If you happen to be a knowledge entrepreneur or know anyone who is one,we’d love to hear your stories.
Djagmo: Welcome to the Knowledge Entrepreneurs Show, where we celebrate the innovators driving change in the education industry at Edison os. We've worked with over 500 knowledge entrepreneurs to turn their EC ideas into profitable businesses. In today's episode, we have Aish . Aish Sheik has worked across domains such as construction, hospitality, and software.
Djagmo: This calling has always been making education accessible to kids in a very colorful, fun way. This is what led to the Birth of Learn with Comics. They're a social impact not-for-profit organization that educates children through comics, and they draw from the vast scope of imagination and visualization that the world of comics has to offer and use it to explain the hardest concepts that children encounter in school.
Djagmo: So first of all, thank you so much, uh, for choosing to, uh, come on this podcast as a guest, uh, taking time out. Um, so I was, uh, going through Learn with Comics and I did get a chance to go through the videos that you shared. And, uh, thank you for that because it has helped me, uh, put together. Quite a number of questions.
Djagmo: I'm so curious, uh, to know a lot of things about what you do, although it's seems pretty simple. Um, uh, you know, I'd like to understand the reasons behind some of the things that you do. Um, I thought, you know, this would be a great opportunity. But before we jump onto the questions, uh, ABI Sheik, um, you know, let me just, uh, tell you very briefly why this podcast, um, that might, you know, kind of help you align with the kind of content that we're trying to get out.
Djagmo: Um, so as the name says, you know, it's the Knowledge Entrepreneur Show. It's a very niche segment. We are looking at entrepreneurs who are in the knowledge space. Um, you know, uh, we being a company that catered to knowledge entrepreneurs, we thought we should probably be doing something like this. And we thought, you know, why not start with, uh, people who are using our platform and who are, you know, well and truly into it.
Djagmo: And, uh, this is, uh, we are hoping that whatever content that we generate by having a conversation is gonna add value to those people out there who are aspiring to do something in this space. There are a lot of people who are teaching now, are training now, but they might be working for some big academic, they might want to do some things different.
Djagmo: Uh, they might want to start things on their own and, uh, this could help them figure out whether they would be the right people to do that. Sometimes, uh, they would understand that probably this is not their cup of tea. That is also a value add, is how we see, uh, you know, because it's not all the things that are really nice, right?
Djagmo: There are ups and downs, especially in an entrepreneurial journey. So that's the, that's the idea. Uh, great. Uh, let me, uh, start off with my first question. My first question is a very open-ended question. It's a very common question. Um, it's gonna be a little personal, uh, because I think the first few minutes, um, if we kind of get to know the person that Aish is, that'll kind of help us get connected with the listeners.
Djagmo: Uh, okay, this is what Aish is and this is where he comes from. This is what he did, and it adds so much context to whatever you're doing right now. So, uh, Aish, if you can start off, uh, you know, talking about your, uh, journey, your growing period, your childhood, and then you know how everything converged and how you're here.
Djagmo: Uh, take as much as, uh, take as much time as you want to talk about this, because this is probably the most important part of the podcast.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Super first, I just wanna thank you guys for having me over. Uh, I think this is technically my first podcast. Podcast, I don't know. So I'm really excited to share my journey.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Uh, you know, uh, it's, it's very, uh, my life is kind of different, so I, I'm gonna keep it very brief, right? I don't wanna confuse the audience, uh, because I dunno if it's gonna be inspiring or discouraging, but yeah. So how entirely everything has started. I was born and raised in, uh, I was, uh, on book, uh, an average student.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Right. Uh, coming to think of it now, I, I am extremely intelligent. I was in school as well, but I had one very, very bad habit. I couldn't mug up lessons, I couldn't learn things by heart through my school life. It bothered me. I thought I was an idiot because people around me could mug up three pages and I could not even mug up five lines through.
Abhishek Ramanuja: And it was a trauma through my school life. Only after I finished that, then I went to, uh, college, I realized, oh my God, I didn't have to do that. You know, uh, that, that's how it began. So, uh, my school life as a back bencher, so, uh, somebody told me, you know, it's good that you're a back bencher. You'll strive to succeed in life.
Abhishek Ramanuja: If you're a front bencher, you think you've, you know, you've achieved everything and you don't wanna go further. You know, you're like, Hey, I top school. I top college. You know, the world is at my feet. So technically it's not school and college is not real life. So anyway, that's how my school kind of went off like that, uh, being very average.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Uh, college also, uh, I did hospitality and tourism management because that's what all the dumb kids do. So I followed suits, pretty much did that. I worked with a couple of big hotel groups, uh, for a couple of years. And it was just not for me. Though. I was really good at my job. It was very monotonous and, uh, um, I, I, I specialize in thinking like, there is no box.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So I don't wanna be confined to this is how you have to do, this is how you have to do. Uh, then I dabbled a little bit in, um, it for a bit. Uh, then I worked for a training company, uh, which was in aviation training. So after that, I moved into the education space, uh, by chance. So I was working for a company, uh, that was, uh, basically creating, uh, games for the, uh, Xbox and PS four or PS three at that time.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So that company also had a STEM education business. So my office, I was the director of business development for this company. I moved into marketing eventually because I had the gift of gap. So I thought, since that's what I have, might as well put that to good use. So then, uh, uh, the company, my office was in the first floor, third floor.
Abhishek Ramanuja: They had an entirely, uh, you know, a stem, uh, learning center. Uh, that was the first time I'm seeing, I was seeing robots up close. They had these really fancy Lego robots, and it completely fascinated me. You know, and I thought, you know, we used to have a lot of kids come there. I used to sit and interact with them saying, you know, I remember one parent saying, my son is a very average student, you know, he doesn't study that well, but he was really good with making robots.
Abhishek Ramanuja: And that kind of caught me thinking, you know, so I was that child, uh, back in the day, right? My parents didn't beat me down. They didn't kill my ego. I mean, all my confidence or whatever they said, you know, that is you be you. Maybe if I'd done engineering and done something else, I would've been in the US working right now.
Abhishek Ramanuja: But anyway, so that's what happened. Uh, so my entire life was an inspiration to me saying that, you know, um, I, I personally feel that I have been wronged to be very honest. You know, I wanted to change it right in all possible ways. So I started a company that started making, uh, robots. So we started setting up STEM labs in schools.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Uh, that was about 11 years ago, and it was very new, uh, 10, 10 years, I think it was very new. At that time. There were no robots in India, so very, very, very few companies that were doing it. And we had partnered with, uh, we, we, we were using Lego kits or very few companies doing it. So we started changing, saying, move out of the academic mindset and, you know, start skilling your students or let's start tapping right.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Over the last 70 years, we've never given our students the opportunity to do something like that, especially in South India. If you take South India, take, take any field. Even if you take cricketer, you'll have one ci, Christian one. You know, the was much later, right? We had nobody and we were always like study, study, study, study, study.
Abhishek Ramanuja: And even when I was doing, uh, working with hotels, it was always people from the north. Right. Never people from the south, because for us it is not considered anything different. We said engineering, charter, accountant, doctor engineering, charter accountant, doctor. So I said, you know, that is forcing a child, forcing kids into a mold, right?
Abhishek Ramanuja: That child eventually dies inside. At some point you just start accepting, you know, you, we, we find a lot of parents today saying, you know, or even children saying, uh, you know, I just, uh, you know, uh, you know, my parents wanted me to do that. Coming to think of it, this was a good decision, but actually I don't think it was, and I don't think it is.
Abhishek Ramanuja: You just tune yourself to do that. Maybe that child is a good doctor today, but he could have been a better pilot or he could have been an a swimmer, right? Uh, and I, I see a lot of those things where, uh, talent is just not identified. You know, encouraging is the second half. We as a system, as an Indian system, we fail to identify talent.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So if you go to other countries, by eighth grade, if a child is knowledgeable in science, they have specialty schools where their children can focus on science, right? So, right. We kind of fail to do that, uh, in our country. So all this was an inspiration for me to, you know, uh, just reinvigorate the classroom.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So how could we do that? Right? How can you make the classrooms colorful? So comics is something that I've read, uh, like I, I have a big stack behind me. So yeah, this is something that I've read all my life, you know, asterisks and olis. Uh, I started with those, of course, tink. I have read, uh, Archie Comics at a certain age.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Uh, pretty much anything with cartoons we've read as a, uh, child. We got, my dad used to get all those books for us, and I was always, I, I knew it when I grew, grew up. I thought, you know, why can't we have this? And our investor, Dr. Malani, uh, he had tweeted saying, I'm looking for somebody, uh, making comics. Uh, you know, I want somebody to use and make comics.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So it was a tweet. So it, it was during Covid, uh, the end of Covid, uh, I had shut down my company because all schools were shut and all our labs were shut. So I was pretty much, uh, unemployed. So I saw that tweet and said, okay, I'll do it. Because by the time I was making some comics at home, you know, just, you know, uh, made some political commentary or random stuff, I was just making comics.
Abhishek Ramanuja: And I thought, okay, serendipity, somebody wants it. So I just, uh, reached out to him, said I'll make comics. He called me and that was December, uh, December 1st, I think 2020. So by December 31st, we had our website up and the first comic going, so I'm just an amateur illustrator. I'm not a great artist. Okay.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So then we had to put together a team and it just began like that. So it's been almost two and a half years now. Uh, great. Two years and a few months. And we have around 3000 comics on our website. Uh, we have few languages, ta, English, uh, HIDI.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So it's been like a crazy journey in my life. So, uh, an average Indian parent wouldn't want anybody to, you know, any of their children to be like me.
Djagmo: Okay. Um,
Abhishek Ramanuja: but yeah, it's been, it's been a good Right. In a nutshell, this is what it is all about.
Djagmo: Got it, got it. Ache. Thank you for that. So, uh, you said, um, roughly about 10 years back, 2013, that's when you, uh, you know, encountered this, uh, robotics in the third floor of wherever you were working.
Djagmo: Right? First floor you were working, and then third floor, this happened. So, uh, when did you take, uh, decisive action since then towards this journey? Like, say, I, I, I think what happened out of that was STEM Labs, right? You got into STEM Labs, so
Abhishek Ramanuja: that was, so that company was not doing very well. So they wanted to shut it down.
Djagmo: So, okay. That company, the third floor that you saw, they wanted to shut it down.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Okay. Yeah. They had in, in about a year, they had only one school. It was not very popular. Uh, that time. People were not willing to pay, you know, they were asking for 300 rupees a month back then, which was a very princely sum.
Abhishek Ramanuja: People still don't pay that today. But, uh, they were not able to sell. So I, I asked them, okay. You know, uh, we had some financial transaction also with them. So I said, you know, can I do this? Can you gimme your kits? So they gave those kits. So I, I said, okay, this is something. Cause I played with Legos all my life, okay?
Abhishek Ramanuja: But I, we didn't have moving Legos back in the day. We just had normal Lego, so I was familiar with Lego and I know how excited I, I would be when, you know, I got a Lego kit. Usually it would be from, you know, parents traveling abroad or cousins or uncles or somebody sending it. It was not even available in India back then.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So then I thought, okay, this is something revolutionary. It was Lego education. Lego has an entire department for education. So I thought this is something really, really fascinating that our children should experience. And each of those robotic were 35, 40,000 rupees. Right? You can't afford it, right? It's, it's still 45,000 rupees today.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Nobody can afford it. So I thought, you know, if you give it a 300 rupees a month, you know, and uh, you know, if you're doing something like that, it would be amazing offering it, subsidizing it basically, you know, 300 rupees a month or something. So within three, four months we had started this. So I had no idea about schools, right?
Abhishek Ramanuja: So where will I go market? Who am I going to see? So I had a friend, uh, uh, who, who's a, a photographer, friend of a friend. So, uh, he used to go to schools and talk about the environment. Uh, he's a, a, some photographer. So he sent me a list of schools and numbers, right? And said, you know, uh, these are the list of school principles and their names and numbers.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Why don't you give it a shot? And he marked four or five names saying These are the toughest principles to crack.
Djagmo: Okay. You know, so
Abhishek Ramanuja: don't go to those schools last. So I said, okay. So I picked one of the first toughest schools. Cause if you're to convince a tough school, yeah, other schools are easy to convince.
Abhishek Ramanuja: But if fail school, you're not be. So I first school in that school, He said, come gimme a demo. So I took a robot, put it on his table. The robot, he had a huge table, so it was a, a line sensing robot so it could, if there is nothing under the robot, it would stop the sensor. So it moved to the end of his table, which was a seven foot table, seven feet white table.
Abhishek Ramanuja: It went from the point A to point B and stopped perfectly at point B. Right. And father, brother was absolutely stunned. He said, okay, I love this. Okay, you send me a letter, tell me how much you want. You put it on a letter and send it. Let me send it to the parrots and give me 10 days. We'll get back to you.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Okay. So I thought, okay. And it was, this was a school in Pritch. Okay. I'm from Chennai. I have never been to Ritchie in my life. So I thought, okay, you know, there's a first time for everything. I had a friend living there. I called her, said, can I come and stay over at your place if I get it? She said, yeah.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So I, I started that 10 days later. We got, uh, I got a call from Father. I thought, you know, even if I get 20 students and sort it, you know, let me dig in. So I got 375 enrollments and they're all paid. Wow. And I was like, wow, really? So, and father said, I'm not gonna pay you fully, so you come and meet me.
Abhishek Ramanuja: I'll, first I wanna see how you do. I said, don't pay me for the first month. And, uh, you know, we'll just start the classes. So for that we need an engineer and train him. So we found an engineer, trained him for a month on how to use it. He, he was an amazing engineer who runs a very, very successful company today.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Mm-hmm. So he was the first guy we hired, and that's how the journey began. So then over the last till Covid, we were running that very successfully. After that, it didn't make sense. Uh, because people have moved digital, they don't want anything physical. It's just picking up. Physical classes are just picking up right now after many, many, many years.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So we started with that. Then comics came through. Then over the last year we've been mixing electronics and comics. So most of my team are engineers. Uh, got it. My co-founder is an embedded engineer. So what we thought, we'd reach electronics to kids using comics, so that's more familiar. Electronics can be dry, the end product is super right, uh, sensor and all that is absolutely fascinating.
Abhishek Ramanuja: But if you don't have an interest, it, it won't be fun. So now we mix that too. So that's, uh, picking up pretty decently. So that's the second half, second significant half of my life and career.
Djagmo: Got it. Abi. So I'm just gonna like, touch upon one last time on the. First project that you started, right? With the robots.
Djagmo: So you went to the school, you, so what exactly did you offer for that 300 rupees per month? So you had one, uh, device, right? One set the physical set. And you would use that to address a bunch of, uh, kids there in the school?
Abhishek Ramanuja: No, we had 10 kids.
Djagmo: 10 kids, okay. Okay.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Kids. So each kid could fit in around four or five children.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Technically three uhhuh. But in India you can put in four. Cause entirely new.
Djagmo: Right? Got it. Uh, each of this kid was costing 30 40 K. Yeah,
Abhishek Ramanuja: 45 K Even today. Back, back then also it was thirty five forty k. So they call the Lego EV trees. They're amazing. They're absolutely amazing. Okay. So that we started out and we got, uh, 9, 2 5, 1 Saturdays.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Ah, so we used to one hour classes for different batches. Okay, so with 10 kids, 30, we could do in a batch. So we would have around, uh, six, seven batches. Some would have on Sunday, some opted for Sunday, some opted for Saturday. So it was post-school activity. Okay. So from then we thought, you know, why can't we give us schools, give us a space, you know, where we can set up a small lab, you know, where children can learn different things and all that, right?
Abhishek Ramanuja: That also worked. That was pretty good. But then, um, uh, business from a business standpoint, that was not very, uh, scalable and from a school standpoint, they could not allot time, right? Technically, 45 minutes for anything is very less by the time they assemble, by the time they organize themselves. So 15 minutes is gone, so you have 30 minutes, right?
Abhishek Ramanuja: And there is no continuity. And, uh, schools don't pay so much importance to anything other than academics extra. That's why India is like this. So you fail in academics, your life is done. Right? Yeah. So in any other country, there'll be a, he become a mechanic, or he'll do something. In India, you can't do anything.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Your life is done. You'll be picking garbage. Or if you're extremely lucky, you'll become a zero outliers. Yeah. So schools don't want to devote time, you know, I'm saying from two to three in the afternoon. Why don't you give us a brainstorming session? Yeah. Right. Let, let's figure out. Yeah. And schools will be like, you know, give instructions to the kids.
Abhishek Ramanuja: I said, I don't wanna give instructions to the kids. That's what you do. Right? That's not my job. I want them to think. Right. There's this entire, uh, thing about critical thinking, creative thinking and all that, which is absolutely abuse. We do not give children time to think critically or think creatively.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Right. Right. You know, you can't even put the label in a different place in a notebook. You have to put it in the top right corner. You cannot put different book cover, you have to put bra. Right. So, right. That that won't happen. So we tried that. Some schools were open. See any school, which is new, two years in operation, they will take all the ideas, they will encourage you, they'll do everything.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So once they touch 600 students, they fall back into the mold. They won't try anything new. I mean, there are other factors also, which I don't wanna talk about, but predominantly it's this, we are not open-minded as a society. Now parents are changing. Like people my age, I'm 39, so people my age are kind of changing.
Abhishek Ramanuja: You know, they don't want their children to go through. The same grind. They're open to things, you know, they're saying, let my child just pass. It's okay. Passing is just for the child's confidence level. Yeah. So you just pass, they're open. You know, like I have a niece who's like 13. She learns ci um, with the stick.
Abhishek Ramanuja: She learns, she does swimming, she plays basketball, so everything, so, right. Because my cousin's sister is broad minded, right? She's okay. She understands children. So parents are opening up nowadays. So I, I take, I draw a lot of inspiration from her where you should not, you know, force your children to do something.
Abhishek Ramanuja: But of course, in in general middle class families where they run on emmis, their child is the ticket outta misery. So they do all that. So that's what I'm trying to break. Even with comics, we've not met great success. Okay. It's just average. We are, uh, our investors continuously supporting, has been supporting us.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Right? He's saying, you know, give it a shot. Give it a shot, okay. Till you fail, till you think, you know, the idea is not a fail. Right? Right. But we still finds so much of pushback from, um, uh, you know, schools and institutions. In fact, we won an award, uh, called India Bioscience Grant for co, for outreach for genetics.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Uh, uh, couple of scientists from the Bernards Hindu University. Uh, they're doing an outreach program where they teach genetics. So we partnered and applied for a grant as a trust, as a non-profit organization. We applied and we wanna grant Yeah. Uh, to teach, uh, uh, genetics through comics. So academia believes that comics are a great way to, you know, uh, if I can teachs a university in a big organization, Think comics will work, but at a school level we believe it won't work.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Right. And these scientists are extremely intelligent ex, you know, uh, academically very successful scientists, but they believe that comics will work because they've been through the grind. Right. But we find a lot of resistance from resistance. Yes. Lot. A lot. Right. They don't want anything other than academics.
Abhishek Ramanuja: If I make comics 10 standard question paper into comics, they might take it, but they don't want anything. The word fun should be absolutely eradicated. Got it. That, that, that's journey so far. And we are doing it still.
Djagmo: No, I'm sure uh, you know, even when you started off with your robotics lesson, I'm sure you know, whatever you managed to do so far, a lot of kids must have seen the spark and you might have actually inspired a lot of them to take up something on those lines.
Djagmo: Now what it's been like, uh, seven, eight years. So you might, uh, you know, if you go back you might find them doing some great stuff. So I think you can definitely take credit for that. And even the resistance that you're facing right now, I think that is something that is to be expected when you start something outta the ordinary, right?
Djagmo: As a first person to start something like that. I think, um, uh, when we go 50 years ahead, you would probably be that person who started it and then, you know, that is when they would probably realize, okay, this was done. Absolutely. Cause uh, you might be, um, you. A little ahead of your times and you know, somebody has to be ahead of the times for something to get normalized later, so I can totally, you know, relate to whatever you're saying and, um, I'd like to appreciate that, you know, you're facing the resistance and you're still going at it.
Djagmo: Amazing. Um, because, uh, I had a, I'd like to bring this point, uh, it's a little off the topic, but still I think it deserves a mention at least. I had a podcast, um, uh, with a person named Balo. He's from, uh, Calcutta. And, uh, he's a professional golfer. He was a professional golfer. He still, uh, he runs a golf academy and, um, he runs something called a Champ for Life.
Djagmo: Uh, champ for Life is. Especially for people, students who want to focus more on sport, but you know, the fear that comes with sport, right? Um, you, everybody is not gonna be able to make it big. It's a game of probability, right? Somebody is not, somebody's gonna lose out. But what is a backup for them? So this cha for life addresses their academic aspect of, uh, things.
Djagmo: So even if they lose out, what he's done, he's taken out content from national, uh, open university, and then he's condensed at ns. He's condensed it to a certain extent where those students can just spend one hour a day. They don't have to worry about getting their degrees. They'll pass. They can focus eight hours on the sport that they're doing.
Djagmo: So, you know, when you were talking about all these things, there are a lot of people, you know, who are doing things with the same intention, where, you know, academics kind of can take a little bit of a backseat and kind open children up to, you know, find their true potential. So you just reminded me of true, very inspiring story.
Djagmo: Yeah. You should definitely check out and probably at some point, you know, we'll get all these people together, uh, and Sure. Make a community of sorts, you know, um, and comics can probably be used in his method, right? Uh, you know, where he could offer whatever content he's offering in the form of a comic.
Djagmo: Right. Uh, because I'm sure it's so boring to sit in a class as it is. Uh, maths and science and history is boring. If you can add some colors to it and have some fun to it, that could probably attract students to come and sit in the class and at least pay some, uh, attention. So, great stuff that you're doing, obviously.
Djagmo: Thank you. Um,
Abhishek Ramanuja: I just wanted to clarify. You said science is boring. Science isn't boring. That's exactly the problem, because we've had really bad teachers. Really bad teachers. Right. You have not seen one experiment in the classroom. You had textbooks. Yeah. You cannot chat in a blackboard. I'm very sorry to say, our science teachers were absolutely unenthusiastic.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Zero enthusiasm for science. They just came, delivered, left, came, delivered, left. You'll literally find a handful of my father who passed outta school in 1964 something, had an amazing science teacher. His my, my oldest cousin was my dad's teacher's student also. So he says, she says, you know, he makes that class so awesome.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Right, right. She used to go to, with that teacher, So 40, 50 years down the line, that man still had passion. So right now we don't have it. And that's another reason why we make comics to make science, you know, as beautiful as science is. Showcase it that way. Yeah. Putting it in black and white science is gonna be boring.
Abhishek Ramanuja: You'll fall asleep.
Djagmo: that's what I meant the way it was presented to us. Probably, you know, an interesting topic, really bad. Uh, yeah. So, yeah. Great stuff. And um, so before we begin, right, before we dive, uh, sorry, deep dive into learn with comics. Could you, you know, very, uh, shortly, uh, tell what is learned with, uh, comics all about?
Abhishek Ramanuja: So basically we, you know, comics, we want it to be used as a teaching tool in the classroom. You know, basically engage students, you know, support their learning. There are different kinds of, uh, learners, right? Some people are, you know, uh, auditory learners. Yeah. Some people are so different types. So our humble request to the teachers or everybody in the education field is try out different methods, right?
Abhishek Ramanuja: Right, right. Uh, child, somebody can see an image and you know, write something. Somebody can read and write something, right? So this address is everything. And the other thing also is comics can also improve reading, right? Like we learn English, right? Just because you go to an English medium school doesn't mean you can speak fluent English, right?
Abhishek Ramanuja: So that comes with interaction. English fluency comes with interaction. So you might have the best teachers, best books if you're going home and speaking in your native tongue, which is not wrong, but you cannot improve English. You have excellent native tongue experience, but not in English, but comics in a sense, they help with conversation ish and Mohan speaking, how are you, what are you doing?
Abhishek Ramanuja: So he knows all this is how I communicate. So that helps with communication as well. And we try to, you know, we put ourselves in the student's shoes when we are writing. Right? Right. So when we are making a comic, we'll be like, you know, I don't understand how balancing the equation works. Mm-hmm. So we give a real life example in, in a comic saying that this is what, this is what it is.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Assume you go to the market, this is what you do. Right. So a child will understand the, we connected to real world experiences where it's more relatable for the child to understand a concept, which can happen with comics. And with comics you can, uh, in, in my thing is you can get 30, 40 marks to pass. Right.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Basically going through a comic. Right. What do teachers do in class? They tell you these are the important questions, right? Then, so how is that academically challenging? Yeah, and comics also can be used as an assessment tool. Imagine you can just draw stick figures. Okay? Anybody can draw a stick figure.
Abhishek Ramanuja: The worst artist in the world can draw a stick figure. So I tell a child, make a comic using stick figures and tell me what you understood about a certain topic, okay? Mm-hmm. If you have to make a comic, even using stick figures, if you don't know the subject, you cannot make it right, right? Whereas you can pass a test with hundred marks without having zero knowledge about this subject.
Abhishek Ramanuja: You can merely learn a formula. They learn math. You know, math sums are mugged up. Step by step 14 steps. If you ask this question, they mug up 14 steps, right? Because even if you attend half, you'll get half mark or certain mark. So that is what we do. Nobody will address it. So we wanted to break all the right.
Abhishek Ramanuja: We don't want the next generation of children who are created as bots, you know, to work. Right? Right. So we want them to think independently. Thinking independently does not mean reveling. Right. Thinking that every brain has a job. Right. Let the brain do its job. Yes. As a parent or a teacher, you can guide them.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Right? Let's not cage our children's brains and say, you know, this is what, because I know I've seen people who have failed. I t who failed to clear je still la about it 20 years later saying I couldn't make it to i t like your son is 19 years old. Stop, you know, so that can, it leaves a trauma. It leaves a big scar on parents that they couldn't make it, you know, they, you're living your life through your child, you know?
Abhishek Ramanuja: Got it. See, I, I had, I, I have a kid and I keep telling him, you know, uh, you play, he plays basketball. He do, he goes swimming, he plays football. So I'm not sure if he's good at it or I'm not sure. He is into singing, piano, everything and everything out of his own interest, right? So if he does anything for two months, I say, okay, go for a class.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Right? So he does everything. And I know maybe he'll drop everything, maybe he'll drop one. But I have to give them the chance to explore. Right. Right. So that I, I mean, I'm just thinking that parents should do it as well in India. It's gonna take a long time, but some parents are encouraging it, but we want more people to come out, uh, you know, so, you know, the comics can help.
Abhishek Ramanuja: We make comics on every topic. We make comics on almost every topic. Financial literacy you want, we have, you want a genetics, we have, you want an entrepreneurship? We have chemistry, physics, math, whatever you want, you know? Got it. You know, encourage your children to read a comment. There's nothing wrong today.
Abhishek Ramanuja: People don't read comics. It's gone if children don't read at all. So we are trying to get back that habit first. You know, only if they're reading, they're gonna read comics. They're not even reading. Right. You know, school, library, nothing. NEP and all has a lot of things. But who has time for a library period in taken by another teacher for some class PT classes taken by another teacher, mostly.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Like towards the end of the academic year, it's gone. Right? So we are trying to, you know, break that mold saying, you know, think differently, start with comics. So that's the whole, it's trying to change the whole ecosystem actually.
Djagmo: Got it. Great. So, uh, am I right? Please correct me if I'm wrong, learn with, uh, comics is a not-for-profit.
Djagmo: Yes. It's not for, uh, okay. I'd like to start off my, uh, question from here because, um, I'll tell you why. Also anybody that I've spoken to so far, right? I mean, they're all knowledge entrepreneurs, no doubt they're working in the education space, but, um, as noble a cause might be money and monetary benefits are also equally important.
Djagmo: And I'm asking you this out. How does a not not-for-profit company work? You know? Yes, I know what you're doing, but, um, you know, the team that is working, that is responsible for this company also have their lives. Right? So how does it all work?
Abhishek Ramanuja: So if I take, we have a team of, uh, 10 or 14 full-time part-time employees, uh, they all get paid, you know, um, as much as industry standards, maybe 10, 15% less.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Okay. And, uh, but these are people, uh, who have some mission in their life, okay? Right. These people have been wronged. The education system is wrong. Life has wrong then, right? Mm-hmm. These people want to make a difference to society, right? Right. So, my co-founder is an embedded engineer. Okay. I dragged her three or four people who make our comics are engineers.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Okay. Who work in IT firms. And they're like, you know, this is not my cup of tea. This is not what we want to do. Right. And these people go to schools also and take classes, uh, with comics. Right. They want to give back to society and we don't hold anybody back. Right? Like illustrators and all that. They work for us.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So our team, there's a lot of churn, right? Right. They come in, they put one year, they go out. We encourage them to do it because, uh, lot of these people are in, in a very burnout stage these days. Like post covid, they're all in a very burnout stage. So these kind of people come and volunteer with us, predominantly voluntary driven.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So, uh, maybe 40% of the team is volunteer driven, but we still pay them. A lot of people think nonprofit method. We work on a loss. Not really. Uh, when you say nonprofit, our aim is not to make a profit, but we
Abhishek Ramanuja: salary. So if I, whatever I take in the industry, I take probably 10% of that, right?
Djagmo: Oh my God. Ok. Is what
Abhishek Ramanuja: you're talking about, I beg pardon?
Djagmo: 10% of the industry standards is what you said? Not 10% less than the industry standards.
Abhishek Ramanuja: 10% is what I take. It's absolutely, yeah. Pretty much nothing. Minimum, yes, bare minimum to survive, to pay my bills.
Abhishek Ramanuja: That's about it. Okay. But we are going to leave an impact. We are going to change the way education is in the country. Somebody has to make some sacrifices, right? So I'm not, uh, thinking of myself as a freedom fighter, but I'm just thinking, you know, I want to do it. I'm very passionate about this. So I might restart my, you know, robotics thing in the future.
Abhishek Ramanuja: But for now, we are focused on making comics and trying to reach them. Right? So we want to reach it across the country. So it is like that, uh, uh, there is no money. We have an investor who's been funding us for two years. This year we launched something called the Comic library Program. Mm-hmm. Which is, uh, a paid version.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So we charge around 300, 400 Rues a year. Okay. Right. So basically the idea is, uh, we give you around, uh, four comics a month, just like a school library. It works exactly like a school library, but a digital version of it. Great. Right. So, uh, today there's no, uh, inventory, uh, you know, there's no place, you know, you buy, right?
Abhishek Ramanuja: Right. Uh, 50 books. I keep the 50 books, right? And the second thing parents are concerned about is screen time. That also we put something called high impact learning, low screen time. So all our comments are only 10, 15 minutes maximum, 10 minute, 15 minute read. So we don't want the child to read much, you know, be online for too long, digital exposure.
Abhishek Ramanuja: But a child, uh, is watching a smart screen in school for nine hours, right? But, uh, I don't know what they're doing to cut that. But from my side, I want to be a response. Whatever I would give my child is what I would, uh, you know, preach to anybody. I'm not gonna say no digital. That's not gonna happen.
Abhishek Ramanuja: These are digital children, you know, these days. You can say you can take them back to the stone Age, but this is digital era. Yeah. 10 years down line, they're gonna be start, they're gonna start writing on tabs, you know? Right, right. That's how it's gonna be. So I cannot stop them from being digital, but I can, you know, kind of, uh, screen time, which I'm doing, 15 minutes of reading is good enough.
Abhishek Ramanuja: A day, 15 minutes of digital reading is absolutely good enough. And we make short stories. So we started selling that from this year. So we've had a few schools sign up for that, you know, reading program. But again, they're also resistance is we are an English school. We are an English medium school. Uh, people take it to their heart saying, are you giving us, telling us our children can read?
Abhishek Ramanuja: Does it mean that, uh, we are a bad school? So, you know, that's how it is. So, but we are doing that this year to generate some revenue. Uh, but yeah, but we don't, we, we don't underpay, uh, we just, only the founders. We take less salary. For a few years. Uh, you know, uh, but our team is very happy. Uh, they work a lot, you know, uh, outta their own volition, even if we are not there, you know, I, I was down with Covid twice.
Abhishek Ramanuja: They still take over. They still do a good job. And all these are young people, 21, 22, 23, absolutely passionate. They want, they're saying, sir, this is not what I read. I read this. You know, the things that they went through in school, they don't want other children to go through. So they bring about the change.
Abhishek Ramanuja: That is very recent change. I went to school 20 years ago, right? They went to school four years ago. So they really, they know the reality. And we are also happy to accept. We need to learn, right? I can't say I know everything, so that's how it works. Uh, but yes, uh, money in a nonprofit will be less. You need a lot of passionate, uh, people to run it.
Djagmo: But, uh, may I ask, um, can't this be done, uh, by a for-profit methodology? And why not for-profit?
Abhishek Ramanuja: The entire thing can abs,
Abhishek Ramanuja: it can be done, it can absolutely be done for profit. So once you Okay. Can be done onto anything. When you go on anything for profit, you wanna go back. So we are also trying something like that. But you need a mission, right? You need to be absolutely, the moment you see money, you're not gonna go back to school and study the same thing here too.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So we want to prove ourselves as a nonprofit set, you know, put away a certain amount of money that the organization can run and then do something else. Greatly. So that's what we're trying.
Djagmo: Okay, got it. Another question on the same lines. Right, uh, now, um, okay. Honestly, this is the first time, uh, I'm kind of coming to know.
Djagmo: I've heard of Dr. Malani a lot of times. You know, I've seen his posts on LinkedIn and Twitter and all those things. And, uh, investors we usually know that, you know, they're in for the business, they're in for the money. Uh, now, I mean, uh, how is it working for him, uh, investing in a not-for-profit? So is he just, you know, allocating a certain amount of his funds just for the, you know, good causes and stuff like that?
Djagmo: Is that the norm as well? Yeah.
Abhishek Ramanuja: I mean, Dr. Marani supports a lot of initiatives. Okay. He's currently working, another one called Setting Up Small Community Learning Centers. Okay? So he funds it out of his own pocket, uh, everything, uh, from whatever he earns every year, he puts away a certain amount towards okay.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Social empowerment. Uh, ideally, mostly he focuses on education. Okay? So he runs a few, uh, I think four or five other than us. He funds quite a few ventures, okay? Uh, and he's been absolutely encouraging without his support, and we also learn a lot from him, right? So, right with him. It's not like I'm an investor, you do what I tell you.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Okay? It's always back and forth, you know, you give an idea. He will say, prove it to me. So we go back, you know, it's, it's like a two-way street. So thankfully he's allowed us to explore. In fact, sometimes when we kind of stagnate, right? Mm-hmm. He's, he'll be like, why aren't you experimenting? I'm like, no, I actually have a flow.
Abhishek Ramanuja: I'm happy. He's like, come on, you need to experiment. That's the whole idea, you know? You don't become the person that you know that you are opposing sometime back. So we have a very healthy relationship and, uh, I mean that's how we've been able to go so far.
Djagmo: Got it, got it. A appreciate. And, uh, you know, I was watching one of your, uh, videos and, uh, you said that your goal is to reach, uh, 40,000, uh, comics, I think, uh, in a certain number of years.
Djagmo: And you also mentioned that right now we've got about 3000 comics, um, 3,500, I
Abhishek Ramanuja: think approximately
Djagmo: 3,500 comics. Okay, great. And, uh, so how do you prioritize the kind of content that you're creating? So do you first focus on maths physics, or you know, is it an equal distribution? What are the topics that you cover?
Djagmo: How do you prioritize each of the topics?
Abhishek Ramanuja: Okay, so that is very challenging. In fact, we just put out a tweet on our learnings today. So that was very tough. We started making three topics a day. First we thought, we'll go deep. Then we thought, you know, uh, we'll go wide. Mm-hmm. So then we thought we'll do multiple languages.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So it was chaos. The first four, five months was chaos. So we thought we do six standard, ideally this subject by subject, chapter by chapter, you know, unit, whatever. That's how you have to go. But,
Djagmo: so, uh, which, uh, so which grade you start off from first grade, now we have one to 10.
Abhishek Ramanuja: One to 10. Okay. So imagine you start from six standard.
Abhishek Ramanuja: You have to do seven uh, subjects or eight subjects. Each subject will have about 15 chapters. Imagine I'm doing only six standard. So I become a website with six standard comics. Hmm. Right. So I can't do that. So I have to do six standard ones, seven standard, one each standard. So, how far up am I going to go?
Abhishek Ramanuja: Am I gonna do 10 standard? Can I do 10 standard? Because 10 standard is bold. Will people take comics seriously? So that was it, but we had to do it anyway. So then we said, okay, let's try doing it in thumb, or let's try doing it in tele or English. So we did all that. So I, I remember a very old, uh, Taal joke.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So, uh, from a movie where the guy says, you know, we used to petrol in the car, we used to ke in the car. No, the doesn't know whether it's running on Petro or Kes money joke. But yeah, that's what I, the first four months was like that. So we were like, we didn't know what's happening, right? So we were doing everything.
Abhishek Ramanuja: We were doing everything. We were literally all over the place. And one day we sat down and said, listen, we need to stop. What are. So let's focus, let's have smaller actionable goals, right? Weekly. So let's put, say we'll cover these chapters in six standard. These chapters in seventh, these and eighth. Hmm.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So we started working, prioritizing what will go, whatever we create that week has to go out that week because comic making is not just comic making. Sorry, boarding is there. Yeah. After that you have to do the, uh, the script is there. Then after the comic is done, editing has to be done with the text. So all that is there.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Then the backend is there. Uh, we'll have to upload it on the site. Then the database gets involved. Where are you gonna store it? Where are we gonna put it? It's a lot of work, right? So from point a day, it's completed. It takes about eight to 10 days for the comic to come out. Okay? And we are also, we didn't have too many editors, right?
Abhishek Ramanuja: So how can an editor edit, uh, 30 comics a week? They can't do that. So our speed reduced. So we didn't know what to do. So when will we achieve it would take us two years to finish all that. It took us about a year, but it would, you know, so we start prioritizing. So it is you, there's, there's no standard, no how to make a comic.
Abhishek Ramanuja: We are the first company in India making comics for education in the entire country. So there is no, we are the pioneers and we should only set a standard. And we don't, we didn't know what to do cause we are also new. So it was a very challenging phase. But now after like five, six, its on the website. We finally partially arrived and, you know, we have miles to go, I think, uh, from here cause it's like, it's, it's a lot of work.
Abhishek Ramanuja: You need to prioritize what you're going do, how you're going to do, who's going to do it. Small, actionable goals. These are the key things that you need to remember, just like any other business. So now you have a roadmap. We have a roadmap. Basically, ours is only pri uh, primary preschool two 12. So we have till 10.
Abhishek Ramanuja: We are sorted. So now we are focusing on marketing the product. It's free. So we want more users to u read it, more users to see it, right? So that, that also was a confusion issue. Should we target the teacher? Should we target the student? Should we target the parent? Right? So if it goes to the teacher, they shoot it down immediately.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Most of them. Some are very, very encouraging. Uh, we've met some wonderful teachers who've encouraged us, who's who've contributed to our comics, who've spoken about what we do. So there are people who still shoot it down. Then parents do. Parents think it's a waste of time. You know, saying don't read comics, then the child, no child will go say, oh, I want to read physics today.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Nobody's gonna do that. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So then that, another few months went in figuring out who is going to be a target, because all this is entirely new, right? There was no rule, there was nothing there, we could refer back. That's where experience of Dr. Malani counted, you know, he would say, don't be dejected.
Abhishek Ramanuja: That's how it happens. Move on. Hmm. So finally we've arrived saying that it's gonna be for teachers and students making the classroom more interactive with comics. So we are working with stuff like that right now. Uh, we have worksheets for children, interactive videos for, uh, uh, you know, uh, children. So now we are coming up with, uh, basic content for teachers, how they can deliver, where a pre, pre classroom study.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So when you sit in a physics class, you'll have a comic a day before. So when the child comes to class, you'll have a fair idea about. What the, uh, entire class is all about. You know, classroom becomes a brainstorming session. It's not that one way graphic, so it becomes two way. So that's what we are working on.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So hopefully by June we should have that book.
Djagmo: This is amazing. So you now have, uh, from grade one to grade 10, what subjects? Everything.
Abhishek Ramanuja: All subjects except, uh, math in a few grades that we are working on because there are no math comics and, um, math is kind of, uh, it's not easy to make a comic on math.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Okay. Especially with the Indian curriculum. We've not found it, uh, very easy to make, uh, math, but we are trying to break it down, you know, simple concepts of algebra and all that. Um, in India, children dunno how to read work problems. You give them numbers, they'll do it. Yes. You give them what problems.
Abhishek Ramanuja: They can't. They can't. So I have to bring in that word problem then break it down. So except math, we have everything. Lower classes, we have math as well.
Djagmo: Got it. Ish. And, uh, what, uh, curriculum do you follow
Abhishek Ramanuja: N C E R T for now. Okay. Predominantly, and we are also working some comics we haven't. Okay. So that then we are working most of the, if you take any state, it's all tweaked.
Abhishek Ramanuja: N CT predominantly. Fully NT State Board is also n C curriculum. Right. Got it. So predominant. So we stick to that, make small changes for states like kado, uh, uh, where, you know, contract is a little different. They have their own state syllabus. Yeah. Some states syllabus are different. KADO has their own, uh, they're coming up with their own state education policy, so, We are trying to make comments for that as well.
Djagmo: Okay, got it. In reason. So, uh, when you say N C R T, you just follow this, uh, N C R D textbook and page by page, you kind of convert that. Is it into a
Abhishek Ramanuja: Correct. So if a textbook is 30 pages, a comic would be around maybe 15 to 18 pages. 15 to 18. We'll, topic next. All by chapter by chapter for you. So we create a situation.
Abhishek Ramanuja: We don't say this is a battery, this is the positive, this is the negative. So it's about power goes off in a house, child brings a torch, the battery is . So the mother tells, you know, this is the positive. So the battery has to go this side. Right? This is the positive part of the battery when it touches it'll, so we have to make a storyline according to that.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So we've also submitted our comics to N C R T to see if they could add it in their N C T. They have AHA app. So we've submitted the comic around, uh, 1.5 years ago. So we are waiting for them to get back. They get a lot of contribution from across the country. So we're waiting for NCR RT to get back. So more students, because the government has, uh, launched comics recently.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Oh wow, okay. They launched last year in June. Okay. Uh, but it's still not popular. So we have pitched know we want make for you. So that comes, it can be a big breakthrough
Djagmo: for us.
Djagmo: Uh, good luck on all the best for that. I hope you get it. Thank you. Um, so now, uh, from, you've got about 3,500 books. You've got a goal in terms of the products that you want to create. You wanna reach 40,000, that's fine. Um, what about, do you have a goal in terms of this is the number of students that you want to reach?
Abhishek Ramanuja: So mine would be the entire nation, right? Every child in the country through either the state government or the central government. See, we are not, we are not trying to replace a textbook, but we're, uh, we're like paramilitary forces. We just wanna assist, uh, the main, once we wanna make a, make a classroom a friendly place, we don't want have a toxic C So our aim is definitely the entire country.
Abhishek Ramanuja: You know, we start by village, by village District state focused. But since I'm, we are, uh, our investors based outta Mumbai. Uh, my team is spread across India. I'm, I work at, so for me, be Ka because it's closer. So I wanna focus on the south, then move. Okay. Uh, upwards. So, got it. We want next few years, at least, uh, in the next, uh, 24 months, we want to be present in a significant number of schools in Taul Naru.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So we've, uh, done, done a lot of workshops in schools in Taul, Naru. So we've had a very positive response from the teachers and the students as well. Very shocking. Also, we've been to Tutu and all that. We went with, uh, Taul, medium Books, UHT Comics. So the teacher said it's a government school in some rural place, intu.
Abhishek Ramanuja: They said, we don't want TA books, we want English books. And we were completely caught off guard because we didn't have anything English. So then lesson for me, don't underestimate anybody. Mm-hmm. So that girl spoke better English than most of the schools I know here. Uh, she spoke fluent English. She said, sir, can I read your comic?
Abhishek Ramanuja: I won't say it in front of the entire class. I said, absolutely. So they had a smart screen in the school, so she reade the entire comic and she even summarized the entire comic in English. Wow. Okay. So, uh, so yeah, so Kadu, uh, maybe we'll reach the government soon and, uh, you know, have first in the next 24 months, at least a significant number of schools in Kadu, we want be present.
Djagmo: Got it. And so when you say, you know, you reach out to these schools in the remotest of places, do you take the printed version of the book or is it still the soft copy? We,
Abhishek Ramanuja: we take, uh, some printed versions as well. So we take like 10, 20 copies so that they can put in the library, the school has one of children wanna take it home.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Not every place has digital access.
Djagmo: Right, right. Exactly Why I asked because you said you're only going digital. Right?
Abhishek Ramanuja: Almost has, uh, computers and 75% of the schools. Okay. Uh, but the internet connection is not there, but the government again is working on it in ka. Okay. So most of the schools you see are, uh, uh, they have internet, they have easily around 90 10 computers, smart boats and all that.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So we are reaching out to both type of schools. Ones with, uh, smart boats and ones without as well.
Djagmo: Got it. Appreciate. And, uh, what is your mode of operation as far as go-to-market is concerned?
Abhishek Ramanuja: See that is, uh, a continuous, ongoing process, right? Right. If we had cracked it at the next summer, So we are still, still trying to, you know, address that if it's not, uh, I mean, for a new product it's always difficult, so we try every single thing.
Abhishek Ramanuja: We don't do a lot of paid marketing, uh Right. We don't do, we are mostly looking at partnerships with NGOs. Okay. Uh, partnership with the LMS companies. Okay. Such as Edison, uh, saying, you know, why don't you put it free? There are a lot of, uh, LMS companies across India. So we integrate our content with them.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So that is one of the easiest ways to go, uh, through partnerships. Uh, then we also go to schools directly, uh, meet them. Of course, that is not a very viable, scalable objective, uh, to go to every single school. So we try to reach, uh, s c school has a cluster everywhere. Okay. Every state has a cluster, so we try and approach them.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Saying, you know, try it out and all that. So predominantly we have focused only on partnerships. Got it. Competitions and stuff like that. That, cause that's the easy way to scale to a certain level. And from then we can take off Cause we don't have marketing spends. Right. It's very minimal. Our marketing, uh, spends.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So we are just planning the strategy right now. So hopefully that that will, uh, tick.
Djagmo: And whatever you're offering these schools, when you're going, it's all free, right? You're not charging them anything? No. It's all free. Okay. Despite being free, there is resistance.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Absolutely. That is also a big disadvantage.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Nobody respects anything that is free respects anything
Djagmo: that's free, right? Yeah. Right. Yeah. I
Abhishek Ramanuja: charge 10 rupees for that they
Djagmo: would buy. Okay. And, uh, have you started, uh, marketing, but if you give it the free thing, it's free. Uh, the library stuff that you are talking about, the yearly 300, 400 rupees. Yeah.
Abhishek Ramanuja: You pay, that's why we thought, you know, 300 rupe a is nothing, nothing cheap than a parking. Yeah. So we thought, okay, we should put a price because our guys are working really hard. Our artists, our content creators, editors, you know, these are all, uh, like our editor is very highly qualified. You know, she runs, she's an entrepreneur, right?
Abhishek Ramanuja: She, she does this out of passion, right? So she doesn't need this, but she's doing it because she loves it. She loves the concept and she really wants to change it. So they, all they seek is a little bit of, uh, validation, not even appreciation. They don't want to be praised. They just believe that's a great idea and it should work.
Abhishek Ramanuja: And as a team, we all believe it's, we are working towards that, right? So, uh, we just look for encouragement, not even, uh, appreciation. So I think for that we need to put a small fee so people, uh, right, appreciate the work that we're, uh, doing or rather increase the work that we're doing.
Djagmo: Got it. Ishish. And, uh, you said, you know, uh, you've based this whole, uh, creation based on the hills concept, right?
Djagmo: High impact learning and then low screen time. Uh, so can you like elaborate a little bit more on that? Like, did you have to do some special, uh, methodology? Did you have to adopt some special methodology to get there, or was it just a thought process?
Abhishek Ramanuja: So, uh, it began as a thought process. Okay. Uh, then we spoke to some, uh, Ophthalmologists and then we spoke to some, um, child educators, people in early ed, early space, early education space.
Abhishek Ramanuja: You know, we asked them because post covid, it was a huge challenge. Everybody was scared to give anything digital to their children. Huh? Right. They were all exposed to a lot of, uh, digital stuff, right. During Covid. Right. So we were all very scared. So even I was scared personally. So I went up, we spoke to all these experts, you know, asked them, you know, what is the ideal time?
Abhishek Ramanuja: You know, what is the screen time? Then we spoke to parents as well. Right. We spoke to a lot of parents saying, how much screen time do you give your child a week? You know? Right. 10 minutes, 20 minutes. They said, you know, average, you know, 15 minutes, there's something called a 20 20 20 rule. Okay. Uh, you must have seen it, you know, if you're sitting in front of a screen for 20 minutes, move 20 feet away for 20 seconds or something like that.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So we adopted something. Yeah. It's called the 20 20 20. Okay, so that's what, so after ball said, you know, continuous screen time is not good. Mm-hmm. So try to keep it at 10, 15 minutes because you can't deny the child that, but balance it out. So we thought, okay, 15 minutes is a great time, right? So, uh, think that, you know, uh, father or mother is in the kitchen, or father or mother, you know, they're at work.
Abhishek Ramanuja: That 15 minutes is a great break, right? So we thought that is a perfect time. Whatever the child wants to do, it's good enough to learn, good enough to keep him engaged. That's enough. So we stuck on it. They said 20 minutes is fine, so, but we brought it down to 15 minutes. So we don't want the, to spend more time, um, on the phone or laptop or whatever.
Abhishek Ramanuja: The idea is to encourage reading. And if you can do that, how does it matter if you can do it in seven minutes of 70 minutes? Got it. So that was the rational behind it.
Djagmo: And uh, it's not that, you know, it's exactly 15 minutes, it's less than 15 minutes as long as you make sure the topic gets completed.
Djagmo: That's how I think, right? Correct. So
Abhishek Ramanuja: it all representation, right. So I don't have to write a lot. So I can just say lifting hundred kilos of weight. I show a box hundred kilos written on it so I don't have to write lifting a heavy weight. And I put the weight on the box. So, uh, picture reduces a lot of words.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Text is reduced, so we have only like 10, 12 lines of comic, technically maximum 20 lines. So it's easy, you can just run through it really fast.
Djagmo: Very interesting. And uh, you said, you know, you have 40 of volunteers, 60 of paid workforce, right? So, uh, What do you do to onboard these volunteers and how lo long do they typically work with you?
Djagmo: There should be some rotating sort of a thing, right? People come on their own, they just spend one week. How is it, is there
Abhishek Ramanuja: a structure to Yeah, they just spend, we, we don't, uh, force anybody to spend enough time. Okay. Uh, we just say, okay, this is what it is. Uh, we want third standard completed. Mm-hmm. So before it comes to our experts, the content is created, uh, by these volunteers.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Um, they're all working in companies across India. Mm-hmm. So they create the content, then it goes to the, uh, educators. Okay. Some teachers, we have some volunteer teachers as well, former principals. Okay. So they read our comics. They say, okay, this has to be changed. This has to be changed, this has to be changed.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So we put mix all that. So we don't tell them to stay for long, uh, assignments. Usually what happens is they refer another person. Whenever they leave, they give us one month notice. Uh, they'll say, okay, I have another friend who would be interested. So that's how we've never had saying that, okay, we are shot of people because we don't want a big workforce.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Right. Cause us is very targeted. We don't wanna keep hiring, hiring, hiring, hiring. So except for the tech team and the illustrators and maybe an editor. Right. So we don't need a full-time
Djagmo: team. Got it.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So if they're identifying, so people making worksheets, right? Right. So making a worksheet, we have somebody doing it.
Abhishek Ramanuja: She's a part-timer. Right. But they still work. They give their a hundred percent, like a full-timer. So, uh, lot of these, uh, stay at home moms stay at home dads, right. Who are very well educated, but for certain reasons they're not working. Right. So they want to contribute, they want to give back something, right?
Abhishek Ramanuja: And they're happy to do stuff like this. So most of it is from very, uh, highly qualified volunteers that we get, uh, who do the basic research and stuff for us. Uh, so yeah, so we, we've never had a problem with that. We've had some great partners also who help us with volunteers.
Djagmo: Got it. And, uh, you know, you have that 40,000 number, you've already finished 3,500, you say majority of, you know, one to 10 is almost done, so, right.
Djagmo: The difference is what, more than 35,000. So what is there, uh, what are you planning to create that's gonna take 30,000 books?
Abhishek Ramanuja: So that's gonna have every, this is only in, uh, in English. Right. So we, 26 languages
Djagmo: to cover languages. Okay. Okay. Okay. Yeah. Got
Abhishek Ramanuja: it. So, except the Northeast doesn't have a written text.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Okay. Uh, like and Naga, they don't have a, uh, they use English to write. Okay. Uh, they don't have a native text. Okay. So, but otherwise they all have text. So all that has to be translated into other languages as well. Okay. Like we have small languages like . Uh, you know, other than the mainstream languages, you have these other languages also in certain parts, like Cindy, I just saw today on a government website, there's a Cindy paper.
Abhishek Ramanuja: I didn't even know. Uh, there are a lot of Cindys, I didn't even know there could be content in Cindy, uh, in government. C B C website. I just saw Cindy today. So, and my, uh, I have a, a special place in my heart for the Northeast. Okay. So I want to do something there as well. Um, I've set up a lot of labs there.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So there also we are trying to, uh, convert into local text, like how we write English, right? Like that in their local text. We are trying to make comments. There are a lot of dialects there. So like more than 10 I think. So that also is there. So if you cross that medieval cross, 50,000 books.
Djagmo: Got it. Ishk. And, um, you've identified 26 languages so far, is it? Uh, I'm sure there are more, but you've, uh, brought it on to 26 languages, is what you're gonna target the mainstream
Abhishek Ramanuja: languages.
Djagmo: Okay, so pretty much each state has there
Abhishek Ramanuja: language called stra. There's a place for, so, yeah, yeah, I've heard of, I was talking about the single state inre.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Uh, there's a big so community, right? Right. They speak stra in somewhere. I think there is a language there. They speak it, but we don't know the language. There's no text to stra. So like that you have something many languages like that in India. Right. Many, many languages. I mean, other than the southern states.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Like if, you know, uh, for example, Hindi is not anybody's mother tongue. It's common language. Hindi and English are pretty much the same. Right. Hmm. Speak, speak. if you take, there is the coast, they speak company, they speak tou. Right? Right. In uh, I dunno what they speak kgi. I'm thinking it's kgi. I'm not sure.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So they speak one language there. They speak language. Right. So we are just focusing on the main languages because everybody can understand the, um, the main language, the root language. So that's our focus right now. But that's gonna take a lot of time.
Djagmo: Ishk, you, uh, you know, you spoke about this, uh, India bioscience grant.
Djagmo: I'm sorry if I'm putting the word I'm, you know if I'm getting the name wrong? Yes. By, okay. So, uh, could you talk a little bit about like what exactly is a grant and how does it work?
Abhishek Ramanuja: So there's a funny story behind it. So one of the, uh, applicants Dr. Chan. She put her tweet saying, you know, need an illustrator.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Okay. Right. Dr. Basu and Drima Jane. Mm-hmm. They had both applied for that grant. Ok. It was an outreach grant where scientists go out to the schools, to government schools mm-hmm. Across the country and teach genetics because they're from the genetics lab. So, okay. I replied to the tweet.
Djagmo: So one second. I'm sorry.
Djagmo: I'm sorry to interrupt. So when you say outreach grant, these scientists ask the government for money for them to reach out to schools. Is it
Abhishek Ramanuja: correct, not the government? Uh uh There are a lot of foundations, like
Djagmo: lot of foundations,
Abhishek Ramanuja: scientific, scientific research. Got it. Right. Okay. They want take science out.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Mm-hmm. So, uh, I said, you know, we are a non-profit, we make comics. Hmm. So my, my co-founder, so she is an engineer. Right. So I said, you know, she's amazing. You know, she's an amazing teacher as well. So I said, you know, why don't, uh, uh, these two scientists are great teachers as well. So I said, why don't all the three of you apply, we're non-profit and, you know, you can, we'll provide you the illustrations, we can do the comics for you.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So we said, okay, it's all started out. So it was completely a women in stem, um, initiative. So the three of them sat, ideated, you know, made an entire presentation and applied, uh, for the grant, and they won it. So, uh, so they, we, we had an event in last week, two weeks back. Okay. Uh, teaching, you know what?
Abhishek Ramanuja: Fingerprints, genetics is something that we don't know, right? Uh, we, we don't, we do it every day. Your fingerprint and all on the phone, all that. They teach you what a fingerprint is, how a fingerprint, how a fingerprint is different. Mm-hmm. So we kind of, that was one of our partnership ideas where, you know, we try to take comics to the common man through comics.
Abhishek Ramanuja: You know, a lay person has to understand about comics, right. So that was the grant we won. So that was big, big, big success for us. Validation more than anything else said, okay. Somebody signs, believes that comics can be used. Academia, that very eminent, uh, panelists. Yeah. They believe comics will used that gave us, it's a
Abhishek Ramanuja: So we think, okay, they believe it. So maybe we just have to tweak things the way we are doing it. So it might just click. So got that was an amazing Women in STEM initiative, so they do a lot. So we've been working with them. So the next one year we have to reach to a lot of students. Uh, we got a great response in either but.
Djagmo: Got it. Um, now just coming to the business aspect of it, right? Um, you've also worked in a profit driven businesses. Now you're in a not-for-profit. How is it different? Uh, every aspect, right? Uh, from a mental aspect, you know, the pressure or the motivation, the drive, is it any different? First of all, if it is, how is it different?
Djagmo: No, that's
Abhishek Ramanuja: absolutely different, right? Um, okay, I'm an entrepreneur, okay. Doing business without money. I can't even think about it, right? Mm-hmm. It needs a mindset change. Hmm. So, again, Dr. Malani was instrumental in that, you know, he said he stopped thinking about money. Hmm. I never told you I'm not gonna give you money.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So we never had the pressures of an, uh, uh, NGO saying that, you know, we have no money. We can't do this. We always had access to finances, but we, we decide to agree. Very frugal in the sense that, you know, we would look at a lot of open source tools, right? We would, uh, you know, we would rather spend money going out to 20 locations in marketing than.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Spend, uh, on, you know, social media, right? Okay. We spend little but not that much. So that pressure, financial pressure was never there. Hmm. So that the moment your financial pressure is removed from your head, um, motivation increases, right? Every day you're striving to deliver something better, right? So we're like, okay, no, we have the money.
Abhishek Ramanuja: We can't say, you know, a lot of NGOs don't have money. They have their heart in the right place, but no money. We have that right? And we, we go out, we do a lot of things. So it's a bit mindset change is required. It's not a joke. It's not a joke. Uh, like you earn like two laps a month and then you suddenly don't earn any money first.
Abhishek Ramanuja: That's a big decision that you need to take, right? Whether you can do it. Thankfully I have great friends and family who've supported me. You know, so that part of it is sorted. We have a great investor who's giving us money, you know, who's funding us through this? Thick and thin, right? So that is also sort, but it needs a mindset, A nonprofit, just like entrepreneurship is not for everybody.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Nonprofit is not for, not for everybody. Everybody. You can't just sit in an AC office and say, this is what we are going to teach. You know, they say, no, we are empowering. We can't empower anybody. Who are we to empower? We can go and give them some advice. If they take it, they take it. We need to be one among them, right?
Abhishek Ramanuja: Otherwise, they're not gonna you. You'll just look like a rich man trying to give me advice because you're giving me money. So nonprofit is an entirely different ballgame, but the happiness that it gives you money will not. I've seen money for so that it'll not give you at all. Right. That happiness when you go, no.
Abhishek Ramanuja: There'll be like hundred children just with smiles on their face just waiting to see you. Right. It's like coming home to your puppy. Right? More than your parents or your siblings. Your puppy will be the first one to jump on you. Yeah. That amount of happiness you get with children Got it. Right. You feel so good about doing it and you know, sometimes it might make a difference out of those thousand kids I need, one might become a collector, one might become a scientist.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Artist, athlete, anything but Right. He might remember that, you know, one guy came to my school and that day that sparked, you know, that is a success. That's what we hope for. You know, we don't want to see these children suffering it. It's a big heart take. But yeah, it needs an entirely different, uh, uh, mindset to be in a nonprofit.
Abhishek Ramanuja: You can't be businessman saying, uh, I won't be a nonprofit. It's not possible.
Djagmo: Not possible. Yeah. So despite, you know, you said that, you know, in not-for-profit, there are two kinds. One, they have money for people like you. You're still, you know, funded, but then there are not-for-profit. They have their art in the right place, but no money.
Djagmo: But still, let's consider, you know, uh, uh, you are a not-for-profit only. Yes. You are funded. Now, let's say if you were to, you know, down the line, start a for-profit business that is still funded, what are some of the lessons that you'd carry from here to there and that you think will positively impact a for-profit business?
Djagmo: Do you become a better business, you know, for-profit business if you have experience and not-for-profit?
Abhishek Ramanuja: No, absolutely. I think I'm lucky that I'm getting both The experience, you become more ethical,
Abhishek Ramanuja: Okay. Mm-hmm. Business is always great. Okay, so you can say, I have this, I don't have this. You know, when you go onto sales, you can just make up stuff.
Abhishek Ramanuja: It's not a lie. It's probably a white lie, but, uh, you still end up doing it. Right. Uh, you, you say a lot of things to sell your product, but, uh, when you go on with an ngo, when you're trying to convince, you know Mm. You're a bit more honest, right? Because that could impact lives a lot, right? When in a for profit it'll impact, but you know, you'll say, you know, your child will think critically, your child will think creatively, but uh, how can you teach somebody to be creative in all honesty, right?
Abhishek Ramanuja: Right. You're either creative or not creative, right. You cannot teach somebody to be creative. Right. Okay. You can think, uh, teach to be critical thinking. You can teach analytical thinking. You can teach. Creativity. You can't teach. You cannot. Uh, if I go to 15 drawing classes, I cannot draw like, uh, a pro artist.
Abhishek Ramanuja: I cannot got it. Right? I should have a passion, an inclination towards something. So what happens is when you switch from this to this and then go back to a for-profit business, two things that I think you learn to be more ethical, right? Mm-hmm. And uh, second thing is you also learn to spend frugally, right?
Abhishek Ramanuja: Right. That is something that I've learned, uh, spending frugally, you know, we can keep hiring, right? But why should I do I need it? There are things that I can do, right? So the moment you go to a for-profit company, you'll say, I need to build a team here. There was no team, which just London and me for the first, uh, six, seven months.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Yeah. Right. And one artist that two part-time. So we said that we don't want, we want weekly goals reached. Then we reached out to teachers, my school teachers here and there. We reached out to teachers. We, our volunteers on social media. So we built all that. But if I was in a for-profit company, I would just hire people left, right.
Abhishek Ramanuja: In sector. Right, right. So that this gives you, imagine we have access to a lot of money. Doesn't mean I can just go ask for money every day. Right? Right. Somebody else is hard earned money. I can't gamble it away, you know, unless he tells me to gamble it, I won't gamble it. Right. So we are trying to think with whatever money you have, how efficient can you be that NGO will teach you how to connect with people, right.
Abhishek Ramanuja: So when you go on, you know, when you go to a classroom, uh, you know, you have to reach out, you have to sit down and speak to children at their level. You should, you know, all it teaches you all that interaction, human interaction. So key is human interaction building, frugally, and definitely more ethical.
Djagmo: Ish. Great.
Djagmo: Great. Then, um, I think, uh, I asked you all the questions that I had for you. Um, you know, is there, is there anything that you wanna ask me or, uh, you know, is there anything that you'd wanna share to the listeners, uh, that would be listening to this in the future? Please. This is your time. Go
Abhishek Ramanuja: for it. So, no, I just wanna thank you for the opportunity and I think, you know, you asked all the right questions.
Abhishek Ramanuja: Uh, this has been, I mean, I've, I've spoken to quite a few people and, uh, uh, I, I think this was a completely different set of questions, uh, what I had, and they already thought provoking even for me. So I was able to give out a lot of things that, you know, I've been wanting to say. So I think it was perfect.
Abhishek Ramanuja: I really enjoyed, uh, I mean, your questions were really, uh, very interesting, very pointed. You know, rather than saying, tell us how you feel. So it's very pointed and I'm very, very happy that I could get a lot of points across. Maybe somebody will learn something from this,
Djagmo: I'm sure. Maybe not. Yeah. Um, lot.
Djagmo: No, no, no. I mean, there's no doubt about it because I totally enjoyed, uh, listening to you. The reasons, uh, I asked you any question was, Out of pure curiosity alone because, uh, some of the things that, you know, when you're outside in a normal setup, it's difficult to believe. One of the things that was like disturbing me was why not for profit?
Djagmo: Right? Because, um, uh, it takes, as you said, it takes a different mindset and I'm still, uh, I'm not able to relate to you on a, you know, I can, okay, I got your words, but I'm not able to relate to you and I'd definitely like to talk to more people, you know, who are, uh, in this doing not-for-profit. Um, I wonder what is it that drives them?
Djagmo: Uh, those are the new things that have, you know, uh, kind of, uh, arise in my head after talking to you. And, um, great. Uh, I'm gonna let you know. Spread, uh, the word about your company to anybody that I'm gonna come across and who I feel might benefit? I think anybody with access to internet, uh, can go and log into your website, learn with comics.org.
Djagmo: I think there's no reason not to do it. Uh, there's like free education right there. That one a very interesting way. So I, uh, would like to wish you all the very best, uh, in this wonderful thing that you're doing. Um, and please extend, uh, my wishes to your team as well. Uh, I wish to, you know, get back to you after some months, maybe, you know, where you've got more nice things to share.
Djagmo: Definitely, definitely. Where, uh, there are a lot more schools that have implemented your curriculum, your content and stuff like that, it'll happen. There's no doubt. Uh, you've definitely started off something that's gonna make a huge impact going forward. So thank you so much for taking your time out. It was wonderful talking to you.
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