Rejections are very important. That’s how we get better.
I read a beautiful thing once – rejections are merely the way the universe redirects you to where you really belong, to your destiny.
Of course, a lot of us tend to take some rejections too hard and decide to stop our journey of destiny. Some of us go back home and sit in a corner. Some of us resign to working in a dead-end job or enduring an abusive relationship for the rest of our lives. Or we decide horrible things about ourselves and self-sabotage – such as we are not good enough, we don’t deserve good things in life, that the world is especially cruel to us and whatnot.
There is nothing worse than your spirit being defeated. That is the only time the game is over. I will tell you a story of an epic rejection, and how it changed my fortune.
About two years back, I pitched to one of the richest men in India, a sort of business sage, to invest in LawSikho. He forbade us from ever taking his name because he normally doesn’t invest in startups. He was curious about us because another billionaire business guru who often co-invested with him in many iconic companies of today asked him to take a look at us.
This may surprise you because I am normally against taking investment. However, if this person would come on board, I will take any investment he would give. I won’t even try to negotiate the valuation probably, because of the experience, credibility and simple strategic prowess he brought to the table. We have been offered investments and exits otherwise which we have not taken up. Who the investor is matters more than the cash to me.
I will tell you how.
The first pitch went well. He liked us and sent us some questions to answer. Then he met us again. And that meeting went haywire very quickly.
By end of it, he told us that he thinks that we have been sitting on our asses for years. We did some good things, but we squandered opportunities. He questioned why our courses were very low priced (there was a time when we used to offer some courses at 2000-3000 rupees like most of our competitors) and if we truly had confidence in what we were doing.
Lawyers are rich. Why don’t you have a single course that costs one or two lakhs? I still remember that question.
Upgrad is offering data sciences courses for 2.5 lakhs. What are you doing that you can charge that much? I had no answers.
And he walked out of the meeting. That meeting left a huge impact on me. He was right. I did not like his decision, but I could not disagree with what he said. What could we offer that lawyers would happily pay at least 1 lakh to us?
Could we create products from which we could charge 2-3 lakhs from hundreds of lawyers? Can we offer services to directors of companies, general counsels or law firm partners? What would that have to be?
Our game was nowhere near what was required to charge in lakhs. I just could not see what I could launch that I could justifiably charge even 1 lakh for. Ultimately, for someone to pay me 1 lakh, they should at least get RoI worth of 5 lakhs from buying to the product, while I would prefer that they get the value of at least 10 lakhs. That is when a product really takes off, and selling becomes fun!
Say someone does a contract drafting course for INR 30,000 and can recover the cost in the next 3 months by drafting 3-4 contracts for clients, then the course in more than worth it, because now he knows he can earn even lakhs from the knowledge and skills he gained in the next one year.
It is not enough if people only learn this after doing a course. They should ideally be able to foresee this benefit even before they buy something, for a product to be a really big hit. And that is what we have to play for!
So we started by launching courses worth INR 20,000 in July of 2018. Over the next year, we completely overhauled how we delivered and created courses. I even let go of my sales and marketing team and put in every penny we had into developing premium quality courses. We realized that the content is not enough on its own if we have to be truly premium, because lawyers did not really learn enough from canned content.
Instead of giving discounts, we focused on how we can provide more benefit and more results to the students, even if that meant we had to hike our prices. We did not worry about how we may be pricing ourselves out of most of the market. We believed that if we can deliver true results, enough people will enroll. Lawyers can make a lot of money if they can do good work, why should 15,000 or 30,000 rupees be a big barrier for learning really valuable skills from which they can earn 10 times more?
Instead of keeping a low price, therefore we focussed on how to enable the lawyers to earn more!
That paved the way for live classes, weekly skills training, simulation exercises, monthly article writing and publishing, and coaching calls to ensure completion of courses.
And that enabled us to charge a premium price when all our competitors raced to the bottom with more and more discounts and provided very little value to their learners.
It is possible to charge a premium price, but only when you can provide unquestionable, superlative value. This lesson is not only for entrepreneurs like me but extremely relevant for lawyers and those who work for other organizations too.
Jobs that come with higher salary tags do so because the work is hard, and because you are likely required to solve many problems. More problems you can troubleshoot, more value you can build for others, bigger gets your paycheck too!
I heard another beautiful story that relates to the same issue from a top-notch business consultant later. She is the founder of a number of very well known brands, but I have not taken her permission and hence would not take her name.
She told me the story of a milkman who came to consult her. This guy had hundreds of cows and earned a few crores a year from selling milk. And he was trying to add more cows because he thought that’s how his business will grow. The consultant told her to focus on selling cheese, cream, and such other products to 5-star hotels. Within a few years, the guy crossed 100 crores in revenue.
She left me with one assignment. Think of a product you can sell for 1 lakh per person. Trust me, it took me at least one year to come up with an answer. And it was Master Access. I also mooted an idea for a course for foreign businesses looking to do business in India and one for directors of listed companies, but I never got to making these products because I could not validate from market research.
So yes, we figured out what our 5-star cheese could be, though it took a while.
One key learning was to focus on the legal market rather than just law students. Most legal training companies in India have invariably focussed on the law students market, perhaps because the entry barrier is low and they think it is easier to create courses for law students. And it’s true, you can get away with low-quality products when it comes to law students because their expectation is so low. Some students may value cheap courses that easily gives them a certificate to mention in their CV more than lawyers ever will. So that’s what everyone stuck with.
We also started by focussing on law students in the beginning, but then we realized that we are focussing on the wrong market. What if we focussed on the lawyers instead? Their benefits are more instant. They can actually make a lot of money, right now, by adding new skills to their repertoire. And that’s what we focussed on.
The instruction to our course creation team is to teach at least 2 skills per week to every trainee. These skills should be such that they should be able to charge at least 10,000 or upwards for doing that kind of work.
So if you do a one year course from us, you should learn 100 such skills. This is what we aim for.
Interestingly, this focus reduced law student enrollments only marginally, because many advanced law students want to learn the skills that they would require when they begin their career journey as a lawyer, and there is no reason why they must wait to graduate to learn these skills.
Of course, these courses are not for those who are already struggling with their college curriculum!
We continue to work on how we can elevate our courses to higher levels, where we can service more established lawyers with more knowledge and expertise. LawSikho, therefore, is a work in progress.
Miles to go before we sleep.
Tell me your story. What rejections have turned around your career? How to plan on move up the chain of value and charge more for your work?
I am eager to hear from you.
Here are some courses you can check out. Enrollment closes on 14th September, so hurry.
Executive Certificate Courses