Assistant Editor Neeati Narayan tried picking the brains of Harsh Gagrani, founder of LegalEdge Tutorials (Your classic CLAT tutorials) and a recently published Pearson India Author.
The mostly informal chat began with clichéd talks, moves into the realm of ‘True Awesomeness’ and future dreams and aspirations.
“I’ve concluded that these three words are what we stand for: Originality, Honesty and Awesomeness.”
1. Hi Harsh! You have been creating quite a hum-drum in the CLAT Preparation spectrum with your ‘LegalEdge Tutorials’ competing with the likes of LST, IMS etc. What is the basic ideology behind this start up?
Let’s start with the clichéd, although accurate one- the ideology is to coach law aspirants in an unorthodox but effective way and help them secure a seat in the National Law School of their choice.
Leaving behind the clichés, I now realize that I started LegalEdge with absolutely no ideology, no long term plans and no dream of the next big thing. I just started it for the sake of launching a venture.
However, through my mode of functioning, through mindless tinkering and experimenting, I’ve concluded that these three words are what we stand for: Originality, Honesty and Awesomeness.
I’m a staunch believer in producing thoroughly original content for the students. Similarly, in an industry wrecked to some extent due to honesty issues of some bad apples, I like to remain painstakingly honest in all my dealings, with students and with business associates. Finally, it doesn’t really hurt trying to change status quo and make things slightly more awesome.
2. How did the idea of launching this start up formulate?
Back in 2010, in my final year at NLIU, Bhopal, I had decided to set up my own venture. Coming from a typical Marwari background, even my parents didn’t give me THAT look when I told them this, after 5 years of acquiring law education. The only problem was- I didn’t know what I would start.
There were some ideas floating around in my head, like a virtual stock exchange where people would bet on current trends (it sounds lousy now!), an e-commerce venture, an SSRN like website for law students where students can submit their projects and articles. And yes- something like Lawctopus, and this was barely a few weeks before Lawctopus was launched!
Just a couple of days before my law school term was about to end, a good friend approached with an idea of starting a law entrance prep institution.
The idea seemed promising, so we decided to give it a try. Though he could not continue due to his job commitments, I decided to go ahead, albeit with shaky hands and trembling legs because
a. I had no prior formal teaching experience and
b. I had no prior formal (or informal) business experience. In retrospect, I’m glad I did not let these things boggle me down.
3. The market, as of now, is full of similar start ups since law has picked up vogue as a viable career option. What makes LegalEdge different than all such competitors? Speaking business, what is your USP per se?
Let’s keep the clichés aside right from the beginning here. The USP of LegalEdge is doing everything, EVERYTHING in a way slightly different from others, while not compromising on the effectiveness front. I take at least 1-2 quizzes on varied topics each month, on varying formats.
We’ve launched competitions engaging students not just from Bhopal, but from all over India. I interact with my Monthly Mocks (our correspondence course) students directly (I spoke to one of them on call for an hour last year, at a single stretch!). I write a personalized note to them with each of their packages.
There are real people working behind LegalEdge. I make sure I show all my students this. This is something which with all their manpower and infrastructure, the biggies are unable to implement.
One of the biggest advantages of this strategy is this- people absolutely love it when they get to appreciate or criticize a real person, rather than a company email. They love responding when they know the person who is gonna read the responses! And responses have incredibly helped us in fine-tuning our products.
4. How did this idea transit from the planning stage into the realm of execution stage?
The planning stage of the idea of LegalEdge barely lasted a few weeks. Our first concrete discussion on the idea of opening a law entrance prep institute was sometime in the second week of May ’11. By the last week of May, I had launched a small social networking website for CLAT aspirants (declattered.com– its dead now) and by the first week of June, I had launched LegalEdge.
I think this worked in my favour. I’ve met people with brilliant ideas who’re willing to talk about it to anyone and everyone, but they’re just not willing to take the plunge. A lot of them wish to further refine and filter their ideas, and make it closer to perfection, so that when they start executing- WHAM!! they end up launching the next big thing!
Sadly, nothing can be farther from truth. If you have a great idea, do some ground research and launch the product. Refine execution, not ideas. Ideas are hyped. Execution is everything.
5. What have been the biggest challenges rather roadblocks. What have been the mini morals of these stories up until now?
There have been many. Every venture takes time to get over the startup phase and reach a full-fledged business phase. The former is a really really tough one. You work like crazy, and the returns are dismal. I had four students in my first year. The number has increased and touched three digits this year. Mini-moral- Persevere. Don’t give up just yet!
Also, in teaching and entrance prep industry, where experience is everything, getting people to trust someone like you, with no teaching background, was another major roadblock.
Though LegalEdge is now over two years old, I’m still the youngest teacher among all such institutions in Bhopal. Again- perseverance, coupled with some good results has (thankfully!) helped diminish this fear of parents and students.
6. Congratulations on getting the latest book ‘The Pearson Guide to the CLAT’ published with Pearson India Pvt. Ltd. How does it feel?
A Myriad of emotions! The rosy one: Getting published is the single best feeling for anyone who has been a bookworm for a major part of his life. All your ideas have finally taken a concrete shape- that of a book, which people can buy! They can refer it. Recommend it. Talk about it.
And this is where the ‘not-so-rosy’ feeling kicks in:
Getting published will give supporters fresh reasons to support you, and detractors fresh reasons to attack! You’ve just given people pure new reasons to judge you. “Brace yourself- the comments are coming”
But well- people remember the doers, not the critics.
7. How was the book conceptualised? Again, what differentiates the book from all the established competition in the market?
This book was conceptualised initially as a comprehensive General Knowledge guide. However, as I’ll explain later on, the contract with Pearson was signed for a complete CLAT solution. I spent days reviewing all other works on similar lines. I noticed shortcomings and voids which I sought to fill through my book.
I’ll just list out three really important areas where IMHO this book scores over others:
a) Explanatory answers to thousands of questions,
b) Thoroughly original material (I was absolutely surprised on seeing various entrance guides carrying questions similar/same to each other)
c) Relevant material- The thing about CLAT is that there are dozens of books available on four of its five subjects (except Legal Aptitude). However, the level of Critical Reasoning in CAT, or GMAT is not the same as that in CLAT. Ditto for Verbal section. This is where this book gains relevance. I’ve kept the difficulty and complexity level of questions only on lines of past years’ papers of CLAT, AILET etc.
8. Could you elucidate on the publishing phase? How did you pitch in the idea to the publishers?
Back in March ’12, I had released a small prep book on Current Affairs. Instead of sending sample chapters of my next book, I decided to send this book to the most reputed publishers of India. Pearson and Macmillan replied!
Pearson was interested in getting a complete CLAT guide published. Though this wasn’t my original idea, I gladly accepted their proposal after careful deliberation. This was September ’12.
The last 12 months were spent producing and vetting content. The magnitude of work increased manifold in January, when I decided to hire three interns for this work. The final phase of the work finished in July ’13, 10 months after I wrote the first chapter for this book!
9. How difficult is it to get a whole book published? What would be your advice to budding professional authors (who want to author books on similar lines)?
Book publishing is not a difficult task. Differentiation is! A few tips:
- Take inspiration from books of a different industry– I read Kaplan and Manhattan’s GMAT books for ideas on how to structure my book.
- Stay original- It drastically increases your workload, and takes considerably more time than copying questions. But there are enough ‘question banks’ available in the market, each containing questions copied from each other/previous years’ papers. Make your work easily distinguishable from others.
- Work in a team– I have no qualms in accepting that various people from diverse backgrounds helped me in preparing the book. Had I been working alone, I still would not have been able to ship the first draft! And I also would not have been so confident about the effectiveness of the book. Hire great people to help you out.
10. Any particular people instrumental behind ‘LegalEdge’?
Another cliché- Parents!
But I do wonder where I would have been if my parents would not have supported my crazy ideas. My dad approved of all my startup ideas, right from the virtual stock exchange one, to the coaching one.
I now realize it wasn’t because he had full faith in them (though I would like to believe he did), but because if any of them failed, he wanted me to make my own mistakes and learn from them!
A small advice- if you’re planning to start-up anytime after college, do take your parents into full confidence. Not just for the initial startup cash. But there will be times when no one, NO ONE will believe in what you’re doing, and whether it’ll work, except your parents.
Perseverance is a vital pre-condition for success in business. Your parents will unconditionally be with you during the perseverance stage.
11. What would you term to be an ‘achievement’ for you and LegalEdge? Any such triumph which you could share with the readers?
We’re barely 25-26 months old and we’ve had our share of failures and successes. Some of our small triumphs are:
- Entering the self-sustaining mode 11 months after starting LegalEdge, and not asking for cash anymore from parents (this is a great feeling!)
- Getting great ranks (AIR 3, CLAT ’12 and AIR 4, CLAT ’13) in the first two years itself. And students giving us credit for the same.
- Changing lives. A lot of them. This is a by-product of what we do. But the fact that our actions have the capacity to and have been changing lives keeps us motivated and on course.
12. Describe a day in the life of Harsh?
Wake up around 8. Go cycling. Read a newspaper with garma garam tea. Get ready. Reach office by 10:30-11:00.
Now the action starts! Either a 2 hour class or lots of vetting, emailing, content creating etc. Followed by speaking to students in small groups (gyaan sessions!)
I’ve been planning to start online classes so I infrequently record some online classes post-lunch. Followed by either a class or again lots of vetting, emailing, content creating etc. Followed by another gyaan session with a different batch.
Dinner. Then a half an hour reading of The Hindu- absolutely essential and I hate missing it even for a day! Some more reading for next day’s class. Off for the day.
This was a typical day. On non-typical days, some of the activities mentioned above are substituted by preparing questions for my next quiz, working on ideas for my next book, brainstorming sessions or hosting a party for random reasons!
13. Do tell me about any future plans.
We’re experimenting with different models like online teaching and enhanced correspondence courses. Though they’re all paper tigers as of now, you’ll surely know as and when they’re launched.
Life can be much broader if you discover one simple fact- everything around you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it and you can build your own things that other people can use.
14. Your message to the readers and the supporters?
You guys are awesome! We are what we are because of your support. Always keep your faith alive in us J
- Thanks for reading this ultra-long interview. Hope you gained something out of it.
- If you didn’t- here is a piece of advice from Jobs. This has always ALWAYS helped me. And I’ll still be glad if you gain nothing from the interview but understand the meaning of this- Life can be much broader if you discover one simple fact- everything around you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it and you can build your own things that other people can use.
- To finish up- here’s another one from a brilliant book I just completed reading (The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes) – “I thought of the things that had happened to me over the years, and of how little I had made happen”.
You can either sit back and let life happen to you, or you can take charge and make things happen. As far as possible, try falling in the second category!