Do you remember the time when you first walked into a college? Or maybe the day of your convocation/graduation? Were you hopeful about your future? Did you feel like you have a lot of potential and that you have a long, long way to go?
When I graduated, I was at a decent place in life. I was already earning as a freelancer, and it was a substantial amount. A big law firm job, which I was about to join, wasn’t much of a pay hike.
CLAT coachings were ready to pay me 10k per day for every day of workshop. This apart from flying me down to a different city and putting me up in a nice hotel. I commanded that kind of premium because I was considered a star teacher in that market. And I was worth the money. It helped that I had started CLAThacker that had over 4000 users. I had a fan following!
I was also earning by ghostwriting books. I could easily earn a couple of lakhs from ghostwriting a textbook.
I was also offering legal risk management services, and while that was vague, I was able to charge INR 6,000 for simple contracts and upto INR 80,000 for a startup investment contract.
We had launched BarHacker, an online bar exam preparation course, which exists until today. We managed to earn a lakh or two from that too.
I could not wait for the more amazing things ahead. I could tell my life was going to get much much better and I wanted to jump right into it. I was impatient. I was excited. I was eager.
I am meant to do much bigger things, I thought. I stopped CLAT coaching and related work, pretty much shut down CLAThacker, because it did not feel like my calling anymore. It was time to get into more exciting, bigger projects, and learn more, and do something revolutionary!
That was the spirit of youth. I joined a big law firm with the mindset to learn more about it, and what I saw there made me determined to start my own set up even more.
I was lucky to find a cofounder like Abhyuday, who was a good friend throughout college and later. Starting our journey into the world of legal education was an adventure. We did not know what it would bring us. We did not know what would it take to survive. We did not even know what we were really after, except that we wanted to bridge the gap between college education and the work lawyers actually have to do. We grossly underestimated how difficult it would be.
It sounds silly even to me, now, that two lawyers with 1 year of experience each started a company to offer legal education back in 2012.
When I see old albums, they are full of a lot of the photos taken in our old offices. I see young confident faces staring back at me from those old group pictures. I wonder, and almost feel detached. It feels like we have come a long way since then.
We were up to something. We never gave up. We always played the long game. We always prioritised learning for our students. We put their interests first. And we had this never ending optimism and confidence in our own capabilities. We would deliver no matter what it takes. And we did.
But there were limitations to what we could do.
I see how far we have come from those days. What we used to do seems almost childish compared to what we do now. What we know now seems magical compared to what we knew back then.
And that’s how growth is. You cannot even foresee how far you will go when you start the journey. You can just have the discipline and confidence to keep walking towards an uncertain future every single day, no matter what.
Let me tell you about a time when I felt very different. Quite the opposite of hopeful and eager.
After 10 years into online courses business, our revenues were dependant a lot on online courses offered from NUJS, Kolkata. We conceptualised these courses, but we were mere service providers to the university, and at their mercy with respect to delay in payments as well as starting or shutting down courses.
In July 2018, we reached a situation where a new administration in NUJS stopped paying us for our services without explanation, and issued a notice stating that those online courses should be shut down. This was a bolt from the blue, because a substantial portion of the Universities budget used to come from these courses, and there was supposed to be 6 months notice given to us before firing us as a service provider. None of these happened. Additionally, the university owed us over 70 lakhs in fees, which it did not pay, and gave no explanations.
Our repeated pleas for meeting, hearing etc were unanswered. It was clear that nothing short of court orders will make them budge.
In July 2018, I was in a situation where I had to let go of a majority of my staff because I had no assurance that I could pay them.
I used the last money we had in our account to pay 40% salary to remaining employees. I told everyone that I was going to pay the rest as I am able to turn the business around or when we get paid by NUJS.
I was in Goa back then. One evening I sat down on a terrace, looked at the horizon as the sun set, and wondered. Where did I make a mistake? I started on such a great note. Where did I lose the plot? How did things become so bad?
In reality, no matter what I had promised myself about being a great entrepreneur or a credible educator, I was the leader of a failing company that could not afford to pay its vendors and could not pay full salary to the employees.
I could see total failure staring me in the eye. What have I done?
Next day, I called up all our vendors and informed them of my situation one by one. Surprisingly, they all encouraged me and agreed to help. They agreed to take deferred payments. They did not want to stop services because of pending dues. Rather, they offered to help in any way they can.
I asked some of them many months later what prompted them to help me. One of them said you are my best customer ever. You never delayed payments, you were always fair, and you referred me more clients than anyone else ever did. How could I not help you when you were in trouble?
Good karma saved me. I had no idea.
I got calls from my colleagues. Komal Shah, our content head, called me and told me, whatever happens, I am with you guys. We are together in this. I am never leaving you people.
The best of my team did not leave even in such a horrible situation. And with a very lean and desperate team, we bid for resurrection. Little did I know that this would change us forever.
We launched new courses under new banners, in totally new concepts. We went all in. There were many things we could not do due to restrictions of University and price control and stuff like that. Now this was ours, and we were going to leave no stone unturned.
Weekly exercises – check. Regular classes – check. Spending a good amount of the budget on recruitment support and coaching for professional success – check. We had no sales team left. Only Ratul Rudra, our sales head back then, chose to stay back. He came to Goa and assisted me with sales. I became the chief sales person.
And then one by one, sales started pouring in. 12 months later, we are many times bigger than what we used to be, and in the last three months I have been approached by 2 international universities and 2 Indian universities to launch courses with them. And you know what? I am not too eager. I will take my time, make my assessment and my decision; if it is even worth our while working with any of them.
We built this while battling it out in court with a powerful institution, clearing dues worth tens of lakhs from the past, and handling disgruntled students of NUJS online courses (only a handful, most of them understand that we are not at fault) who regularly target us in some way or the other because NUJS is too high and mighty and unreachable.
We triumph over all of it, and we don’t plan to stop.
My goal is to build a lasting brand in legal education. Go global. Create a lot of new courses that change the reality of legal practice and how young lawyers build their practices. And I will be focussing on that goal single mindedly. I do not need any university to sell my courses if the courses truly work, if they serve the purpose they are designed for, which is to make lawyers better at their work.
What other option does a lawyer or a law student have if they have to learn practical aspects of law? University courses are dime a dozen, the CV value of which can only take you so far.
Here is what I tell to interested learners who ask me what is the value of our courses, if there is no recognized certificates provided: well, why don’t you take the university courses? When you realise that you do not know enough to do client work, and are wasting precious years of your life trying to learn the basics, you would come back to us. Won’t you?
And yeah, people do come back to us – to learn, to practice what they learn, and to learn to succeed.
So that’s the story I wanted to share with you today.
When we are hit the worst, it is not the end of the road. We are just being redirected towards our true destiny. Do not give up. You just levelled up.
You know how when you go to the higher levels in a video game, things get increasingly difficult?
Newsflash, life is no different. You gotta play and win. Rewards are bigger here, too.
I wish you all the best. I have gone through good and bad times, and I know what it takes to succeed. That is the place all our programs come from. We will train you for good and bad days. Come and join us, and you will feel a big difference in what path you see ahead of you, and what goals begin to beckon you.
I know we have an amazing future ahead, and I can’t wait for it anymore. Just like I could not, back in college when I was about to graduate. That feeling is back. What is the price of feeling that about your future?
Here are the courses in which enrollment closes on 31st July. Hurry up if you do not want to miss this batch
Diploma in Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws
Executive Certificate Courses