Ashwin Madhavan is a GNLU graduate and founder of Enhelion, an online legal education company.
We decided to catch up with him in this interview.
Tell us a bit about your childhood. Did you have lawyers in your family?
I was born in Delhi. My family moved to Delhi in the 1920s from Madras, so you can call me a Dilliwallah. I had a wonderful childhood. I have been blessed with parents who brought me up in an intellectual environment and were always there for me whenever I needed sound advice.
Life before graduation was fun. The three of us [mum dad and I] love to travel and have been to all four corners of India and several countries abroad. I completed school in 2005 from Delhi Public School Rohini. It was a stimulating experience to be a part of such an awesome schooling system like that of DPS.
However I give credit to my first school where I studied for a decade. The discipline, the good habits that I inculcated in Lancers Convent made me what I am today. I owe it to the wonderful friends and faculty at Lancers Convent for their hard work and dedication.
When it comes to lawyers in the family, my great grand father was a lawyer in Madras. After him, no one joined the profession. OOOOOPS!
You graduated from GNLU. How did you gravitate towards entrepreneurship?
I joined Gujarat National Law University in 2005. While in law school, I realized that there is a huge gap between what is taught in the university and what is expected out of a young professional when he/she joins the profession.
I discussed this issue with many of my friends who werent lawyers and they all said the same thing. The thought of bringing practical education at the university level propelled me to look for opportunities in entrepreneurship.
While interning at a leading law firm in Delhi, I befriended Mr. Rodney D Ryder a well known lawyer, who himself was looking to start a venture in online education.
Mr Ryder and I discussed the various ways in which we could start the company and we were soon joined by the third musketeer [as we call him], James.
We took the entrepreneurial plunge in early 2012 and started Enhelion after careful deliberations and discussions with various stake holders including my own ALMA MATER – GNLU. I would say that my own alma mater played a vital role in making me an entrepreneur.
It was Dr. Bimal Patel’s vision to launch online programmes and he discussed this idea with us, while I was invited to conduct a workshop on Intellectual Property Management along with Mr Ryder.
You were a member of the editorial Board at GNLU. How has that experience helped you?
I was a member of the Editorial board at GNLU, but I must confess that I did not do enough to deserve a place amongst the talented hard working lot that was part of the founding team.
The only thing that I can say I did was push for a journal in the law school that looked at interdisciplinary subjects and we succeeded in convincing the GNLU administration to launch a journal along those lines.
What kind of internships/experiences did you do while you were a student?
In my first year at law school, I worked for a brief period with an NGO, my second internship was with a senior advocate of the Delhi High Court.
I joined Fox Mandal Little as an intern in my third year where I met Mr. Ryder and we got along really well.
I consider myself very lucky to work with an individual who is very humble and at the same time a good friend and mentor. I could not have asked for more from God.
I decided to take the entrepreneurial plunge on the sound advice of Mr Ryder. Internships do shape a persons career only when you know what best to take from them. If you think that doing internships at fancy law firms “ONLY” will help you, then the answer to that would be a big “NO”.
After taking the entrepreneurial plunge, I can safely say that I want to be on this side of the fence because I like to do things on my own and Enhelion helps me do that. This would not have been possible had I not met Mr. Ryder and my other colleague/ Co Founder James M. who also happens to be a knowledgeable lawyer turned entrepreneur.
How has been your journey with Enhelion so far?
The journey with Enhelion has been quite eventful. In the first year of operations we only had one university partner. The second year saw no university partners adding up.
It was quite difficult to convince universities/institutions to join hands with us, in our pursuit to bring practical education to the university curriculum.
We felt that the idea of bringing practical education to the university level was really new and it needed some more convincing on the part of the universities.
By the time we entered our third year of operations, we saw 10 university/institution partners including the likes of Alliance University, Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed University, Hindustan University Chennai and National Law University – Odisha.
What is the mission of Enhelion with which it progresses?
Recent statistics indicate that most of the students who pass out of universities are not employable, although they might have the qualifications.
It is our mission to make students learn the practical side of subjects, so that they become employable and are able to crack interviews to gain employment and contribute to the growth story of India.
While scaling an educational startup, what are the key aspects you are concerned with?
Scaling up any online education business is a challenge. Many people I come across, say that all you need to do is market Enhelion and you will get the university partners and the student enrolments. Well, honestly, it is not so easy as it may seem.
Education is taken quite seriously by the consumer and people will only come to you, if you have been in the industry for long and have been able to provide good quality content and services.
With the experience that I have had in starting up, I would say there are three things that all education entrepreneurs need to keep in mind, namely:
1) Content – it should be of good quality and should be student friendly;
2) Marketing – you should always target the right audience;
3) Patience – Education industry is a slow moving sector and you got to stay focused and have loads of patience, while dealing with various stake holders.
Since online education is new in this country, it would take time for all stakeholders to understand the benefits of this new phenomenon.
What is your opinion about people joining unconventional professions as their career option? Do you think more students are pursuing unconventional career options after college?
I am delighted to see people joining unconventional professions. The time has come to be unconventional and succeed. The business environment in India has propelled many youngsters to take this plunge of being unconventional in their career approach and achieve success in life.
As I had mentioned earlier, the risks are many, but then what is the harm in trying? It is important to keep trying and trying.
Coming to the second part of your questions, yes I do agree with you when you mention this important fact that many people are pursuing unconventional career options after college.
What were the greatest hastles you confronted in your entrepreneurial journey so far?
The biggest hastle was the convince universities to join hands with us.
I have personally interacted with more than 40 universities and many of them are still not very open about online skills oriented education.
Many universities claim to have industry integrated curriculums, bu the sad part is, that the students are not gaining the skills that the corporate sector is looking for.
A recent survey showed that only 15 to 20 percent of the Indian student community is employable, which I am afraid is quite low.
Students have to learn the practical skills that they are expected to learn and they can only learn these through constant interactions between industry folks and the students themselves. The only cost effective way to have such regular meaningful interactions is the online mode.
Enhelion is trying its level best to help universities understand the importance of online blended learning and this shows in the long list of universities that we have collaborated with.
You also happen to be a classical singer! Tell us about that.
I started learning Carnatic music at the age of 4 and then moved on to Hindustani light music when I was 10. I am a trained singer and also took part in an ALL INDIA RADIO solo programme in 1996 when I was 9 years old.
I am currently learning to play the piano from Delhi School of Music. I bought a piano recently and whenever I get free time, I try and practice what my wonderful piano teacher tells me to.
I am an avid reader of World War 2 military history. I started reading and watching movies on this subject, [which completes its 71th anniversary this September] while I was in junior school. I was obsessed by it by the time I reached my high school. My other hobbies include building miniature world war 2 models.
I usually get the tool kits and other stuff whenever I travel abroad. I have a collection of ships, planes, tanks and miniature soldiers that I made all by myself. They are my prized possessions.
I am into reading comedy and politics and I am an avid reader of the Time Magazine. I collect coins and stamps and I have a habit of collecting flags of all the countries that I have visited so far.
I believe that knowing history makes you a better person. My advice to my fellow students would be: take out some time from your schedule and do what you love. You should have a couple of hobbies that help you recharge your batteries. By that I mean the batteries of your brain. 😉
My message to all the readers is that: If you have the means and the “Junoon” to start up something, then please go for it.
Entrepreneurship is a different world all together. Yes, it is risky, but then risks should be taken, because no one knows what lies in store for us in life. Stay focused; have loads of patience and keep trying. Even if you fail once, don’t give up. Keep trying and you shall succeed.