Ever felt you were made for a different college? Looked around your campus, and thought, 'Why am I even here?' Jaideep Gupta understands these questions better than anyone else. Gupta’s journey into education took many turns. With an NMIMS MBA degree from Mumbai, Gupta worked finance and strategy with The General Electric Company (GE). After four years of travelling, he landed in Ernst & Young (India), becoming its youngest Vice President. His work in the field of education brought him close to large school chains and universities across multiple countries.
‘The exposure into the education industry,’ says Gupta, ‘brought me close to understanding my passion for education, and that eventually led to the genesis of Univariety.’
His close friend and college buddy from their days at Delhi University, Varun Agarwal (COO) co-founded Univariety along with Gupta. The marketing strategy expert and education consultant for Univariety, Agarwal, an International Business graduate from IIFT, worked in varying capacities at Mckinsey & Co, Barclays Capital in London & National Health Care Services (UK) before joining Univariety.
Gupta says of Agarwal, ‘Both of us had a future ambition of becoming entrepreneurs. In fact, we did try our hand at a few entrepreneurial activities together while in college, and made good money. Having completed many years of my school life in the US, I saw the difference between education in the west and east. I realized that technology had the potential to make many things much easier. We formally started to build our operations towards end of 2011.’
Based in Hyderabad, Univariety employees 60 people, 35 to handle technology, 15 in counselling who largely interact with students, and another 10 work to with universities. It also has teams in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai.
In a world where we spend hours researching mundane things, Gupta feels we’re not doing enough where it matters most. But, the task in itself is daunting. There are too many colleges, too many combinations and too many courses to manually sift through the information. Currently, there aren’t any tools available to Indian students either in helping select relevant options or comprehensively compare courses and colleges.
‘Students either over pay for their education or get admitted into an institution of lower quality compared to their academic excellence.’
Univariety helps students not only find scholarships, but admission offers that get buried in so much online information. Most of all, it provides students the best college fit, a concept still new to India. Too many students get stuck in colleges that don't suit their personal and academic requirements. Univariety helps remedy this problem.
‘Univariety provides a tangible advantage to college seeking students by providing offers, scholarships, access to events and networks.
‘In our platform, a student would just need to create his profile. Then, he can go step-by-step from a stage of lack of clarity about the course he is interested in to the stage of getting an admission. That is what we have as our tagline too – “Aspiration to Admission”.’
The service provides comprehensive information to students about their college of selection, affordability, test and entry requirements, coaching institutes for qualifying exams, shortlisting the best colleges for a particular student, application processing, offers and post-admission formalities.
‘Our focus is on generating interests or provisional offers from multiple universities for the student prior to his even submitting a formal application. So, a student can easily get an interest from 10+ universities, which match his preferences.’
As such, Univariety reaches out to millions of students with diverse requirements. At the moment, they cater largely to the premium slice of education sector: students of the 1000 top schools across India, and schools offering international curriculum in Middle East/South-East Asia. That’s about 200,000 students looking for admissions in India and across the West. Currently, they service only provides information about undergraduate courses, hoping to expand into postgraduate courses in the next 4-5 months.
Gupta's team is already working with nearly 250 schools and their students.
However, Univariety does provide services for walk-in students, where all that is required is opening a free account. Premium services (at a price) are also available for students who want a more personalised service.
‘Schools pay us anywhere between Rs 25,000 to Rs 4 lakhs per year. Once the schools have tied up with us, all students will have access to the services that we provide.
‘Since, we are not education agents we don’t charge success fees from Universities. We also find that unethical at many levels. However, the bulk of our revenue come from universities. Universities will pay us for their marketing activities. Also, each time a university finds an “interested” student, they pay a transaction fee to us.’
With $2 million funding through a strategic investor, and a 2nd round of funding coming soon, most of their success has been largely word of mouth, and it’s helped universities connect with students through webinars, provisional offers and mail campaigns.
‘There are a number of web portals that provide general information to students on courses and colleges. But, very few of these portals give information specific to the student’s requirements and academic performance. Nobody helps the students to engage with universities in the ways that we do.
‘Local career counsellors that are closely associated with schools can be considered as our competition, in a sense. Also, internationally there are companies like zinch.com that have some similarities to what we do, since both of us are not agents.’
The need for Univariety is exemplified by their success. It now caters to 40,000 students in 250 schools in 4 countries and 100 universities across 6 countries. They’ve begun partnering with test preparation companies, besides being official counselling partners for IB and Cambridge school associations.
Working in the field of education, however, requires hiring the right people on board. Too often education has suffered, because those least familiar with it are those most in-charge of it.
‘We faced an issue of hiring people with the right counselling backgrounds. We eventually setup our own training method to get the team in place.’
Convincing schools of the importance of partnering with a system that provides college information crucial to students was a challenge for Univariety. Whilst Univariety was met with scepticism in the beginning, what Gupta realised was that once discussions began, principals and heads of schools became eager participants in the process, largely fuelled by the need to get their own children into the right kind of colleges. It allowed the team at Univariety to work on a far more personal level with many principals, highlighting the universal need of such a service.
If there were any regrets, Gupta says, ‘Initially, we focused too much on getting the response from the market, and too less on building the product. Our efforts should have been equal on both those fronts.
‘I would have wanted to create 7-8 solid relationships with industry experts to use their help. We did this, but only with 2-3 such industry experts.’
Gupta’s regret, though, still doesn’t take away from the success they’ve had.
‘We find people at restaurants, security officers at airports, far-off relatives who start asking for help for their kids’ colleges. No matter which part of the world one comes from, and no matter how rich or poor they are, everyone in Asia is very concerned when it comes to their kids’ education.’
In the end, Gupta adds he’s definitely on the ‘lookout for weird people with attention to detail’ to expand the Univariety family.
We can only envy students from the latest generation.