Entrepreneur Aruna Gopakumar: Birth of a learning revolution

Aruna Gopakumar, Founder, Navgati started her venture as a provider of quality learning events. Founded 11 years ago, as an independent consultancy by her, it converted into a formal organisation 6 years back when the team felt that they had something significant. By education Aruna holds an engineering degree from Anna Univ (1991) and a PGDM from Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (1993). She started her career in HR with IBM in Bangalore and moved to Sasken where she grew to head the HR team. Aruna has studied Transactional Analysis as a tool for personal growth for the last 4 years. Her training in TA has allowed her to find her wings and yet remain centered. Aruna is an accredited facilitator for MBTI and a strategic planning process called Future Search. She set up Navgati in 1999. Here’s how her journey has shaped up so far.

Aruna GopakumarWe interviewed Aruna about her venture:

Q1. Tell us something about Navgati. What is your core business?

Navgati is a Bangalore based provider of exceptional quality, innovative learning events. We are in the business of leadership training, coaching and assessments. We hope to provide organizational leaders with deep, engaging learning experiences that creating lasting and significant change.

Q2. What does the name Navgati signify?

Navgati is the Sanskrit root of the word Navigate, which means to help change course and move in the right direction. Apart from the fact that it embodies what we do as an organization, we like it because it is Indian and musical-sounding.

Q3. Why did you decide to start this venture? What was the motivation behind it?

Even when I was in HR, I used to spend disproportionate amount of my time in people development activities. I knew that was my calling. I have the restlessness of an entrepreneur. I must act on ideas that excite me. I must also enjoy everything that I do. So, it naturally meant being on my own. It has been a very good decision for me in every way.

Q4. What is the USP of Navgati vis-a-vis others in the training domain?

Oh, there are many things! The adjectives that people use for us are passionate, creative, non-corporate, deep. We use theatre, art and experiential activities to engage the right brain and create learning events that are unique (not-corporate), interesting and impactful. Our programs are rich in content but delivered in a very engaging manner. The metaphor that comes to my mind is Alice in Wonderland, the book on which our website is based. Alice learns about herself as she journeys through wonderland and meets all these mad characters. We hope our workshops all help people change in significant ways through a process that they experience as curious, refreshing and fun- almost magical! And we are a bunch of mad hatters! It is an organization of friends. People cannot help noticing the energy and positivity in our group.

Q5. What are some of the challenges you faced in starting this venture? Do you think these are challenges every entrepreneur faces or are they specific to the training field?

I did face challenges that all entrepreneurs face: Building credibility, establishing networks, hiring the right people, building organizational processes. The challenges specific to training were that there is no entry barrier to training. Anybody who communicates well can set up a training company. That is coupled with the fact that most organizations do not understand how to get maximum value out of training, and see it as a one-time event trying to cover everything possible. Getting skilled facilitators is a huge challenge. Nevertheless, the industry is maturing and organizations are able to differentiate between good and œme too organizations. Talented people are getting drawn to this because to satisfaction and flexibility it provides. As one of our clients said, there are trainers and trainers, and there is Navgati. I see it only getting better for us.

Q6. How has Navgati grown over the years? Can you mention some of the major milestones in your journey?

While on paper Navgati is an 11 year old organization, for the first 5 years I was functioning as an independent consultant, not really thinking of making Navgati an organization. 6 years back, we felt that we had something significant to offer and building an organization became appealing. In the last 6 years Navgati has grown to be an organization with 10 senior trainers, passionate about their work and working closely together. We have today 300 clients built completely through referrals. More than the number of clients, we are very proud of the deep, positive relationships we have in the industry. We believe that the friends of Navgati community is large. We have at least 150 clients with whom we have been working for over 7 years. We have trained 40000 people (Average satisfaction rating of over 80%, consistently for the last 10 years) and developed a suite of over 30 programs in the areas of people management, communication, self-awareness and growth. The entire content has been developed internally by us, after extensive research and dialogue with clients

We added assessments and certifications to our offerings two years back. Last year we introduced coaching services as well and have coached 200 organisational leaders.

Q7. How did you go about building a team for your venture?

I would say building the team has been the most challenging part of the journey and also the most satisfying. I have never looked for people in a conventional way have a position in mind and spread the word. However, I have spotted people, and often in the most unusual of places. I look for authenticity, energy and facilitation capability apart from content expertise. in running the This combination is the rarest possible and often I have pursued people for some time before they decided to join. Last year I was lucky to find the perfect person to partner me in running the organization. I feel most satisfied to look at the team that is there today. Today a lot more people want to join and we have a more rigorous process in place. The scale and complexity of our work has increased and we need people with not just facilitation but a whole range of other skills. It is not easy to find people to match our standards, but we are not in a hurry. The right people do appear at regular intervals.

Q8. What are the important lessons you’ve learnt from being an entrepreneur?

Being an entrepreneur is an all consuming thing. I have learnt that having the right people in the team is the most critical to success. Building an organization requires huge effort and energy and keeping people together, motivated and pulling in the same direction. I have learnt what it takes to build credibility with a client. I could write a whole book about what I have learnt and I will at some point in time.

Q9. How does it feel to be a woman entrepreneur? Any plusses or minuses?

It is superb to be a woman entrepreneur. Why, I would say it is superb to be a woman. I have a strong bias for women. Our team has a large number of them. It gives me a kick to facilitate a leadership workshop for a group and demolish ideas of hierarchy and authority. However, I would say it is more difficult for women to get a foot hold in the leadership training space. Organisational leaders are most men. However, we are breaking through these barriers with our expert work and it feels good!

Q10. What are the future plans for Navgati?

We are doing excellent work. I would certainly like to increase the scale and impact and reach out to more and diverse audiences. I would like Navgati to become world famous. We will however work at a pace that allows us to enjoy the other joys of life, as we go about making a difference.

Unnati NarangAbout me:Unnati is a freelance writer, author and entrepreneur. From her blog to media initiatives like Times Ascent, HT Edge and The Better India, she is always keen on any writing opportunity that may come her way. Her writing bug extends to her venture www.serenewoods.com, a publishing portal she co-founded early 2009, for emerging authors. She is also the author of Drenched Soul (poetry) and If At All (Fiction).

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