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India’s elite billion dollar startup club just found it’s 11th member. Education technology based startup Byju’s quietly joined the Unicorn club with a valuation of Rs. 6,505 crores based on its latest capital infusion. According to filings with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Byju’s last funding round by China’s Tencent and BCCL attributed to this increase in valuation.
However, the biggest online education startup had a very humble beginning. While working in a UK based shipping firm, Byju Raveendran helped a few friends prepare and pass the Common Admission Test (CAT.) According to Raveendran, “They came to me for help in CAT because they knew me as someone who’s good in cheating in exams. They don’t use the word but they knew me as someone with short-cuts and exam hacks.”
The shortcuts and exam hacks seem to have served him well in the long run. What started off in a small room was moved into large halls, conference rooms and auditoriums and at one point even a stadium. By 2007, through word of mouth, Raveendran began teaching close to 1000 students. From teaching students in Bengaluru to traveling to 9 cities in a week to teach, Raveedran’s fame spread like wildfire. In 2009, he started using video formats for CAT training classes and other similar entrance exams.
Finally, in 2011, Raveendran formed the company called Think & Learn which would focus on the primary and secondary education for publicly supported school grades prior to college. The Byju’s learning application was then developed with the help of his students who graduated from the Indian Institutes Of Management (IIMs.) The fully formed Byju’s Learning App was launched in 2015 which included core learning products for students from standard 4 to standard 12. The basic aim of these products was to make education and learning effective as well as interesting.
Today, Byju’s offers training and learning programmes for test preparation for JEE, AIPMT, CAT, IAS, GRE and GMAT along with programmes for classes 6 through 12. The Byju’s Learning App is used by 15 million users with 900,000 paid annual subscriptions with an annual renewal rate as high as 90%. For the financial year, 2016 – 2017, the edutech firm turned profitable, reporting more than 100% growth in terms of revenue.
Raveendran’s (and Byju’s by extension) teaching style is very non interactive and involves no back and forth between teacher and student. However, the company prides itself on the high production values and visual appeal of the content and visual aids that enables the explaining of concepts better than a teacher with a blackboard. Students learn on their own, thereby, breaking the vicious cycle of memorising, replicating and forgetting soon after the exam.
However, like every entrepreneur, Raveendran faced his fair share of challenges as well. One of these major challenges was the perception among parents who think students need to follow a certain way of exam based learning and need to be spoon fed. In the long run, Byju wants to make quality education accessible to a large audience by integrating education with technology.
Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s investment arm The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) also invested in this firm, making it their first investment in the Indian startup ecosystem. Along with CZI, the edutech startup also counts Sequoia Capital and Lightspeed Ventures and Times Internet Ltd., as their investors.
Byju’s, which has already established its presence in the Middle East is also in plans to expand into the US, the UK, South Africa and other African and Commonwealth markets. With about 2,300 employees including about 800 in its product team, Byju’s has provided students an easily accessible platform for students to learn and not just study. Byju Raveendra calls himself an “entrepreneur by chance,” however, following the growth and success of Byju’s, I think it is safe to say that this teacher has truly found his calling in both academics and entrepreneurship.