Very few industries have flourished in Mysuru as the city is considered not that conducive to economic growth. In such a scenario, to set up a software unit at a time when hardly anyone had heard about the word ‘Software’ takes some guts to do.
This is exactly what the low-key, publicity shy and Mysuru-homegrown man D. Sudhanva did. He along with his father, legendary educationist, Prof. M.H. Dhananjaya setup the first software company ‘Excelsoft Technologies’ more than two decades ago and the company has grown from strength to strength. They have also set up Excel Public School.
Star of Mysore Features Editor N. Niranjan Nikam caught up with Sudhanva at his state-of-the-art software company in Hebbal. — Excerpts
By N. Niranjan Nikam
Star of Mysore (SOM): How do you feel about your own company’s phenomenal growth?
Sudhanva: Actually there were a few beliefs and value systems that made me start Excelsoft and the business of our company is Edu-Tech (Education Technology). I did not want to start another services company because there were already a lot of them. I wanted to create a product company where we can bring creativity and address the global market, which means it had to be a product par excellence and we had to compete with other educational technology companies.
Second, for us it was very important to set up a transparent business as it meant a lot to me and my father. The third was at that point of time India was still not a marketplace which could pay well. So we had to start selling our products outside. Our first target was UK because it was fairly progressive in using technology in education. Internet was emerging which was seen as a potentially powerful way of delivering learning and self-learning solutions.
The other reason was I came from a technology background and my father came from an education background. So we said if we intersect the two it is education technology or Edu-tech where we actually can bring both our strengths together. That is the start of Excelsoft.
SOM: Were there any other reasons you felt important when you set up this company?
Sudhanva: Relationships were important. You acquire a customer to build them into a long-term customer and work with them. This has always been very important for us.
There is one story which I can never forget. We had a prototype but we didn’t have the money to create the product and go to the market. Somebody introduced me to Colin Hughes, CEO of ‘The Guardian’ newspaper and he was investing 30 million Pounds in creating a learning platform and content. I went to meet him in London and he said you have five minutes and please tell me what you want to tell me. Then those five minutes became 20 minutes. Then he said this is really interesting and I want to get my team. It became a full day with his team. At the end of it, he said, I am not sure I would want this platform which is still a prototype now. But I want you to build my entire content management system and gave us the first big contract at that point of time which was 80,000 Pounds. This was in 2001. Now we do business with Harper Collins as Hughes moved there as MD and CEO. We have become close friends and he is on our board. That is how we have grown relationships.
SOM: How do you create value to your customers? Has being first in the market given you a good head start?
Sudhanva: With our platforms and products we have always been able to create an additional value and the competitive edge. We are seen as a superior product when we get compared with competition. We decided very early that we will not be a cheap Indian product. So our products are priced higher than equivalent products. Yes. Internationally entering the market early has given us a head start particularly in the area of online testing.
SOM: Is there any other thing key to your business success?
Sudhanva: The key to our business is to understand our customers’ customers. We are B2B and then they take it to the consumer. It is absolutely important that the products you build are meaningful to end users. So we have to understand the customers’ customer.
SOM: Your company provides education and training solutions towards effectively using technology to enhance capacities of teachers and learners. What has been the impact on both teaching and learning?
Sudhanva: Technology cannot replace a teacher and we don’t believe that will ever happen. It can only enable and empower a teacher to be more effective in classrooms. With technology, they tend to do a little bit more subject research because they have online access. Because of the availability of digital content and technology they can stretch the minds of students beyond curriculum.
SOM: It was a smooth transition for you to establish Excel Public School which is a blend of teaching and learning processes. How has this experience been personally for you?
Sudhanva: The inspiration to set up the school came ten years ago as Excelsoft has been providing technology, digital content, and digital transformation to schools across the world. I thought we should bring some of the learning and create a school with a difference in Mysuru. Excelsoft has invested substantially in Excel Public School and this school will never be profitable in my lifetime.
I have got so much from being part of Mysuru. I am just giving back to the community where it is not commercial. We charge school fees but we spend a lot more on a month-on-month basis. If we had to look at Return of Investment and other things, this school — for the kind of fee we charge even though it is not small — will never be profitable. We are trying to see whether we can replicate this in smaller schools. We have done one in Kozhikode where we have not invested but somebody else has invested in Knowledge City on building a school. We are taking our knowhow and operating the school there. We have done two in Coimbatore and Trichy and we will do one more in Mysuru. The idea is to give opportunity to more and more people to access this type of education.
SOM: What kind of innovations are you doing?
Sudhanva: There are quite a few innovative things in methodologies and we have to keep improving them. We created an exclusive learning design team of 60 people who don’t teach full time. They are part of Excelsoft and they do all the learning experiences design, lesson plan to laboratory experiences design. They mentor children to use the innovation centre for their projects.
Many of them are doctorates in different areas and we are creating inter-disciplinary projects for students because there is so much of physics in biology, so much of chemistry in biology and so much of physics in chemistry. You can’t divide those things anymore. They are all becoming inter-disciplinary and we are preparing children to understand, appreciate and actually do stuff.
SOM: It is a no-homework school.
Sudhanva: We have certain philosophies like we are a no-homework school with very few assignments because we want students to learn in the school and when they go back home they have to spend time with family and play in the neighbourhood as it is important for wholesome development. If you burden them with assignments, parents have to sit with them and do the homework. It is a belief system and we believe in light homework.
People were worried that if intense homework is not given students may not perform well academically. Two of our children won the Infosys Foundation Research Prize for this year and last year many of them got selected to New York Academy of Sciences, Honorary Membership. So they have done very well in competitions and going forward a couple of them will be in Indian Institute of Science and Indian Institute of Space.
SOM: Is CET an ultimate goal?
We don’t just prepare students to take CET or NEET. We instead encourage them in other areas of basic sciences. Well, you need people to do genetics to pharma to core sciences. As a country we are lacking in that as engineering and medicine have been engrained in their minds and even parents think like that. We are trying to bring about a change telling them that opportunities today are plenty to grow and become successful.
SOM: Star of Mysore held an Education Fair for the first time for students from KG to PG recently. What is your view?
Sudhanva: It was long overdue as school-level education fair had not happened in Mysuru. Generally schools in Mysuru are shy of talking to each other. They are worried about non-issues — they may be worried that teachers and students may get poached. But really there are a number of good to very good schools and they have their own strengths.
Actually by collaborating we can learn from each other and do better. But that collaboration is not happening. An event like this gave us an opportunity to talk to each other and we learnt a lot from each other.
Our school’s doors are always open for all of them. Once we had organised a Principals’ Meet in our school and we were happy to take them around and explain our philosophy and the teaching methods. I wish this openness comes in so that school education in Mysuru goes to the next level.