The Entrepreneur: Barinder Hothi, The Knowledge Academy

Co-founder of the Fast Track 100-listed global education company, Hothi shares advice, regrets of not starting earlier, and why "luck favours the brave"

Co-founder: Barinder Hothi
Company: The Knowledge Academy:
Description in one line: The Knowledge Academy (TKA) is a global education provider
Previous companies: None
Turnover: £23m
12-month target: £35m

Business growth

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • We provide classroom and digital learning programmes for individuals, public sector and multinational organisations
  • Our training programmes run across most major cities in the world with a portfolio of over 50,000 courses
  • TKA’s key differentiators are our Best Price Guarantee, depth and breadth of our course portfolio, and extensive geographical reach

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

There have been a number of highlights, especially over the past 12 months. Our most recent achievement came earlier this month (December 2015) when The Knowledge Academy was placed on the Sunday Times’ Fast Track 100 index, sponsored by Sir Richard Branson. This will culminate in an awards process to be decided next summer at a dinner hosted at Richard Branson’s house.

Another highlight was winning the London and South EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award (2015) and the subsequent high-profile press coverage that we have received this year, including interviews with the BBC.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

There are a number of key business indicators that we keep track of every day. We are aware of our daily sales figures and keep them constantly updated on large screens on the sales floor. We also look at a number of operational performance indicators, our expenditures and measurements of customer satisfaction.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

The Knowledge Academy is a truly global business. Although we are based in the UK and a large proportion of our trading is within the UK, we also operate extensively outside of the UK. Our key international markets include the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and we have 12 international subsidiaries.

We plan to continue to invest heavily in our overseas offerings. For example, an important programme that we are looking to execute in the near future is the localisation of content into key languages. By converting our classroom materials into French, German, Dutch and other languages we will be able to offer a more localised service for our international customers.

Describe your growth funding path:

We are very proud to say that The Knowledge Academy is completely self-funded and self-sufficient. We have not taken any funding from any private investors, institutes or banks; furthermore, the business does not even have an overdraft. We take great pride in the business’ financial stability and the manner in which it has established itself in the market.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

It has to be the latest web-based technologies which have enabled us to offer our learning programmes digitally via our Learning Management System. The development in this technology means that anyone with a strong enough internet connection, regardless of where they are in the world, can complete any of our training courses.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

Ideally, we would like to continue to expand our already extensive geographical reach even further and add to our portfolio of courses. Additionally, we hope to increase our revenues either through organic means or through acquisitions both in the UK and internationally.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

It has to be starting The Knowledge Academy from scratch. It was a big risk for both Dilshad (co-founder) and I to leave our respective lucrative careers and begin this joint venture. We literally started with zero revenues and spent the first six to nine months in start-up mode just trying to establish and build customer relationships in order to generate some revenue and get the business off the ground.

What was your biggest business mistake?

I’m not sure that I would class this as a mistake, but I would definitely have started The Knowledge Academy earlier. Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course; however considering how well the business has taken to the market and how successful we have been with it I wish we could have started it earlier than we did.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

I wouldn’t say that there is any particular piece of Red Tape that holds us back, but there are certainly challenges that we have experienced. For example, when we started the business we focused on the UK and have since expanded into new territories. With each new country and location we begin to trade in, inevitably there are different regulations and customs that we need to abide by and be mindful of.

Therefore, it is important that before we enter new markets we do our own thorough research of the trade rules and regulations. This does slow our processes down, but it is important that we know what we are doing when it comes to an EU market compared to the UAE. They both present differences to the UK market and it is our job to know those differences when it comes to trading.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

I think that a number of people push to start their own business without being prepared and without doing the proper research. A lot of businesses are borne out of an idea however when you start a business you need to know firstly that you have the resources to progress that idea and, secondly, that your team has the necessary skills to execute the idea.

Being a successful entrepreneur is based around solid research that you have the resources before going to market and, if you don’t have those resources, the knowledge of where you are going to acquire them from.

How will your market look in three years?

I can see digital and online learning solutions growing exponentially as technology develops and the education sector develops alongside it. As a result, this delivery model will become more accessible, meaning that multinational organisations can become more connected as they are able to roll out organisation-wide training to ensure continuity between offices separated by hundreds of thousands of miles. As such, I believe that there will be a move towards a more global standardisation in education.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

There isn’t one single piece of advice that I could say to inspire success. However, I have learnt that luck certainly favours the brave. It is important to have a solid plan that you can execute with all the necessary resources in place, or at the very least sourced. Nevertheless, without taking that leap of faith in yourself and your research you might miss crucial opportunities.

The only other thing that I would say, and this is speaking from personal experience, is that having the opportunity to work with a business partner has many advantages. I am fortunate enough to work alongside my husband so that support mechanism and trust is the foundation of our business and all of our business decisions. Having more than one person means that there is always someone there to lift you up and motivate you when things are tough.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

Dilshad has a passion for sports cars, so he has been fortunate enough to fulfill his dreams of owning some of his favourite models. Personally I enjoy going on nice holidays, staying in fantastic accommodation and experiencing things that we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to do as a family without the success we have experienced.

We are very fortunate to be in our position and appreciate being able to spend time together as a result of The Knowledge Academy’s success.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

I have a degree in financial economics and a lot of my experience has been learnt from my previous roles in multinational organisations and large brands from a management and operational perspective. I would be lying if I didn’t say that these past six to sevene years haven’t been a massive on the job learning curve.

Running your own business is a completely different experience to being an employee and because we have experienced such rapid growth we have had to learn and adapt quickly.

What would make you a better leader?

The more experience I can get and the more exposure I can receive, the better leader I can become. I believe that with every challenge that you face and overcome, the stronger and wiser you become as a result.

As the business grows it will require different management skills. With our continuing rapid growth, we will quickly move from a small company to a large organisation which changes the landscape dramatically. The business then becomes a larger concern as a whole which means that we will have to adapt to the changing circumstances.

One business app you can’t do without?

I would be completely lost without Microsoft Outlook. It allows me to communicate with anyone (as long as I have an internet connection), manage my schedule and interact with my team. I can’t think of anything else more important.


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