Not many can claim that they knew what they wanted with a high level of certainty or clarity going into their adult lives. In those oh-so-enjoyable college days, most of us were too worried about what next week’s project was going to be, how we were going to prepare for that big final exam at the end of the semester or what we were going to do on the weekend to blow off steam. That being said, work-life did not exactly have the highest immediate priority for the average college student, but then again that is what sets Persainjit Singh, the founder of Extraclass, apart from the crowd. Despite the ample number of opportunities to get distracted by the day-to-day grind of being an Indian college student, he kept his head above water and an eye on the bigger picture at hand, that picture being his future.
Persainjit Singh: The Man, the Myth, the Reality Check
Persainjit was intent on carving out his own path to success and a better life from day one. One might call him somewhat of a risk-taker as he was not afraid to try his hand at new things. A great advantage was his ability to recognise when he needed a change of pace and start down a new path to keep his learning curve on the uptick.
Graduating from IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Bombay in 2006 as a Civil Engineer, he landed every engineer’s dream job right out the gate. He started his career with an oil service company called Schlumberger where he worked for about a year and a half. From there he moved into business analytics at marketRx which would mark the beginning of his transition into the management arena and a little further away from mainstream engineering.
Finally, in 2010 he dived headfirst into the management game at a company called A.T. Kearney. In a span of around four years, he changed his career path twice, and the reason for that was a simple one, he sought growth beyond what that specific job could offer.
“The kind of job profile which an engineering company offers has a very steep learning curve but then it plateaus. So about eight months into the job I could do it with my eyes closed and being a 22-year-old guy that was a bit troublesome because I wasn’t learning anything anymore,” said Persainjit as he explained why he left his job when he did.
The fact of the matter was, he had hit that plateau, absorbed what knowledge he needed and moved onto the next thing that could keep his mind busy and his career skills growing. A significant sign of the entrepreneur that he was on his way to becoming.
Upon asking him why he made such a drastic leap from one career to the next he replied, “Working for Schlumberger fulfilled two primary passions that I have. One, it allowed me to travel, which I love and second, it paid well. Since I came from a very humble background and I was doing engineering studies on a bank loan, the money helped take care of a lot of those responsibilities.”
He went on to add that after having settled that bank loan and having learnt what could, the job basically had no more to contribute to his growth, and on top of all that, this was not a career he saw himself in for the rest of his life.
This drive to learn and soak up knowledge and skills constantly, was embedded in him since childhood and he attributes a large part of this to his mother, “I would attribute it to my mom because she would fearlessly tell us ‘What’s the worst going to happen if you do something?‘ and that pushed me to try my hand at many things while I was in school.”
If I'm doing something whether it is sports or studies, why would I come last right? I would try my best. That desire to learn and experiment has always been there since my childhood.
The Challenges of an Entrepreneur in the Making: Persainjit’s Career Growth
Persainjit found many challenges along the path to entrepreneurship as many before him have, however, his very first obstacle presented itself even before he stepped foot in the job market. Being born and raised in the north of India English was never his first language, and learning it in such a short time to effectively communicate in the industry was a major hurdle for him at the time.
Another big issue he had to learn to adapt to was being the new kid on the block so to say. Since he graduated and landed such a high-level job at such a young age, it tends to put a lot of eyes on you. This is especially true when it concerns the older employees and managers with years of experience, all they see is a kid telling them what to do and it was his greatest battle to prove them wrong and showcase his skills and willingness to improve.
“They consider you a kid fresh out of college trying to teach them something and that is very offensive to them. It is like a kid teaching you how to drive a car. So, you have to understand this dynamic of human emotion and you have to ensure that your work does not get overwhelmed by the personal feelings that people have. The question then becomes: how do you not offend people with so much experience and still tell them that there is a better way to do things that they have been doing for so long?”
Persainjit and Extraclass: How It All Began
Extraclass took shape because Persainjit and his co-founder Prakash were looking to make education an available commodity. Persainjit’s drive to learn and evolve his skills made him realise that not everyone has the same opportunities or the ability to financially reach for their dreams given the heavy expense that the Indian education system incurs upon them. In an attempt to democratise education in a more engaging and fun manner they set up Extraclass in 2016.
Thanks to Persainjit’s history as an analyst and project manager and his co-founder’s passion to educate, together they managed to come up with an ingenious business model that was effective and simple. Extraclass had 2 wings, the B2B segment and the B2C segment. The B2B arena was where they sold the technology of the platform and the content in white-label format to schools, institutions and state governments to earn revenue for the business. This meant that the B2C part was free.
“Any student can download and study from the app and technology allows us to start increasing our reach. So, from 4000 students in 2016, by the end of 2017, we reached 40 thousand students, all in a year. Currently, we are helping about 40 thousand students a month.”
What keeps you going, is either your laziness or your desire to learn. Either you create things out of your necessity or out of passion.
The Evolution of Extraclass: A Unique Beast
As Persainjit had previously mentioned how he had always been far-sighted when it came to his future this helped a great deal in the evolution of his business as well. Over the years, since the inception of Extraclass, Persainjit and his co-founder were able to identify and overcome several obstacles by turning them into milestones in a way.
Persainjit realised that with the internet boom and the ever-increasing smartphone penetration in India, access to technology is not something that is lacking by any means in our country. However, despite the availability of technology and having the ability and means to rapidly develop it, the same cannot be said about the content.
As most of us know, education is a medium that is very set in its ways in India, and to try to make that innovative, source materials and re-configure it to align with a vision that sees it in a more engaging light is a tough task. “Creating technology is a relatively faster process since it is not a linear thing. You can write an entire code in about a month’s time and you can have a new version out, but you cannot create new content at the same pace. If you open it up for the community and let them collaborate, you can do it at a much faster pace,” says Persainjith.
More than anything, Persainjit is an optimist, his positive approach to the growth of student-oriented education and network building in the student community is what sets Extraclass apart from the crowd. “If every student starts contributing and helping other students, you can create such a massive, vibrant community. There are about 450 million students in India and these students come from varied backgrounds. If there is such a platform that allows students to do this, then I think the entire right to education fight we are having will automatically be taken care of. You cannot expect a small segment of society to solve this. The entire student community has to contribute.”
Persainjit’s Vision for Value-added Learning
At the end of the day, the concept of e-learning is not a very new one, a fact that Persainjit is very candid about. But one thing sets Extraclass apart from the pre-existing industry titans like Byjus and Unacademy, while those platforms have a range of different features they are at the end of the day, work. Students have to put in the work, listen to a teacher and in most cases these days it is no different from online classes. Extraclass moves away from the mundane study habits that have been drilled into us and made it more of a gamified learning experience that brings student collaboration to centre-stage and highlights positive reinforcement, rather than force them into the laborious and tedious process of downloading information by the hour.
“If I have to spend 20 minutes a month talking to a desperate kid in college which massively changes whatever he is thinking, that is a much bigger value add to society than anything else. All these kids just need an ear to listen and reinforce what they are doing. They are not looking for any big world-changing advice. What they are looking for is somebody who has been in this situation before and just kind of pats them on the back and then that’s more than enough. If you have such a platform, you will be able to have a positive influence on society,” explains Persainjit.
Persainjit on How Entrepreneurs Can Make It
As Persainjit lays it out, the ideal way to take a career or business forward is to abide by the age-old saying ‘Fortune favours the bold’. One needs to have the mental fortitude to make bold choices and have the faith in oneself to commit to that choice.
“You have to have courage and faith because things are not going to be easy. If they were easy, everybody else would do it. Ideas are good but the execution is what makes them great,” says Persainjit. This also ties back to his own past, the first thing he did upon graduating was settling his family’s debts, set up his parents for life after retirement and saw to it that his siblings got a decent education. Once all that was out of the way he was free to focus on himself and chase his dreams.
Above all, his advice to young business aspirants is that the drive to make these tough decisions should be pursued regardless of what people say or think. “When you take such decisions, people are going to criticise you, to make such decisions you need that courage, you need that faith in your abilities. People will say whatever they have to say.”
This drive, courage and faith in oneself are what makes Persainjit’s story of success an inspiring one.
For more stories like this, check out our Inspire Section.