The Events Industry Will Revive and Bounce Back Maybe 10 Times Better: Karan Shroff, Unacademy

Industry Watch | November 6, 2020 | Interview

Karan Shroff Unacademy Wizcraft Herbalife Xiaomi

The story of Karan Shroff, Chief Marketing Officer of Unacademy, an ed-tech start-up that has recently achieved unicorn status, has its beginnings in the events and experiential industry. Starting out as a teenage volunteer at events, and going on to join Wizcraft, he ultimately turned marketer, working with brands Herbalife, Xiaomi and now, Unacademy. No wonder then that he has deep insights into the events domain and remains a staunch believer in the power of experience. “The experiential and events industry will thrive, irrespective of the pandemic. It’s probably at a stop-gap currently and it will revive and bounce back maybe 10 times better,” Shroff says.

The journey of a marketer

While still in school in Bangalore, Shroff became a volunteer at events, taking up walk-in jobs to earn pocket money. Later, he went on to work at large scale events for different kinds of businesses, which gave him good exposure and insights into the industry. When he reached college, he worked post college hours as events were mostly held in the evenings. All along, his learning curve was high. “I was always one to say ‘mujhe aur kaam do…’ take on more work of any kind… That opened doors for me – I was at Wizcraft, and used to handle Herbalife events, when the Director at Herbalife offered me a job,” recalls Shroff, acknowledging his mentors Rohit Samuel at Wizcraft, Hugo Barra and Manu Jain at Xiaomi, who gave him the opportunity to lead the brand and Gaurav Munjal at Unacademy, who he calls “the most inspiring and empowering boss I have had till date”.

Experience is critical for brands

Viewing the events and experiential space from a marketer’s lens, Shroff is quick to say that the personalized touch that events bring is very critical for any brand, which is why events have been around for the longest time and will continue to thrive. “The experience of being physically present at an event is matchless. The feel of being at a concert cannot be experienced otherwise. An award show is always great when you are present in person. When you are at the stadium for a cricket match, the energy, the electrifying atmosphere, is very different than when you watch it at home. Now, we have got into virtual events, and there is great development in that space. A lot of stuff can now be done virtually as well, but the offline experience remains important. It’s very critical,” he asserts.

So how does he see the events and experiential industry from the Unacademy viewpoint? And what can a brand get out of the medium? “Predominantly, if we were to engage with our students at any forum or have a community of sorts where we could engage with them, the experience of meeting them in person would be a really great feeling for all of us. We have hundreds of thousands of students learning every day on the platform, and I think that experience itself is a crazy feeling. Brands want to engage at a personal level with their consumers,” Shroff replies.

The #Let’sCrackIt philosophy

Education is usually about ranks and numbers, but for Unacademy, it’s about empowering students, irrespective of where they are, stoking their passion to learn, says Shroff, talking of the live learning aspect through interactive classes, additional doubt-clearing sessions over weekends, classes streamed at low bandwidth, with no need for high-speed Internet connectivity, etc. Summing it up as “high-quality, high-intent learning”, he adds that Unacademy operates across 35+ categories covering majority of the competitive exams across the country, engaging India’s top educators. Currently, Unacademy has over 350K subscribers, all learners for various exams, falling largely in the age group 16-30 or 30+, in case they are taking the UPSC course. More than 30 million learners have studied on Unacademy since 2015, mentored by over 45,000 educators who are on board.

To Shroff’s credit at Unacademy is the highly visible #Let’sCrackIt campaign, which encapsulates what students go through in the learning journey overall. “The campaign made us grow multifold, and made ‘crack’ a word synonymous with learning and with Unacademy,” he says. The campaign extended to a couple of integrations with Star Screen awards and Dance Plus, as well as a tech show on Unacademy.

Good results from IPL sponsorship

Unacademy is the central sponsor for the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL), and has reportedly shelled out Rs ₹120-130 crore for it. While Shroff refuses to comment on the cost and ROI, he does share his expectations, saying, “Success for us will be the kind of brand awareness and affinity we are able to build. We have seen a significant spike in our search volumes and a surge in subscribers since the onset of IPL 2020. Our brand message of democratising education is reaching far and wide and creating top of the mind brand awareness across the country. So, using IPL as an engine has yielded good results for us, and we continue to work towards becoming a household name in India.

The need to learn every day

Shroff joined Unacademy in September 2019, and was elevated to Chief Marketing Officer exactly a year later. The business vision for him at Unacademy is to democratise education to ensure that more people get access to high quality education. “The core focus is to make Unacademy a household name from a marketing perspective. In terms of vision for the brand, it is also democratizing education. We are planning a lot of campaigns that will convey this message,” he says.

Every day, Shroff asks himself what he has learnt that day, and if the answer is ‘Nothing’, he worries a lot. “I need to learn at least one or two new things every day,” says the man who takes the brand’s core philosophy of learning to his heart.

Karan Shroff talks about his spectacular journey, beginning as an enthusiastic teenager at walk-in events in Bangalore, to his current position as CMO of Unacademy, India’s newest unicorn.

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