Swapnil Kamat and Ruchira Karnik gave up their high flying corporate jobs – he at the cosmetics major LÓreal, and she at the publishing giant Elle Décor – to take a plunge into entrepreneurship. After a rather dismal start with the closure of their travel portal trip2goa.com, they put their everything into their training and development venture, Work Better. The company is rated as one of India’s best in the space, today
As organizations face increasing skills gap in their workforce, corporate training becomes a major competitive advantage. It results in increased productivity, higher levels of employee engagement, increased collaborative learning amongst employees, and a sustained drive towards innovation. Given the long term benefits of corporate training, organizations are realizing the importance of and need to build a culture of continuous learning that enables employees to develop more effective skills professionally.
One such organization is Work Better Training. Started by enterprising couple, Swapnil Kamat and Ruchira Karnik to make a difference in the world of learning and development, Work Better is an executive education and training company that specializes in soft skills and behavioural training. The company has positioned itself strongly among its competitors by designing and delivering customized training programs pan India that help companies develop people capabilities to meet their business objectives. Ruchira says, “Our biggest business vertical is soft skills and behaviour trainings. We also conduct team building and experiential activities for corporates. Owing to the increasing shift towards digitalization, we have also diversified our range of products and services, foraying into e-learning, video and mobile based learning in a big way.”
Through their venture, the duo helps professionals become more effective and productive at their work by training them through different methodologies in soft skills and behaviour. Since its inception, Work Better has partnered with several market leaders including Mahindra, HDFC Bank, Citibank and many more to help their people improve and meet their professional, as well as organizational goals.
For any entrepreneur, seeing their business fail can be devastating and potentially an end to their entrepreneurial journey. Though their first venture resulted in failure, the experience of it left Swapnil and Ruchira much wiser. They knew where they went wrong with trip2goa and learnt their lessons the hard way
Young and dynamic, Swapnil and Ruchira moved to Mumbai after completing their education to find themselves plush new jobs in the metropolis – him at the FMCG major, LÓreal and her at Elle Décor magazine. However, they soon found corporate life to be extremely slow and boring. “I have had an entrepreneurial bent of mind from an early age. Since I grew up in a business family, starting something on my own seemed like a natural choice to me. I started my first venture – an event company called ENT Unlimited – when I was in college. Ever since I have not looked back,” says Swapnil.
Bubbling with ideas, the two decided to quit their well-paying, secure jobs to start their first venture together – an online travel portal called trip2goa in 2006. Hailing from Goa, Swapnil found that there were a massive number of people who would ask him questions about his hometown regularly. The entrepreneurial spirit within saw this as a business opportunity. “The online travel space was just about heating up back then. Having spent the largest part of our lives in Goa, we believed that we would be able to make a huge success out of the venture. Being brand new entrepreneurs, we experimented,” says Ruchira.
Lessons from Failure
For any entrepreneur, seeing their business fail can be devastating and potentially an end to their entrepreneurial journey. Though their first venture resulted in failure, the experience of it left them much wiser. They knew where they went wrong with trip2goa and learnt their lessons the hard way. “I didn’t study the market in detail nor did I talk to enough people to chalk out the nitty-gritties of the business. I quit my well-paying corporate job at FMCG major, LÓreal to try my hands at this wild experiment. We soon realized that this was a business we were not meant for because we didn’t really feel for it,” says Swapnil.
“You really need to love what you do to be able to do it well in the long term,” he adds. Apart from love and passion for what you do, Swapnil also believes that learning from your mistakes and being more self-aware are important in the long run. Using available resources to their fullest is another factor that Swapnil has learnt and has abided by since their trip2goa days. “My father gave me a meagre 1 lakh rupees and a small line of credit to start trip2goa. The lack of capital, which seemed like a big downer back then, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We learnt to bootstrap and make the most of every rupee we had, to cut better deals than we would otherwise.”
In Ruchira’s opinion, keeping a close eye on the cash flow and doing the best that suits your business are two of the most essential factors she learnt from her experience with trip2goa. “With trip2goa, we were doing a great job of getting business, but we were doing so at low and unsustainable margins. Just adding to revenues or the top line is not enough; making actual profits is the only thing that can sustain a business over the long term,” says Ruchira. She further adds, “Every other entrepreneur was doing it and therefore we tried to expand a little too quickly, too. We did it without having the required capital to back it, leading to us shutting shop.”
“We believe that training is very important for the country as one of our biggest problems is lack of people development. We are a country of a billion people, yet it’s difficult for companies, small or large, to hire and retain the right talent” – Swapnil Kamat
The Work Better Story
The seeds for the idea behind Work Better were sown in the couple’s mind while they were in their corporate jobs. While thinking of ideas for a new venture after trip2goa shut shop, the duo decided to put it to action.
Work Better was started as a result of the founders’ own frustrations with corporate trainings. Having worked with big corporate names themselves, both had attended many executive training programs and realized that most of them were theoretical and boring in nature, with no real takeaways. “There were major drawbacks in the existing training methodology. There was a huge disconnect between what was taught in the classroom and what was happening on the ground. We saw a huge scope to bring about a real change in the corporate training space,” says Swapnil. Hence, parting ways from theoretical learning and jargons, the two of them started Work Better Training.
The company was started with the belief that with effective tools and training, everybody has the strength to improve their lives and the lives of those in their community. Work Better Training delivers effective training programs that have real impact and make people better professionals.“We believe that training is very important for the country as one of our biggest problems is lack of people development. We are a country of a billion people, yet it is difficult for companies, small or large, to hire and retain the right talent. Our service is important in the current environment because it helps develop people skills, making them assets for their organizations. It will remain relevant in the years to come given India’s demographics. Our vision is to touch every working professional in some way or the other to enhance their business and work-related skills,” says Swapnil.
The Sweet Smell of Success
Work Better’s success lies in the services they offer and their expertise in the domain. What made them click with corporates was the company’s focus on keeping corporate learning real, practical and implementable. There is a visibly stark difference between the trainings conducted by Work Better and its competitors.
Another aspect that makes them so reliable is their customer centric approach. According to the Work Better team, being customer centric is in their DNA. Their willingness to offer something beyond the usual makes them a dear choice for all their clients. With every step they take, their intention is simple – to translate every customer relation into an extraordinary experience.
With success, comes visibility and attention. As Work Better has steadily done well and grown over the years, it has managed to attract the right kind of partners to work with. The sheer quality and quantity of their clientele is enough to know that Work Better is one of India’s leading executive training companies and a force to reckon with.
In terms of quality associations, they have partnered with edX, the world’s largest MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) platform, to lead their edX for business vertical for corporates. A joint initiative of Harvard University and MIT, edX is a MOOC platform with over 1600 courses from the topmost universities across the world. With online courses becoming a big source of education, Work Better aims to bring the best of education to professionals and pre-professionals on their computer screens.
The couple’s business acumen has got them and their venture several accolades over the years. Swapnil is one of the few entrepreneurs to have been featured twice on CNBC TV18’s show Young Turks – once for Trip2Goa and then for Work Better. As part of the elite Economic Times Young Leaders program, Swapnil was the only trainer asked to speak at prestigious institutes such as ISB, Hyderabad and SIBM, Pune. A very well-known and prominent thought leader, Swapnil has been invited to speak at esteemed institutions such as IIM, IIT, CII and many others. Swapnil is a sought after columnist having written over 85 articles and blogs published in leading publications like The Economic Times, Huffington Post, The Hindu, Business World, Times Of India, Hindustan Times, Financial Express, People Matters and many more. Work Better was featured on The Economic Times’ list of the 7 Most Promising Startups in 2013. Work Better has also been rated as the top ranking Learning and Development Consultants of the Year for two consecutive years in 2015 and 2016 by Consultants Review and The CEO Magazine.
Work Better has been growing at an average rate of 45% year on year. From an annual turnover of around ` 1 crore in 2010, they had a turnover of ` 6.5 crore in 2016-17. From a mere 3 employees in 2011 to 45 currently, the team has grown at a steady pace. Starting with barely 10 clients in the first 2 years, they have over 300 clients today – all of whom are well-known brands by themselves. Their trainer base across the country stands strong at 350.
“Our biggest vertical is soft skills and behaviour trainings. We also conduct team building and experiential activities for corporates. Over the last two years, we have diversified our range of products and services, foraying into e-learning, video and mobile based learning in a big way” – Ruchira Karnik
The WB Team
For any venture to see the kind of success, Work Better has seen in a short span of time requires the support of a stellar team. While Swapnil and Ruchira managed the business by themselves initially, the team they built subsequently has played a crucial role in the success of Work Better. “We are extremely selective about who we get on board at Work Better. As a joke, we often say that it’s less tough to get into Infosys than it is to get into Work Better. Our 45 odd people have been carefully curated by us and brought into the system. While we, of course, place great emphasis on the smartness, intelligence and skills that people bring to the table, we place an equally large focus on hiring nice people. We want to create an organization that people love coming to in the morning,” says Ruchira. She also mentions that she believes in hiring nice people as she considers it a great strategy because, nice people care more for their customers, teams and also the company as a whole. As a company that understands the gender disparity present in the nation otherwise, and who are keen on bringing about a change, Work Better has a 70% female workforce.
Expressing his gratitude Swapnil says, “I’m really grateful to the first few people who joined Work Better, while we still were working across a dining table in a run-down apartment in Mumbai – Richa Borkar, Pooja Kamat, Sona Bajaj and Neeraj Deshpande. Had they not reposed faith in us back then, Work Better would never have got to the place where we are now. I am also grateful to our COO, Sonali Chakraborty and National Sales Head, Gautam Gupta for the streamlining operations as the team grows at a very fast pace. We have been lucky with the people who have joined us.”
Advice to Entrepreneurs
As successful entrepreneurs themselves, their piece of advice for the future moguls is simple. They believe that an entrepreneur needs to keep learning and that is what helps them get better every time. “I find it strange that most entrepreneurs don’t read enough. They think it’s an intuitive process. One needs to read autobiographies and business books to learn how to build great businesses,” advices Swapnil. He also recommends two authors and their books for future entrepreneurs who are yet to transform their passion into their livelihood – Jim Collins’ Beyond Entrepreneurship and Good to Great, and books by management guru Peter Drucker.
According to Swapnil, entrepreneurship requires one to be obsessive about their work. Being obsessed with the mission of your organization is never a mistake. One needs to be thinking about growing it all the time.
In Ruchira’s opinion, the ability to handle failure and rejection is most important. She says, “As an entrepreneur, you need to become extremely resilient. Whether it is dealing with customers or your own people, failure and rejection is common. You will be facing it a lot of time.” Secondly, she finds that the skill to persuade is crucial for any business to succeed. “Whether it is your bankers, investors, customers, or even employees, it is an ability that you would require and will come to your help throughout your entrepreneurial journey.”
As visionaries, the key factor that attracted the duo towards entrepreneurship was the freedom to build on potential ideas. They left no stones unturned to achieve what they dreamt for. Work Better is the success story of two such people who believed in the potential of what they do and the change they intend to bring about.