“Will the Apple Fall Again?” – an entrepreneur from BITS Pilani
Why can’t the apple fall again? And this time in India? Similar questions hovered in the mind of Lohit Sahu, a young entrepreneur from the education sector. His firm, Phyzok, has been incubated at BITS Pilani. The company specializes in creating technology that enables classroom concepts to become alive. Lohit is from Chattisgarh and is a mechanical engineer from BITS Pilani. Here’s an interesting excerpt of an interview with him.
You can watch the video here
How did entrepreneurship happen?
While I was in college I realized that there are many more things that I could do apart from just studying engineering. So I started my first venture, CDS and the only thing that I knew about then was studying. Hence, I started a company in the education sector, consulting some coaching and other educational institutes to improve their education delivery. We realized that we could do this job pretty well and found that we have value in the market. Then we started expanding it and fortunately even now I am pursuing my company in the education sector itself. Yes, that’s how it started.
So when I was in college, I did pursue music, film making and a lot of other things. In fact entrepreneurship came to me when I was in BITS Pilani. We didn’t even know what a business plan was. Entrepreneurship was not such a buzz word in 2005-2006 when I was in my second year. So, slowly as entrepreneurship was growing in India we were also growing in BITS. Then I got my idea incubated.
Was there anything that prompted you to start-up?
It was a series of events. It was not just one event and it had nothing to do with like I couldn’t work under a boss or I want to make a huge impact. I just found that I was good at something and there was nothing else happening where I could use my skill sets where I completely could rejuvenate the education system in India. Since there was no other platform I decided I would build my own platform.
So when you made the decision to start-up you had scores of other options? Why the education sector?
It was a series of events. So the only thing which I knew back then was studies. That’s what my skill sets were validated for. So the easiest to get into was education because I had been a part of it. I did write a business plan for water purifier for a product. I did venture into other things just that I did not pursue it further because I did not understand the industry that well. One thing I want to get into now is farming.
Why “Phyzok”? What does it mean?
So we used to conduct these workshops when I was in college wherein we used to experiment with kids. Our work was to see the kind of content they liked and we started with physics. There was that one night in 2nd year just before my end semester in BITS. I had a dream of building a theatre, instead of showing movie there we show physics. Physics + funky + Greek equal to Phyzok. And Greek was the thing then with alpha, beta and theta for us. Later, when we realized that Phyzok was short and easy to remember.
Tell us about your views on the present system of education
It’s like a pyjama right now – one size fits all. We are working for transforming the pyjama to a tailor made trouser so that students look smart.
How do you feel the system will look in 5 years time?
I have always believed that this is a trendy sector. Anything that is trendy is in a cyclic form. First we had the gurukul system. Then came mass delivery classroom and digital education, and back to personalized learning, which is exactly the system of gurukul. It would continue following the cycle just that technology would play a bigger role in getting school education back to where it was.
It was certainly a tough choice to take up entrepreneurship after graduation. Tell us about the initial struggle.
It is not a struggle any more but initial couple of years were. I didn’t have food to eat and BITS unknowingly supported me. I used to eat in the college mess even after graduating and I ate there for 8 months without paying. I didn’t go home for one and a half years since I had no money to go home. I stayed at BITS. My father once asked me to go to a relative’s place nearby since it was Diwali time but how could I? I had no money to buy sweets! However, it didn’t really matter to me because on my spreadsheet it always showed that at the end of 4 years I am going to make this kind of money. I would have never made so much in 4 years combined had I taken a job. Also money was not exactly the driving factor, impact was. The money I get right now is all in a bank. We don’t use it. I still live in a very small house and my parents still ask me if I need money.
Tell us about your hobbies
I love cycling, creating music and film making. I love to pick up new skills. I want to learn 3D painting.
What attracts the interns from IITs and IIMs?
I think I have seen a huge shift in the mentality of people. People have realized until you work hard and struggle you don’t get the fruits. So when you actually work for a bigger company and work in a smaller project you don’t really struggle much, instead you just spend two months in that particular company and add a lot of things in your resume probably. But when you are speaking about it you won’t have a story to tell. Whereas when you handle things and do work on the ground it is a story in itself. What’s attracting them is the story that they could make for life.
Please give your suggestions for the budding entrepreneurs.
First, keep emotions away. You can be passionate but keep baseless emotions away. Second, people get scared about not making money. Create a spreadsheet, plan well and know when you will make money. People worry about the business not running well. Have backup plans ready. Have clear intentions – why starting up, what you need, what are the deliverable. Third, you should be willing to take risk and plan 12 months in advance, work in a situation where things don’t work according to your plan and still have a backup plan ready.
Phyzok offers tangible patented kits and web based virtual environment where students can unveil the concepts by themselves thus encouraging independent learning. Phyzok has worked with more than 30 schools and Phyzok’s technology has impacted more than a lac students so far. Businessworld has listed Phyzok as one of the top 10 young start-ups in India for the year 2011. Phyzok received the Star Entrepreneurship Award for the year 2012 at the 5th Indira International Innovation Summit. Phyzok received its initial funding of 1 Million from BITS 75 Charitable Trust. The Mentor circle for Phyzok has alumni from Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan, Kellog’s and NUS. Last year, Phyzok received the BITSAA Global 30 Under 30 Award. Phyzok has created a hi-tech green screen studio in Santacruz, Mumbai, which is the internship location for this year.
(This article is written by Debalina Haldar, class of 2015 student at IIM Lucknow. Her novel, The Female Ward, was published in May, 2013. She is the Creative Head and Core Coordinator of the Media and Communication Cell at IIM Lucknow.)
Follow Debalina at debalina.insideiim.com