I remember my first pitch as an entrepreneur. I did not have a laptop then. So I printed my slides and made the pitch to the director of T.I.M.E , Bangalore( T.I.M.E is one of India’s leading test preparation institutes) using that bunch of printed papers! He was skeptical about signing up with us, given that he had not had great experiences with other “software folks,” who had charged him a lot of money and did not deliver anything of value to him
says Raghu Kanchustambham, founder ConceptWaves.
It all started way back in 2005. Raghu and five other classmates from IIT would sit late into the night and brainstorm ideas for a “services” project that would make their ultimate dream come to life — building a “product” company. Ten years in the technology space is like a century in actual years. Back then, not many people in India thought about products, in the world that was riding the software wave.
While the project did take off with T.I.M.E., the team unfortunately disintegrated due to various reasons, and Raghu was left to deliver the promise they made to T.I.M.E. Not one with deep pockets, bootstrapping was the only way to go for him. Raghu adds, “I was lucky to find a few young people just out of college, looking for opportunities to prove themselves. It may be difficult to believe, but I paid these guys Rs 1,500 per month, rented a small house for an office at Rs.7,000 per month, shared 4 computers amongst 6 employees and that was the genesis of ConceptWaves’ team!”
Along the way, Raghu realized that there was enough scope to make a product out of their services engagements, and take it to other players in the same space. This is what gave birth to EduSquares. EduSquares is a comprehensive, robust, scalable, flexible enterprise grade SaaS platform for education service providers, built carefully over the last nine years, which works with the leading schools, colleges, coaching centers, and NGOs of the country.
Raghu candidly adds, “It is easy to claim in hindsight that I knew the education sector was what I wanted to be in. But the truth is that I started in it by accident but I continue to be in it by choice; much like most things in life!”
More about the product and the impact
EduSquares puts the customer in the driver’s seat by giving them the power to pick and pay only for those modules that are relevant to them. This choice, and the fact that it is offered as a fully managed service offering (SaaS model) translates to all players in the education space having access to world-class infrastructure at very affordable rates.
For the customer, there is an array of squares to pick from:
The price of the solution is anywhere between Rs 20 and Rs 50 per student per month, depending on the volume of students and modules activated by the customer. In case of NGOs, and social enterprises, they often provide services at 10% of that cost; thus, sometimes it works out as inexpensive as even Rs. 2 per student per month for such NGOs.
According to Raghu, they have had anywhere between 100,000 and 200,000 student records in their system from the NGOs (e.g. Hippocampus, Save the Children India, & etc.) on EduSquares over the last three years!
They offer two mobile apps as well – iLearn and iTeach – that work in the EduSquares ecosystem. iTeach empowers instructors to capture data at source directly on their mobile phone while in the class. For example, the instructor can mark class attendance and capture syllabus coverage details in the class. iLearn is a mobile learning module that is handed over to the students (and sometimes to parents too). With the spread of mobile and Internet services in rural areas, Raghu hopes for an even wider adoption of EduSquares.
A product this successful, with such a great impact on students from different strata of society, makes us wonder where this market intelligence comes from. Raghu quips,
There are two approaches to getting that market intelligence. One is to invest time in reading all kinds of industry reports and/or pay a consultant a hefty fee to figure out the demand of an idea in the market. The other one is to keenly listen to your direct customers. I find the latter more accurate, less expensive, lot more effective and even enjoyable.
He adds, “For us, excellence is about solving real and meaningful problems in a very, very smart way. And we don’t want to get complacent about this, ever.”
Other solutions with a social impact
ConceptWaves is already delivering more solutions that have impact on society. Raghu explains why solutions with a social impact excite him: “The first reason is that it is often more challenging to work frugally because of limited resources and money. You need to be a top class engineer to be able to come up with those creative solutions in that space. Secondly, it’s just satisfying to know that whatever talent and opportunities you’ve been gifted with, you are able to do something back for the society too. But make no mistake, I do not believe in doing anything without profit (however small it might be). Otherwise things are just not sustainable over the long run.”
ConceptWaves has already worked and produced some world class acts in the livelihoods space and clean drinking water space by partnering with Naandi Foundation.
ConceptWaves works with a number of NGOs, to name a few – Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM), Youth 4 Jobs (absolutely free of cost by ConceptWaves), Raghu tells us that ConceptWaves has impacted over 100,000 lives over the years!
Ironing the kink
Being on the right path doesn’t make the journey devoid of challenges. Raghu believes that ConceptWaves faces the same challenge most companies started by founders with engineering backgrounds face – it doesn’t focus on marketing the products well enough. Raghu adds, “We have not built a structured sales team so far. It’s a bit late in some sense, but that’s okay. I’m currently working on this. The engineering team is almost on autopilot, and does not need me much at this stage. I am experimenting with a few models, to see how we could scale up our sales efforts.”
Raghu finds it hard to believe that it’s already been ten years! With a smile, he tells us that most of the folks who started out in that small office still continue to be with ConceptWaves. Raghu is a proud man – and why shouldn’t he be? Validation has come even in the form of awards; their wins include Best Asian App at the Telenor Digital Conference 2014 in Oslo, and the Hack-a-thon at XI Metropolis Congress 2014. For a complete list, look here.
There is no doubt that technology will play a massive role in the way education service providers operate in future, in urban and rural areas. It’s almost impossible to physically bring world-class teachers to all our cities and villages, but technology can make that possible; the easiest way to scale would be to leverage technology to deliver top-notch learning material. Education inequity (even between urban and rural India) is a crisis in this day and age; technology will be key in bridging this gap.