Sachin & Raghav, our founders, were bitten by the curiosity bug at a very early age. Sachin, who had a surprise win at a school quiz at the age of 10, found that he liked the experience so much that he went on to become a competitive quizzer with national & international quiz titles under his belt. Raghav’s dinner time conversations with his father on everything from current affairs to technology sowed the seeds of his lifelong quest to learn. For him too, this curiosity led naturally to the world of quizzing. The paths of the two quizzers crossed while at law school in Pune. There, while learning legal-ese, they found that they could help children develop their own sense of curiosity and come to love quizzing as much as they do. While having immense fun interacting with them, Sachin & Raghav also realized that through quizzing, they were enabling children to learn how to think – a skill that would hold good through school and life. From this thought came Walnut Knowledge Solutions, the parent company of QShala. At Walnut, Sachin, Raghav & their team have set over 1000 quizzes for kids, corporates and others (they hold a record for conducting quizzes on all 7 continents – including Antarctica!) while also running the QShala program. Despite these achievements, Sachin & Raghav maintain that their greatest satisfaction as quizzers and founders comes from children thinking out of the box and stumping them with novel ideas.
Q. Could you tell us a bit about yourselves and your experience at Symbiosis Law School? When did you both discover your love for quizzing?
Raghav: In college and in school, I think the one thing we were both very passionate about was quizzing and largely like many other children, there was this bandwagon of getting into IIT coaching or whatever. In the mid-year of my 12th grade, I decided that I was kind of more interested in humanities and I took that plunge, and it was a last-minute decision. I then got into Symbiosis Law School, Pune which was a lot of fun. Pune is like a hybrid between Bangalore and Mysore with a cosmopolitan culture with this old-world charm in the city. Coming from Bangalore, what law school gave us was a diverse set of people that we got to meet from the very first year. Learning with students from across the country was a great experience, and then we got active with many college activities. In Symbiosis, there was a big culture of debating and quizzing. We didn’t have a cultural fest in college, so Symbhav was a melting pot for all of us to come together to work on different things. Symbhav was one of those things that we always looked forward to; it used to be in November when the planning used to happen. Of course, moots and a lot of other college activities like client-counselling, a lot of chai par charcha in law school was there too. There are some very good teachers and faculty like a former civil judge, a practicing advocate and a former Colonel, who would come and teach us. I think a large part of it was our peers that we got to meet and being a part of all these cultural activities, attending fests, certain quizzes, that kind of was the highlight of Pune. Apart from that, for me, it was walking in old-world, like Prabhat Road, and in and around Shivaji housing and things like that, which makes Pune very beautiful. There is lots of scope for fun, like hills around and so on. So that was part of my experience.
Sachin: Yeah, my story is also similar to what Raghav said. When you’re in school in a city like Bangalore, it is a very close and sheltered life. I think going to Pune for those five years was an explosion of senses and experiences in the truest sense. And I think my education for life happened really at Pune in those five years, experiences beyond college. And as Raghav summed up, the cultural festival played an important role in terms of the roles we took up. And I think quizzing was again very critical to my journey in school as well. And why I chose law is also quite funny. I was never going to pursue engineering. I did not want to do something run of the mill and I could not study medicine for 10 years. Everybody around me convinced me that I have the aptitude for law and so, I decided to take it up.
Q. You both have worked in the legal field extensively before coming together to start a company. How was your experience as a lawyer? Do you miss the courtroom and other aspects of being a lawyer?
Sachin: I think the shift from a legal profession to what we ended up doing did not stem from things like frustration with our jobs. We were in jobs that were comfortable, exciting jobs, in terms of the scope of work and what it offered beyond the job as well. And what I enjoyed was participating in anything at college and learning from competitions like moot courts. We simply wanted to pursue something that was much more ingrained in us, even before law entered our minds. When we made that shift, of course, there was no playbook, it was entirely driven by logic and first principles, in terms of ‘Okay, this is what we need to do’. When I look back, it has been six years since we first made that shift and these years have been incredible, to contribute and work towards something. When we think about the experience we had in those six years, there’s so much that’s happened and so much that we have learned. I might say that there are some things I wish I had known earlier, in terms of what ultimately matters at the end of the day, but then I would not have learned those things. I think this is the case for Raghav as well. So the shift happened, not because law was something we weren’t excited about. We love law; It’s just that we were more passionate about what we wanted to pursue, which is taking our interests of quizzing and democratizing a curriculum out of quizzing, for children to be more curious.
Raghav: Just to add, although sometimes what we miss from the legal sphere, we rekindle it through a quiz that we do on constitutional history and politics across the country. It’s called Conquest, and that’s something that we do on a year on year basis. And we’re quite clicked about it, that’s one thing that gets us back to the books that we read in law school.
Q. Did having a background in law help you in any way? Were there any skills that you carried forward from the law with you in your entrepreneurial venture? How did you go about transitioning from the legal field to following your passion?
Raghav: Interesting question. For a lawyer turned entrepreneur, there is a bit of learning and unlearning. So as a lawyer, I think you know your risks, you’re always conscious of all this – this risk will happen and that risk will happen. Especially since we were working as lawyers in a bank, the whole idea was to highlight legal risks and being able to secure the bank against risk. As an entrepreneur, your mindset needs to optimistic and about taking risks and they need to be calculated. Therefore, having a legal mindset also helps you in some cases, but you need to move away from it. So, a part of you will be like before entering into anything, get into an NDA and that matters; like most relationships, business relationships too are made from a perspective of trust. So, there is a little bit of unlearning and relearning. That’s my first point. The second point would be at least in college, I think being part of organizing fests in college which helps you to understand coordination and being able to think through those processes. You’re not a one-man island. You need people to work along with you. So just the collaborative aspect, which I think you gain while working in a moot court, our work in the Symbhav fest was huge and while conducting the college fairs with about 300 team members. Building that back then was a great precursor learning ground, before taking it up through QShala and Walnuts, and so on. Additionally, I would attribute confidence to do things, like, just pick up a call and call a celebrity to invite them to college fairs, etc. It allows you to be a little shameless in asking, moving away from your comfort zone. I think all of that played a part in college.
Sachin: I agree 100%, a humanities background is a great degree to consider building a business. People generally think that the engineering degree or a management degree is usually the only way to build an enterprise. But I believe on the contrary, there are a great number of lawyers who have Silicon Valley giants as well. What you study doesn’t have any correlation to what you possibly build, but lawyers have had that and studying the law had at least some sort of use is what I believe. And I sense that learning humanities was quite useful, especially in terms of working with people. Having a sense of how people operate and working with them, I think are some of the things I carry from law school. As Raghav mentioned, there’s a lot of unlearning as well because I think like a lawyer and you’re always trying to optimize. You’re trying to wait for the best outcome. And in entrepreneurship, there’s no best outcome. There’s just the quickest outcome and you keep iterating on outcomes.
Raghav: I just want to add on here with examples of Peter Thiel, Bill Gates, Michael Arrington, all these folks either dropped out of college or finished their humanities, and especially law, like I mean, all of these people were studying law before they ended up taking up their passion as their career.
Q. In the 6 years of your operation, you have managed to feature in the Limca Book Records. How did you go about achieving this? Tell us more about this endeavour.
Raghav: QShala is a learning platform to spark curiosity. One of the most important tools for anyone of us is to be relevancy and being a lifelong learner. What is at the heart of being a lifelong learner, according to us, is curiousity. It’s something that has not been given as much importance because it’s often said that it is inherent, but we think it can be something that can be grown. It must be harnessed. What QShala does curates is a very interesting curiosity-based learning experience, with a combination of questions, stories and activities, which we call the Curiosity curriculum. We want to build this mindset in children, so coding or any skill can be built on this foundation. QShala wants to be a companion for a child similar to a person who is always talking about interesting things that you want to know more about. From the perspective of the Limca Records, one of our college seniors and who’s also part of the Walnuts team, initially, was part of the 2041 Antarctica Expedition. When he was there, we thought, why not? We asked him to conduct a quiz as part of the expedition based on Antarctica, climate change, and global warming in the Antarctica peninsula. As part of that, we ended up with a good response; there were many IAS officers and many change-makers when we conducted the quiz there. As a result, we applied for a Limca Book of Records for being the first company to conduct a quiz in Antarctica, since we conducted a quiz in Antarctica and there was an interesting quiz question we had also asked in that quiz, which was about Metallica being the first band to conduct a concert in every continent of the world, including Antarctica. So that inspired us and we asked ourselves “Hey, you know. What if we conducted a quiz in Antarctica, and why not in every continent of the world? So we mustered up friends and advisors. We conducted one quiz in the US Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Then, we conducted one quiz in a school in Chile, through our advisor Mr. Suresh Kumar Pinglay, who was going there on his holiday, and he was gracious enough to go conduct a quiz. Then we conducted a quiz in a startup incubator centre in Africa. And then, in the Hertie School of Public Policy, Subhodeep conducted a quiz there, and I conducted a quiz in Berlin, in a pub there, if I’m not wrong. And then finally, Mr. Suresh once again helped us with a quiz at the Deakin University in Australia. After that, we went and applied for the Limca Book Records for being the first company to conduct a quiz in all continents of the world, because in India, of course, we had conducted a whole lot of quizzes.
Q. Every career has challenges, something like getting quizzing out to the masses as a fun, team-building activity to the young and old alike. What were the challenges you faced while making such an unconventional career switch? How did you push through those setbacks?
Sachin: I think the background that both Raghav and I come from is, of course, humanities and all of that, but I feel there are ways you can solve problems. There are ways you can solve problems with technology. As opposed to just solving them by having people and process right, you can solve it both ways. What Raghav and I think is that we have a decent understanding of how you can use people to solve certain problems. I think we’ve learned the way of doing it the hard way. But I think what we don’t have is the ability to see how technology can creatively solve some problems. So that’s been a challenge. We’re looking to see how we can add someone with that experience and competence to jump onto the team. The second challenge is, conventional education, the line of business might give you more of an understanding of some of the financial necessities and documents. Some of those things, I don’t think we learned in college, though we might have learned probably in a BBA degree. But I don’t think to the extent that it kind of directly influenced the decisions I took immediately when we ran into the business. So those are two challenges have noticed. Otherwise, in terms of growing the business and trying to manage the business, I think we’re not too bad, very honestly. I think whatever had to be done, we pushed around and looked for solutions. So I would say those are two areas where I think I feel like our challenges we’ve had to face, but you know, you fight and you make it happen.
Raghav: We came from being passionate quizzers, with the teaching mindset to being a little bit of a lawyer mindset. There was a very important requirement to have an entrepreneur mindset. I am somebody who will be willing to do free quizzes. Honestly, if you’re building an enterprise, you just have to say no. Learning to say no and focusing on our session mentioned in terms of just the ‘Dhanda’ kind of mindset, that is what I think we are still learning. Just to put that in perspective, the second part of it is, there’s no science to it. Like hiring people – how do you hire the best kind of people? There’s no science, right? It’s a muscle that you grow. It’s just an intuitive feeling that you constantly try to ask questions, which enables you to do that. Hiring is very important and it is based on what mental models you can create, to get the best kind of people to enter into your organization. So that’s the third thing: many times it would be about entrepreneurship, and especially early-stage entrepreneurship, like ours, is about really managing uncertainty. So, because we have a market and what channel to take to the market, there can be multiple ideas that come to your town, like to be able to distil focus, bring alignment in the team, to focus and get to one particular goal. Sometimes it’s not very easy, because there are many forces that you need to click in or take care of, right? Cash flow situations would be there. Like if you had capital, that’s a different story, right? Like, what if you’re a bootstrap startup, and you have to work on all of that, there are multiple challenges. Being able to focus in the light of uncertainty, and, and to be persistent in, in going ahead with your experiments, even when you’re not finding the light at the end, have a very hard experiment or so on, that persistence is what counts. That requires a lot of courage here. And you know, it’s not easy, and sometimes we might not have shown that courage, but we’re learning. It’s a mindset, it’s truly a mindset.
Q. Most of our readers are either law students or law graduates. What advice would you like to give to pursue careers based on their passion as compared to mere convention/compulsion?
Sachin: It might be very ironic that we say it, but we got very lucky. I’ll be honest, the life for the choice that we made in terms of pursuing what we did, it came from the concept of ‘Ikigai’. What you’re good at, if you do what you like doing, you get paid for it. We happen to chance upon that in quizzing and the teaching side of it. The learning of the journey for us equated to the ambition that we had, which was building a business. When one considers pursuing a passion out of their to-be profession, there must be an analysis of “Okay, what are the skills I have that enabled me to solve for this?’, ‘What are the skills I need to cultivate?”, and anything can be learned very honestly. I should talk about one interesting person called Shubro Sengupta, who runs a course for lawyers on business fundamentals. That’s possibly a course many people can consider as well. Because once you know the business side of things, along with that comes the proposition that you’re looking to sell, right? You want to pursue an interest in design because you are fantastic at it, right? Say you have done law, but despite wanting to make a change in decision, I think just being more cognizant of “hey, these are the tradeoffs, these are the pros and the cons”, possibly having conversations with people is what I would say, before choosing to make a journey. For us, we spoke to numerous people, we spoke to our family members. While there was a lot of skepticism, I think there was the little credit or the respect that they had was that we decided that we’re going to work on something we were good at, quizzing was something that we were tangibly good at and we were able to show that we were successful because of many, many competitions, right? I wasn’t telling my parents, I was going to go open a restaurant, next week, or Raghav wasn’t going to say something of that nature where there was no context at all. So, I think asking some of those fairly honest, open questions, is what matters. Then making sure that if all of those things are ticked off, I think the time between the 20s to 30s is the age you can go out and pursue some of these things. Because the learnings one gets out of these experiences are immeasurable, and I think compounds over time. Like money compounds, experience compounds as well.
Raghav: The Gita says you do your work attuned to your nature and qualities. I think when you go deeper into that, it’s that each of us is in pursuit of our sense of self-realization and that’s what Sachin meant with the state of Ikigai. If you have not found that that’s fine, but I think what you should be aware of it is that you need to seek it out. The journey of seeking out, and once you know, you’re happy or unhappy about something, and being ruthless about what you want to do. It’s important to be truthful with that talk that you have with yourself, but when you have that, you should go with all courage and you know what, it’s not going to be an easy journey. It will give you the gratification for the journey, it gives you that sense of the fact that you’re fighting for what you truly want to do in your life, regardless, and that’s what becomes meaningful. If you’re in the pursuit of that, that’s when I guess I can say that you can find that light The end of the tunnel is again left to whatever your actions are. Your Dharma is to follow your actions with what you believe in. As long as you’re doing that fearlessly with a sense of sincerity, you’d be content. Remember to keep at it. What I think is difficult is if you don’t want to take that courageous action; I just hope that you are able to muster the courage to try things out or just go to it. I’m sure you’d be a little uncomfortable with taking that position as well. Just have the understanding that you have very limited time in this world, and you should at least fight to do something you like doing or you end up feeling kind of feeling miserable, etc. It’s a very, I’d say, honest, one on one conversation with yourself.
(NOTE – This has been reproduced from a telephonic conversation between Sachin Ravi & Ravi Chakravarthy and Abhishek Jain)
Find out more about Sachin Ravi and Raghav Chakravarthy –
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/walnut-knowledge-solutions/ ; https://www.linkedin.com/in/sachinravi/ ; https://www.linkedin.com/in/raghavchakravarthy/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/QShala ; https://www.facebook.com/sachinravi ; https://www.facebook.com/raghav.chakravarthy.7
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/qshala_official/ ; https://www.instagram.com/raghavnc/ ; https://www.instagram.com/sachinravi_insta/
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/QShala/featured
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/QShalaOnline
Disclaimer – All views and opinions expressed in this interview are personal and belong solely to the interviewee(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the LAABh Foundation or the individuals and institutions associated with LAABh Foundation.