Hi, I'm Varun Balsara. I pursued a BSc in Digital Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Warwick Business School, where I gained my academic foundation in technology and business. However, my entrepreneurial journey really began beyond the classroom walls.
In my first year, I joined numerous societies, perhaps too ambitiously. But it was at the Warwick Incubator that my entrepreneurship itch was finally scratched.
At the Incubator, I founded ConnectUs, now known as ConnectWarwick. The project aimed to foster campus connections using a psychology-based algorithm and successfully helped hundreds of students find connections on campus. We partnered with several societies such as RAG for their first dates. Subsequently, The Boar even spotlighted our work.
The engagement and funding from Warwick Enterprise were crucial for these achievements. So, if you are reading this- thank you.
Creating ConnectUs was a pivotal step in my entrepreneurial journey. Afterwards, I teamed up with a co-founder (whom I met at Warwick) to start 'The Human Entrepreneur' podcast, which quickly rose to Apple’s Top 20. Now, we’re focusing on building Let’s Level Up.
The Birth of Let's Level Up
Confronting a worldwide upskilling crisis, with a billion people needing new skills by 2030, traditional educational methods are falling short. This coinciding with the expanding creator economy, where experts and coaches sharing knowledge struggle to monetise it effectively, presented an opportunity to capitalise on this novel trend. Thus began the process of iteration and innovation.
We started as a marketplace connecting learners with professional experts (WBS covered Let’s Level Up two years ago). However, we quickly realised that these experts craved autonomy and ownership of their audience first and foremost. They engaged with us for our technology and personalised support. Today, we are building an intelligent business-in-a-box solution that has eliminated over 5+ business functions (e.g. marketing tools, sales functions and content tools), enabling experts to quickly and effortlessly set up and scale their knowledge businesses.
Achievements and Impact
Within two years Let's Level Up has served over 200 experts, who connect with thousands of learners. We have attracted venture funding from APX (rebranded to heartfelt) and notable UK angel investors and built a stellar team of 15 hardworking and deeply skilled professionals (my greatest privilege!). We have expanded into the US market, a key milestone for us.
The Entrepreneurial Rollercoaster
Over the last two years of running a VC-backed startup, I've undergone pivots and battled through the fundraising winter of 2022. I have also seen what it takes to scale to a GBP 6-figure/month generating business, build a 15+ person org and tackle my mental health (anxiety). In short, I’ve learned about everything and nothing!
I’ve failed spectacularly. I learnt a lot. Cried a lot. Laughed a lot.
Now, I don’t claim to be an expert, but here are five key learnings:
1. Focus on things that matter. There are only two. In the initial stages, focus on only two critical aspects: developing a functional product and creating a mechanism for lead generation. These are the pillars of your early success. Other details, while important, should not overshadow these priorities.
2. It is going to suck a lot before it starts sucking less. It’s not for everyone! Starting a business is inherently tough. You're venturing into uncharted territory, doing something novel. There are few guidelines, no playbook and even fewer rules. Prepare for this journey with resilience and an open mind.
3. Team Over Ideas: A great idea is only as good as the team executing it. Your ideas will change all the time. Your team is the only thing that matters.
4. Failure is a Stepping Stone. You will fail a lot every day. If you are a first-time founder, you will also need to fail to pay off your ignorance debt. The key is to fail quickly, fail a lot, learn from it, and iterate.
5. Learn to learn: Yes very meta, I know! The most valuable skill you can master is the ability to learn effectively. University is an excellent place to cultivate this meta-skill. It's not just about acquiring knowledge, but also about learning how to adapt and develop new skills throughout life.
Our journey continues with unwavering dedication to our mission. We're focused on product innovation to serve our existing and future customers. We are exploring new growth paths and expanding our team with new talents.
Reflecting on this exhilarating journey, from Warwick Business School's corridors to building a VC-backed company, I'm filled with a sense of wonder and gratitude. The evolution from ConnectUs to building Let’s Level Up, the intense ups and downs of startup life, have profoundly shaped me.
These experiences underscore the power of passion, resilience, and adaptability. As we venture ahead with Let’s Level Up, our commitment to revolutionising knowledge commerce and empowering creators remains key.
This journey isn’t just mine; it’s a collective symphony of brilliant minds.
To any aspiring entrepreneur, my only advice: if you have an idea, pursue it! The worst thing that can happen is you learn a lot.