Take an innovative senior manager with proven marketing ability, married to a like-minded award-winning IT sales specialist, then give them both the need to re-invent their lives – Barinder‘s redundancy, Dilshad‘s disenchantment with his corporate job, and a three-year-old daughter with pneumonia. That was the Hothis‘ situation in 2009.
Surprisingly unemployed having just won an international sales award, Barinder was also caring for their daughter* when she successfully started offering IT project management advice.
Husband Dilshad left his well-paid training sector job to jointly run what has become The Knowledge Academy. “We just thought, why work for everyone else? Why don‘t we do it for ourselves?“ explained Dilshad. “We were also frustrated professionally and wanted to prove a point,“ added Barinder.
Additionally, they had spotted training market opportunities. Firstly, Internet and mobile communications were enabling a learning revolution. How businesses and their staff consumed training was changing with people learning anytime, anywhere, any format – online, classroom, hands-on, virtual experience.
Secondly, while technological advancement was driving change there was a shortage of qualified IT professionals. Plus, the working world was creating fresh job roles, more demand for specialist skills and rapid upskilling.
“The world is going digital. People are not looking for drawn-out learning programmes, but to source the right solutions for business requirements now. So they go online and they buy. Learning is becoming an e-commerce services businesses,“ explained Dilshad.
Almost three million were unemployed in recessionary Britain when they founded The Knowledge Academy. “People thought we were bonkers, but the economic climate actually fuelled our business. People were fighting harder for every job, an employer-driven market was encouraging people to upskill,“ explained Barinder.
Work with the DWP through Jobcentres gave The Knowledge Academy a sound start. Valuable contacts gained in their former careers have since opened doors to important blue-chip corporate contracts. “We had the right product, at the right place, at the right price,“ added Dilshad.
The Hothis winning partnership has led to six years of exponential business growth. The Knowledge Academy is proud to be a 220-strong international British company that handles everything in-house 24/7 from Internet-enabled Bracknell – from sales and invoicing right through to worldwide booking of rooms in which its 500-plus ‘subject matter experts‘ deliver curriculum modules to client candidates (80% classroom-based, 20% digitally online).
It has no business partners, no in-country offices, no borrowing, “no single dependency on one large client, supplier, bank, or employee, unlike many other businesses of our size.“
“The biggest lesson we‘ve learned is that you can do everything from the UK. You have to be organised, agile, hands-on, have a strong infrastructure, and a business engine – ours is a strong sales and marketing background,“ explained Barinder.
“We are not teachers, not techies, but we know how businesses function, our clients‘ business drivers, and we know how to sell.“
“What we do is more professional education than training,“ comments Dilshad. “aaS provider, we enable businesses to position themselves competitively with the human capital they have – their people. We provide learning interventions that drive performance.“
The Knowledge Academy also aims to be an ‘Amazon‘ of the education world – “providing any learning intervention, in any format, in any country“.
Hence, recent investment in software development capabilities at Bracknell, plans to increase geographical reach, grow its educational portfolio scope, and set up complementary companies providing related recruitment, HR and candidate consultancy roles.
“We have only just started. We are at the tip of the iceberg,“ said Barinder.
“The next step in our story will be built in the coming three to five years. We are confident because we know we have the right ingredients to drive us to the next level – passion, desire, discipline, energy, determination and focus,“ explained Dilshad.
Ironically, a passion for knowledge and learning brought the Hothis together.
Entrepreneurial Dilshad gained teenage business experience starting fish-farming, loan, retailing, and export businesses in India with varying success. He came to England to study, and gained a masters degree in marketing.
Barinder, born in England, gained experience from 16 working part-time in retailing, then graduated in financial economics from Kingston University. Work after university brought her into contact with companies such as British Airways, DHL (“where I learned to sell“), Xerox and Microsoft.
They also met through education. Their aunts went to school together.
“We are always learning, networking, attending events, spongeing up business knowledge. We are not the perfect entrepreneurs. Every day is a learning curve,“ said Barinder.
“In number terms we‘ve been successful, but for us success is about achieving the impossible,“ added Dilshad.
The Knowledge Academy was a London & South regional finalist in the 2015 EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.
* The Hothis daughter is now nine and healthy.