Callystro is a game-based learning startup from Mangalore, Co-founded by Sabina Jain, Rajeev Gopalakrishnan, Sampath Shetty and Sampath Menon in January 2012. Their flagship product CoBELS, is a pedagogical tool that enhances learning through a child’s own experiences and actions. It provides a means to help a child carry out activities and be able to derive learning in clear and actionable form. It provides game-based learning solution that provides quality educational content to supplement the classroom learning.
Sampath Menon shares his story of starting up Callystro, the idea behind CoBELS and their new product Mapoosa – a gaming plus learning virtual world for children.
The founding team and philosophy
Before starting up Callystro, Sabina Jain, Rajeev Gopalakrishnan, Sampath Shetty and Sampath Menon were involved in different ways in making learning engaging for children. They were working with children of different age groups, different socio-economic backgrounds, and different geographies. But the one thing that came out common across these different sections of children was their reaction to gamified learning modules they were creating.
While researching the market, they found that though there was a lot of e-learning content available for children, there wasn’t one that was standing out in terms of capturing children’s imagination. Based on their research and experience, they figured games were the best medium to impart learning in bite-sized chunks. Because children love games, the engagement is extremely high, and the learning they imbibe through games tends to stick.
Sabina Jain left her tech career to work in the development sector. She worked with social organizations such as Hole-in-the-wall and Basix for more than 6 years developing and implementing high impact education initiatives for the masses. Rajeev Gopalakrishnan, Sampath Shetty and Sampath Menon had similar career paths, including close to 13 years at Infosys, and an education startup.
While working with NGOs in the education sector, they got first-hand experience of how children responded to digital education content available in the market. Sampath says, “The content wasn’t good enough to engage the children for longer than a few minutes. In 2012, we came together and started Callystro to develop curriculum aligned (NCERT based) games which cover all the competencies schools focus on. We have a catalog boasting of more than 250 competency-based games covering K-8 curriculum. We have packaged these games, corresponding assessments and performance dashboard in a learning portal called CoBELS for schools.”
Callystro is an 18-member team comprising of programmers, educationists, creative writers and artists. Their development team is based in Mangalore. They also work with a network of freelance teachers who guide them on the curriculum and concepts.
Callystro is trying to make learning more effective by making it an enjoyable process. Sampath says, “We want to take out the pressures associated with education. We are creating a learning solution that can catch the imagination of children. We have designed the solution keeping in mind the children going to low-cost schools where good teacher availability is a big issue. Our product, CoBELS, is available on low cost tablets and PCs. It is a self-paced learning tool that introduces and tests the competencies a child is expected to gain in a classroom. Because the learning happens through games, children do not switch off even if they are not monitored by adults. This is a cost-effective means that low cost schools could try out to increase learning levels without having to depend on highly competent teachers.”
The game design and impact on learning process
Based on NCERT curriculum, Callystro identifies the focus competencies and designs games that teach and test these competencies. The games are based on the lowest level of competencies required and it is easy to then map the games’ catalog to the syllabi followed by schools (CBSE, ICSE etc).
“We measured the impact of our learning games at Parikrma, a reputed NGO based in Bangalore, which strives to ensure quality education to marginalized children. More than 90% of the children showed improvement in marks by more than 13%. We are talking to other reputed organizations to make it easy for low income schools to set up a tablet or PC infrastructure through low interest loans, and other financial aids and make CoBELS available to them,” says Sampath.
Children from the middle class and affluent sections of society spend a lot of time playing digital games on the internet. To use some of this time to enhance learning process, they have also launched a free game Mapoosa, targeting the B2C segment. It embeds maths & EVS games in a highly entertaining environment. Since it is a multi-player environment, children can compete with their friends while learning and playing.
The target market
Private schools through a B2B model: We are working with partners to reach out to the affordable school segment (low income private schools; around 4 lac such schools are present in India) charging a very low fee. We also work with our partners to provide tablets preloaded with CoBELS.
Targeting parents through a B2C model: We have built Mapoosa, an online learning world for individual consumers. While children play learning games, parents have a dashboard to track their child’s progress. It is free to play for everyone, but there are certain premium features that require a paid membership. We are also working on rolling out packages of games to app stores.
The ups and downs of their journey so far
Sampath says that for a product based startup like theirs, the biggest challenge is always cash flow. “To make sure we pay our employees on time and keep the product work going full steam, we work on a service basis for several clients. Our education sector is saturated with various kinds of products, which is both good and bad. While many products offer choice, it also adds to a lot of confusion – it is really tough being part of a school management. They see companies selling them new products, and then disappearing after a couple of years. Selling to this segment requires a lot of patience, followed up with excellent service.
We have gone wrong many times and learnt a lot from them – it is part and parcel of a startup life. The year we started, we had gone around meeting potential investors with just the prototype in place – something that I wouldn’t advise anyone, especially in the education sector. Needless to say, we lost some valuable time. When we started selling CoBELS, we did a carpet bombing approach, i.e. we approached all sorts of schools rather than segmenting them. This was another mistake. To speed up sales, we hired a sales person after a telephonic interview and he disappeared after getting the offer, I still don’t know what happened to him. If we could go back in time and do things differently, we would start with a mobile-first strategy. We started with a PC platform and then ported our games to tablets.”
Callystro started marketing CoBELS this January, and has roped in about 7 schools so far and are in final negotiation stages with 12 others. Sampath states, “We are also in talks with companies who have presence in countries like Africa where our solution would be of immense use. For the B2C channel, we opened up Mapoosa beta this year and we are planning a Game Jam in Bangalore to create awareness about the product. We are on a mission to set up tablet/PC infrastructure and CoBELS learning platform in at least 200 low income schools this year. We are looking for partner organizations to collaborate with us in delivering value to these schools.”
Callystro won the Power of Ideas 2012 and received seed funding by CIIE. It is currently looking for funding to establish sales channels, create games catalog for app stores, and to further expand their game catalog.