“Leadership is not about gender; it’s about the strength of your character, your ability to inspire others, and your commitment to excellence,” remarks Gomathi Shanmugam, CEO and Co-Founder, AhaGuru. From facing hardships at an early age to innovating the award-winning “Lab in a Box” concept to becoming the CEO of AhaGuru, Gomathi’s journey is full of inspiration.
Gomathi comes from a middle-class family. Her mother considered good education a key to better job opportunities and fulfilling life. Both Gomathi and her sister made their mother proud by excelling in academics. The school became a platform that allowed Gomathi to enhance her leadership skills, plan, organize, lead events, and participate in social causes.
After graduation, Gomathi joined a non-profit organization called AID INDIA which worked on education for underprivileged children in India. At AID INDIA, she established two schools as Model Schools for innovative teaching pedagogy and learning methodology. “At a later stage, I also developed a concept called “Lab in a Box” along with Dr. Balaji Sampath and Prof. Ravishankar. The box had simple science experiments that children could try and understand science,” shares Gomathi. They were honoured with Lemelson Innovators Award for the “Lab in a Box” concept. The program was a huge success and made her want to work further on science and math education.
Experience the Difference in Education at AhaGuru
“Dr. Balaji Sampath and I wanted to encourage deep learning and skill-building in students. We also wanted to make learning fun and make mathematics and science uncomplicated,” asserts Gomathi. As a result, AhaGuru was incepted in 2012 with a mission to make high-quality science and math education accessible to everyone so that all students have the opportunity to learn. There are currently over 500,000 students using AhaGuru’s free apps, with another 25,000 paying users. It has helped thousands of students top their school exams, JEE, IIT, NEET, Olympiad and other competitive exams and achieve their dream of becoming top-notch engineers and doctors.
In terms of offerings, AhaGuru provides three-tiered courses: online classes, mentor learning programs, and self-study courses. “We also allow the student to pick and choose individual subjects to study, thereby keeping their learning period focused and helping them concentrate on their pain areas,” adds Gomathi. Thus, AhaGuru’s course design has helped students pick and choose and build a solid foundation to excel in their exams, both in board and other competitive exams.
AhaGuru’s Edge over the Others
AhaGuru offers a unique learning experience to its students from classes 5th to 12th. “Our main focus is on concept clarity and real understanding. When learning becomes fun, practice builds perfection,” adds Gomathi. She further elaborates that when complications in understanding are removed, students tend to develop a liking towards the subject which they previously disliked. Altogether, making a student fall in love with their subject is AhaGuru’s aim.
At regular intervals, the teachers of AhaGuru also identify and fill gaps in student learning. They develop innovative ideas and apply disruptive technologies to enhance their content and course design. For the first time in India, AhaGuru introduced its Flipped Classroom model, where students are provided with study materials beforehand and asked to go through them before they attend the live sessions. In this way, students begin to solve the problems and participate interactively during the live sessions. Due to this unique model, students build confidence, and their performance is improved class after class. “Our unique course content, innovative teaching techniques and personal attention given by mentors to each student set us apart,” proudly remarks Gomathi.
AhaGuru has a leadership team that is transparent, goal-driven, and outcome-oriented. Moreover, a collaborative environment is created where people are free to share their creative ideas, insights, and suggestions.
In terms of investments in the right technology & balancing cost of ROI, AhaGuru has appointed a team of tech professionals who are in sync with the company’s mission, who can help identify technology that aligns with those goals, and will have a positive impact on the business.
Beating the Odds
Gomathi’s professional journey has not been a cakewalk. She has faced a lot of scepticism from people, be it her lack of a degree in marketing or fancy education. They even went ahead and showed mistrust in her ability to become the CEO of her company. However, these remarks did not damper her spirits nor her focus. It lit a fire in her instead to prove them wrong. “I took that challenge head-on and steered AhaGuru from 9 lakhs in 2012 to 33 crores in 2022—and we did it all without burning money,” reveals Gomathi.
Today, if you ask her about her proudest career moments, Gomathi shares, “I’m proud of my strengths and accomplishments, and I’ve worked really hard to get where I am professionally.”
A Day in the Life of a Leader
Gomathi’s day at AhaGuru begins with a stand-up meeting with her team where work updates, plans for the day, and impending issues are discussed and resolved. These morning group meetings help keep the entire team focused on their goals throughout the day. She further credits her team for their dedication and commitment to work and considers them the brand ambassadors of AhaGuru.
As the CEO, most of her time is taken up by running, planning, and strategizing future goals for AhaGuru. “There are many good companies, but only a few great companies and AhaGuru is definitely one of them,” coyly adds Gomathi. She also makes it a point to identify which team members are assets and which are liabilities. If a team member is not adding value, they are removed quickly so that the company stays focused on its goals. She also believes in openly communicating with each team and providing regular feedback so everyone is operating on the same page.
But even leaders such as Gomathi encounter low energy days filled with a lack of motivation. During such not-so-happy times, she seeks solace and inspiration from Jim Collins’s book, Good to Great. It always gets her out of the clouded zone and redirects her focus on the work at hand. Another of her go-to book is Go Kiss the World by Subroto Bagchi. “But my real motivation, however, is from our students who come back to us and tell us what it meant for them to be with AhaGuru for two or three years of their lives,” shares Gomathi.
Pandemic Gave Time for Positive Introspection
AhaGuru is built so that people who work with the foundation do not consider it a job. For them, it is more about creating a positive impact on a child’s life. Hence, even during the lockdowns, the entire team of AhaGuru led by Gomathi continued to work at full strength and didn’t take a single day out. Sharing one of the instances during the pandemic, Gomathi asserts, “In fact, they were motivating me to work on different ideas. One such idea was to launch a free webinar for students who wanted to understand Trigonometry, and to our delight, over 15,000 students benefited from it.”
Additionally, new mentors were recruited at AhaGuru who could speak to the parents and the students and help them adapt to the online scenario. Multilingual teachers were also appointed who could cater to the needs of the diverse student population. Online coaching for 7th and 8th were added on popular demand, and crash courses were introduced. “At the end of the day, we had proven that no pandemic can stop our dream of supporting a child to acquire knowledge and skill,” says Gomathi.
Present Goals & Future Plans
Currently, Gomathi led team of AhaGuru is working on leveraging AI-based coaching to help the students learn effectively. Additionally, they are set to launch a series of apps for helping school curricula.
Revealing her future plans for AhaGuru, CEO Gomathi says, “We are planning to be fully online post-pandemic with contact sessions for our students from around 18 cities.” New courses for children from class 6 will be introduced to help them with their school exams. Her future goal also includes growing AhaGuru to 100 crores by 2025.
For More Info: https://www.ahaguru.com/