For someone who was in the market for a fitness band that could make them work harder, all this former entrepreneur wants to do is stop running.
Ravi Handa, of course, is a successful edtech founder who famously follows the one exit per sale approach. Now that he too has left unacademywho had bought his online learning platform shamelessly called last year, Handa Ka Sheathare actively looking for work.
Not just any kind of job. He’s pretty picky, and here’s his argument: “Ideally, I’m looking for a job where I don’t have to do anything and get paid a lot.”
However, that ideal does not exist. Definitely not in an overzealous startup universe where ‘hustler’ is a badge of honor and the founders are encouraging 18-hour workdays. And he knows it.
By Ravi’s own admission, it’s the first time in his career that he’s found himself in an unclear situation. But he is sure of this: “The only thing I know is that I don’t want something full time. For now, my priority is to be free of time.”
It’s an interesting concept, being free of time, and Ravi goes into detail. But it’s not something you often hear escaping from the pursed lips of start-up entrepreneurs. Particularly not from someone who made it through the cherished gates of IIT-Kharagpur, and with a dual degree to boot: BTech and MTech in Computer Science and Engineering.
Worrying, long almost an underground mantra in startup circles, has gotten a bad rap of late. Tireless work and plowing through meeting after meeting and iteration after iteration is almost inevitable for most founders.
Startup employees have embraced a ‘work hard, play harder’ culture. The ‘play harder’ part stopped during Covid curfews. And as companies worked harder to survive, the successes stemming from those efforts were glorified.
Then the virus subsided, and the intensity of that phase soon receded into exhaustion, great resignation, and silent abandonment.
A few startup founders looking to revive the hustle through what in their heads might have seemed like motivational social media posts had to run for cover when they were hounded by a generation worn out by hard work.
And yet, as Jasdeep Mago points out, busyness in its toxic form is also often self-inflicted, with many people pursuing multiple ambitions on their own: “an active project, a passive one, and a passion.” Jasdeep is the co-founder and CEO of Invisible Illness India, a workplace-focused mental health startup.
“Everyone I know has three streams of income. I don’t know a single person who goes on 9-5 and goes home and just relaxes,” she says in a phone interview. “And that’s what hustle culture really is: the need to use every second of your time to prove that you’re somebody.”
In the office, this manifests as companies valuing people only for their work, and not for the person they are, says Jasdeep.
However, he has a good word for start-ups. Several young companies are changing the narrative by not only driving numbers, but also engaging their employees in multiple ways and celebrating the impact they have on the company as a whole.
“Like when a crisis happens, people have a different purpose. It’s not just, oh, I do sales, but also when there was a crisis, we all handled it together. So it’s like, I’m not just these numbers, I’m more than that.”
Ravi, approaching 40, the son of government doctors with transferable jobs, believes the hustle and bustle in startup culture stems primarily from people being overpaid too much, and he counts himself among the that they were.
“Once you overpay people and everyone around you is overpaid, then the expectation is that, okay, they’re all superstars, hard workers… And once working 12 hours a day becomes in the norm, it is a problem”.
He relies on Ravi, a rather funny man and a Larry David enthusiast, to flesh out the absurdity and illustrate his point.
“I can tell you the example of a friend of mine who spent a week or 10 days in Bali (when the offices were still closed), saying that he was still at home in Bangalore and working. And this is the Founder-CEO of a reasonably well-funded company. No one in his office knew this son of a bitch was in Bali and working from there,” says Ravi, visibly enjoying the anecdote during a brief Zoom interview.
“At the end of the day, you have to have some way of motivating a large number of people. I understand that they need to do that. (But) I also think some of them overdo it.”
Ravi talks about his experience as a founder who was able to run Handa Ka Funda for eight years with minimal hustle and bustle (the largest team was 12 people).
“I think if you give people a certain amount of freedom… they’ll do a good enough job to justify their salary… I think that’s good enough.”
Ravi’s opinion is not necessarily a pressure blow. After all, shortly after he tweeted for recommendations for a smartwatch to help him improve his fitness, Vishal Gondal, founder and CEO of GOQii, jumped into the conversation to introduce his smartwatches. fitness startup. (He agreed to a ‘talk’ for the next day and got a watch).
Rather, Ravi’s priorities seem entrenched long ago, even before his start-up days. After graduating in 2006, he decided not to take a computer science job.
“In college I realized that people doing Computer Science Engineering were smart and hard-working. I realized that it was going to be a difficult job to do… (But) teaching was something that came naturally to me, or maybe it didn’t seem very difficult.”
So he turned to teaching with IMS Learning Resources, training students for entrance tests to major management degree programs, including the Common Admission Test administered by the Indian Institutes of Management.
A few years later, it hit a ceiling. More money could be earned by helping children prepare for exams in engineering courses. So it was either switch to that or move to the business side of things, into a managerial role or starting your own test preparation institute.
Instead, he opted to fall back on his engineering degree and joined sales enablement startup MindTickle in Pune.
In the meantime, Ravi had been posting tutorial videos on YouTube, both for IMS and for himself. While he didn’t see significant traction in them, it was a useful ability. Soon, he introduced him to small institutes and he started making YouTube videos for them, earning quite a bit.
“That’s when I realized that if other people are paying (for my videos), I should start making them for myself. And the margins were pretty good.”
Ravi founded Handa Ka Funda in 2013. Around that time, he also met Gaurav Munjal with a proposal to make training videos for him. Gaurav’s Unacademy would be formally founded two years later.
Handa Ka Funda did well, reaching its peak in 2016 when Reliance Jio’s rock-bottom prices for mobile and data services drove more people to use the internet. “Revenue increased and everything was going very well. But with the easy access to the Internet, many content creators emerged.”
The edtech sector was also recovering, with investors flocking to tech-driven startups. And when Covid hit, even traditional classroom-focused training centers went online. (A different matter now that edtech companies are taking the classroom route.)
Ravi had three options: switch to an edtech company and fundraise (“but that would be too much work”), let the business run until it eventually closed, or sell.
So, after eight years of running Handa Ka Funda, mainly from Jaipur, Rajasthan, Ravi sold his startup to Unacademy in March 2021 for an undisclosed sum. It was a good deal, not only because it made Ravi financially secure, but it also allowed him to focus solely on teaching at the Unacademy.
But that also involved certain compromises. He was required to take about 80 live online classes each month, which meant preparing and scheduling classes well in advance, so his students could be prepared.
That meant a lot of preparation for him too. And “because it was live classes, much more than work, it’s also about not having time freedom,” he says. “Before, my schedule was not predefined or predetermined.”
And so, earlier this month, Ravi walked out of Unacademy. Now it could be “free time”.
“There are many things that everyone wants to do in their lives. But the top three concerns are whether or not their health allows it, whether or not their finances allow it, or whether or not they have the time to do it,” he says. “I have the money to do most of the things I want to do. But I never had the luxury of time.
Ravi’s big inspiration right now is a college friend named Rahul Lodha, former CTO of Aakash EduTech Pvt. Ltd., who now runs Urveera Sustainable Learning and Development in Chakulia in Jharkhand.
“When other friends share photos of them drinking or traveling, he shares photos of a tree and asks us to find the snake in it,” says Ravi. “He seems to be devoid of the struggles that I have or that I see my friends have. He is beyond that.”
For now, Ravi is not looking to start, or even take on, a full-time job, seeing both options as extremely demanding and with a lot of responsibility. However, he is up for part-time assignments, at least for a year or so.
Until then, he’s happy to channel his inner Larry David: “People tend to have high expectations (of me). And I’ve been ruining expectations for a long time.”