Our booming education market is crying out for investments. Here are five popular internet-based educational ventures and their behind-the-scene success stories.
After graduating from Jain College, Bangalore, Vishesh Jayanth, a third-generation entrepreneur, launched MentorSquare, to groom businesspersons, SMEs and startups. “MentorSquare gave me a huge exposure into the entrepreneurial ecosystem and gave the confidence to take the entrepreneurial plunge,” says Vishesh, who along with five friends created rangA, a platform for students, when he was 19. “We mainly focused on helping (poor) children between the age of nine and 15 to develop soft skills. However, rangA was not a registered entity. We functioned as a close knit group of volunteers who wanted to contribute to the society. rangA really gave the perspective of what was really required. I came across many people who did not have access to quality education,” he says.
During his stint with MentorSquare, Jayanth discovered several gaps in the market that were potential businesses. In September, he launched Rentmytext in 15 engineering colleges in Bangalore, Tumkur and Mysore. Students can rent books in just five steps. They have to log onto the website or call customer care, tell them about the course they are currently studying, select a package of books (select from VTU recommended pack, Popular package or pick and choose their own books), get it delivered at their doorstep with the option of cash on delivery and return it in the box it was delivered. “As a graduate, I remember buying textbooks every semester. After completing the semester, most textbooks weren’t of any use. I remember my mother handing over the books to paperwalas or donating the books to the needy. In most cases, the books were in really good condition and usable. I felt we weren’t utilising the full value of the book,” says Jayanth.
Students can only rent a maximum of eight textbooks and only one textbook per subject at one time. Students can choose a non-refundable plan of Rs 5,000 and pay about 20 per cent of the book’s market price or opt for the Rs 4,500 plan where they pay 30 per cent or Rs 2,500 where they pay 40 per cent of the market price.
He invested Rs 30 lakh, roped in Gautam Gupta, Jayanth and TV Jayavanth. He got Nandini Vaidyanathan, the author of Entrepedia — A Step by Step Guide to Becoming an Entrepreneur in India to mentor them. Rentmytext will soon offer medical and dental books.
After 10 successful years in a brick and mortar educational set-up, Ritesh Hemrajani and Pavan Chauhan felt offline centres are not able to reach out to students across India. Having taught and counselled thousands of students over the years, they understood the limitations of a classroom-based delivery method, which catered to a group of students as a whole rather than addressing their individual needs. In the quest to make a difference to the society they started scanning the educational landscape and soon realised that online K-12 could be a great opportunity. However there was one problem — both of them had limited experience in the K-12 space.
In such a situation, they got the opportunity to set up a KPO for a Canadian company that was producing content for schools in USA and Canada. “The KPO experience was a great opportunity to learn how international companies approached content development, how they set up exacting standards, systems and processes which control quality, delivery etc. It was an amazing learning experience that helped us create the right foundation for our K-12 ventures. After three years of working as the KPO, we decided that we were now ready to launch our dream project, www.meritnation.com,” says Chauhan, managing director, Meritnation.
According to Chauhan, their foray into the online education space coincided with the time when the education landscape in India was changing rapidly. “Schools were increasingly adopting technology. Teachers, who recognized the limitation of a classroom set-up that only caters to an average child, were looking for ways and means to reach out to students who were not ‘average’. Amongst these changes we saw a huge potential for our tech-based learning system that could cater to a child uniquely by creating a customized learning experience,” he says. Started in 2006 with 25 people, the company has scaled new heights. “The first funding came in 2008 when the company received around Rs 6.5 crore, followed by Rs 5 crore in 2010 and another Rs 20 crore in September 2011. Over the last three years we have been able to register 3X growth and our ambitious plan needs us to invest in future opportunities. We are working towards making the pie grow bigger,” says Chauhan. Meritnation has 32 lakh registered users and about 7,000 new users join the site every day.
The website’s core idea is to make learning easy for school kids, hence the slogan ‘School made Easy’. However, to make learning easy, it needs to have a customized approach. “In a classroom environment you have 30-40 students, and tuition centres, though may have marginally smaller numbers, are still crowded. It thus becomes extremely difficult to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each student. Our basic idea was to leverage technology to identify and understand each student’s specific learning needs and provide them customized content to nurture their learning curve. We wanted to change the learning process to make it engaging and effective,” says Chauhan. Meritnation offers high-quality multimedia study material, tests, detailed reports, curriculum-aligned activities to specific online test packs for NEET and IIT-JEE.
Even with a clear vision and focus, Chauhan and his team faced several challenges. “The biggest challenge when we started out in our business of online education was poor internet connectivity and broadband penetration. Soon we realised that building awareness about the category among parents was itself going to be a huge challenge. We continue to work on it aggressively and are quite hopeful about seeing a slow but positive change in the perception among parents,” he says.
Chauhan believes the education sector is growing. “As of now we don’t have any serious competitor. There are a few promising projects. However, many more players are required to establish the supremacy of multimedia learning vis-a-vis textbook-only content. At this point we are establishing standards in the industry and want many more players to join in,” he says.
In 2011, old friends and Stanford University and Indian Institute of Management alumni Ishant Gupta and Mayank Gupta got together to start the online education portal Edukart. The desire to start something in education started during their engineering days at Delhi University when the co-founders realised higher education needed more private participation.
After engineering, while Ishant went to Stanford University, USA, and worked for Facebook and One97 Communication, Mayank went to IIM-Kozhikode and worked for Bank of America and Educomp. However, working in some of the world’s best companies didn’t satisfy their desire to do something more and in 2011 launched Edukart. “Mayank and I decided to launch Edukart to provide a scalable delivery model while maintaining quality. The first blueprint was developed in early 2011 and launched in November 2011,” says Ishant, co-founder, Edukart.
The company started with a seed funding of `1 crore. “The investors consisted of some of the most prominent angel investors of India like Sasha Mirchandani (KAE Capital), Vijay Shekhar Sharma (One97) and others,” says Ishant.
The company targets students and working professionals in the age group of 18 to 32 years who aspire to upgrade themselves. The courses are certified by leading industry bodies like Retailers Association of India (for retail course), Internet and Mobile Association of India (for digital marketing), Computer Society of India (for programming languages). “Vocational education has gained a lot of acceptance in the country. These days a lot of students and working professionals are going for vocational training. This is because they offer greater specialisation and flexibility, all at affordable pricing,” says Ishant.
The company has attained great heights and continues to grow at a fast pace. “The greatest milestone that Edukart has achieved is the acceptance that we have received from students. In just one year of our inception we have more than 7,000 registered users on our website. But, our real achievement lies in the satisfaction that we provide to our students and the appreciation we receive from them,” says Ishant.
An engineering graduate, Krishna Kumar spent 13 years in the IT industry before starting Tech Unified, a one-stop-shop for mobile banking, voice banking and telecom self-care in 2002. However, two years after Tech Unified, Kumar started working on his personal blog, which he named Simplilearn.
With the vision to provide education services to working people, Kumar invested $100,000 — borrowed from friends and colleagues — in Simplilearn. “We wanted to design options that were best suited for working professionals. Plus, there was hardly any professional training company catering to working professionals then as most of them catered to corporate customers,” he says.
The firm, which began as a two-member team today employs 200 people. Around 35,000 professionals across 135 countries have used Simplilearn, which offers industry-certified programmes in project management, IT service management, IT security management and quality management. “Education has always been an area of interest for me and moreover it is one of the growing and under-served areas,” he says. While capital investment was not an issue, “getting the right kind of talent was and has always been the primary challenge,” he says.
Kumar attributes his success to five basic principles. “It is important to be focused, have the patience, focus on delivering value to customers, manage cash flows well and overestimate costs and underestimate revenues. These are my mantras of success,” he says. As for Simplilearn, the road is long and fruitful. “We want to establish ourselves as the largest global online destination for working professionals when it comes to professional trainings,” Kumar says.
Classteacher is an attempt by two young engineers with a dream to change the way we learn. The original plan for digital learning was conceived in the park outside the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi and its blueprint was drawn in 2000. “We worked for three years after IIM-Calcutta and invested all that we had earned, which was close to `20 lakh each. We broke-even in the second year as we tried to work on a subscription model right from the start,” says Rohit Pande, co-founder, Classteacher.
The venture initially started with just Rohit Pande and Sameer Buti. It now employs 200 people. “The vision was simple — to extend the reach of quality education with high interaction to millions. It’s been a journey of over 12 years to create a digital paradigm for quality education by empowering educators and engaging learners,” he says. The duo started when the concept of e-commerce was taking off. “Not just when we started, but for the first five years, the concept itself faced a lot of resistance. However, people later started accepting the concept but we are yet to see real change in schools,” says Pande.
The following questions spurred the venture: Whether teaching was a preferred profession for youngsters? Is formal learning a stepping stone to success in life? Are our classrooms enjoyable learning spaces? Are we able to offer education as a passport to success in life to first generation learners? Are parents responsible and involved partners in the learning journey of their child? Can education hone the inherent competencies of each child? Does formal education enhance creativity and critical thinking? “The key issues are hidden in the answers to these questions,” he says. Classteacher serves over 1,000 schools. “We now work with a million students and our work impacts the way they learn and engage. More importantly, we have been effective thought leaders in the movement to align education with technology. We were the first group to introduce interactive white boards in classrooms in 2006 and then tablets in 2012,” he says. In January, they launched Classpad, an education tablet that helps teachers share class work, distribute content, conduct tests and give individual attention to each student.
Digital learning by itself is no panacea to the issues of education and its reform. However, these edu warriors are making teaching an attractive profession and learning a fun activity. “We need to give teachers the freedom to sculpt a curriculum approach based on critical thinking and inquiry. Any such approach would have to necessarily encompass digital media and the internet for knowledge discovery as well as dissemination,” says Pande.