It is an acknowledged fact that skilled people are scarce. It is also estimated that this problem is global and will magnify in the next two decades. In a report titled, “The World at Work”, the Mckinsey Global Institute estimates a potential shortfall of 38 to 40 million college-educated workers in 2020. Of this, the share of developing economies, including India, is estimated at 60%. An additional shortage of 45 million workers with secondary education compounds the problem.
The opportunity outlined above has not escaped the attention of governments either. The government of India has embarked on an ambitious initiative to skill / up-skill 500 million in India by 2022. Similar initiatives are prevalent in many other nations as well. Even if one were to discount surveys and estimates, 55.6 million searches are made on Google every month for the word ‘training’ and an additional 13.6 million for the word ‘skill’.
A Banglaore-based startup, IPintentio is trying to tap a piece of the skill development and learning management market in India with it practice-centric in-browser learning platform.
IPintentio is a practice-centric in-browser learning platform which offers the ability to intervene just like an educator would in a classroom or lab.
Given the sheer scale of the need of skill development and learning management systems, the following parameters assume tremendous significance:
- Content quality and standardised delivery
- Accessibility to content
- Opportunity to practice / apply learning
- A mechanism to check the acquired knowledge
- A mechanism to receive on-time evaluation and feedback from experts
- A method to measure the efficacy of learning
IPintentio attempts to address these by providing:
- A standardised content repository that can be reused across learners and educators
- 24×7 access using an internet enabled device (mobile phone support is currently not available, but planned)
- A virtual lab interface that enables learners to practice / apply concepts.
- A unique intervention layer that allows an educator to view and evaluate a learner’s assignment and provide feedback — all through the platform
- Analytics, reports and certification assessments
About the Founders
Arijit and Soumen graduated from IIT Bombay batch of 2000 and began their careers in the semiconductor industry as chip designers before moving on to managerial roles. Soumen worked with Motorola, Freescale Semiconductors and Synopsys Inc. specialising in the next generation verification technologies.
Arijit continued with Motorola and Freescale focusing on Design Technology. He co-invented three patents and co-authored multiple publications during this phase of his career.
They decided to start up together in late 2008. IPintentio is based in Bangalore. They have a lean team comprising two permanent employees, two interns and a part-time consultant.
Talking of their entrepreneurial journey, Arijit says, “It has been mostly fun. What I cherish the most is the unparalleled learning experience the past few years have provided. Something that simply cannot be matched in the best of workplaces.”
IPintentio has a very limited content portfolio – Chip design, Android App Development and Web Design – but it has a strategic partnership with a firm that specialises in creation and delivery of content in the soft-skills space.
Their current focus is on the learning platform technology, which can host content across domains and from any source — IPintentio, customer’s content or from a third party.
Arijit shares that they have gone through a market exploration cycle, validating which market their product and services serve the best. They started with educational institutes, where the proposition was to train students and provide job-specific technical skills. They have also explored the B2C model, where they attempted to offer online courses in Chip design, Android and Web design.
Having gone through this cycle, and based on their assessment of the market size, available resources and ROI, they have zeroed down on being a pure B2B player.
Arijit remember a conversation with a student from a town in Haryana. He says, “She wished to learn chip design and had called to enquire. However, as soon as she learned that the course was online, she lost all interest. Here’s how the rest of the conversation went:
Me: Do you have a problem with internet connectivity at home?
Me: Do you have local trainers who can teach this course?
She: I do not believe anyone in my town has even heard of this domain.
Me: Okay, so where would you need to go to learn chip design in a classroom setting?
Me: But would that not involve additional cost? What with all the travel, lodging etc.?
She: Yes it would! But I do not want to do an online course.
Me: May I ask why? Have you taken an online course before?
She: No I have not. But I do not believe that I’ll understand anything. And I do not even want to try.
This is just one story. There were many others. Some were put off by words such as ‘online’ and others by ‘virtual’. Others demanded a placement guarantee. This made us realise that we simply did not have the muscle and resources to absorb the low conversion rates.”
What’s the focus now?
In the last nine months that they have been focusing on the B2B market,
about 100 learners have benefited from their content (licensed to a business partner) and about 500 users have undergone either skill development or learning & development on their platform. They are targeting to reach 6000 users by September 2014.
They are looking at two broad segments – corporates, who are looking to employ a technology enabled solution for internal learning and development for their employees; and businesses in the education & skill development space, which are keen on adopting a technology enabled solution to complement classroom training.
The Learning Management System and skill development market is competitive globally. Products range from open-source to premium products at very high price points. Arijit believes that their competitive advantage is three fold:
- A focus on the Indian market, which is still at a very nascent stage in terms of adopting technology solutions for learning and skill enhancing.
- IPintentio’s Virtual lab and intervention features are value added propositions that are not available in most, if not any, of their competitors.
- They provide customization as a service.
With a predominantly subscription model, they offer both SaaS and annual/perpetual subscription models. Customisations are charged separately as a service. Their content portfolio is also available on a revenue-share basis, though it isn’t quite a focus area for them.
Challenges of starting up in education sector
It goes without saying that for any startup, challenges are aplenty. Arijit explains the three major challenges they faced:
- India is still in the process of opening up to technology enabled solutions in education. Many of our potential customers, especially educational institutes and individual students are either unaware, or apprehensive of the inherent value of solutions like IPintentio. Therefore, not only does creating awareness become important as selling, but it also adversely impacts conversion.
- I think that the lack of relevant experience among the founders in functions like business development, sales and marketing as also in the education market per se impacted our ability to generate traction.
- The timing of our startup was not ideal from a funding viewpoint. By the time we had completed product validation, investor interest in the education sector in India had lost its buzz. An investor told us openly: ‘unless you get lucky or are able to show significant traction, it will be very difficult to find investors in this sector at this time.’
Not having long term plans with clearly defined red (stop and possibly change track) and green (going well, time to scale) flags slowed them down to some extent. They have learnt from their experiences and now operate on the basis of one, three and six month milestones with clearly defined red and green flags.
Arijit says, “We should have spent more time on planning and controlling our financials. Been smarter about which expenses were likely to offer greater ROI. This is a high-priority item at present. Frankly, we’ve been too experimental with our product positioning — educational institutes, B2C and now B2B. We should simply have done a better job in positioning, taken into account our strengths, access to resources and the core value of our product and allied services.”