their children complete homework and get good grades.
But with the support of like-minded parents and the results they saw in their children, Ed3D has grown from a home run, after school program to a full -fledged centre bang in the middle of the city in a year's time. Visible changes in learning attitudes and the enthusiasm that was transmitted from Ed3d to the children associated with us made all the difference.
CE: How does the Ed3D system work? What services of Ed3D attracts children/parents the most? Which age group of children are you targeting?
Rakhi: The most innovative aspect of the Ed3d program is the grouping together of children not by grades or age but by learning capability, aptitude and interest. We have designed an entrance test to check child's basic IQ level & mathematical reasoning, as per his class level. The results for these tests are usually not class appropriate. A time consuming repairing & mending process follows to bridge the gap. Another innovative method is working with left-brain & right-brain integration methods and presenting concepts in ways that attract each child. We want to teach left-brained subjects in integration with right-brain activities.
We started off with the concept of paperless learning, designed labs accordingly with the best mathematical learning resources available in India and abroad.
Once the child understands concepts through manipulative, games, stationery & working models, online tutorials, storyboards etc., they are given worksheets to solve.
I think what excites both parents and students both is the perfect blend of technology with tangible teaching tools. It makes learning a multi-sensory experience without turning kids into passive learners. We use Google Apps to involve parents in their child’s growth. We’re targeting primary and secondary level students at present.
CE: What was the major turning point in the journey of this startup?
Rakhi: The major turning point in our journey was deciding to increase outreach. We wanted to move beyond Agra and make our learning tools accessible to children everywhere. Expanding anything takes massive effort and development and we’re in the process of finalizing our marketable products and services that will be available for anyone, anywhere, anytime.
CE: Who are other people behind success of Ed-3D?
Rakhi: My husband is definitely the most important reason we’re succeeding as a team. He keeps us together and motivated, pushing us to work harder despite personal constraints. Ed3D has a wonderful ‘women’s wing’. Ed3D's Editor, Reema Ahmad, is an English Honours graduate from Lady Sri Ram College, Delhi. She also has a Master’s in English Literature and a B Ed. She adds creativity and productive madness to the team. Ed3D's Graphic Designer, Astha Bhatnagarfrom Gurgaon is another gem of the team, call her on urgent basis and she's ready with her brilliant designs in few hours. Ed3D's new star is Jess Benjamin Purmeswar from South Africa. She has worked on various illustration projects for international clients.
CE: What kind of response are ED-3D programs generating from schools/institutions?
Rakhi: Schools in small town India are steeped in tradition and it is a task to get a new idea across. Nevertheless, Coding workshops were run in the top schools in the city by Ed3d to celebrate International Computer Science Week in December 2014 and the students response was amazing. Coding has since been added in Ed3D curriculum. We want kids here to learn about all the cool stuff kids around the world are learning at very young ages.
At a recent open family Coding event conducted by Ed3D, kids learning with us demonstrated quicker results as compared to adolescents attending from outside!
CE: How do you go about hiring at Ed3D? Who can apply?
Rakhi: Hiring at Ed3d is mostly a virtual process. We’ve recently hired designers through the SHEROES platform which focuses on empowering women entrepreneurs. Anybody who is passionate about education, has a creative bent of mind and can think in terms of what is most enjoyable and useful for kids can apply. Technical skills are always a bonus.
CE: How big is the Ed3D team at the moment? Where do you operate from?
Rakhi: We are a team of exact 5 members. We operate from different parts of the globe actually! Our centre is based in Agra. The teaching team is based in Agra while the design and production team works remotely.
CE: Being a woman entrepreneur, juggling family & work can be a daunting task. How do you handle pressure on both ends? Are there times when you have to give up either one of them?
Rakhi: Yes, it is difficult but not impossible if one has the right kind of support. My family is exceptionally supportive, especially my husband. And I am fortunate enough to have excellent domestic staff that helps me achieve my goals both as a mother and an entrepreneur. It can be tough when your child is sick or in times of emergencies.
The fact that the Ed3d home team is mostly women makes a huge difference. All of us live and work in similarly demanding situations and that makes it easier for us to understand each other.
We often pitch in for a colleague in times of personal crisis. This is part of the vision of Ed3d- to create a sustainable, comfortable environment for women to work and grow in.
CE: What do you love the most about being an entrepreneur? What is your advice to those who are just starting up?
Rakhi: The part I love most is the sheer challenge of building something from scratch. It is difficult but it also fuels the primal survival instinct inherent in each one of us. Added to that is the drive that comes from knowing you’re out to do something good, something that will help shape minds and lives.
My advice to anyone starting up is to do your homework while setting realistic goals. It is all very well to have a brilliant idea, but no idea works unless it is backed by solid research and consistent effort.
CE: Any message for your readers?
Rakhi: Most Indians do little other than complain when it comes to changing things. Each one of us can make a difference in every field, no matter what our circumstances. If there’s something that bothers you, something you do not like, quit complaining and change it. It may mean compromising on materialistic gains for a while but if you plan well, passion and profession can go together profitably. So go for it.
It’s a tragedy in India that good engineers are weaned towards management or finance and are taught to focus on sales than on core engineering. The world is changing rapidly and building superior products are the best sales strategy.Abishek SurendranPi Ventures