UpsideLMS is a Pune based startup founded by Amit Gautam. UpsideLMS is a learning technology platform which was started 15 years back and now they have customer base throughout globe.
We are not exactly a startup now. Given that we have been going strong for almost 15 fruitful years with a large number of customers worldwide and more than a million users on our learning technology platform – UpsideLMS, Amit.
We got an opportunity to talk with Amit, and see what he has to say. I am sure his interview with us will inspire you.
Give a brief info about your startup?
We are not exactly a startup now. Given that we have been going strong for almost 15 fruitful years with a large number of customers worldwide and more than a million users on our learning technology platform – UpsideLMS.
But to break it down to what we do, we are a learn-tech provider with a suite of offerings that help businesses of all sizes and types to manage their organization-wide, multi-department, geographically dispersed Learning & Development (L&D) programs. Since our inception, it’s been our mission to empower learners and admins alike to be in charge of their learning and true to this, we have been augmenting our offerings (recent most being mobile-apps for online and offline/ no-Internet Learning) and adding new features to our learning platform (UpsideLMS), which is currently in its 8.5 version.
What made you start your startup and what problem does it solve?
The detailed answer to this is below (Answer 3). To put it briefly, equipped with an MBA degree from IIM (Lucknow), a rich work experience from Infosys followed by hands-on experience in an ed-tech startup whetted my appetite to do something bigger and that was truly mine. After toying with multiple business ideas, including that of a sweets shop (you can take a Delhite out of Delhi, but Delhi out of a Delhite you can’t!☺), I finally settled with the learning solutions space for three main reasons: 1. My previous work experience in an ed-tech startup 2. My (business) partner’s expertise in the same space and 3. The growth opportunity we foresaw.
Tell us about yourself, your previous jobs/ventures? What were you doing before this startup?
I come from a humble middle-class background, the eldest of four siblings. My parents literally invested everything they had to ensure that my generation would have a better life. A lot was on my shoulders. I got placed with Infosys during my MBA, which was then a dream company for many. After spending about 15 months there, I realized I wanted more. I always had this nagging thought to start my own business, but I didn’t have the courage to risk it all. Additionally, just for me to reach that point, my family was under a huge debt—with three more siblings to graduate from college in due time.
Working at Infosys was amazing. I travelled abroad and learned about projects. However, it became too big for me, and I realized I just couldn’t be one of the thousands of resources at an IT services company.
This led to my first daring personal career move. I joined a startup founded by two of my MBA seniors in the ed-tech space. It was risky because it was not a big pay jump and I was leaving behind a brand name that many in India can only dream of. With their jaws slightly open, almost everyone I knew asked, “How can you do this? Why?” Interestingly, the only ones who never asked me this was my parents! As always, they said if I knew what I was doing, then go ahead. They never once put their worries in front of my decision.
I spent roughly three and a half years at this company. It was a small team when I joined. I worked directly with the founders and promoters; it was the best experience I could have asked for. I loved everything. But that nagging thought about starting my own business never went away. After three and a half years, it looked like time to move on. So in 2004, I made my second daring career move. I left that startup and founded Upside Learning with my business partner.
Where is your startup based out of? Why do you think that is the best place for you?
We are headquartered in Pune, India. Why Pune, because it had been my home base (from my Infosys through my ed-tech company days) and this city (back in 2004) has been transforming completely – from being an educational hub to an IT hub. In hindsight, we realize that we made a good choice since the city does not have traffic as crazy as Bengaluru and Gurugram!
As a startup founder, what are you paranoid about? What keeps you awake at night?
Let me put it this way, you cannot or rather should not attempt entrepreneurship if you are paranoid. As being a founder is all about risk- and leap-taking. So, to answer the question – I am not paranoid about anything and sleep rather less (nothing to do with panic keeping me up at nights, but rather my bio clock tuned to around 5 to 6 hours sleep a day since my childhood days).
However, there are challenges I face (and overcome). Currently, the workplace challenge I am addressing is how to scale up the top line without losing the bottom line. The LMS industry is growing; many reports suggest it will remain a growth industry for the next two to three years, and hopefully more. But the LMS space is already crowded, and it’s a challenge to increase market share on a consistent basis. As a strategy, growing at a steady, aggressive rate is part of our push for the next two years. When scaling up aggressively, it’s common to lose track of the costs that keep creeping up quietly but speedily. It’s important to maintain profitability, and keep an eye on cost and efficiency at the operations level.
Who are your competitions and how are you better than them?
At the risk of sounding blasphemous, we are our biggest competition. We aim to do better than what we did previously, make our products better than they were yesterday and be future-ready in our approach and work. It’s this singular thing that makes us the best. Period.
How hard is it to have a work life balance as a startup founder and how do you manage it?
I am most proud of the fact that I have not let my work demands take time away from the people I love most. At some point in my life, I realized the trade-offs involved and balanced those in order to give a lot of time and love to my family. I still do that consistently. (Of course, having an angel of a daughter just makes it super easy, and her smile every day when I am home makes it all worthwhile!)
Have you raised funding? If yes, then we would like to know the details. If no then please tell us if you are looking to raise.
Not yet. We have had angel investors at the start of our entrepreneurship journey who helped us sail through our bootstrapped beginnings. And while we are not actively seeking funding at this stage, it would not be prudent to say no to a smart partner who also brings in some capital to the company. More than capital, we are on the lookout for partners who can either complement us in value chain or in sales and marketing.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about you? Why do they have that? What’s reality?
Not a misconception per se, but I got the name ‘Botts’ during my IIM days and it has out lived well beyond its time with my UpsideLMS team, my ex-colleagues, ex-classmates, friends still calling me ‘Botts’. People have in the past and still continue to have their own interpretation of this unique name. My favourite, till date, has been Bots as in line with Google Bots. Cannot get more techy than this. 🙂
In reality, I am the same person (at the core) at home, in the office, and in public. Almost everyone who knows me has told me how mature I am at handling situations. I don’t lose my temper easily, and I can handle even extreme situations with ease and calmness. Probably this is why I can be cool even under extreme duress.
What gets you excited about this company?
Everything – the future, our growth, our clients. But at the heart of it, it’s my people that I have had the privilege to hire, nurture, and lead. It is a team of rock stars, and just the people I know will take UpsideLMS to the next level. I am proud of the fact that this team displays a lot of openness, ownership, and competitiveness, some of the qualities I have tried to build on.
Tell us how a day in your life looks like? Your schedule for a day right from the time you get up till you hit the bed at night.
I start my day pretty early. With or without an alarm, I am usually out of the bed by 5.10 AM. Even on the weekends, this is my wake-up time! On weekdays including Saturdays, I play Badminton in the morning. This keeps me busy from about 6.15 AM to about 7.45 AM. By the time I come home from Badminton, my daughter is ready to go to her school. I quickly get ready and leave home with her in next 20 mins to drop her to her school and reach office by 9 AM. Once in office, there is no schedule and by about 6 PM I would have donned all hats I possibly could and usually, I would be out of office by 6. I do make it a point to play about half an hour Table Tennis with my partner in the office. I escape all the traffic and reach home by 6.30. Thereon, till about 10 PM till my daughter goes to sleep, I and my wife will be found either listening to her stories and dreams, her day activities, helping her with her homework and summing it up with a family together dinner. I am guilty of peeking in my phone now and then to keep a tab on the business front and most of the days I check and work my emails before I go to play Badminton. I hit the bed by 11.30 to 12 in the night and usually write down a list of critical things to tackle the next day.
Tell us about your team and how did you meet each other?
We are just 2 founders of the company. I met Amit Garg at the ed-tech startup where we joined within a few days of each other and handled same level roles. We worked together on a daily basis and we realized we both have that hunger to not just branch out but root out and we built a strong trust and friendship in the following 3 years or so. Coming from a similar education background helped a lot too to get in tune with each other pretty quickly.
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