Episode 188 / September 12, 2022

Helping Startups Grow Through Organic Marketing | GrowthSchool

56 min

Episode 188 / September 12, 2022

Helping Startups Grow Through Organic Marketing | GrowthSchool

56 min
Listen on


Thinking about Entrepreneurship or Startups which of the following do you think really matters –

# Having Degree from a Tier-1 college?

# Having or finding the right Co-founder?

# Sky-rocketing your scale up as soon as you secure funding?

# Pouring in your resources to get as many customers as fast as possible via Ads?

Well the short answer to all the above questions is, IT DOESN’T.

In today’s episode we’ve with us Vaibhav Sisinty, Founder, GrowthSchool. And in this episode, while sharing his experiences of building and scaling GrowthSchool, he busts all the above myths one-by-one.

For all of you, who’ve been active on Linkedin, in the past few years, especially around themes like marketing and growth hacking, you would have surely noticed a post or an Ad by Vaibhav, or his perfect case of personal branding and self-curated courses on

During the episode, we talk with Vaibhav about how he learnt and grew his marketing skills during his job at Uber and Klook, how he used a brilliant growth hacking method even while raising his first round and much more.

Lastly before we dive deeper into the podcast, something that Vaibhav mentioned during the episode – “True Product Market Fit is, If I shut down my product today, will 25 people line out of my office, requesting to please turn it ON.”


Notes –

00:54 – Intro

01:55 – Starting in Growth Journey: From his 1st Venture to Uber

05:24 – Helping other startups: His playground to learn

06:29 – Building Organic v/s Paid Channels of Growth

12:02 – Founder-Market Fit towards starting GrowthSchool

16:02 – 0 to $1 Mn ARR before first round of funding

20:36 – Zoho Sponsored – Prashant Ganti on Where do founders struggle with Payroll and how can they fix it?

22:33 – Running Lean & Shrewd to achieve profitability

23:58 – Scale & format of courses before and after the funding

29:00 – Growth Hacking his way to raise funding from Sequoia, Owl & 80+ Angels

36:15 – “Blitzscaling right after funding will break things.”

39:17 – Focus & Internal goals in near future

41:46 – What’s his definition of PMF for GrowthSchool?

49:15 – Managing his time as a Solo Founder

52:55 – Various process which he has built in his life


Read the full transcript here:

Vaibhav 0:00

I think the action happened predominantly because I started my first startup when I was in my first year of engineering. But in organic I feel you should start with the easiest thing to do. If you ask me about the personal branding of founders and the founding team, do things that you do 80% of the time but only have 20% of it. So learn 20% only.


Nansi 0:23

Hi, everyone. Before we begin, I would like to share that this podcast is brought to you by Prime Venture Partners. An early stage VC fund led by Amit Somani, Shripati Acharya and Sanjay Swami. Prime is often the first institutional investor in category defining tech startups in FinTech, SAS, healthcare and education, such as Mygate, Quizizz, PlanetSpark, Bolt and Glip. To know more about Prime, visit


Siddhartha 0:54

Hi, this is Siddhartha Ahluwalia. Welcome to the 100x Entrepreneur podcast. I have today with me Vaibhav Sisinty, founder of GrowthSchool, very excited to have Vaibhav today on the podcast. He is one of the top growth minds in our country today, having guided more than 200,000 students through Growth School on their journey of learning, growth marketing, the growth mindset on how to build companies and how to grow companies. So Vaibhav previously has been one of the key members of the team that helped Uber. And he was there for Uber for more than four years. And then he started dabbling, helping startups. And now he has productized his skill. So Vaibhav, welcome to the podcast.


Vaibhav 1:38

Hey thanks man, What a pleasure to be here. Thanks for the nice intro. We’ve crossed 300,000 now in terms of the number of students, it’s not just me like a bunch of mentors who have also contributed to it. I’m not the only teacher, hence the startup or as I would have been a personal brand. But yeah, thank you. Thanks for having me.


Sidhhartha 1:54

Got it. Would love to learn your journey, and how did you get started into Growth? Helping companies on the growth journeys,


Vaibhav 2:03

Frankly, I’m an accidental marketer. I don’t come with any background of marketing or growth of any sorts when people go to engineering, usually what happens is, they do civil engineering or mechanical engineering. Eventually, they get into IT. I did computer science engineering, but I found my love elsewhere. I think the action happened predominantly because I started my first startup when I was in my first year of engineering. It was called discovering Android where I learned SEO and website building and all that stuff by myself to build it. Second year of engineering. I started CrazyHeads, which was also involved in Facebook ads, Google ads and SEO optimization, branding and all that. So that led me to pick up all these skills of marketing and growth, to be very frank. And then we were also doing some offline marketing for a few brands, strategizing ATL BTL and all that stuff. That’s how I dabbled into this and kind of moved away from Tech.


Usually, I used to write code. Also in college. I enjoyed it. I built a bunch of websites, wrote PHP and stuff, but eventually moved and found my love here, because I really enjoyed doing this. But if you would have asked me when I was still in engineering or getting out of engineering, when I was running CrazyHeads, which was my second startup. I don’t know who I was, I would have never called myself a marketer. But when I joined Uber, the first year, I joined as a generalist, like it was a launch person. So the idea was to just launch go and launch cities. But my leaders at Uber saw that my inclination towards growth, the strategies that I was applying on growth to the cities that I launched, were working, and they saw that I was really good at it.


So they recommended to me that why don’t you move into a growth role completely, and when it came from them, and I didn’t enjoy a lot in operations, but I enjoyed a lot in marketing growth, coming up with ideas, trying to grow hack and all that. They basically said yes, it is a great way and I cannot transition and from there, that’s how I got into growth like, but at Uber, it was a fun ride, because when I joined the company, for India it was quite small. And when I left Uber in India, it was like a massive, massive business. It was at its peak. So in that scale, I’ve done a bunch of things. And essentially, my school has been Uber and then Klook, where I also lead a team and we grew the business from five to $25 million.


So I had this liberty of experimenting at someone else’s cost, that is your company’s cost. And most of the companies that I worked with were very good startups, like I told you, Uber and Klook, so they allowed that and I thrived in that chaos. And that’s how I picked up the skills.


Siddhartha 4:29

Yeah, you were 23 when you joined Uber.


Vaibhav 4:32

I was 2, just out of school. I was running CrazyHeads for about three years then and I was bored of it. It was a service business, I was not enjoying it. I was making a tonne of money for sure. But I was not enjoying it. Actually then one of my friends was applying for Uber and I said okay, I’ll also apply just to give you a company. It happened so that I got a call. She didn’t get a call and all the calls were over Skype and the phones I said okay let’s try this, if it happens I can tell my clients that I got a job at Uber, but I didn’t take it. It’s a good, nice hook to have. But I enjoyed the process of Uber interviews and they gave a good offer. And they said, Okay, maybe let me give it a try for six months, my company was still on, I made someone else the CEO and moved out. And in six months, I felt that because this is where I want to be, this is what I enjoy. So I doubled down and ended up failing for enough years.


Siddhartha 5:22

Awesome. And at what point in your journey did you start helping other startups?


Vaibhav 5:27

I think this happened right from college. If you think about it. Initially, I always had this thing here longer healthcare. Now. That was my playground to learn. Before this interview, we’re just talking about how I love SaaS businesses. And that happened also because someone reached out, I tried to learn about it and applied the stuff. So ever since I was 1920. I’ve been helping businesses and startups. But when I was 19, I was helping very small companies. And then when I came into Uber and spent a couple of years there and again, opened up saying that I’m happy to help better funded companies start to come into the picture.


So all throughout, when I was at Uber, I was helping Paytm and a few other companies get to market in local markets. So I’ve saved so much. It’s again, been very accidental. But I’ve been doing that since I was like 20 in some form, or fashion and the quality of startups and companies just grew as I got more and more experience and better credibility. Got it. And today you are 30?


Vaibhav 06:23

Not yet, man. Don’t like I don’t want to get there. But I’m not ready yet. So that’s some time for that.


Siddhartha 6:28

Okay, coming on to growth till now, in the market. The growth has been about running Google ads, running Facebook ads, why has it been difficult for people to build organic channels of growth? And what has been your experience building them?


Vaibhav 6:41

Yeah, I mean, see, it totally depends on the kind of businesses you are, If you’re a very, very customer focused business, I guess Biggie Zomato Uber growth school for that matter, right. It’s very hard to build organic channels, which is gonna give you growth. So I keep saying this, a lot of people will disagree with me, a lot of investors will also disagree with me on this thing that no matter how build a organic lever, you build, unless you have true PMF. Like when I say true PMF I don’t mean great retention numbers and formulas. For me true retention is if I shut my product down today, will 25 People line out outside of my office saying that please turn it on again. That is true PMF that has happened for Flipkart or Amazon goes away, we’re screwed. If a big basket goes over, we’re screwed. If an Uber goes away, we’re screwed. If a city swiggy goes, we’re screwed. That according to me is true. PMF.


Or if let’s say a Zerodha upstox, or something goes away, we are screwed, you’re gonna invest. That is accordingly as true PMF. Unless that happens, I don’t think organic kicks into the scale that it has to write till then it’s always has to be engineered organic, engineered organic is you tapping into other people network, yes, you can create YouTube channels, you can create bigger Instagram accounts, you can build a massive email newsletter all that. But as a startup, you want to grow at some speed. And that speed matches up with organic except for very few businesses, for example, physics volcanes, which is very, very student driven and sobre. Lo YouTube and time spent kurta. It is very hard to build an organic channel.


But with that being said, I think as an early stage founder, and also before I go back, I think today, according to me, if you ask me, most of the consumer brands will succeed if they’re able to crack Facebook and Google and LinkedIn ads better than others. Everybody’s running Facebook, Google and LinkedIn ads Everybody is on YouTube and everything. But how can you be different? What is that you find? In fact, we have gone so deep into this that we have built micro products inside of this, which also optimizes a lot of things for us which saves us money,So you have to be very smart about it. That is one please figure out unless you’re a SAS and stuff, which is a different story, content, marketing, and all those will kick in, Because the number of businesses or the number of clients you cater to in your life will be 100,000, let’s say, But in the consumer side business, you want millions and millions of people to use your product. In that case, you have to make both work. But in organic I feel you should start with the easiest thing to do. If you ask me it is the personal branding of founders and the founding team that has worked phenomenally well for us.


And I keep saying this to every founder that I meet, if you have an intent to build something, or you are building something, please spend some level of time building your personal brand. It’s extremely, extremely important, Because that gives you the first set of videos zero to one, it plays a very important role. after that. It might not help a lot but zero to one it’ll help and you’ve seen the likes of Kunal Shah and also leveraging this right. When Freecharge happened. Maybe 10,000 People knew who Kunal Shah was right now cred everybody knows root canals as my father knows. That is the power of personal branding, And there’s a direct correlation with the scale of the brand and other things that we also fail to do, I think, which we should have done some time before. But again as a lean business that we were trying to build initially we couldn’t do it by focusing on investing in SEO from day zero, Again, there are things that we have not done.


And we would ideally want to do it when we started the work right now. But if you’re somehow able to focus on SEO, from day zero, it will give you compounding benefits out of it, Things like YouTube, and all will always help. But the creation cost production costs extremely high for a startup to be able to pull this off, and it won’t fit into every business as well. So I would say personal branding double down on that, two is in terms of whatever you can do with SEO, which is long form, I mean, long term. Three’s how can you build engineered organic marketing for us engineered organic marketing is how can we leverage every month, we have around 10,000 people plus who pay for our products, and there are more than 20,000 people who come in for free to do bunch of webinars and all that, how can we leverage these 20-25,000 people on a monthly basis, tap into their network to drive organic growth? How can you engineer it? What can you do?


So in workshops, and all we have done stuff, like hey, what, go ahead and comment here or go ahead and drop a post, you want some resources, drop a review on your social media. So every month we have more than 10,000 posts coming on LinkedIn and Twitter together, which drives about 20% 25% of lift organically, which also helps our overall acquisition cost. So this is engineered organic marketing. According to me, this is more of a network or OPN. So these are things that you can do. And one other thing that I feel a lot of people kind of missed out on, again, doubling down on OPN. Only other people network only in partnerships. For me, podcasts are a great way to kind of reach out to newer audiences, which I have not. For me, events have been a very interesting place to go and do it. partnerships with other brands has also been very interesting. For web three, we kind of unlocked the massive 80,000 network of people in like a month’s time because of other people network hacks again, So yeah, but try to find a balance. Usually my advice.


Siddhartha 12:01

So before officially starting grad school, you built your own courses, I remember one, which was how to build your audience on LinkedIn. So it was kind of like you’re trying to get product market fit whether GrowthSchool should work or not.


Vaibhav 12:16

I tell you what, I mean, to tell a story, Saying that first I figured out this and then that, it will be a great story to say but that’s not the reality. The reality is I will have loved teaching all my life. I’ve been speaking about education. Since I was 20. I had a very, very keen interest in this space, I thought it is broken to a very next level, and it’s also very impartial. Education has been very impartial. It fits very well for the top 0.2, 0.3, 0.5%. For the rest of them, it has been very impartial, irrespective of the skill set and everything that they own. So I’ve always been very, very vocal about it. And also in terms of teaching, workshops are not something new that we have time for. I’ve been doing workshops since I was 18. I used to do them offline. I’ve always taught what I’ve been learning at that point of time. I’ve trained more than 20,000 people offline in ethical hacking, web development, branding, acquisition and all that stuff when I was in college in itself.


But as I grew, got into Uber, I didn’t have the time to do it offline anymore. I did my first course when I was in Mexico City, there were two days of rain happening, I had about 15,000 followers. I knew I couldn’t go out. I just posted a post on LinkedIn saying would anybody be interested to pay if I created a small Instagram post on how I got to 15,000 followers? And some 300 people said yes. And I rolled out a pre-payment link of $10. And I got about 100 people to pay $10 Without even before I created a course. So I knew people were willing to pay to an extent but I didn’t know Indians would pay. There were a lot of international people who ended up paying $15,000 for the Instagram online course this is when I was still with Uber. This was about 2017 18ish.


And then I launched the LinkedIn course because a lot of people said by then I had crossed 50,000 followers on LinkedIn. And nobody knew how to do it. And I said, people asked me to do it. So I did it just as a side hustle for me. Not as something but when COVID happened when the LinkedIn workshop I launched focused on India only that scale like crazy. And when that happened, I started going or going asking questions, saying why is this workshop working very well? Well, there is so much content on LinkedIn already available in India and why were Indians paying 500 rupees for a simple workshop. I didn’t understand it, because my perception was people won’t pay.


So that’s when I got to know that people want to learn from people who they want to become. A lot of Dots got connected saying that we don’t have access to great education. curricula masa curriculums are outdated. I saw a lot of agencies who are teaching software engineering, design marketing, and forget about college. Also offline, who had random people who didn’t know crap who had not heard who had not done anything around it.


So I said how can I make this happen? How can I fix this problem? And that’s what led to eventually grad school, but I got a few friends of mine, one guy at Amazon, who was a product designer, senior product designer, one guy who was a product designer at swiggy. SEPTA, and another ship, I tried to convince them to do a programme. I got a couple of friends who were my friends who are marketers, I got them to do performance marketing, I did a no code programme, I just added into my closed network and tested it out. And they didn’t have an audience. They didn’t have anything. But the thesis was people want to learn from people who they want to become. That was the bigger thesis. And that kind of worked out.


And that is when I got like an early PMF. Yeah, nine people will pay. There is a massive gap here. We haven’t got to a stage where people realize the fact that degrees are useless. We haven’t got to that stage yet. People still buy degrees on the internet today. We haven’t got the stage, but it’s getting better. People truly want to upskill and grow. People want to invest money. And that was my early PMF. And all this took us about seven, eight months. Made us feel that okay, there is something here and we should double down on this for sure. And that’s what led to a growth school, actually.


Siddhartha 16:02

So you always had a founder Market Fit towards GrowthSchool, because you’re always reaching that. And the second thing is, you loved helping companies grow. So both of these things fell into place. And once you could tap into your network of, let’s say, the 10-15 people that you mentioned, then you could think that this could scale across if you could bring in with you hundreds of 1000s of mentors. Do you have a course by Kunal Shah by any chance?


Vaibhav 16:32

Not yet, man, I’ve roped in him as an angel. So one day, I’ll probably convince him to do one as well. Fingers crossed. When we bring on people like Kunal and all, we can only ask one favor to them. I’m holding that favor back to get to a point where I can actually ask him to do that.


Siddharrha 16:47

Awesome. Can you describe before even raising your first round of funding, you went from zero to 1 million in annual revenues within one year, how did you go through?


Vaibhav 16:57

I’ll tell you a list of things that we did. I think I would like to believe that we did a lot of things very differently. Also, there was this steroid effect because of COVID as well. If it was non COVID, probably would have done half of it. I’m being very, very frank and upfront, But here’s what we did. Like, initially, when we’re trying to do this, what happened is, we realized I want to do this. We were a very small team. Because it was Bootstrap. I was very clear, I didn’t want to raise money early on. Because one thing I was very sure about, I knew that the moment I raise money, I have to make it work. And I’m stuck to this for the next 10-15-20 years. And the second thing is, I am not a fan of spending someone else’s money. Even today, for example, there’s an anniversary of GrowthSchool coming up. We are thinking 10 times before we could get an artist to play who would cost like a lakh or two.


And eventually got to the point of saying that no I didn’t bring anyone I would sponsor it myself, so I’m very, very finicky about spending someone else’s money. So I don’t enjoy doing it. So I said, first I’ll double down with my own money and to figure out and see what happens. So it was Bootstrap. So I put my own savings and took a small loan from a brother like a CR into this business to start this. And when you’re doing this, you’re a very small team. So I had a team of two full time people and three interns, but very smart people, all of them worked full time at GrowthSchool. That was the team and in that I know engineering and all this will be expensive. Building branding and logo and website and all this will be expensive.


So the way we went about it is how can we prove our thesis with as lean an approach as possible? So the first thing we decided is to not keep a brand name and keep it stealth. So I never announced the GrowthSchool. It was stealth for a good seven months. Two, what should be the name of the brand didn’t want to put my brain into it and can take naturally. But Incidentally, I had this domain So I said it’s the domain name, let’s use this. So we made it GrowthSchool. We didn’t want to spend money on the logo . We went to a free pick and downloaded a picture with an arrow. And we thought okay, this is simple, we didn’t want to spend a lot of time on a website to build a very simple website on web flow, one page, all the five programmes in tabs, that’s it no fancy stuff.


Zero posts on social media because we realize social media is great, but there is time for it for validation. We don’t need all this, and focus shrewdly on getting an early PMF. Early PMF not a proper PMF, early traction is probably a better word. Are there people who are interested in offering something like this? Are there people who are willing to pay for this? And how much are they willing to pay for this? And what do they expect out of this? These are the things that we had to figure out. And we kept doing that. To the point that I also wanted to figure out, can this business be sustainable? Because here’s the problem, With biggest of the edtechs. The problem that I’ve seen is that the CAC acquisition cost is through the roof. We have to make it work on performance only because that’s the only way to scale today sadly, until you get through PMF. And for that to happen, it will take time. So will performance make sense is the price point that we offer it back in the day it used to be like 10,000 15,000 rupees on a higher level while other edtechs were at like two lakhs three lakhs. Will we acquire people and build a sustainable profitable business at any point of time?


So these were a few things that I thought about. And we kept doing it one after another. We kept experimenting, we kept making changes, we kept breaking things, but the backend also, there was no engineering we built on top of no code tools, web flow, bubble and WordPress. These are the three things with Zapier and all that I knew a little bit of no code so that we built a product on top of it and we launched.


Siddhartha 20:36

Dear listeners. Before we dive further into the podcast, I would like to welcome Prashant Kunti, Head of Product Management at Zoho payroll and Zoho book. Prashant Zoho products are an interconnected ecosystem that solve problems across all functions of a business. How is Zoho payroll solving problems beyond payroll?


Prashant 20:57

Thanks Sifddhartha. That’s a very good question and comes to the heart of Zoho. So from the very beginning we decided we are not going to be a single product company. So we also believe that the systems have to be deeply integrated, that data should not be present within one system, data has to flow across multiple systems and payroll by its very virtue straddles both HR and finance, two extremely critical departments that are important for the functioning of the organization.


So, we provide bi directional data synchronization between our HR suite of products as well as the finance suite from the upstream when employee giants, details automatically flow to the payroll system. And with the payroll processing done, it automatically flows to the accounting system. So it helps with end to end automation, it helps with the HR department, helps the finance department and furthermore, the scoring part will flow into the analytics also. So this complete end to end bi directional data synchronization helps with everything. So basically, businesses spend less time in any of their administrative tasks and can do more value add.


Siddhartha 22:14

Thank you, Prashant. Dear listeners, you will find more about Zoho payroll in the show notes. Now, let’s further continue with the podcast.


Vaibhav 22:23

And slowly, slowly, slowly it picked up like I said in eight months, we got to a point where over the end of the year, we would have hit a million dollars in revenue, almost a million dollars if not exactly a million dollars. So that’s what happened with us. So we were lean, shrewd, very, very shrewd. And very clear that if there is no profitable business here, at any point of time, if I cannot turn on a switch and make it profitable, I don’t want to build that business. I don’t want to rely on external funding for life. And we ticked all those boxes. And we said, Okay, this is great. Now’s the time to raise and we tried to raise money.


Siddhartha 22:59

And how was the team size before you went to raise the money?


Vaibhav 23:04

We were about 12 to 15 people, 12 odd people actually, half interns, half full time people. But yeah, it was quite small.


Siddhartha 23:11

And you were charging for the courses from day one.


Vaibhav 23:15

So in fact, we started to do free webinars recently, because we realized that we’ll have to increase the base for us to scale. One thing we are like that we are very shrewd about I’ll tell you this was in the ethos of growth school is that every time we acquire a customer, we have to break even or recover the CAC in the first purchase, and my internal target is CAC to AOV of the first purchase to be a ratio of three, AOV to CAC. I mean, Not LTV to CAC, I want to do AOV to CAC at three. That’s a very, very important metric that we are working towards. So everything that we do even today is profitable at its own level, at least not enforce posture, a tone level


Siddhartha 23:57

Initially, before the funding, how many courses have you launched and today, how many courses are there on the GrowthSchool?


Vaibhav 24:04

It’s not been a long time. It’s been like seven months, since we raised so back in the day, we had, I think we experimented a lot. The total number of courses that we launched will be around 12ish, but we experimented with stuff like poetry, script writing to see what works and what doesn’t. So if I remove all those, we launched 6,7 CVS they still are there today. And on top of that, we have launched 10 odd modes today. And they are all live courses. The way we function is it’s a mix of life plus record, we have our own models of high engagement with low effort from the mentors as well.


So here’s the thing. The kind of mentors that we work with are people who are extremely busy, like the Head of Brand Marketing of Dunzo teaches brand marketing at GrowthSchool, the head of growth strategy of Facebook, teaches management consulting GrowthSchool, these people are very, very busy, but we also want great experience for learners. So we have figured out a model using tech and operational excellence is what I would like to say, with which we are able to run cohorts with on demand content plus live sessions plus guest sessions together, where it is very, very engaging. You spend a lot of time learning a lot with low engagement from the main mentor overall.


Siddhartha 25:13

And today, how many courses exist?


Vaibhav 25:15

So here’s the thing we have about full fledged courses, which are called intensive programmes that are about 15 or 16. I don’t exactly remember, few we stop, few we add and what we realize is every course has its own PMFs, every topic has its own PMFs. So few scale up, a few don’t scale up. So we shut them down and we launched a new one. We’re figuring out what I want to be a top 100 programme, because that is what 100 programmes are doing a million dollars in revenue is 100 million dollars, which will lead to a billion dollar business. That is our basic math putting it out there. So how can we find 100 topics which will do at least a million dollars to start with in revenue per year? So we’re finding those who are about 12 or 13 right now, not doing a million dollars yet, per programme, I think that’s going to happen as we scale slowly. But 12-13,15ish is what we have today. But we have a lot of crash courses.


So what we realize is these intensive programmes will go on for eight weeks, 12 weeks, 16 weeks. But what we also realized is a lot of people are not sure if they want to learn that topic, but they’re interested. So we create something called crash courses, which is like the LinkedIn five day workshop, which is very inexpensive. 500-600 rupees or 1000 rupees sometimes, and those we have are around 35. And that will scale to like 300-400 over the course of time, because those are great for people who can quickly learn, for example, how can you be a great podcaster? Varun Duggirala teaches that today at GrowthSchool. I hope you know Varun. He’s an amazing guy. So he teaches podcasting.


Podcasting doesn’t have to be a 16 week programme. It could be a quick three week programme where they can quickly learn, and a lot of people should have three hours of right guidance with right playbooks will be enough for them. Those topics don’t have to be intensive, but they’re great topics to have. Let’s say I’ll come up with one more random idea. How can you leverage Twitter to get jobs, it doesn’t have to be a long programme could be a three hour nice session on point. And we’ll get to learn a lot. So building 200-300 properties like that, which will also act as a top of funnel for us, which will also act as acquisition for us. And here is where we do about 12,000 people today, And then a bunch of people eventually take up the intensive programmes as well, and eventually make us a decent business. That’s how we go about it.


And we also have one more layer of on demand these days. Few topics, which we realize cannot get 500 People 300 People per month, but can only get 5060 people per month in that we cannot really do live and all that. So we make it on demand so they at least have access to a continent and learn from the great people. So one thing that is common across the board is who’s teaching, how are we learning and with whom we are learning. Three things: network teacher, curriculum. Teachers are always the best people who are practitioners who are doing what you want to do tomorrow. Curriculum follows a podiatrist principle 80-20 Do things that you do 80% of the time, but only have 20% of it. So learn that 20% Only and three is the network. Everything that we do is community driven so that you meet people you meet new people and with COVID Going away we’re trying to figure out models on how we can get people to meet each other more often than not? Recently we did a meetup at Hyderabad with 300 people of our customer learners who came in to meet each other so it’s quite cool.


Siddhartha 28:34

And I believe the intensive courses are would be priced between like 5000 to 10,000


Vaibhav 28:38

Yeah, it goes up to like 25-30,000 The way we find balances depending on the mentor if the mentor wants to do very small set of core let’s say he says I want to do only 30-40 the price goes up, and also the seniority of the mentor and the topic but something that has to scale someone who says yeah, I don’t care about money. I want to teach as many people as we can there will reduce the price to the extent that will fit.


Siddhartha 28:59

And how did the first round between Sequoia and 80 plus angels happen?


Vaibhav 29:04

Yeah, again, we try to growth hack this process in some sort of fashion. Frankly, again, you have come through that cycle. So you will know non IIT and non IIM, non-tech guy, solo founders are all red flags for investors. And on top of that, I was a small creator also and that also is a red flag these days. A bunch of red flags. But the way I went about it is like I said I was very clear that I want to create traction and then earn money. So one thing that was working for me: I had very strong traction as a bootstrap business which was profitable at that point of time. Right now we’re not that profitable, we are net inflow positive but there are other costs that keep climbing up. But we’re very healthy as a business even today.


As a profitable business. I went out and said the first thing I didn’t know how to make a pitch deck and didn’t have time to figure out how to do it. So we created a notion doc.Thought about what all questions that investors might ask. I spoke with very good friends like Ashish Tulsian. and all, like you mentioned a bunch of investors also like Abhishek Nag, who has a BD at Netflix I met him at Uber, Arjun Vaidya who’s a very good friend,a d2c founder sold his company for 100 crores. And friends like Siddhartha Ram and Bharat who had worked at Axel, Bloom. And also, I had a few networks I leveraged to understand what I should do quickly. I built a simple notion. After that what I did is, because I had to do it quickly, so my plan was because we were a very small team, I didn’t want my fundraising journey to impact my business.


So what we said is, yeah, let’s give us four weeks, we’ll go out there to try to raise money, if it doesn’t happen, we’ll come back and build business and go back one year later or six months later, because we were profitable and there was a way to go about it. So the way we went about it, I did some scraping on CrunchBase and stuff and made a list of funds that are available list of angels that are available kind of segregated them into three different buckets one that I would definitely not want to raise money, one I would be okay to raise money, one I would love to raise money from went out and pitch people who I would definitely not raise money from Got questions that they might ask because I knew every question that an investor would ask will be a frequently asked question. After doing three, four I had a playlist, after that I went to the middle onesTeacher. Would love to raise money actually, the one the center, and there was a second third bucket, which was like a dream bucket. If I get it from them then that’s it. This is Ultimate.


So the second bucket I went to got my first term sheet. This happened in like two weeks, in a span of two weeks. And then, I reached out to the third bucket and that’s when Sequoia happened. Sequoia was a very interesting thing. Pratik was connected and he was following us and asked what we were doing. I told him I had also had a term sheet so he quickly set up something and I got a term sheet from Sequoia in like two days. I don’t know who else must have gotten like one or two days from Sequoia. Directly we had an icy I will tell you here’s a funny story, I’ve never spoken about the weirdly enough I keep going and saying this that there is no difference you are worth it, all of us undervalue ourself, all of us do,or most of us at least not all of us most of us do.


I always thought taking it from Sequoia wouldn’t be possible. These are very big funds. I say we always undervalue what we do. What we are doing, possibly others can do too. We are kept under valuing ourselves so I never really wanted to raise from Top funds because I thought they want absolute outliers and have so many red flags on top of it. I was wrong. I was absolutely wrong. When Pratik who was then there with Sequoia when he reached out to me I said your time passes. I personally will never lie but when I had a term sheet and he reached out to me saying that bro what’s the scene, you’re taking the money right? I said yes sure but I received the term sheet and he said no, no, no, then I realized even brands like Sequoia and all.


Like a bunch of people had already taken GrowthSchool programmes. They already knew what we were doing. So I didn’t even have to explain them. And this happens with a lot of, because they are so actively looking out for the right to invest in funds. So when this happened, we directly had an IC at 10 in the night. Next day, I had a term sheet.


Siddhartha 33:20

And how did Owl happen?


Vaibhav 33:22

Today is the third of September as we’re shooting. This fifth September is my anniversary. So I told you that we were in stealth for about six, seven months on Fifth, which was Teachers Day. I made a post on how we built a growth school as a bootstrap business or Twitter thread, which blew up a few million views. Yeah. When that blew up Owl got to know about us. By then Sequoia actually fought September tomorrow, which is also my birthday, when I got a term sheet from Sequoia. So I had a term sheet on fourth September, 5 September I made this post and it blew up and we got traction from big people like Tanmay Bhatt. And all these people started to read tweets, saying that this is what the future of education looks like. And that was quite a pleasant thing. And after that owl got to know and like a bunch of other international funds got to know like Tiger, owl and all these people. And they started to reach out but I realized owl is a very interesting fun because they focus that global.


So they reached out and we said, Okay, fine. I mean, they also kind of closed in like one or two meetings and they also came on board and that was amazing. So I got like, all the dream funds that I put on the right bucket kind of came on board and that was amazing. I think I feel we’re very lucky to have some amazing partners in a place and then angels is a bit aggressive. I know 80 Angels was not usual back in the day and not even now, But I was initially from Day Zero no matter who I raised from, I was very clear that I wanted to pick money from strategic angels, people who will add value. I’m a solo founder. I don’t understand tech. I don’t understand a lot of things. I need help there. And I realized having great founders and great operators is a great way to fix that problem.


Two is I always wanted great mentors to kind of come and teach, hopefully one day Kunal Shah and Tanmay Bhatt as well like the Head of Brand of Dunzo, head of operations of Hotstar. operators who are extremely good at what they do. They’re a pure 0.01% top. If we can get them as investors, if we can get them to put some money of theirs, there’s always a chance that we can get them as mentors. If they ever want to teach, we will be the first place to go. That second strategy.


Third is also like I wanted access to international funds, and few people were truly aspirational. Like, I’m a big fan of Kunal. I’m a big fan of Ritesh Agarwal and Nikhil kamath. So you won’t see the usual angels on my list. People who usually invest because I was very strategic about it, but found a few people who I really look up to. Those guys came in Tanmay Bhatt came in because he was a very good friend had massive level of respect for them and what he’s been able to do, and that is how we play and it used cold emailing, use scraping used automation, did a lot of that stuff, to be able to reach out to all these people and close them. It took me a couple of months to do it. But that process started. When I started the fundraising journey. It obviously became much easier with Sequoiaand all coming into the picture.


Siddhartha 36:14

And how did you playbook to scale change after you had the 5 million in funding?


Vaibhav 36:20

Here’s the interesting thing. A lot of people think you raise money kind of blitzscale right? That was not my intent. I was very clear with investors as well. I don’t want to blitzscale I’m being very frank, because if I Blitzscale, things will break. I would like to believe as a founder, and also as a founding team. I’m a very self aware guy Maybe because of Uber and Klook. I saw what broke, I saw where it broke. My intent for this money was to build a team so that we can build a great product, which we didn’t have, like I said, with zero engineers. Funnily enough, even today, it has been six months since we built a tech team. Even today, we are no good. We are slowly transitioning out in two months and we will be into our product. We had built such a complex product with no code. And there’s so many things that needed to be operated so that we can scale this business to 1000s of mentors. With this setup, it was not possible. Tech was a very, very second product that was a very important investment that I wanted to make.


Two is, there were a bunch of experiments that needed to be performed. What again, I mean, frankly, putting it out there, I had a very clear sight of how to get to 10-15-20 mil kind of a business, but I didn’t have an idea on how to get to 100 mil to be very frank still I’m not sure how to get 200 mil. I was very clear with the investors as well. I will get there, but I’ve not figured it out. I don’t have the answers. And this was one of my other thought processes. Inflection point for this business hasn’t come yet. There won’t be a billion dollar business in two years. Because people still depend on degrees, they still think going to a random college is better than a boot camp, which in reality is not true. But that inflection has not been achieved and will take a few years to get there. Where always learning will kind of grow. With this time, I wanted to figure out a lot of things. And that’s why I raised money.


So funnily, there is nothing different in terms of spending money that I do, that I did when I was a bootstrap business . We still even today operate like a bootstrap business. Frankly, there is some money that we burn today. And that is majorly because of a team that is designed to build our future, which is the tech product. Like I said right before this also, we’re building a lot of internal tools, which will make our life easy, which will help us to scale which are not created today. It doesn’t exist. And a lot of tools that we have to create to make things work as a community and as outreach platforms on hacky platforms like WhatsApp. Those are the things that we’re focused on right now.


Because as he figured out, as he builds zero to one, I still believe that we are zero to one, as we are going from zero to one the lot of things that have to be figured out. And this is the money that will ensure us and make us get where we want to and we will Blitzscale after that. I don’t think we have got to a stage where we should get scared. So the playbook of growth has not changed.


Siddhartha 39:17

Any metrics that you can share, in one year, you were able to go from zero to one, what is your internal goal to reach from like from the first year to the second year.


Vaibhav 39:25

I’ll basically by the end of next year, we want to grow 5x. And next year, we’ll probably try to slightly compound on top of it. There are some internal metrics that we are working towards something that I can’t speak about right now. But the focus has been how can we become five weeks in a year at least so we are growing,, like on a very steady stage without actually burning a lot of money. But also the hope is that in one year, even today, we are in a position where I can turn on a switch and I can be profitable, but in one year I want to be in a stage where we have very very very very healthy business growing at 5x but also the point that we are profitable at any day like we’re not burning like shit tonne of money, right like spending 10 rupees to make one rupee or even spending two rupees to make one rupee, I don’t want to be there. So that is the mode of growth that we are trying to live for.


Siddhartha 40:12

So, even if you’re not able to raise, let’s say, the next round of funding, or even if you don’t want to raise the next round of funding, you should be comfortable.


Vaibhav 40:18

Funnily enough, if you asked me, I would not want to raise funds. But I want to build a big business. I mean, if I had no intent to build a big business, I would have kept it bootstrap and made nice money into my bank account every year. More than any job can ever pay. And I can do a lot of things on top of it. But I genuinely want to build a big business. I genuinely want to bring this change in education, more than business to be very frank. I want to bring this change that inflection has to happen in terms of people accepting the fact that you’re not in IIT , if you’re not an IIM, if you’re not in a Stanford, if you’re not in Harvard, you’re good enough, you can still learn great stuff, fundamentally fix education in a way that becomes outcome driven, become short. So you can crack things that you want to without actually focusing too much on am I getting a degree because I am useless anyways? Build on proof of work, build on things where you are doing, rather than just learning, learn stuff that matters.


I feel this is truly the future of education, at least in the category that I live in, which is upskilling. And I feel in that space, it’s a massive impact business of some sorts, that will need some level of help for us to get there, hence I raise one more round. So yeah, if I don’t have to raise one more, I’ll probably not raise. I would love to not raise frankly, all the investors looking at this will be like, actually, I fundamentally, I never been very clear about this as well.


Siddhartha 41:44

You said you’re still a little away from Product Market fit. So in your mind, what product market fit for GrowthSchool?


Vaibhav 41:51

Yeah, I can have touch based on this. Like PMF, true PMF for me, is if product school goes away, people are like where should I learn it from, that is true PMF. Retention metrics, and all is great. But according to me through PMFs people screaming at you if you shoot your product. And that is the face that I want to get to if you think about it. In some ways, in edtech in our space, I feel one, one product which has got PMF is Udemy. Though it’s not a massive business. If you think about it, I mean, I think it’s about one and a half $2 billion right now, it took a lot of time to get that. But that’s a true PMF business because it has become a synonym. If you have to learn something, the first place that most people think about is Udemy.


So that is also actually a very good benchmark for PMF. But I would say how do I put it, a good business, I would say early PMF, according to me, is good retention numbers, good decent repeats, because this is not a business that will have high repeats, but decent repeats, very good reference, because that’s also a sign of very good PMF. I mean, we have internal metrics for that country to talk about because it depends on business. But referral is a very good important metric. And more importantly, your sub Kercheval caca repairing Excel me. What is the outcome that we are able to drive soft or hard outcomes? Right now we have 1000s of stories, like as I go into the events.


The reason why I say we have got to the early PMFs, because there are people who have spent all of like seven, eight months since they finished the programme. And they’re seeing the change. For example, the day before yesterday, I was at a meetup. We did a GrowthSchool meetup in Hyderabad, there was this lady Ramya, who was pregnant, came to that event in the peak of her pregnancy with her mother in law, just to say thank you. Because from nowhere, she has got to a point where she’s making 50 lakhs a year right now in one year, because of GrowthSchool, not because of one programme because of multiple programmes that she took, fixed her buckets from an employee became an employer started a startup running a bootstrap business making 50 lakhs.This is life changing, right? absolutely life changing.


Hundreds and hundreds of people have got jobs after paying a 20,000 rupee programme, hundreds, probably 1000s if not hundreds. We know at least three 400 stories of people who have come out and told us that we have got the job, thank you so much.That is also a great validator for us. Like there was one more story, there was this lady we had a call at the Kolkata meetup there was this one more lady again, who came to me wherever I was making 20,000 rupees for five years straight. In Kolkata. I was not growing, but because I was married and I never cared. But inside of me I wanted to grow, a few programmes at GrowthSchool, now I have a full time job as a digital marketer making over a lakh per month. Life changing, in just a year this transition happened, people jumping from four lakhs to like 20 lakh CTCs.


I’ll tell you the reason why they were not able to do this is not because we taught them something out of the world that changed their life. That is not true, we just got them the right content and the right community, which made them confident that they’re better or good enough with most of the people. Yeah, there is this thing. I mean, Which college did you study in?


Siddhartha 45:12

IIIT Gwalior, Institute of Information Technology, Gwalior.


Vaibhav 45:15

Okay. You have gone to a very good college. I come from a very regular college. I come from a college course at Gitam University. I’ll tell you this. I have told this story before as well. In my college, the first year of engineering people when the teacher asked what do you want to be four years from now? 80% of the college said, I want to get a job in TCS, Wipro, Accenture. That was their goal, which is quite sad. And this is what happens. Imagine a classroom of 100 people who are saying My goal is TCS, Wipro and Accenture. When you say that I want to get into Google people will turn and laugh at you and forget about everything else. People will ridicule your ambitions and that happens.


And this is the problem with not having the right community around you. You are good enough. You believe in yourself. Just because people around you are not good enough. A lot of people are actually good enough. They don’t have the ambition that you do. You’re being pulled out. And you feel maybe I’m not good enough. Which is so sad, It’s so sad. And this is what needs to be fixed fundamentally. And this is what a great community of learners who are passionate does, and all our teachers keep saying this if you realize most of the teachers that we got don’t come from fancy backgrounds. So they kind of become an example, saying you can do it. And when they truly believe and they have learned that is when this change will happen. I was also one of those by the way, I also used to think after staying here for four even my goals and aspirations would change.


Initially when I said I want to do a Startup, people started laughing, what would you do at a startup? You can’t even clear exams. I never got a CGPA, which is great. I’ve always got seven and all. You’re not even a topper, what will you do? You are being crushed, you’re being pushed down because of how the community is built, how the society is built. And I came from a decent college, not from a bad college. You know what I mean, a college which has a 100% placement record. So it’s a decent college according to me. quite sad, man. This is what makes me feel really bad. And this is what also kind of pushes me to do things. I want to bring these stories out. Tell people to enable these people. Let people meet and know that there are many more people like you who can do a lot. And sorry, I got a little carried away. But this is what we truly believe in. This is what I’m truly passionate about.


Siddhartha 47:28

So ultimately, at scale. What I imagined GrowthSchool to be is a better community, for people who are ambitious. People who want to figure stuff out in life, people who want to learn in life, and you’re giving them tools to get better.


Vaibhav 47:45

Yeah, simply put, we’re trying to be Amazon of sorts, a marketplace for people who want to teach who are excellent. So you’re always going to be a curated marketplace. And learners all over the world want to learn from them together. And the real beauty of this as they come together, people can cross function coordinate with each other and build stuff. So we started our first step towards that right now for the community bit that I’m talking about, We did a hackathon. For only people who learned in the last few cohorts. There are 500 people who are people who have taken brand marketing, UX, product management, performance, and growth. All these came together as a team of 10s like micro startups, where we are given a problem to solve work for seven days to build a micro startup, this experience wouldn’t have been possible.


We are working with UX designers, brand marketers, product managers, performance marketers, engineers, no code people to build ideas, build, solve the problem and build an MVP in seven days. We have 38 Brilliant projects that have come out of the seven days, something that will take my team only 30-40 days to figure out very exciting things that can be done. We just have to enable them. And this is what we want to do at scale: Get 1000s of great people to teach, get millions of learners to learn from them, and connect everybody with everybody. So you have an alumni right now people have an alumni 300,000 even an alumni of 2 million, 3 million, 5 million people who are doers like you.


Siddhartha 49:15

For you as a founder. I think it’s all about prioritizing what is to achieve that vision? How do you split your time on a daily basis or on a weekly basis between being a founder hiring, enabling a team setting the vision, execution, and then being a creator yourself or building your own brand?


Vaibhav 49:35

Good question. You’re hitting on the pain points again and again. But here’s the thing, I’ve decided I’m a solo founder again. So I’m the only guy who has to run everything. I have a great leadership team right now, great head of product, great head of eng, great head of business and stuff, but still a solo founder. So the way I do it is my weekends or the time or my off days are the time when I create content All right, so it’s getting crazier and crazier. So we’ve just got to a step where I’ve hired two people full time just to manage this. But essentially, that’s how I split. When I’m at work. I’m purely focused on helping others.


So if I go to my office, I don’t even carry my laptop. There’s a laptop in the office. If I open it, most days, I don’t even open it. When I’m at work for around nine hours a day, I go around, usually I go at around 11:30-12. And I’m at the office till 9:30-10pm. We are a late starting office, people come by around one in the day to like 10pm. When I’m at the office, I’m just dedicated to the team, spending time with the team. Avoid external calls and everything around it. So I’m trying to solve problems for them, be part of it, and brainstorm with them. I’m accessible to everybody in the team. We are a 70 member team right now, access to everybody in the team. And I came back from the office. That is when for example, today we are doing the podcast. This is off my office hours. So I do it at home and then go back to Office. Today I got a bit late. But again, I wake up a little earlier, get my board meetings, or whatever podcasts or whatever things are done there. Or my concentration time also starts after 9pm and 10pm.


So, at the office, I’m focused on work, outside of the office, and two days of that I get every month is when I create content, and the other two weekends I’m teaching, which is also post office hours. So I’m a creator. I’m an educator, and I’m an entrepreneur. So that’s how I jumble around. It’s been painful, man. So I keep saying this. I’ve not fallen sick. This often happens in the last six months in my life. My body is also adapting to these changes to the stress levels to these changes of timings to these crazy work hours. I have always been working like crazy. I mean, Shantanu’s post went viral, sadly, for 18 hours. But I mean, if you ask me, there’s nothing wrong with what he said. I’ve been working 16-18 hours all my life. And that became part of my life as well. If you want to do more than others, you have to put in the effort. And that’s what we’re doing here. And most of my teammates.


Siddhartha 52:04

When was the last time you slept seven to eight hours?


Vaibhav 52:07

I get it on the weekends, Sundays, because see, here’s one good thing that has happened. Because our work starts late. I get a good six hour sleep every day. I try to, most of the time I do because I sleep around 2-3 and wake up around 10. So I’m getting my sleep, or else, I cannot operate as a person. You need doses of your own coffee and you need doses of your melatonin strips to have a very good sleep at night. You’re biohacking everything possible on top of that. But yeah, that is one thing that I’ve thought because initially that was really bad, my sleep hours were also kind of screwed up. It impacted my health like crazy. So one thing that I’m trying to build up is this. Sleep I get during vacation time, I don’t get yet, but I hope we’ll get there soon.


Siddhartha 52:54

What are the various processes that you have built in your life? So I’m not just talking about content creation, I also want to know. But what are the other processes that you have built in your life right now?


Vaibhav 53:04

Frankly, I’m not very sorted. I’m also learning a lot of things, and not a very framework driven guy either. Okay, but there are few things that I do. Team management has become a very important thing for me. So basic things like we do something called a monthly all hands, actually, today is a monthly haul hands, Where we tear the business in front of everybody so that there’s absolute visibility, starting from revenue to ad spend to what went down to what went wrong, everybody starting from someone in the sales team, to support team to my office boy to the senior person, everybody has the same level of data. That has helped a lot overall in the team. Every week, I have catch ups with all my leaders and also catch ups with internal teams. So that way, I’m on top of everything that’s happening. So this has helped quite a lot as well.


Three, not having a process to help. Also that is being available for others. So at any point of time, anybody from the support team to sales team to leader can pull me into a meeting room if they can see me going around. So not using a laptop in the office has helped quite a lot. That also makes me terrible with emails. But again, whatever kind of works. And going forward slowly, we are trying to build frameworks on how we can use one day to shoot content for the next 30 days. So I dedicate 15 hours of my time, but I’m sorted for the whole month. But that gives us a lot of traction. For content creation, where we can create content on the go, because for creating great content you read mindspace if you have been following me on LinkedIn, you will see my frequency has dropped like crazy recently, and that is because I don’t have mind space right now.


So trying to dedicate one day for content where the focus will be only on content, a small team helping me nudge, asking me questions. So there’s a video team that follows me everywhere that I go right now, who just shoots and that will convert into content. If you would have done this offline you would have seen that team as well. But the basic frameworks we are setting up OKRs, that has become quite important for a team to be very scalable. Usually, whenever I say OKRs a lot of people say, why would you need OKRs for such a small team. I said I need it, that is what is important for a team to scale. Usually growth stage teams kind of built those things up.


But we’re bringing consultants on board to make that scalable, because how can we manually intervene within teams micromanage them as little as possible, but they know what they have to achieve. They know what the goals are, so that we are available as a support system for them for the team, rather than anything else. So few things like this. But again, as I keep saying it’s been six months only, most of the team has been hired in the last five months, we are also learning. I’m also learning. Maybe next time we do after two years, I will have a much better answer to say but I am no Kunal Shah.


Siddhartha 55:49

Kunal Shah also became Kunal Shah after an iterative process of 10 years.


Vaibhav 55:56

Absolutely. I mean comes with experience as well.


Siddhartha 56:00

Thank you so much Vaibhav candidly sharing your life, your experiences about GrowthSchool. So gladly, and I learned so much from you through this podcast.


Vaibhav 56:11

I’m humbled, man, I’m humbled. Thank you so much for bringing me to the show. I hope it helps a few people who watch this.


Siddhartha 56:18

Oh, definitely. I think I learned a lot and that’s why I think right up to the 100x Entrepreneur audience, our listeners would love to hear your journey.


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