How Mumbai's IIDE campus is creating influencers, preparing marketeers

Students at an IIDE campus in Mumbai
Karan Shah, 27, has the gift of the gab. It is when he appears before a group of students or is asked to address any audience that Shah is at his best.

He was only 18 when he cottoned on to this. To earn some extra money, Shah was working with a financial services company in Mumbai where his job was to sell demat accounts.  After two months of cold calling and no new accounts being opened, Shah decided to try a different strategy. He went to his college campus (NMIMS) and announced to the students that he was offering a weekend course in cracking the stock markets. He roped in an expert from the finance company, someone who really knew his stuff, and started charging Rs 1,000 from each student. In no time, 481 students signed on and almost all opened a demat account as well. Overnight, his tally went up from zero accounts to over 400. In fact, he ended up with an award by the finance company for having opened the maximum number of accounts!

Shah was still at the time unsure of where his future lay so he went on to do another internship with a digital advertising firm founded and run by his sister. His stint at Kinnect exposed him to the digital world and introduced him to a wide range of professionals in the space. He had understood Twitter and Facebook more intimately at the age of 16 when he started working for a week every month at Casino Royale in Goa, skipping school for it every month.

After working for a few years, Shah felt the need to get some more formal education, so he left to study at Harvard, combining courses in private equity and e-commerce strategies, both of which could help him with his own career path at some stage he reckoned.

In 2014, after returning to Mumbai, he went back to the only space he felt he could deliver and looked at setting up an institute to teach students the basics, the ins and outs of the stock market since he already had a base of 6,000 students who had done his weekend courses during 2011-13. He was contemplating workshops in this field when he met a competitor, a 30-year-old who managed to scare him off, arguing that Shah was too young and competition in the sphere was already too fierce. Young and impressionable, Shah backed off.

Students at an IIDE campus in Mumbai
Yet, he was clear he wanted to be in the education space. The only other areas he’d had exposure to was digital and social media and he decided to marry the two. Why not set up a digital marketing training school to train the next generation of marketeers who reach their audiences through new media? The way things were developing, it was clear television, print, direct mailers and other traditional ways of reaching the target audience would soon be a thing of the past for most if not all brands. His exposure to private equity space and e-commerce at Harvard had made him realise that for any e-commerce business to succeed, it needed four primary resources: Coders, designers, digital marketeers and analytics specialists.

Moreover, companies were spending a larger proportion of their funds on digital advertising than through traditional media. “Companies were beginning to see how cost effective the medium was: They can reach four times the audience at one-fourth the cost of any traditional medium,” explains Shah. More and more companies want to reach out to millennials or Gen Z and in today’s world, the only way to tap them is digitally. By and large, their attention can be held only on their mobile devices.

Before taking a plunge this time, Shah took a good look around and found very little competition in this sphere. He put together a five-day course in digital marketing, approached his 6,000-odd student base again and before he knew it, 1,000 students had enrolled! Shah knew he had identified a gap that needed filling.

Things began to fall in place rather quickly after that. By 2016, Shah had set up IIDE and registered it as a private company. He hired a few teachers and also started bringing in visiting faculty — senior executives who were already on the job and could impart their knowledge. His first batch had 70 students, followed by 230 in the second year, who finished the six-month course and took up jobs in digital marketing roles across companies.

He started at a defunct school in Khar but soon managed to find another defunct but larger school in Andheri, and borrowed some money to spruce up the place in time to accommodate his larger second batch. Cash flow, he says, has never been an issue as education is an industry where you first collect the fees and then deliver.

In a world growing increasingly digital and starved for talent, the organisation has been growing by leaps and bounds. Now, the institute has four campuses of its own and runs digital marketing course in 14 colleges across Mumbai. So far, close to 30,000 students and professionals have been trained through its offline and online courses. The organisation has seven full-time experienced faculty, over 50 visiting faculty and 70 employees.

Along the way, the institute added weekend courses for those in traditional marketing roles who found their careers hitting a huge roadblock unless they learnt new skills. The courses are for anyone from 25-55 who feels their career has begun to stagnate or who just wants to acquire new skills.

“We have many mid-career professionals who come in to upgrade their skills as they find they can no longer manage without understanding and being comfortable with the digital space,” he explains. Most weekend students have seen a jump in their take-home of 10-20 per cent post the course. So far, close to 8,000 have completed the weekend courses.

Currently, around 1,200 freshers (70 per cent) and professionals (30 per cent) do the course every year at the four campuses. Weekday students with no or little prior experience start at Rs 25,000-30,000 a month and are placed at a host of companies including Kinnect, FoxyMoron, ToggleHead, WebShakers, Schbang, Socheers, Mumbai Foodie, Mindshift, Admatazz, A&B, White Rivers Media, BigMouth, Gozoop, among others.

Students are reaching places even without being hired. Shah cites the instance of Ranveer Ahlabadia, a student from his first batch, who is now an Instagram influencer with 646K followers in India and earns his living from posting on Instagram.

As IIDE grows, Shah is luring more experienced faculty. Meherzad Karanjia, 38, who started his career with e-Bay, designed Quikr and Pepper Fry’s website and worked with a range of digital companies, was with IIDE as visiting faculty but is now chief learning officer with IIDE in a full-time capacity. He brings his experience of 16 years in the digital space and a vast network. Karanjia curates the curriculum and taps into his network in the space to find both teachers and recruitment options for his students.

Slowly, the menu of courses on offer is being expanded and coding courses have been added (see Subject Matter ). In 2020, the institute is aiming to introduce a three-year course in digital marketing that will act as an alternative to an undergraduate degree. A degree will be provided through a tie up for students and parents who feel the official stamp remains imperative. Students enrolling for the course don’t need to have studied any specific subject at the school or college level. “All they need is to be able to use social media, which in any case, everyone can,” explains Shah. Gen Next typically uses Instagram or Facebook for social purposes but IIDE teaches them how to use it for business.

Meanwhile, Shah, who is a visiting professor at ISB Hyderabad, NMIMS and IIM Kashipur, focuses more on IIDE’s strategy although selling runs in his veins.  He often convinces students who haven’t previously considered a career in this space to take a shot at it. Fortunately, he doesn’t need a chief marketing officer to sell his own product. He just needs to stand before an audience and do what he does best.

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