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India’s Edtech Founders On The Teachers That Influenced Them And Shaped Their Startups

India’s Edtech Founders On The Teachers That Influenced Them And Shaped Their Startups

As India celebrates Teachers' Day, edtech founders open up about the early influencers in their lives

Skilling startup Tapchief's Shashank Murali attributed his leadership qualities to the lessons learnt in school

Zishaan Hayath, founder and CEO of Toppr, said he is thankful for the inquisitiveness that his teachers inspired

Technology has changed the face of education — so much so that even something like India’s Teachers’ Day is most visibly celebrated in memes and platitudes on social media. But those working to bring digitisation and technology to the field of education seem to have put into action what they learnt in classrooms.

Inc42 spoke to several early and growth stage edtech startup founders and discovered that the love for teaching and learning began at an early age for many of them. Many attributed their passion for technology, to help other students through their startups and their need to make a difference in the life of learners to the teachers and professors that came into their lives.

Several of the founders we spoke to told us that they are still in touch with their teachers — with some even reaching out for advice several years after they had parted from school, thanks to the power of technology. “My class teachers from grade 1 and grade 11, both, attended my wedding last year. Plus thanks to social media and Whatsapp, sustaining important relationships like these has become easier,” Akshay Chaturvedi of Leveragedu said.

Remembering Early Lessons On Teachers’ Day

Teachers’ Day celebrates this bond between teacher and pupils, as learning is not just about reading books for your class — it can be a lifelong companion.

As Divya Jain, founder and CEO, Safeducate said, “What is really been transformational is someone who cares about your life, your aspirations and your insecurities. At work I do feel that is something I follow as well, to be there for my team.”

Leveragedu founder Chaturvedi also had similar thoughts. “I learnt a very critical skill from them i.e. personalising your work relationships authentically. As we build a loved organisation at LeverageEdu, there’s a lot of emotion in how we take inter-personal decisions, invest in each other’s growth and more. It’s all come from those early days!”

For Zishaan Hayath, founder and CEO of Toppr, the inquisitiveness inculcated by his teachers at school has been a major factor in how he has approached life and business. “Along with this, there was always a lot of focus on a lot of practice that would help us understand a concept thoroughly. I believe that this inspired us to always keep learning, and solve new and challenging problems,” he told Inc42.

Being able to question things and making your doubts clear are both important parts of growing up as an adult, and it’s also a great quality to have in an entrepreneur. Hayath added that he had an early start in this regard. “I have always performed better in classrooms where teachers not only addressed my doubts but also encouraged them. In these classrooms, not a single doubt was silly, and this encouraged us to analyse and question everything that we had learnt instead of simply rote learn it.”

At the same time, teachers also have a way of nurturing the best qualities in students through their ways. “I remember my class teacher calling me out and being super sad as she couldn’t make me the class captain because I was so naughty and seeing her so upset really made me straighten up and be far more dedicated,” said Safeducate’s Jain.

Shaping Careers And Startups

Skilling startup Tapchief’s Shashank Murali also attributed his leadership qualities to the lessons learnt in school.

“I think one of the most important aspects I learned from most of my teachers has been sincerity and attention to detail.”

He added that this is a principle he continues to follow and advocate to team members as well because it drives high ownership. “All these three qualities — sincerity to one’s work, high ownership and attention to detail — are in my opinion fundamental to a startup’s success,” the startup’s founder told us.

Many other founders have also found that the early lessons in school can come in handy later on in life. It doesn’t have to be the way teachers help you learn or the subjects they teach, but also their attitudes that can shape an individual. For Anil Nagar, founder and CEO of Adda247, the learnings from school helped become a better man-manager. “I remember one of my teachers used to pay immense individual attention to every student and somehow she would know if anything is bothering any of us and she would sit with us and talk to us and help us in sharing our problems with her. It was very inspiring quality for me to make people around you have confidence in you.”

Several founders told us that even thinking about technology and engineering as a career choice was a direct consequence of their teachers. Directing students to choose the right paths and shaping their way of thinking is a crucial aspect of being a teacher. And while students may not always be focussed on the real goals, a teacher always knows how to give the right advice and guidance. In a country like India which has a massive coaching class and tutoring culture, this interaction doesn’t always happen at school.

Like in the case of Ashutosh Kumar, founder, Testbook, who told Inc42 that it was home tutor, who pushed him towards the doors of IIT, in a manner that would work on most 13-year-old boys – the lure of making girlfriends and money. “He was different. Never gave homework. Always used to study with me. Somehow I started liking studying especially science and maths. One day he asked me if I knew about IIT? I said no.”

Kumar then became obsessed with IITs and said his life took a U-turn. “I got into IIT in 2007, which I consider the best place I could have ever been to. Inspired by him, I started teaching physics to K12 students aspiring to get into IITs. I became a teacher for 7 years right from the 1st year of engineering. This taught me that you can dream even being a nobody. You just need to have strong aspiration and right mentor/teacher, and you will get it.”

With inputs from Meha Agarwal, Yatti Soni, Bhumika Khatri and Nikhil Subramaniam

Note: We at Inc42 take our ethics very seriously. More information about it can be found here.