Measuring Life's Purpose By the Number Of People Benefiting A qualified chartered accountant and a Harvard alumni, Ashwin Damera's vision for Eruditus was clear

By Deepa Vaidya

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With the acquisition of iD Tech, a California-based world leader in youth STEM education, acquiring the unicorn status in August 2021 with a valuation of $3.2 billion, closing a $650 million Series E funding in the same month and the launch of Emeritus, an instructional design academy in September and Emeritus Insights, Ashwin Damera, CEO Eruditus Executive Education & Emeritus is on a roll. The streak of good innings began last year, as they doubled their course portfolio and grew 2x.

A qualified chartered accountant and a Harvard alumni, Damera's vision for Eruditus was clear.

For someone who has found his purpose, the motivation behind starting Eruditus, says Damera, "I would like to measure the quality of my life or purpose from the number of people who have benefited because we exist. It is very important to me to make a positive impact."

Says the ambitious academician about the turning point in his professional journey, "With technological advancements and digitalization in full swing, we decided to expand our business model and go online in 2015. This decision widened our geographical expansion enabling us to serve students in 80+ countries in five languages. This also helped improve our total addressable market, thus allowing us to grow rapidly and elevate our mission to unfathomable new heights."

The turning point is also the result of the bold decision to expand online. Says the edupreneur, "I still remember approaching about 20 venture capitalists to fund our online expansion but was rejected by everybody. We have come a long way since inception way back in 2010. From 4-5 partner universities in 2010, today we have partnered with 52 universities. Our team back then constituted 10-20 people, which is now 1,700."

The second-time-entrepreneur attributes the success of Emeritus to his past failure of the first model. This then led to shaping their present business model. Says the pioneer of small private online courses, "It gave me invaluable experience on how to position and execute a world-class program. This helped define our "product-market-fit', and guided me in collaborating with top universities and ultimately defined our business model going forward."

As for the learnings as a CEO, Damera says, "First, to always surround myself with smart, strategic and creative people. Our team inspires me and challenges me and I constantly learn from them. Second, our mistakes can often be the best learnings and open the door to innovation and success."

Damera furthered his learnings during the pandemic by, "Taking up a mini-course on "Ikigai', the Japanese way to a long and happy life. It was helpful to me as it gave me an all-round perspective on how to balance my life between professional pursuits and health/happiness."

Damera executes his learnings through his leadership style. He says, "I make sure that I am connected very closely to the team and take inputs from everyone. I believe in empowering our team so that they feel heard, valued, uplifted and invested in our work. Our team's well-being is my top priority, and I am proud of how our global community has come together to lift each other up."

As Eruditus looks to expand, it is the developing and maintaining of leadership that poses challenges. He states, "As the organization has grown, we have had to promote people to more senior levels. Not all of them have succeeded. We need to coach some, let go of others and in some cases revert people back to their original roles."

The heady pace of growth also calls for instructional designers and top talent to continue to grow so they are experimenting with creating their own talent pool.

As for the future strategies on growth, Damera says, "We are developing many new courses in conjunction with our university partners, creating new products and industry verticals, and expanding our B2B business serving governments and enterprises. We are looking at new geographical markets and at future acquisitions. As regards innovating higher education, we are looking at ways wherein students can do a year of college from India and the remaining three from the US or do an entire degree course online."

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