Interview: Raghavv Sharrma, Founder & CEO at UpLift Inc

Raghavv Sharrma

Interview with Raghavv Sharrma, Founder & CEO at UpLift Inc

Raghavv Sharrma is the Founder & CEO at UpLift Inc. Uplift works with Start Ups, Small and Medium Enterprises in the Education and EdTech space to build new products and features and also pursue new domains.

Working with them to add contextualization to their products, features and new launches from a local perspective, as they expand internationally.

Having worked with Corporates across the US, UK and South Asia, he has a strong grasp of challenges faced by companies, and closely works with them to create best possible strategies, business and operational models for the Education company and the environment, thereby focusing on long term sustainable growth.

Raghavv has almost 20 years of experience, working across IT, Healthcare, Manufacturing and Education domains.

He holds a Bachelor of Science (Computer Science) degree from University of Missouri – Kansas City (Missouri, United States) and an MBA from Lancaster University (England).

He has also completed his Diploma in Leading Learning from Harvard Business School and Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Having worked across multiple domains, he chose to dedicate himself to the field of education, as he truly believes that to make a deep and lasting impact on any person or field, it is imperative that you impact the education of that person or domain.

He has therefore, taken it upon himself to make the common learner and educator become more aware of the latest research in the field of education, particularly at the K-12 level and thereby enabling them to improve their teaching and learning practices in a more well-defined and deliberate manner.

Can you tell us about your background and experience in the education and EdTech space that led you to found UpLift Inc.?

Raghavv Sharrma: I started working within the Education domain back in 2005-06. This was when I had just graduated from the US with my Software Engineering degree, and my father asked me to help out with the ERP implementation within our family-run K12 School in Delhi.

I was able to work on the implementation remotely and when I came to India on a vacation, which thereafter resulted in me being continuously involved with various Software and Hardware implementations within the School and my vacations were utilised for more intense and larger scale projects.

Over the years, before joining the School full-time and before founding Uplift Inc., I had executed numerous projects for our K12 School ranging from hardware and smart class systems to Content development and product implementation, and I had also consulted a few other Schools on similar aspects.

It led me to realise that there is a big lacuna in how we look at delivering education in India and how it is happening in other parts of the world.

My experience led me to explore the products available for Schools outside India, where I got connected with the Global EdTech landscape.

When I started, no one in the Global EdTech landscape considered India a viable market option and saw it primarily as an outsourcing destination for content and software development.

For startups, even outsourcing was not an option. It took sometime to convince them to see the merits of India as a market, of course the whole boom within the Startup sphere was a big boost for generating interest in the Indian market and now I know of so many Startups who are actively looking at India as a market, even with their Beta releases and entities who advice Startups on the Indian market, that it is an absolutely delight.

I have been a Judge of the Quacquarelli Symonds Reimagine EdTech Awards for the last 4 years, which has given me a lot of insights on the latest product offerings by start-ups in the EdTech space.

What inspired you to work specifically with startups, small, and medium enterprises in this industry?

Raghavv Sharrma: When I started out, there were a handful of companies outside India that looked at India as a market, and even they were just content providers or publishers.

Such big companies with resources at their disposal could afford to put some eggs in the Indian market, but even their presence was not impacting the way education was delivered in India.

It was apparent that to increase the speed of innovation, more and more startups and small and medium enterprises needed to be involved in the Indian education domain.

Also, I could see how repetitive and monotonous our Classrooms were and how much we lacked in adapting our teaching practises to the latest educational research and knowledge.

Startups and SMEs are ideally placed to challenge the status quo and deliver on ideas that can alter the entire classroom experience for the student and the teacher. This is what primarily drew me to working with them in the Education industry.

Kindly brief us about UpLift, its specialisation, and the services that it offers.

Raghavv Sharrma: I like to call ourselves a “Contextualization Company”. The most crucial aspect of the success of any entity is understanding the context of all the elements surrounding it.

This importance increases exponentially when it comes to anything in the educational domain. The context changes for each country, each city, each school, and each student.

For us, this makes it a very challenging and exciting space, with the potential to impact so many lives at such an important juncture of their education journey.

As far as services are concerned, we work with startups, SMEs, Educational institutions, and researchers.

For Startups and SMEs: We provide advisory and implementation assistance to Startups and SMEs for the Indian market.

This entails consulting them on features, analytics, or other aspects of the product that are applicable to the Indian market. Sometimes we also advise Indian Startups on markets abroad.

For Educational Institutions: We work with Schools and other Educational institutions in India to help them implement new-age Education and EdTech tools.

We also advise them to deploy the best possible hardware that can fulfil their needs within their context at the cheapest possible price.

Research Institutions: We actively work with Educational Research institutions to stay updated on the latest activities and findings within Education, particularly K-12 education, and build an understanding of how they can be implemented in the Indian context.

The education and EdTech sectors are vast and diverse. What specific areas does UpLift Inc. focus on when working with startups and small to medium enterprises? Are there any particular challenges or needs that you aim to address?

Raghavv Sharrma: We are looking to build a portfolio of products and solutions that demonstrate visible change in teaching and learning in the classroom.

The current challenge with the EdTech space is that there is no way to assess the effectiveness of a solution in a classroom setting, and when an implementation of a product fails, the entire teaching staff becomes sceptical about adopting another solution.

There needs to be a lot of deliberation on how the implementation is going to take place in a particular setting, and regular monitoring is needed to assess the progress made both in terms of usage and effectiveness.

This is what we work on with our clients, conducting regular deliberations during the implementation process and ensuring that a product is not just used but shows value.

Most start-ups and Small and Medium Enterprises do not have the bandwidth to withstand long enough deliberations, and that’s the primary reason why we do not see many successes at the product implementation level in the EdTech space.

As we always tell our clients and friends within the EdTech domain, the key is not to make too many sales initially but to get repeat sales from the same institution.

A lot of EdTech companies fall into the trap of selling first, which is a natural thing to do, but in EdTech, it does not always work.

How does UpLift Inc. support education-focused startups and small to medium enterprises in their growth and development?

Raghavv Sharrma: Like I said, we help education-focused entities iron out implementation challenges by sharing with them the insights we have gathered by implementing products, working with Teachers, working on Teacher training, and working with Educational Research forums across the world.

We do similar work with Educational Institutions as well, to ensure that they do not get disengaged with products from education-focused startups and small to medium enterprises due to implementation issues.

We also provide them with the necessary advice on deploying the best possible hardware solutions that fit their budget.

Startups and SMEs often face resource constraints. How does UpLift Inc. help these organisations overcome financial, technical, or operational challenges?

Raghavv Sharrma: We recognised early on that the reason start-ups and SMEs are not actively looking to expand into international markets is primarily because of the constraints you just spoke about.

We work extensively with Startups and SMEs to formulate and execute strategies related to product improvement and product features to help them overcome operational challenges while providing support systems that can enable implementation issues to be sorted.

For technical support, we offer our clients the opportunity to identify Indian outsourcing companies that can provide software development, content development, and other non-core functions.

Financial challenges are common across all Startups and SMEs, particularly from a cash flow standpoint.

This challenge is even greater in the Education industry, particularly for companies engaging with education institutions.

We actively look to advise our clients on devising ways of being frugal, and we also engage with Venture Capital communities to help raise funds.

Luckily, the Indian Startup ecosystem has evolved to such a level of coherence and sophistication that getting the right ears for your funding needs is not too difficult. There are a lot of players who are willing to help.

Innovation and technology play a crucial role in the education and EdTech spaces. How does UpLift Inc. foster innovation within the startups and SMEs you work with? Are there any specific strategies or initiatives you implement to encourage creativity and advancement?

Raghavv Sharrma: Innovation and technology are ever-evolving, and it takes time for a new technology to reach a classroom. It is important for Startups and SMEs not to chase technological advancements but to focus on their product and rely on market feedback to build new features.

We encourage creativity and advancement and foster innovation through our partnerships with Research Institutes and by focusing on the Teaching and Learning aspects of solutions.

If there are any findings or frameworks that have been identified that can help improve an education product, we actively look to deploy them for the Startups and SMEs we work with.

As far as implementation is concerned, there really are no set strategies; as every context differs, we have relied more on sharing lessons learned and discussing potential solutions.

The EdTech industry is rapidly evolving, with new trends and technologies emerging. How does UpLift Inc. stay ahead of these trends and provide relevant guidance and support to startups and SMEs? How do you ensure that the organisations you work with remain competitive and innovative?

Raghavv Sharrma: As I said, startups and SMEs should never chase trends and technologies but always look to benefit from any new technology that is launched.

For example, when ChatGPT was launched, it was imperative for all education-focused Startups to build lesson plans that enabled the usage of their product in conjunction with ChatGPT.

We preach one mantra very strongly to all Startups and SMEs: that it is imperative that they keep the Student and the Teacher at the forefront of whatever they do.

Moreso, they need to start with the teachers, because they are the ones who need to be effective in using their products for them to be successful in the market.

Our relentless focus is on ensuring the usability and effectiveness of a product remain at a high level. This approach makes the process more long-term, but we believe that is the only way to succeed in the Education market.

What are your success tips for young and aspiring entrepreneurs?

Raghavv Sharrma: I am a young (or not so young) aspiring entrepreneur myself, so I am not sure if there are any success tips that I can give, but if there are a few snippets of advice or things to keep in mind, I sure would like to share them.

  • The market or users will almost never react to your product the way you thought they would when you started building it or even right after launch. Brace yourself for criticism, and do not let it faze you; learn from it and grow. It is up to us to build a convincing story around the usefulness of our products, not the other way around.
  • Do not get too caught up in getting copied; if you succeed, people are bound to emulate you. Of course, protect your Intellectual Property, but having their ideas copied scares too many people into not sharing and getting feedback.
  • A quote from the movie “The Founder” resonates very closely with my heart and is very apt for all aspiring entrepreneurs. The quote is

“Persistence—nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent won’t. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius won’t.

Unrewarded genius is practically a cliche. Education won’t. The world is full of educated fools. Persistence and determination alone are powerful.

Show that you don’t have to be defeated by anything. That you can have peace of mind, improved health, and a never-ending flow of energy.

If you attempt each and every day to achieve these things, the results will become obvious to you. While it may sound like a magical notion, it is within you to create your own future.

The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. Or, as Ralph Waldo Emerson declared, a man is what he thinks about all day long.”

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