PlayAblo, an edtech startup, is making learning a fun-filled activity for schoolchildren and young adults via its app on mobile phones and the web.
It’s funny how children play on their own but often need a parent’s supervision to study. Give them a mobile phone or a tablet and they’re happy trying out various apps. PlayAblo rides on this attraction, making learning fun for children and giving their parents peace of mind.
The PlayAblo app on Android uses quiz-based games to achieve the objectives of assessment and reinforcement. Also, The content of the quizzes is firmly coupled with the curriculum/syllabus that the student is exposed to. Currently, they cater to the ICSE and CBSE curriculums.
With a focus on Maths and English, PlayAblo was originally built for primary school students (Classes 1-5) and their parents. The games are built at par with the school syllabus. There are also two enterprise products: PlayAblo for Schools and PlayAblo for Skill Development (currently focussing on spoken English for young adults).
How did it all happen?
PlayAblo was started by Ananth G (41), an IIM Kozhikode graduate, Suchitra Premkumar (35), a graduate of BITS Pilani, and Dheeraj Sharma (43), a NIT Calicut graduate. The trio were ex-colleagues and parents to school-going children.
It all started when Dheeraj started noticing his daughter’s attitude towards learning:
“She always needed either my wife or me to sit with her while studying, but while playing she did it herself.”
However, he feels that the Indian education system does not provide avenues where learning can be amalgamated with playing. He explains,
The natural disposition of children to extend their thinking (curiosity and creativity) conflicts directly with our education system, which focuses on a well-defined model and structure, also fondly referred to as rote learning.
Hence, Dheeraj decided to start something that would facilitate learning at school through games. He pooled together funds for the basic product framework.
Around the same time, Suchitra was getting ready to go back to the corporate world after maternity leave. In the interim, she had also volunteered with an NGO that focused on skill development for young adults and the idea for PlayAblo struck a chord with her. Ananth joined them shortly after to take charge of technology.
Presently, PlayAblo has 30 people working from Bengaluru and Chennai, mostly looking at content and technology. In the works are teams for sales and marketing.
Product lines and revenue
Over the last two years, PlayAblo has developed three product lines, each with a distinct revenue model.
PlayAblo for use at home is the company’s flagship business-to-consumer (B2C) product, which supplements the lessons taught at school with practice games. It provides insights into the child’s strengths and relative weaknesses. It follows a freemium model, for which the premium subscription starts at Rs 39 per month.
For schools, the platform extends the benefits of PlayAblo at home to track the child’s progress and get real-time aggregated data about their classes and school management. This is a business-to-business (B2B) model and the pricing is customised for every customer depending on their requirements.
PlayAblo for skill development works with organisations that focus on skill development, particularly in the space of spoken English and life skills development. The users are young adults in the age group of 18-25.
PlayAblo works with the blended model with organisations that hold in-person classes. This completes the loop in terms of practising, reinforcement, and assessment. This is a B2B model and the pricing is customised.
How does it work?
Once downloaded, there’s a quick configuration that a parent can set up to pick the curriculum their child follows at school. The student (player) can then pick the subject and topic of their choice and start playing.
PlayAblo gives children quizzes that align perfectly with their level of learning. They have aligned the experience to mimic the school syllabus so that the student can continue using PlayAblo throughout the academic year. They also offer a number of free aptitude-related activities and tests like addition and subtraction, which users can try out before opting for any paid subscriptions.
The differentiator: education before technology
In the two years since its inception, PlayAblo claims to have doubled its revenues each year. The founders admit that 2016-17 will be significant as they now have got version 1.0 in the market for each of their product lines.
What sets them apart is the strongly integrated gamification experience that is directed towards skill development.
“We build our content in-house. We are in an industry where the importance of bespoke curated content is very high and tolerance for erroneous content is low. As a result, the quality of our content has been so good that a number of players in the edtech space have reached out to buy our content or help them build it for them,” shares Dheeraj.
Initially bootstrapped, PlayAblo was later funded by friends and family. It raised two rounds of undisclosed amounts of funding from ABI Showatech and its associated companies.
The key challenge
Putting together a team which would believe in their vision was the biggest challenge for the founders. As they had no infrastructure in place, making profits seemed like a dream.
It was also difficult to decide which aspect of the business needed to stay in-house and what could be outsourced.
“Normally one would be inclined to keep technology in-house (given our background in tech) and outsource the content development. We did just the opposite.”
Helping their decision was their belief that they are an education company first and a technology company next. Dheeraj says, “When in doubt, this core tenet continues to help in many more decisions.”
The market landscape
According to India Brand Equity Foundation, India holds a very crucial place in the global education ecosystem. It has more than 1.4 million schools with 227 million students enrolled. When it comes to e-learning, India is considered second only to the US. The sector is currently pegged at $2 billion and is expected to touch $5.7 billion by 2020.
Students from primary classes to Class XII are now actively leveraging websites and apps in their search for excellent tutors. In the last few years, the approach of the parent, teacher, and student fraternity in India has been veering towards the online world, especially in urban and semi-urban India. A handful of startups rode high on this behavioural change and succeeded in the online tutoring domain. Some of the prominent names would be BYJU’s, Vedantu, Vidyanext, Flipclass, Eduwizards, and Helloclass.
The way forward
PlayAblo is investing in upping the ante in the area of skill development. Dheeraj says, “The technology leverage in this space has been mediocre at best, with most solutions/services relying on very low-tech (if any) solutions. We believe that the existing technology advances can dramatically improve the ecosystem.” He adds,
Spoken English is something that has relied almost entirely on classroom-only solutions. With an optimal blend of the right technology, things can accelerate. We will have something interesting coming up here in the next few months.
Looking ahead, they are also betting big on augmented reality (AR) in the space of game-based learning systems. They hope to bring something on those lines to the market over the next 12 months or so.