Dear Community Members,
It has been 6 months since I left Microsoft to work on Network Capital (NC) full time and 1 year since we embarked upon the Network Capital TV adventure, a single-sign-on experience for all things NC. There have been so many personal, professional, emotional and social changes in my life that it is impossible to recount all of them. I will, however, try in the paragraphs below.
I find the backstory of one’s resume far more interesting than what’s on the surface. Given below are three meaningful highlights from the front of my resume in the last 365 days.
Made my side hustle Network Capital TV my full time job and managed to get thousands of monthly paying subscribers who love the content + community + career intelligence trinity of the NC experience. Content from Network Capital can now be found on Harvard Business School’s website.
Wrote 2 widely read essays for Harvard Business Review. One was on building your category of one and the other on why I decided to quit a job I loved to build a community WE love.
Published an Amazon #1 best-selling book “The Seductive Illusion of Hard Work”. The foreword was written by World Economic Forum founder, Professor Klaus Schwab.
**Don’t let these highlights confuse you to think that I had a great year. Like most of us, my year was sprinkled with grief, uncertainty and moments of hopelessness. Social media is an inscrutable machine. It makes us draw incomplete inferences.
Thanks in large part to your support and encouragement, my team and I have managed to make our passion for democratizing career intelligence a viable profession. For that, I will be eternally grateful.
Finding your first thousand true supporters is much harder than it seems. Network Capital found all of you in the first few months and that gave us the confidence that one day, with diligence, deliberate practice and experimentation, we might be more.
Exactly one year back I woke up to an email from Facebook. At that time Network Capital was among the handful of large FB groups with an inbuilt subscription feature. We had quite a few subscribers at that time and things were going well but everything was about to pivot…
Some changes at Facebook’s end made it unviable for us to continue the subscription feature so we had to take a difficult, nerve racking and challenging call to build our own platform in a matter of days.
The challenge was three-fold:
Technical: How to create a familiar but more nuanced social network that was primarily focused on peer learning and consuming long-form video/audio content?
Operational: Most Indian credit/debit cards don’t work for subscriptions and recurring payments. Even today, setting up recurring payments for a company in India is a mammoth task.
Communication: Behavior change is excruciatingly hard. Our existing users were familiar with the FB ecosystem. Moving them all to a new platform needed us to start all over again. We had to explain why were doing it, what the suite of new services will be and what the new Network Capital experience will feel like.
Figuring Out Next Steps
Our product and government affairs head Varya worked with her team 24*7 (literally) to give us the fighting chance of living for another day. We had to take things one hour at a time. After hundreds of iterations, we hacked our way into Network Capital TV.
We were WRONG. With the pandemic taking dangerous turns, there was an onslaught of webinars, newsletters and podcasts. “Death by Webinars” became one of the most popular memes of 2020.
Looking at our data, we realized that despite the high quality of content on our platform, the consumption was much lower than what it used to be. It occurred to us that our content alone would not be enough to get new users onboard.
Understanding Your WHY
I did have an intuitive understanding of why people use Network Capital but it was time to document and present it in a seamless, interesting way. It took many unsuccessful and often embarrassing iterations before we found our catchy 3Cs.
Content: Daily Masterclasses + Podcasts + Newsletters
Community: Strong peer-network, subgroups and serendipitous experiences
Career Intelligence: Daily Office Hours + Expert Reviews
The Design Challenge
What made Network Capital challenging to design is what made it interesting: NC meant different things to different people. For some, it was a platform for career advice and mentoring, for some it was a forum for upskilling, for others it was a way to network with interesting people and for some, subscribing to Network Capital was just a way of supporting our mission.
Figuring out our reason for being meant reflecting on our purpose. In practical terms it meant, figuring out learning outcomes for our subscribers. Essentially, what can people expect to learn once they come on board…How might we quantify the impact of our interventions..
Power of Compounding
We are big believers in the power of compounding so we told ourselves - let’s do whatever we can to make our subscribers 1% smarter every day. Compounding may be the 8th wonder of the world but its effects are slow and steady.
We had to complement the slow power of compounding with accelerated outcomes. Daily office hours worked well.
**I would have spent 1000+ hours speaking to our subscribers 1:1 in the last 365 days. We also launched office hours for our community members who needed mentorship but could not afford to pay for the NC subscription. My vision has always been to make NC need-blind. 1 year since our pivot we are now inching towards it in small ways. For example, our subscribers have started gifting subscriptions to others in need, some instructors have been making fellowships free for people who can’t afford it.
1:1 Conversations —> Customer Insights
1:1 conversations take time but leave you with deep customer insights. It was through some such discussions that we decided to make the Network Capital learning experience cohort based. That’s when we launched our short, focused cohort-based fellowships. Few months after, I also decided to invest in Maven, a platform that enables cohort-based-courses. (CBCc)
Our CBCs complemented our 3Cs. We started getting a lot more traction and finally found the missing link plaguing many ed-tech startups in the pandemic: Community-powered learning for specific career/skilling goals.
Discovering the Community-Market Fit
One of the first CBCs we launched was “I don’t know what I want to do with my life” Fellowship. Our cohort included 100 curious people across age groups, countries, convictions and orientations. Witnessing them learn with and from each other gave us confidence to add new fellowships every month.
Broadly speaking, we now have three kinds of CBCs/fellowships:
#1. Foundational Learning
'I don't know what I want to do with my life' Fellowship: A deep-generalist approach to career exploration
CEO Fellowship: Building your category of one
#2. Skill Based Fellowships Based on Micro-Adventures
Product Management Fellowship
Sports Administration Fellowship
#3. Lifelong Learning Fellowships
Public Speaking Fellowship
Community Building Fellowship
Personal Branding Fellowship
If you wish to learn more about the architecture of our fellowships and how we design them, feel free to read this article on our website.
With the launch of each of our fellowships, we want our subscribers to experiment, tinker and take calculated risks knowing they are not alone. The whole premise of community-based learning is that it takes the pressure off. Passion isn’t found sitting under a tree waiting for the metaphoric apple to fall. It is nurtured through deliberate experimentation.
We aren’t perfect today and we will NEVER be. Perfection is not what we strive for. Our goal is progress: slow, steady and compounding.
Managing Time, Energy and Attention
Each fellowship takes hundreds of hours to put together. Since we don’t do paid advertising or sales, we spend all our time, energy and attention on growing our community and figuring out ways to serve in our own unique way. We call it contribution capital.
Through a combination of serendipity, peer-recommendations and community enabled connections, we are able to get inspiring faculty for our students including but not limited to Nobel Laureates, Fortune 500 CEOs/ CXOs, award winning authors, top investors and change makers from around the world.
The Challenge of Making Fellowships/CBCs Work
Pulling off each fellowship seems impossible when we start but somehow things figure themselves out. Good strategy and solid execution is only part of the puzzle. There is a generous dose of luck and even more of community love that makes the NC experience come alive.
The Hard Stuff
So much happened in 2020. One of the hardest things was to keep our heads down, focus on the fundamentals of business and add specific value to those in need. We are a community, not a typical business. We will never measure our success simply in terms of revenues and costs.
Job losses, bankruptcy, deaths, desperation, exasperation were widespread. It was our duty to step up. We did all we could to do our bit but a lot more needs to be done.
The pandemic is far from over. Almost all of us are languishing. The war (against Coronavirus) metaphors and self-congratulatory messages of politicians around the world seem ridiculous now.
This pandemic has put community at the front and center of social, technological and business change. Everyone (from investors to activists) is talking about communities because institutional trust is at an all time low. It presents an interesting business opportunity but more importantly, a much needed social one.
Building Network Capital has been one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. I try not to compare NC or my personal circumstances to anyone. We are what we are - imperfect, hungry and as composed as 2021 permits. Building a category of one is our motto.
The year gone by has accelerated opportunities and emergencies. As I type this message one of our team mates is recovering from the loss of a grandparent.
Some losses leave an indelible mark. We bask in the glory and melancholy of memories. I am often reminded of one of my favorite lines from The Great Gatsby
“Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . And then one fine morning —
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Take care. Remember NC is there for you.
P.S. Next time you want to gift something meaningful to someone, we hope you consider gifting the NC subscription.