Hi Venkatesh. It's a pleasure to have you here. Please tell me before we actually start the interview, I would like to understand how it was possible for you to achieve such impressive progress within just four years. You started in 2018 and right now you have more than 7000 happy students, a thriving consultancy business, and a training business. What was your approach to that?
It is indeed a pleasure to have a discussion with you on this and share some of my experiences. Before we get started, it's a long journey. I wouldn't say that I have achieved a lot, it's just the beginning.
It all started as a vague idea one day when we saw that many learning partners, not to blame, but many learning partners have not been connecting to the real purpose with the student. We just started with a very strong mission — to humanize organizations. We put the community framework first over the training programs and consultancy. And when we say humanized organization, we are really serious about building capable and resilient organizations.
So it does take four years to definitely establish a bit of a reputation, of credibility, whatever you would like to call it, by working with a lot of Agile agents in the industry to put across some ideas. There are four to five categories I would like to highlight, in terms of the journey that we have come across
Community is the first and foremost important one. As you could see on our website, we spend a lot of time organizing nonprofit community events, inviting speakers across the globe. And probably we are the only company that would have been meeting guests from more than 17 countries in a year.
And the second thing is we try to really give authentic information to people in our blogs. When we say authentic information, people that are coming to us should trust the content that we publish and it should be relevant to their job. So we evolve our content, we continuously inspect and adapt. And we also do a lot of work in terms of researching, doing frequent surveys with our students: what is really helpful, what is not really helpful. And based on that, we would try to design our writings, not just what we want to write, we will put it on the website.
And the last part is we don't focus on advertising and spamming the inbox of our candidates. We focus more on giving quality content, getting genuine feedback. We are one of the companies, I would probably say, which totally depends on word of mouth and also authentic content. We would like to establish ourselves as one of the trusted brands.
And it plays out pretty well, I would say. I mean, when I was investigating and doing research on tryScrum, I was impressed by the responses from your students and the number of people you were able to teach in this quite short period of time, and how they rate your trainings. I would say that your thoughts are definitely working out.
Thank you so much.
And as you stated, the first point, the first pillar, I would say, of your journey is a community. I would like to go into more detail because right now everyone in education is talking about community. I guess it's related to moving from offline to online. There are more competitions and people adapted to easier-to-get content, cheaper content, sometimes free. So the community is an extremely important part of repetitive sales and established brands. But you had started this a way before the pandemic started. What's your approach to that? What is your take on the community of students, on the community of trainers that you work with?
That's a good question. I’ll try my best to answer in a few sentences. When we started this company in 2018, as I told you, we focused a lot on community and we depended on online tools. So we started way back the webcasts and podcasts: recording them and giving them back to the community and all that. But after COVID, it is a bit more challenging, because kind of Zoom fatigue or online fatigue, we got it everywhere. What we try to do is not just about bringing the students and may be trying to do marketing through our community, we are genuinely interested in doing a community event. We try to record it with some of the legends in the Agile industry, I would say. For example, our focus has always been to bring authentic content, as I mentioned in my previous response. For example, if it's Kanban, I'm not saying there are no other personalities in the industry that can talk well about Kanban, but we try to bring some Home of Scrum, Home of Kanban, Home of Cynefin guy so that we give some more value addition to the candidates. And there is an opportunity for candidates to directly ask some questions to such people who have done a lot of work and contributed to the Agile community. So we try to do that.
We always focus on different community events, not just doing a webcast. For example, we do a podcast answering some tough questions live, and we take any questions for that matter. Ask us anything about Scrum or Agile or something, and we genuinely will try to answer, we don't give any diplomatic answers like this framework may be good or that framework may be good. We are very transparent because what we preach, we would like to practice. So whatever we share, it's all our views and why we stay very respectful to the community. We try to genuinely share our views. So that is one of the reasons I would say.
And the third reason I feel is we are very natural. So we are being really natural in the respect to the way we have with communities and events. That is also one of the reasons we got a very good response to the community events that we host. And I would like to definitely thank all the people that contributed to the community. That is a group that is really working hard in the background. And there is a set of people that are trying to bring some good speakers across the globe. They go and hunt really really good speakers. They spend a lot of time. We have three studios: Product Owner Studio, Scrum Master Studio, Agile Leadership Studio. So there are three studios, three sets of teams, they're trying to collaborate and see what is good for the studio. There's a lot of empowerment and delegation that's going on, not needing any approvals. So that is also one of the reasons — we have a set of passionate people that are working and they love what they do. So we felt that is one of the reasons our community initiative has been really successful.
Thank you for the very interesting answer. You talk a lot about content and also you invest a lot into content and finding the right people and giving back their knowledge to the community, which is absolutely great. But what is interesting to me is how you collaborate with your students besides podcasts and livecasts. Are there any other options or any other activities that you do to make sure that the community is alive between these events that happen once in a while, like podcasts or livecasts, or Zoom calls. These activities happen once a week, twice a week, or twice a month, for example. Are there any other tools you use to have the discussion going on alive?
Yeah, we do come to the event once a month. We don't do it once a week because there are a lot of things that are going on with our candidates as well after this pandemic. They are also online. There are a lot of meetings. So we don't want to bombard candidates with this. As I told you, one thing is we try to record the community events offline with the speakers, because speakers are coming from different countries and we try to record those videos and put into our website quality content. So we focus on content, content, content, nothing else.
And the other ways we engage students are two mediums, I would say, very simple mediums. One is we have a Slack community. We have all of our alumni in a closed group. We invite all the candidates and it's an open invitation. All candidates can join the Slack community once they complete our training programs, and they will be sent across only community events on that channel. We don't send any of the marketing communications, like we are selling this class or that class, here is the discount, or there is a discount. So we don't want to spam our community, right? So we want to genuinely put some community stuff. That is one with one of the ways we interact with the students after their class.
And the other way is, as I told you, we try to build a lot of content in different mediums because some people are going to utilize content from your website, some people may be looking at the Medium, some people looking at your LinkedIn, some people might be looking at my Scrum.org profile, some people would be looking at my Scrum Alliance profile. So when I build the content, I genuinely ensure that I put the content in all these places because the intention is to help people and they need to utilize this content. The intention is not just to divert all my traffic to my website. But how does that help my business? As I told you when your mission and your purpose is very strong and you are very passionate about that and the value that we are trying to bring to the students takes the lead over the profit that we are trying to do. So value maximization over profit maximization is also one of the things that we used to follow.
And I wanted to add one more thing apart from that. As a team, we always used to speak one thing. For example, what kind of contributions we have been doing apart from this to the community? Have we done any white papers? Have we published any research? Have we really helped people to go through their career stages? Have we been helping them in building careers, for example, as an Agile Coach, or as a Scrum Master, or Product Ownership? So we sat down and spent a lot of time publishing white papers, publishing career roadmaps for people that are going to be really useful for people. For example, building a career as a Scrum Master blog was read more than 7000 times in the last eight months or so. This means we would like to really help people in their journey. So we think that reciprocity really works. If you help people, if you deliver value, I'm sure there's going to be some good response.
That is a fantastic approach. What is interesting to me is how you follow your passion and value. You don't move all your traffic to the website, but bring value to people where they can actually find this value. Either on the Scrum Alliance website or any other mediums that probably can bump into you or your company. And this is really great.- type: guest
But what's interesting to me from a business point of view is do you measure anyhow how people are actually converted, for example, from some other website? “I saw your talk or read your article on other sources and then came to and registered.” So do you measure that in any way or do you just believe that this is how it should be done and this is how you do that this way without any other actions after it?
Yeah, I think I spoke a lot like a coach and a trainer. Let me try to give some perspective from a business person, right? Yes, we do measure using a lot of tools. We have analytics, we have a separate team sitting out in the background and measuring all that. Yes, we do measure the traffic from different sources. We also measure some organic traffic. Our main focus is to increase organic traffic through quality content. And one unique thing about us is, for example, if somebody is landing on the tryScrum website, they don't just see it as a training or a consulting company. They also see us as a company that really helps people in different ways. So, for example, some of the things that we cannot publish on other websites, but we have them on our own website, it’s white papers. They generate a lot of traffic whenever we write a blog. So people are going to look at our website for more and more blogs that are there. This is the one-stop place for everything that you can get. That's one thing.
We have a concept called tryScrum+. Something like complementary practices, how people can benefit from other practices apart from Scrum. We try to do that, and we recently put a career roadmap for people. For example, I'm an Agile coach, what's next? Our company focuses mainly on building capable and resilient organizations. We strongly believe that leaders can be coaches in the future. We categorize into three categories: leadership coaching, business coaching, team coaching. This kind of career tracks has been designed on our website, it is available on our website and through the blogs, people land on our website.
So we measure the traffic using a good number of tools. We also focus on ranking. We also focus on how many people are visiting what kind of pages, what content they are interested in. Apart from that, we have a chat system, Tidio. And you must be knowing Tidio as it’s a European based company. We got quite a lot of integrations, we see how many people are landing on the website through which source and how many people are getting converted from that. So we have goal conversion measurements.
And the last piece is our website is quite developed, with very good usability in the mind. You will probably see one of the few training companies that build a lot of such capabilities on the website. Even though the site is not going to be searched by millions of people, our focus is on whoever is coming to our website, we should make the job easier. In a single click, they should be able to find which course we are offering. The home page was designed very carefully having information, usability, and those usage patterns in mind. So these are some of the ways that we really take care of our audience and their preferences seriously. So that drives a lot of traffic to us as well.
This is perfect. When you talked first, as you mentioned, as Agile Coach and then moved slowly to a business owner, it is clearly explaining how actually the mechanic works, especially in your particular case. And what we described and what we talked about right now is one side of the community, the community that consumes your content and then decides later, that's probably they are ready to take the next step.
What about the community of students that you already have on your Slack channel? Someone who participated in your course. You mentioned that you don't push marketing messages to them. You don't sell courses. But does having this community help you to do repetitive sales, to see people coming to the second, third, maybe the fourth workshop?
The only marketing we do with the community is “two days is just a training for you, but for us, it's two days investment that you are investing in us”. We take that investment more seriously than anybody else. We really live with that.
If you see the conversion rate, probably 35 to 40 percent of our business is coming from a repeat customer. For example, they go back to work and bring us as a vendor. We got clients in more than 14-15 countries, I would say. And many, many brands we have served are based in Europe. How is this really possible?
You could see one of the largest nonprofit organizations is our repeated customer. This is possible in two ways. We definitely do brand promotion. We would like to tell our students there is an alumni discount we have. We have exclusive alumni benefits for students, we have tiers. Once they have taken two to three workshops with us, they will enter into the golden alumni. We give very, very good prices to our alumni. But at the same time, if you see our website, we don't publish any fancy discounts in the name of inflation and deflation of prices. We don't do that. The way that we get students is because of the intense workshops and the experience that we have in the industry. We carefully designed and crafted all the courses, that is very relevant to the participant. And also when they come to our workshop, we definitely give a long-lasting impression for them with respect to the quality of conversation. We go to the students back and say: “Hey, there are different benefits that you get as alumni. Do you think you can explore our courses?”. After looking at the stuff, the students come back to us. About 30 to 35 percents of students, on average, come back to us.
And number two, these Trustpilot reviews really help us. Trustpilot is something that we started way back before many people in India realized that Trustpilot is one of the good platforms. We really started investing in Trustpilot in making our students. We don't send so many emails to students and say “Go and write on Trustpilot.” But we send one communication over to class and ask them: “If you feel really valuable and our classes really helped you, please go and write, leave your reviews to us.” By the way, we speak to the people and the way we add value we get a good number of reviews on Trustpilot.
The repeated business you asked, it's not just about businesses. There are a lot of candidates who come to us and say: “We would like to introduce you to the corporate. We’ve attended these many trainings, but we feel really this is something unique and creative which is relevant to the industry. It is relevant to my job today, so I would like to go and introduce you to my corporate. There are maybe more than 7-8 clients we got through our students. We got to do a lot of work. There's a long way to go, but I think we are on the right track.
Yeah, it seems to me that the path is just going up for you as you take on these repetitive sales within your community, within the alumni community, would be better to say, because right now we need to differentiate the community. It’s perfect, and I'm really happy to hear that.
I think you also mentioned these Trustpilot reviews and your approach to collecting them, and I mentioned before we started that the rating is great there and you have 227 reviews, which is a big number, considering that it's almost five stars. And what is your approach, by the way, when you get a review? Do you do any other activity after that? Do you approach the students by saying "Thank you very much", or do you just reply using Trustpilot functionality? Do you do any additional work to send a note of appreciation to students?
We don't do that actually. Once the student writes the review, we don't actually go and approach the student individually. As a company, we have different values. For example, one of the main things that I keep saying to my team is “do not spam anybody’s inbox too much”. We try to stay very classy. We reply through the Trustpilot platform itself once the student writes a review. Fortunately, most of my students who write reviews, used to send an email to me saying: “Venkatesh, I have just left the review and really, really liked your workshop. Your team is awesome.” We immediately reply to the email. There is a person, in case I cannot reply. I try to reply to all the emails as much as I can. Sometimes you cannot reply to any of the reviews that the student writes. We have some help and support people, they used to send communication and at least reply to the emails that we received: “Thank you very much for leaving your review. Really appreciate your time.” That is one thing we do.
Apart from that, we have been doing some campaigns. We have been actually sending our blogs to campaigns, campaigning all of the students and all that stuff. But as a company, we took a decision in 2021 not to send any campaigns, even blogs, because nowadays, if you see the proliferation of emails are too much, like in Promotions, you will see 200 emails. And 1 in 200 emails, it's going to sit. So we are not focusing on that. So we are focusing on something different.
In 2022, our strategy is again going to be different in how we engage with our students. We recently launched something called tryScrum Academy. tryScrum Academy is a place for people to come and take self-based courses. What we have been thinking is there are some different ideas going on with respect to how we want to engage our students. Maybe that is going to be our strategy in 2022 to engage our alumni even better.
Thank you very much. It was your approach to engaging with students, with your community, which is actually inspiring. I personally learned a lot and I have something to think about over the New Year.
And I think we could easily wrap up the interview for now, even while we can talk and talk and talk. So thank you very much, Venkatesh, for your time and for your insights. It's indeed very good and interesting to hear your approach to the community of students and all Agile practitioners.
Thank you so much, Sergey. Actually, it was really, really nice talking to you. I got an opportunity to reflect. Fortunately, it landed at the year’s end. I got an opportunity to reflect on what we have been doing in the last two three years. I tried to amalgamate all the thoughts and put them into one podcast.
I would say thank you so much for interviewing me or maybe at least inviting me to the podcast. You've been doing an amazing job. I have seen your profile and Workshop Butler. In fact, I used Workshop Butler quite a lot of times when I was a Management 3.0 facilitator. I think many trainers have been using it. Thank you so much for the time that you spent. I wish you and your family a very happy New Year.
Yeah, same to you. Same to you, Venkatesh. And have great holidays!
Thank you so much. Looking forward to speaking to you. Bye!