Krishnan Ganesh is incorrigible. He has done it again, signalled that he will in good time, even if not now, quit TutorVista — thus strengthening his reputation of being a serial entrepreneur. Just over two decades ago (in 1990) he and a few other IIM-Calcutta grads left the then IT leader HCL to found IT&T, which went into third-party maintenance, systems integration and reselling for Digital. In less than a decade (1998) he was out of his executive role in it and helped run Wipro BT, which eventually became Bharti BT.
Then in 2000 can another big change. Ganesh and spouse Meena, an IT professional in her own right, started Customer.Asset, a BPO company, which was then a very new kind of animal. Recalls Ganesh, “There was an evangelical zeal among these start-ups” like Daksh, Spectramind and Customer.Asset, which had to prove that Indians could also excel in this BPO thing the way they had proved themselves in software.
Barely two years down the line (2002), after the venture had stabilised itself and was also growing rapidly, the Ganeshes sold out and the robust baby metamorphosed into ICICI OneSource (now Firstsource). By the end of the next year, they had overseen the transition and the entrepreneurial worm began to turn again within them. In couple of years (late 2005) was born TutorVista, the innovative enterprise that set out to offer for the first time online tutoring to American students by teachers sitting in India.
The novelty was that it was an Indian firm engaging directly with its overseas customers, without the intermediation of a client firm. Three elements made up the offering: Focused content developed in-house and licensed, use of all pedagogic tools that go into teaching, and the whole thing delivered via the Internet.
The next two milestones over 2007-08 were acquiring Edurite, which was a seven-year-old firm that developed educational content; and bringing TutorVista to India by delivering IT-aided content to Indian classrooms, starting tutorial centres, also enabled by IT aided content, and actually running schools. After raising equity globally through leading private equity firms like Sequoia, it brought in the Manipal group to form Manipal K-12 Education, a fully-owned subsidiary that concentrated on the Indian offering with Meena Ganesh heading the operations.
And now comes the announcement that UK media firm Pearson, which publishes the Financial Times, will acquire an additional stake in TutorVista (Sequoia and Manipal will exit) that will take its holding to 76 per cent and will value the firm, with 20,000 students all over the world and 2,000 teachers in India, at close to Rs 1,000 crore.
Ganesh, who retains his 20 per cent stake, is not quitting TutorVista right now though. He gives himself five more years to raise the topline by several multiples to make it a billion-dollar company.
When Ganesh made his first major exit from Customer.Asset, he was asked if it was wrenching to walk out of something that he had built up personally. “That’s what my parents said and certainly the way the employees felt,” he said. But for him, the apt analogy is that of a parent being reconciled to the fact that “one day the child will grow up and move on”. Then you have got to let go.
All decisions to exit are “emotional”, says Ganesh. “You have to have not just passion, but foolish passion, to start a venture. I left a good job (he was Shiv Nadar's personal assistant at HCL) as I wanted to prove that I could make it as a first-generation entrepreneur. Have I finished? No, I have five more companies in me.”