A conversation with Amit Garg is always illuminating. An alumnus of IIT Kharagpur and XLRI Jamshedpur, Amit spent the initial years of his career with Maruti Udyog and General Motors, before turning his attention and entrepreneurial spirit towards the eLearning industry.
In 2004, when he founded Upside Learning, Amit took a path that was different from most of the other Indian companies in the sector at that time – he built a business vision around an LMS (Learning Management System) product and bespoke services (services was the norm).
Today, Upside is known for its bespoke services, is making headway with its LMS, and is well known for speaking its mind – the company blog is rated highly for its content. Amit was also one of the few founders who had a formal certificate qualification in instructional design (from Capella University) – an asset that helps drive innovation in learning design.
In this free-wheeling and candid interview, Amit, as usual, speaks his mind on eLearning, Pune, talent base, and global prospects.
Where do you see the eLearning industry heading in the next 5 years (by 2021)?
I see eLearning become more integrated with work and accessed as performance support in times to come. Not sure if will happen by 2020 but the difference between training and performance support may start diminishing soon
What are the three trends that you feel will shape the learning industry in the next two years?
Mobile (including tablets), Video (especially the interactive kind), and xAPI/TinCan
Which are the top three companies in the world to watch for innovative design?
I believe we (Upside Learning) do some innovative eLearning ourselves. Not necessarily top three but we’ve been impressed with work done by Allen Interactions – USA, Noggin Labs – USA, and Kineo – UK.
What role do you see Indian companies playing in the global eLearning industry?
Over the years, Indian eLearning companies have mostly done back-end work (for other eLearning players) or picked up lower end work in the development process. Some of them have moved up the value chain and provide higher-end solutions to their long term clients.
Also, with Indian businesses willing to invest more in better quality eLearning solutions, Indian eLearning companies are beginning to do more high-end work in general. So I see Indian companies moving up the value chain in global eLearning Industry in times to come.
In your opinion, are Pune companies abreast with global trends?
Not all, but some of them certainly are at the cutting edge.
What are the challenges faced by eLearning companies based in Pune?
This may not be unique to just Pune but I believe low entry barriers to the industry keep a constant pressure on costs while rates don’t necessarily go up. A more active international airport will also help as we sometimes find prospects visit Mumbai but are not keen to visit Pune companies.
In your opinion, what will it take for a Pune-based company to break into the Top 10 of eLearning design or service providers in the world?
If you mean Top 10 in terms of revenue, I think mergers are needed for that to happen. Globally, larger eLearning companies have been acquiring smaller niche players to retain growth and margins and are becoming even larger in the process. So I don’t think Pune companies can break into Top 10 without a few of them merging together.
Do you feel Pune is an effective cost base in terms of value for skills for an eLearning company compared to Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi, and Chennai?
Again I don’t think it is unique to just Pune. India remains a high inflation economy necessitating cost increases annually, which puts pressure on margins. Pune is great in terms of skills needed for beginners but it does need investment to bring beginners to a level where they can deliver good output. Additionally, eLearning companies are also competing for talent with the rest of the IT industry. I won’t say Pune is any better or worse on that aspect.
In your opinion, do you think Pune can attract top-flight talent – most design talent in Indian eLearning seems to gravitate to Bengaluru and Mumbai.
I don’t think that’s true. Pune has enough great talent here and that’s probably evident from the awards that Pune eLearning companies keep winning every year.
Pune seems to be stuck in the 2-15 Million USD turnover range for eLearning for a while now. What will it take for a company to start doing 30 Million plus in eLearning products and services revenue?
As I said earlier, with low entry barriers we will continue to see fragmentation in the industry. To reach 30 Million kind of revenues, mergers will need to happen.
In your opinion, why is Pune unable to produce more companies that create world-class eLearning products (software, mobile)? Most companies in Pune are in bespoke services.
That’s probably true of the whole of IT industry in India. There are very few successful products in the last 20-25 years and those too came in after significant reserves were built from years of providing bespoke services. The eLearning industry in India is in a similar situation but unfortunately none of the early entrants have become big enough. So I don’t see a significant product play happening from Indian eLearning companies in the near future.