How the entrepreneurs of FACE created ChalkStreet out of a survey with college students
Alumni of the 2007 IIMK and IIMB batches,Venkataraghulan, Rajesh Kumar and Tyagarajan Sundaresan, the three founders of ChalkStreet, built the organisation as a solution to consumer problems they had surveyed while scaling up their other enterprise FACE, an employment skill training platform.
Venkat and Rajesh founded FACE in 2008. Tyagarajan came in with seven years of work experience with Amazon and Flipkart, where he had built digital solutions for consumer problems. Tyagarajan got together with Venkat and Rajesh to execute FACE about seven months back. Raj, who is the current CTO of ChalkStreet, and a tech entrepreneur himself, was also part of the core team that built the product at FACE.
The survey that created ChalkStreet
Around late 2013 or early 2014, Venkat, Rajesh and Tyag surveyed students across hundreds of colleges, to understand and discover potential solutions to learning problems they might have. While most of the students they spoke to wanted to learn online, they added that it wasn't easy to find affordable relevant online content.
"I remember this once, when we gave a student the exercise of finding a really good learning resource that would help to prepare for an interview. After much searching, the best he could unearth was an online course in which a US based ‘expert’ talked about many aspects that were un-relatable to our context. That is when the idea of ChalkStreet was born," says Raj Karthik, the CTO of ChalkStreet.
The core team soon began ideating on creating a online learning platform not limited by an outdated curriculum or imparted by a limited set of individuals for a high price. Thus, ChalkStreet provides affordable online courses across a variety of subjects. It also encourages and empowers self-taught experts, apart from educators and professionals, to reach students across the country.
Soon Anton, Rajashree, Vignette and Varshine joined the team. Raj says that they brought in plenty of fresh ideas, imaginative design, and loads of enthusiasm,all of which helped drive the product to reality.
Tyag says that they have a wide variety of courses, ranging from playing the guitar to Python programming. In the same vein of relevance, courses that are uniquely Indian like ‘Spoken Hindi’and ‘Tamil 101’are also in the works. To further improve relevance, learners will soon be able to find courses that are dubbed in regional languages.
One of the key challenges the team faced was working with potential course authors and bringing their skills into an engaging video course. Tyag adds that they had to not just convince authors of the effectiveness of this platform, but also educate some of them on how this platform can change the face of the learning.
They had to provide significant support to authors during the course creation process. Tyag adds that they had a young team that learnt on the fly, and today have a highly skilled production team, which works with authors to bring high-quality courses on the platform. "Initially, it was challenging to be able to drive both speed and quality," says Tyag.
Traction and USP
Based out of Bengaluru, ChalkStreet presently is a 12-member team. In the first two weeks of its launch, the platform has had over 5000 users, amongst whom more than 600 users have taken one or more courses. "We plan to take the platform out of beta soon and will be doing more aggressive marketing. We will also be bringing in several new courses on a weekly basis," adds Tyag.
ChalkStreet wants to be the marketplace where anyone can learn anything, anytime. It offers courses that are relevant, high-quality, bite-sized (2-4 hour long) and affordable. Tyag adds that they are very particular about relevance and value, specifically to the Indian context.
The team is also working to build a mobile app with social and gamification features. They are also building an authoring tool, with the vision of discovering teachers across India. This particular tool will make course creation easier.
Currently they have both free and paid courses. Learners can pay for any course in the paid segment and then learn it on their own time. ChalkStreet takes a share of this course revenue, and distributes the rest to the author of the course. The authors can earn up to 90 percent of the course revenue, if they also market their courses and bring learners to the platform.
The space of edutech
There is a growing number of youngsters looking to the online space for easy access to learning and education. Growing at close to eight per cent YOY, the edutech sector today is full of quality players like Coursera, Vedantu, Cakart, and many others.
By some estimates, the market for online education in India is expected to reach USD 40 billion by 2017. "You can see this in the country’s thought process; several education institutions like the IIMs, IITs and private colleges are taking some of their courses online. However, there is still a focus on the traditional way of learning. We believe that even this will evolve, and soon learning will be need-based and more personalised than the generic, off-the-shelf variety that exists today," adds Tyag.
At ChalkStreet, the team plans to address several problems by making learning choice-based, relevant, affordable and accessible. Growing online access in the country offers them a great opportunity to enable access to learning in a new way.
In the coming weeks, the team plans to launch a ChalkStreet mobile app with innovative features, to make learning more fun and accessible. They want to make learning more fun and habitual. In addition to great content, their mobile app will have social features, through which learners will be able to interact with each other, create learning challenges, and share their learning history.
The ChalkStreet team is already working with hundreds of authors across the country to help convert their knowledge into great courses that would be available to learners across the country. Anyone with expertise in an area can become an author on the platform.