Bootstrapping an education startup to 150,000+ paid students and $2.5Mn of revenue, in 12 months

In May 2011, I registered a company.

I just had started the Groupon India business, so I didn’t intend to use the company for a while.

But I knew I would use it someday.

That someday happened in Jan 2021, 10 years later!

It was an education company.

Last week, that education company hit 150,000+ paid students.

In Jan 2022, the company did $200,000 (Rs. 1.42Cr) of sales, thus making it a $2.5Mn run-rate company.

Here is the story of how it happened…

1. Content as a trust engine

I have been writing a blog everyday since 2005.
I have been creating content on LinkedIn since 2013.
I have been on YT/IG since 2017.

When you create content, you can either use it a sales engine or a trust engine.

I chose to use it for trust.

This means that none of my content ever speaks about my courses.
It only tries to help the audience, in whatever manner I can.

My content reaches 13Mn every month.
My advertising reached 25Mn every month.

So when people see my ads, ask “who is this guy” and then look me up…

…they see years of content that they hopefully like and appreciate.

My landing page conversion is 7%.
For those who come to the page, don’t buy, check my content and then come again, the conversion is 36%!

2. Make money from Day 1

After running funded ventures for 10 years, I did not want to raise money.
And I did not have my own money :slight_smile:

This meant, designing the business to make money from day 1.

Which inturn meant…

2a. No code operations

My monthly software bill is $3,300, which is HUGE as a SaaS customer, but will not buy even 1 half decent engineer in India today.

I have the world’s best engineers from @razorpay @learnworlds @convertkit @zoom @freshworksinc @adobe working for me!

2b. Advertising RoI of >1.8

For every $ I spend on Facebook and Google, I need to make ~$2. This is sacrosanct.

We keep spending, till we are above this. We scale back, when this number moves down.

We started with a daily ad spend of $75.
Today, we spend $3,000+ every day!

2c. Lean Operations

The entire operations is managed between me and 1 FTE.
And technology for everything!

This allows for me to run this at low cost, and distribute profits back to the team (this year ~100K will be distributed within the team, from the profits)

3. Build assets

Assets make money for you, while you sleep!
Last 2 years has been a massive surge towards CBCs (Cohort Based Courses), which is a massive drain on the instructor’s time.
I did not want to go down that route.

I introduced 2 options for every course…

a) 100% self paced, with videos, notes, exercises and a community

b) Option a + live QnA class every month

65% go for Option b, which is 80% more expensive.
I invest one-time a significant amount of energy for option A. And then get massive leverage for my time through op B.

4. Stay true to the purpose

The purpose of these courses is very clear. Help students.

So if it doesn’t help, you cannot be making money off it.

We offer an unconditional 100% refund policy.

People seek a refund for the weirdest of reasons. Some even after a year!
But we happily issue the refund.

Despite this, our refund is only 4.4%
It is my job to keep it below 5% always!

5. Be super patient

Education is a hard category to crack.
So I am in no hurry.

I have no investor to please.
I have no image to live up to.
I have no goals or targets.

I am simply committed to a process…

5a. Build properties

Not “Time Management”
“Take charge of your time”

Not “startup course”
“Complete guide to starting up”

Not “Ankur Warikoo”
“Brand warikoo”

Not “Do epic shit - a book”
“DO EPIC SHIT - a brand”

Help people associate with an identity.

5b. Keep upgrading

Every course is upgraded every 3 months.
Every student has lifetime free access to these upgrades.
If they benefit, we will benefit.

5c. Keep shipping

Every 6 months, we launch a new course.

“Complete Guide to starting up”
“Take charge of your time”
“How to YouTube”

Each is designed to become a $2Mn/yr course, with minimal time investment.

10 such courses over time and we will easily be a $50-100Mn company

All of this while owning 100% of the company, working with super smart/fun people, creating wealth for all, doing it on your own pace, while meaningfully helping people.

The year, in terms of student enrollments

110K: Time Management
40K: Startup
20K: Public Speaking

10 yrs of this and we might touch 10Mn students

I draw inspiration everyday from @vishen building @mindvalley, @eriktorenberg building @beondeck, @garyvee building his brand, @anafabrega11 evangelizing @synthesischool and so many more wonderful people.

The name of the startup?
Not important!

The goal of the startup?
Not important!

Will it become big/successful?
Not important!

What is important is that students benefit from it, I am wedded to it and I have a kick-ass team @waricrew that delivers on the process clinically.

And that for me, is the fulfilling part of running a startup.

The joy of building products, getting feedback from users, improvising, making money, building a team, sharing wealth with all - all of this gives me a high!

The bootstrapped experience is fascinating though.

In a world where funding is lauded, covered in the press, shown on national TV and heralded as a mark of success, I would love for people to realize that it isn’t the only way.

Let us start applauding entrepreneurs for running successful business.
Not for raising money!

Congratulating an entrepreneur on raising money is like congratulating a chef on buying vegetables.

Every Friday I write a thread on personal growth, failures, startups, organization building and more.