A GMAT Coach talks about Teaching and Entrepreneurship | Arun Jagannathan #TalkbackTuesday

#TalkbackTuesday number #70 – with Arun Jagannathan, and we talk about Indian education, entrepreneurship and CrackVerbal.

Cover | Arun Jagannathan #TalkbackTuesday

Hi, and welcome to #TalkbackTuesday. This week’s interview is with Mr. Arun Jagannathan. See his interview below.

Talkback Tuesday is a weekly interview with everyday people. It is always inspirational to look into the life of another person and realize it is just as complex and large and confusing as your own.

Note: This interview with Arun is a transcript of a phone call. Full podcast below:


1. Hi Arun. For the readers, who are you, what do you do, and what is your current side project?

I’m actually a Tamilian, but I grew up in Gujarat. Growing up in Gujarat, I was a kid who was in college in the late 90s, and in the late 90s there was this whole buzz saying, “Hey, you have to get onto this IT bandwagon.” So in some sense, you could say I was in that bandwagon, because my talents and my passion clearly didn’t lie in technology.

In those days, asking about passion and strength was unheard of. It was only survival of the fittest. And so I did my MCA, but during that time I realized that computers wasn’t really something that I liked.

I like to teach people. I had this knack of condensing fairly tough, technical stuff into easier, consumable data. It so happened that I got the opportunity to teach computers for the first time. While I taught, I realized that I hate computers but I love teaching, and that I’m good at standardized tests. So I thought, “why not teach preparation for standardized tests?”

[Arun was kind enough to share with us how his teaching career started in great detail. Listen to the podcast to find out how he joined IMS and then CareerLauncher, and ultimately moved to Bangalore!]

My passion for this was such that I used to teach 7-9 in the morning, then go to office, then in the evening have a batch from 7-9 and then a doubt-solving session from 9 to 10:30.

Somewhere along the line in 2005, I shifted from CAT coaching to GMAT coaching.

In the industry, you get quant faculty easily, but you don’t get verbal faculty. Being a verbal faculty, I used to have sessions where I would say, “I’m going to teach you how to crack verbal.” Those two words ultimately came together.

[Listen to the podcast to learn how Arun quit teaching for a while, and then ultimately got back into it. He would start coaching people at a workshop at a hotel, which ultimately became his GMAT and GRE coaching venture, CrackVerbal!]

[Side Project] Last year, I met one of my friends from Baroda and we discussed how important English is to career growth, and so we should get into teaching English. So we started our venture, English for India. We approach corporations and we help train their staff, who are usually 10th or 12th pass, and we teach them functional English. We give them the confidence to approach and speak to a customer. Our customers include Puma, Food Hall, and we’re starting to work with a 5-star hotel and their hospitality department.

In a Glance: Arun started in IT but decided it wasn’t for him. A couple of stints in CAT coaching revealed his passion for teaching and he moved to Bangalore and eventually founded CrackVerbal, a GMAT and GRE training school. He also started English for India, a venture to teach functional English to vocational staff.

2. Do you feel that there is a knowledge or training gap for teachers in high schools and colleges? In the sense that Indian students aren’t allowed to become adults, should the education system be overhauled, or can we salvage what we have?

Big question. This is something I hold dear, because I am a teacher. I have a daughter, and I’ve taught her to say I’m an English teacher, if asked. There is a certain stigma attached to the fact that someone is a teacher.

This comes from the fact that respect in India, fortunately or unfortunately, is given to people who have money. When I started teaching, this was one of the biggest challenges for me.

My respect for good teachers has always been there. People respected me because I’m a good teacher. Nobody came to me and said, “oh you were a delivery manager, and now suddenly you’re a teacher.” They always admired what I did and never made me feel like I did less important work.

So with the other part-time faculty we have at CrackVerbal, I consciously tried to attract people who are like me. So if you see all the faculty at CrackVerbal today, they’re all people who can easily get a corporate job anytime. But they have willingly quit that life and chosen to teach.

When you have very high quality faculty, you will attract students. You should have pride in being teachers. We routinely attract people from ISB, and it’s not about money. Respect is more important than money. Teachers are not getting the respect of their position, and I believe that is the way to change education in India.

3. As an entrepreneur, do you have a problem with entrepreneurship becoming a fad in this country or do you think there’s only good things that can come of it? What is your opinion of the current entrepreneurship trends in the country?

So I fall under Generation X, the one before millennials. I started teaching in 2001 and quit my full time job in 2011. In those ten years, I had hundreds of hours of teaching experience and a ringside view of how coaching works. I was involved in marketing, sales, and all of that. But it took me ten years before I had the confidence to quit my job. I really knew my game. I knew the tools of the trade and I was very, very, very good at it. So if I think about it, I could have quit in 2005 and made it my full time profession.

But what I see now is people getting into entrepreneurship for the glamour of it. What was a fear for me is now glamour for millennials. There are two problems with that. One, is that you really don’t know if that is your true passion. You pick up an idea because your friend thinks it is a good idea. The problem with starting something that your heart isn’t into is that the moment things go wrong, it becomes very easy to quit.

I think that’s what happening. A lot of people are trying for 6 months to a year and then they quit.

The second problem: it took me ten years to make it look effortless. A lot of hard work went into making something an “overnight success”. It requires a certain level of hard work and commitment that I’m not sure a lot of people are willing to put in.

These two reasons are why I think a lot of startups shut down.

4. If you had to give 3 key pieces of advice to young entrepreneurs, what would they be?

First, keep your day job and work on the side. Try doing various things and experiment. Answer the question “what will I do tomorrow morning?”

Second, pick your passion. There is this online test called strengthsfinder that you can use. No matter what people say, don’t focus on building on your weaknesses. Do you know what the most terrible part of being in IT was for me? That I would wake up every morning with the realization that I’m going to lead a life of mediocrity. Because I would never have been the best coder.

Nobody gets out of bed thinking they’re going to lead an average life. You can lead an exceptional life only by working on things that you’re really, really passionate about and good at. Things that you are good at, things that you are passionate about, things that can earn you money, and things that the world wants – when these circles overlap is when you really have it.

Third, constantly learn new things. Have the confidence to know things and say what you know. But at the same time, have the humility to know that you don’t know everything. Even today, I am constantly learning. I attended a session by another trainer and I noticed how she engaged the audience and was making mental notes. Even after so many years of teaching, I am still learning how to teach better. That’s an important attitude to cultivate.

In a Glance: Keep your day job and work on the side. Spend time to find your passion. Keep an attitude of humility and learning.

5. Great. Finally, what can you leave the audience with? What should they explore next?

The motto of CrackVerbal is “mentoring achievers”. I’ve had a lot of students who’ve wanted to do something while they’re working, like their Masters degree. I feel somewhere people limit themselves, and my goal is to help students reach their maximum potential either through GMAT or GRE.

There are a lot of myths in the market about studying abroad. What I would advise is that students go through our free profile evaluation. We do a free one-on-one counselling where we answer questions and guide students on their careers. If you think higher education is an option for you and you would like to explore that, we can help you with a consultation.


Thank you for reading Talkback Tuesday! Did you enjoy it?

Next, check out the previous interview from last Tuesday with Amarnath Sindol by clicking on the image below. Amarnath is a football administrator with FC Pune City in the HERO Indian Super League. We spoke about his passion for sports management, and what kind of drive you need to be in the sports industry.

Cover | Amarnath Sindol #TalkbackTuesday
Click the image to see the interview.