He’s known to be the hardest tackler on the football pitch among all of his colleagues. Just like at work, Byju Raveendran believes in running hard and a sliding tackle is on the cards any minute.
And all of this happens well past midnight when the founder of Byju’s App, India’s best known edtech firm, decides to get all his colleagues on to a south Bengaluru training ground on a Friday. Yes Friday, past midnight. Another game may be squeezed in on a Saturday night too. And often the colleagues are the ones encouraging him to do it.
The team gets to bond as a result, thereby firing up their goals both at work and play.
“Sport has been an integral part of my life since my childhood,” says Byju,
even as he tells me about the latest injury he has picked up from playing football. “From dreaming big to keeping high aspirations to being an eternal optimist – I can attribute it all to sports.”
In the edtech industry Byju is well known for his speed of execution. Everyone knows how quickly he has been able to build his company, even before competition could sit up and take note.
“Sport has taught me how to execute my ideas at the speed of lightning. In a match whatever the plan is, everything boils down to how the players execute it,” he says. “
Failing fast means there will be no big failures. This has helped us at Byju’s to root out the not-so-successful ideas and replace them with formats that help us create a better learning experience for students.”
Sport stars are a testament to the fact that hard work works. It is easy to have life goals, but breaking them down to yearly, monthly and weekly goals will ensure they are achieved. “Additionally, measurable goals make us fearless and positive,” says the man who admires Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona on the football pitch.
In 2016, the company raised $75 million from blue chip venture fund Sequoia Capital and Sofina, the Belgian family office. A few months later, Byju raised another $50 million in a round led by the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, a fund set up by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.
The hotshot founder believes that football has taught him the importance of team play. “At Byju’s our biggest strength is our team. The core team was built organically and many of them have been in the system from the beginning. Having a team that truly feels and understands the brand is an intangible ingredient for success.”
He understands the importance of fitness. As he runs a fast-growing company that investors love to be associated with, Byju knows the importance of high energy levels. “Fitness is more like a way of life for me. Being fit drives me to do more and challenge myself constantly to do better."
"Be it on the field or in business, it is important to keep the aspiration levels high. And when you are about to achieve that benchmark, raise the bar again so that the game is always challenging,” says the man who adores FC Barcelona.
Considering how he plays football, it is not surprising that he picks up an injury or two along the way. “My injuries have taught me to take rest and bounce back with double the vigour to get back in the field and play. In our journeys we will face hurdles, but the important fact is that we embrace it and work around it to reach our goals.”
Byju’s passion for sport gets even more pronounced as he starts to dwell on capitalising on one’s strengths. Clearly, he derives all his strength and passion from sport. “Being on the field from a young age has helped me understand the importance of inner strength. This helped me to think big and transform something that started in a coffee shop to a global learning app,” he says. Before the app was launched Byju would travel to nine different cities in a week for three years.
“I never planned to start this as a business, I just pursued my passion,” he adds. “When you are creating a new segment, it’s important to compete with yourself and strive to do better every day. When you do what you like, you get motivated on your own. I am an engineer by chance, and a teacher by choice. Due to the impact it made, it has become a business today. For me, the real fun is not in creating a billion dollar company, but changing the way in which millions of children study.”
Byju informs me that he may not be playing for the next couple of weeks due to an ankle injury. But that sliding tackle will make its presence felt again soon. Until then, it’s a short break.