Sonia Notani is the Co-founder of ed-tech platform BrainGymJr, that teaches children ‘How’ to think by enabling application and problem solving.
Listed amongst India’s Fortune 40 Under 40 and awarded the ‘Top 30 Super CMO’ by IAMAI; Sonia is a Strategy & Marketing professional who has donned multiple hats over the last 18 years.
A strong believer in passion with purpose, Sonia is drawn to initiatives that are socially beneficial and commercially viable. With BrainGymJr, she saw an opportunity to help children build a strong foundation and make them future ready irrespective of socio-economic background or geography. Sonia chose to transition out of a high-profile corporate career to drive this impact led initiative from the front and ensure an extremely affordable, highly accessible child development platform for education beyond academics.
Prior to this, she spent over twelve years building a Life Insurance company, where she was a founder member, Chief Marketing Officer and an integral part of the Management Committee. Sonia started her career with the Aditya Birla Group and has also worked with Citibank, Reliance Life Insurance and KPMG advisory.
An alumna of St. Xavier’s College, Sonia is an Economics graduate who also holds an MBA degree from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (Mumbai). She has completed an executive one-year program on ‘Leadership and Diversity for Innovation’ by Women’s World Banking and Wharton School in 2020.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Sonia Notani: Thank you so much for having me!
I am Sonia, Co-founder of BrainGymJr – an application based child development initiative, focused on teaching children ‘how’ to think!
We, at BrainGymJr, want to prepare children better for real life opportunities by enabling logic, math, language and application. We are extremely consumer centric and well suited for children of all socio-economic backgrounds in geographies using English as a medium for education & trade.
BrainGymJr is an application based subscription service (SaaS) of Math, English & Real World Skills through a fully automated online portal/app for ages 5-11 years. It is an intelligent offering customized per child with instant solutions and positive reinforcements built in. We provide fresh daily content, easy access on web / app, DIY puzzles – making us a go-to application for deep engagement.
BrainGymJr is extremely close to our heart simply because the idea originated with our son, when he was 7 years old and suddenly learning from home, given the onset of the pandemic. This led to a deeper insight into what our son was learning academically and how he was using the knowledge. While core concepts of Math, English and other studies are taught very well in school, there was limited opportunity for him to apply and use the learning is a real context.
We want to make BrainGymJr easily accessible & extremely affordable to every parent & child across the globe. I have had a privilege of being associated with a gamut of big brands, having scaled a company as it’s founder member and experienced every vertical within an organization. Armed with an MBA degree, a listing in Fortune 40 under 40 and a dream to make education beyond academics a reality for every child, we got the backing of 10 wonderful angel investors who supported BrainGymJr.
Today, priced at USD 4.99, our monthly subscription costs less than a cup of coffee at a café! We are currently available in 30 countries & currencies on BrainGymJr.com, Google Play Store & Apple App Store. In India, we are listed on Amazon and have a platform wide tie up with Visa for card benefits apart from other associations. Our App launched in Dec 2021, and we already have ~20,000 downloads and 130 mn points scored by children so far! We want to enable every single child across the globe!
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Sonia Notani: Oh, absolutely. These years marked the survival of the agile. A key insight that comes through are digital acceleration in both, conventional & unconventional business.
Digitization runs deep; impacting end user purchase & consumption to supply chain, operations, processes and also employee engagement and policies. It is imperative that we recognize this shift and embrace it. It has made the world a much smaller place and changed the definition of ‘access’.
Specific to the education industry, there is a mindset shift globally. People are seeking best in class content, medium, execution and outcome. There are no more barriers of space & people. This acceleration needs to be accepted and adapted to by every business across the consumer journey.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Sonia Notani: 2022 is the year of normalization; where we either live with the changes or move on from the disruption caused by the pandemic. However, it is pertinent to understand that few things ‘go back’. We will need to move forward.
A few aspects that I would like to highlight are
- Virtual is now Reality – We will all use the virtual medium for collaboration, meetings, discussions. Consumers will use it for discovery, purchase or service. In education, we will use it for best in class access and instant gratification. We will save travel time and hop on to a zoom call when possible. Businesses have to positively harness this shift with consumers & employees.
- Purpose before Product – The pandemic has heightened our empathy, made us value our relationships and overall made us more purpose driven. This spills consciously or subconsciously into choices we make, brands we associate with, companies we work for. As a brand , product or organization, it is important to be very cognizant of what we stand for, how we go about it and the value we will bring to every customer.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Sonia Notani: The education technology industry has exploded. There was a resistance to digital adoption of technology in imparting education, especially for the school going children (K12).
Today’s education system is undergoing technological advances ranging from live classes, learning management software, dynamic content, and more. Technology enables learning to be imparted without boundaries and enables instant feedback / solutions amongst other flexibilities.
Parents and Students can focus on the quality of the education and best in class fitment versus worrying about access and delivery. Moreover, there is awareness and exposure to holistic education including creative pursuits, music and other application-based learning.
The impact of technology in education is witnessed across the value chain, ranging from delivery formats to actual content. There is opportunity for customization at scale, engaged learning, instant gratification, artificial intelligence and much more to seamlessly deliver enhanced learning out comes.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Sonia Notani: More than advice, I do wish we knew the depth and length of the pandemic. I do not think we even fathomed that we are going to witness a life changing event over a period of two full years.
Having said which, I believe the pandemic has brought about a forced agility and flexibility which is a blessing in disguise. Purpose driven business, consumer centricity and leveraging digital technology to bring about positive disruption are key areas of focus in 2022.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Sonia Notani: I am strong believer in the digital & virtual revolution brought about over the last two years. However, I do have strong respect for personal touch & relationships. I foresee a lot of hybrid models – especially at work and school.
In terms of business, I anticipate the shift to digital / ecommerce / d2c to continue – especially since it mostly leads to convenient, cost efficient outcomes. In a product led service offering such as BrainGymJr, I see the ability to go global, create a brand while being extremely user friendly with value driven pricing.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Sonia Notani: I do spend 10-12 hours in front of a screen ( I am including the Kindle in this!). The nature of my work and personal interests lead to a fair bit of screen time!
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Sonia Notani: Story-telling is an extremely strong tool if backed by authenticity and deep appreciation for differences.
My style is more around painting the bigger picture and letting the team come back with the details. It gives a long rope for creative solutioning and it definitely energizes people. I play the role of gatekeeper to ensure we draw within some boundary lines and meet objectives. It helps us deliver with no micro management needed and every single person has contributed to the successful script!
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Sonia Notani: At BrainGymJr, we have three key opportunities in front of us – all are challenging:
- Creating a Category: We are encouraging parents to choose to help children train the brain by focusing on Language, Math and Real-World skills. Hence, we supplement academics but are not specifically linked to a given curriculum. There are very limited options in the market for cognitive development of children between age 5-11 years. There is an existing unorganized market of ‘worksheets’ that is not age appropriate, researched or customized. Our offering is going many steps beyond and making a customized, instant, DIY , online solution with high engagement that enables education beyond academics. We know the strength of our offering given the high renewal rate and overall positive market disposition. However, for mass acceptance, any new concept or category needs a lot of conviction building.
- Creating a Consumer Brand: We are committed to building an offering that the customer trusts and considers value additive. In order to do that, we want BrainGymJr to be extremely accessible and affordable – to every child irrespective of socio-economic background. It is a huge uphill task to keep true to your value proposition, not pass costs on to customers while investing in building a brand.
- Online, Do-it-Yourself Platform: Education Technology offerings currently for school going children are focused on live or recorded, online class-based learning. We are moving to application based, self-paced learning that is customized and engaging. We have instant solutions and are extremely outcome focused. This is again a mindset shift for consumers.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Sonia Notani: I would love to understand App marketing and consumer journeys with the help of marketing technology tools and solutions.
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Sonia Notani: For any employee, I believe a decision to leave is a fine balance between the ‘push’ and the ‘pull’. The push could be dynamics at the workplace or the role. The pull could be an opportunity, circumstances or simply self discovery.
Having said the above, every organization has to optimize its policies to reduce the ‘push’ as much as possible. This will include adapting to the post pandemic world with hybrid work place models, creating a culture of support, opening up to variable working models with shared or partial time commits etc.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Sonia Notani: I would learn to code – quickly! The ability to build and market is a superpower I would love to have 🙂
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Sonia Notani: I would like to teach children ‘how’ to think and not ‘what’ to think to make them future ready.
Most importantly, I would like to do this without any push sales or call centre support. If I can get 100,000 children proactively enjoying BrainGymJr in 2022; I would feel extremely gratified.
Jerome Knyszewski, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Sonia Notani for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Sonia Notani or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
Disclaimer: The ValiantCEO Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.