Learning, not Doing

Atul Gopal is a pioneer of the ‘home delivery’ industry. In the summer of 69, his mom gave birth to Atul at her home in RDSO quarters in Lucknow. The family shifted to Pune when he was two years old. They haven’t shifted out yet. At the age of 4, he ran away from his first school. His next two schools, though, managed to hold on to him.

College was at COEP, where he was unsure of which branch to join; started with Civil, moved on to Electrical and passed out in Mechanical. After COEP, he went to work with Tata Motors, as a Graduate Trainee. He recalls the two years spent there as an extension of COEP, where he did not do too much, but learnt a lot.

In 1992, for the first time in his life, he was thrown out of his family home, when he went to stay in the hostel of IIM Calcutta. Like with COEP, he was not sure of what to major in – he is still not sure of whether he majored in Marketing, Systems or Finance.

Like with Tata Motors, Marico, his first (and last) job after his IIMC diploma was another place where he did nothing, but learnt a lot. Unlike Tata Motors, Marico expected that he sell tons of Parachute coconut oil, which he did not end up doing. So they parachuted him back to Pune from Chandigarh, where he had been trying his level best to sell coconut oil.

Atul then decided it was time that he stopped learning, and started Doing. So he started making machines for the food processing industry. Although he met some good people who gave him business, like Mayur Vora of Mapro Foods, he seemed to be enjoying learning more than doing. He started teaching, as a visiting faculty at IMDR, Pune. He continued doing that for the next 15 years.

In 1996, two of his diploma mates from IIMC, set up an MBA entrance teaching shop at Pune, Bulls Eye. He offered his teaching services there – and was accepted gladly, since he had not demanded any salary from them. 1997 and 1998 saw the original Bulls Eye partners leaving Pune, to do better things in life. Atul, the quintessential Pune boy, stayed on. Liking the learning more than the doing, he shut down his machinery company to become a full-timer at Bulls Eye.

Inspired by the teaching of Masanobu Fukuoka, he has personally applied the do-nothing philosophy to his work (or rather the lack of it) at Bulls Eye. Bulls Eye has classrooms in 12 cities across the country. More than 1.5 lakh students enroll every year in the online training programs at hitbullseye.com

Somewhere along the way, he has dabbled in giving gyan to corporates: Hindustan Unilever, HSBC, ICICI Bank, Kirloskar Brothers, Tata Motors and Thermax managers have suffered through the trauma of having been trained by him. His corporate training programs stopped in 2012, the day he decided that he is going to save the earth by commuting on cycle.

In order to reduce the pains of his washing machine, which used to struggle getting the chain grease marks off his trousers, he took a scissor and converted all his trousers to RSS style half-chaddis. Since then he cycles more than 100 km a week, and has also managed to do some cycling in almost all the states of India, the northern most being Khardungla in Ladakh, the eastern most being Dibrugarh in Assam, the western most being Bhuj in Gujarat and the southern-most being Munnar in Kerala.

In 2011, he helped set up Peepal Tree School in Jammu, targeting the lower middle class. In 2013 Peepal Tree Bilaspur started. That was shut down in 2015. Refusing to learn from mistakes, in 2016 Peepal Tree Pune was started. Both the schools continue to make handsome losses, ensuring that their promoter is slowly moving towards the ranks of the lower middle class, very much like his target audience. The schools though seem to have finally learnt from a lifetime of Atul’s mistakes. His school students spend all their time at school in ‘Learning by Doing’.