Gagan Biyani is an entrepreneur by trade. He began exploring the career path at the age of 21, tinkering with ideas before eventually starting education technology Udemy in 2010 with co-founders Eren Bali and Oktay Caglar. He’s also dabbled in journalism as a writer for TechCrunch, run a conference business, lent his skills as a marketing advisor to Lyft, and in 2013 founded Sprig, a start-up focused on sustainability and health-conscious food delivery services.
Today, his day-to-day work revolves around his position as CEO of Maven. Launched in 2021, the online learning company provides easy-to-access online courses in topics such as Artificial Intelligence, engineering, design, marketing, leadership, business, investing, and more. The unique part about it is that unlike Udemy, Maven is cohort-based and split over multiple virtual sessions. This gives learners the opportunity to both progress at a comfortable pace but also actively collaboratively engage in course work.
To put things bluntly, Gagan possesses an amazing ability to come up with innovative ideas and bring them to fruition. It’s something he’s done since we met through a mutual connection years ago, and continues to prove day in and day out. So who better to talk to about entrepreneurial success? We recently sat down for a podcast covering everything from Gagan’s professional history and current endeavors to his best advice for aspiring creators.
Here are 10 takeaways from our discussion:
1. Embrace a Bold Vision: Unleashing the Power of Ambition to Build a Thriving Company
The world’s greatest creations didn’t come to be out of marginality – they’re all proof of what a big heart and determined mind can do. In Gagan’s case, he was a kid who had grown up frustrated with the American public education system. He saw it fail people and wanted to create a solution that would fix the problem. There’s no way that Udemy would have gotten past the countless trials of start-up life if Gagan didn’t have a passionate mission to pursue. The itch he and his co founders had to scratch was the driving force behind all the hard work and dedication that went into making it happen.
2. Envisioning the Future: Inspiring Others with the Potential of Your Business
There’s only one thing that sets aspiring and successful entrepreneurs apart: their ability to paint a picture of the future. It’s not enough to have a good idea. If you want other people to believe in it, or hand you any money for that matter, you need to be able to see the end result and explain it in detail.
3. Bootstrapping vs. Venture Capital: Choosing the Right Funding Path for Your Business
Although venture capital can be a great way to get your business up and running, for some businesses, bootstrapping may be the better option. Gagan’s conference business, for example, didn’t require venture capital to be successful. He was able to build it on his own and see meaningful returns without taking on any external investments.
4. Make Great Connections
No one is an island – especially when it comes to the world of entrepreneurship. Gagan’s relationship with Udemy’s co founders Eren and Ocktay played a large role in their success. While he possessed sales skills, Eren and Oktay were the experts in developing technology. Through combining his skills with theirs, they created the perfect team.
5. Aligning the Plan with the Vision: Adapting Strategies to Achieve Big Goals
Things change. But why let them stand in the way of your vision? Gagan can recount plenty of times he and his team had to adapt when creating Udemy. When starting off, the plan was to create a live e-learning platform. But after months of struggling to find traction, Gagan convinced everyone to switch to recorded content and in no time the business was up and running.
6. Establishing Credibility Over Time: Garnering Interest in Your Vision through Progressive Milestones
Even the world’s best salespeople don’t have a 100% close rate. There are always outlying prospects, ones who, regardless of how many great arguments you make, won’t invest in you until they see some tangible proof that it’s worthwhile. So make a point of doing that. Whether it’s new customers, industry awards or competitive stats; the more proof of success you can build up over time, the easier it is to get people onboard.
7. Scale the Smart Way
Scaling a company is no easy feat, and Gagan has seen plenty of entrepreneurs fail to do it correctly. While the temptation might be there to take as much money as you can, oftentimes it doesn’t turn out to be the most beneficial.
8. Emphasizing Destination: Charting a Clear Course Towards Your Ultimate Business Objective
Having an idea or dream is one thing. Knowing where to go with it is another consideration entirely. One of the main reasons aspiring entrepreneurs fail to realize their projects is because they get too caught up in the excitement of it all. It’s critical to have an actual strategy behind what you’re doing. Otherwise, it’s hard to stay on track and know when you’ve finally achieved success.
9. Meeting the Passion Bar: The Key Criterion for Selecting Long-term Venture
While Gagan makes it clear that ambition is key to entrepreneurial success, it’s worth noting that not every idea is worth pursuing. It’s important to understand your own passions, capabilities and resources when deciding what projects you should take on. The most important factor when deciding what to work on is whether you’re passionate enough to work on it long-term. If the answer’s no, then it might be worth reconsidering and looking for another direction.
10. Being an Entrepreneur Is Expensive
Also on the topic of commitment, entrepreneurs need to realize that this field of work isn’t cheap. Yes, you can get funding or raise capital to help build your dream, but you still need to be willing to spend your own money on the cause. After all, nobody else is going to do it for you.