This startup goes back to basics, conducts training in English proficiency for corporate employees
Bengaluru-based English For India helps corporate employees in their functional communication skills through its offline training programmes
At a glance
Startup: English For India
Founders: Mahesh Tharani and Arun Jagannathan
Year it was founded: 2017
Where it is based: Bengaluru
Sector: Education and Training
Problem it solves: Training corporate employees to improve their English language skills
Funding raised: Bootstrapped
Childhood friends Mahesh Tharani and Arun Jagannathan had spent early days in Vadodara, Gujarat, and realised the importance of language early on. Having seen the advantage good spoken and written English brought to their own careers, they were able to see the potential of a business idea that brings English language proficiency to others. Especially since the quality of English training at major corporates in India is still not all that great.
After having spent over 15 years in the corporate world, Mahesh moved to Bengaluru to join ESPN as a product manager, and was looking at doing something on his own. Around this time, Arun had successfully grown and scaled his venture, CrackVerbal Edutech, and was looking at fresher opportunities in the training space.
Arun says, “Over endless cups of coffee, the discussion veered towards setting up a training company that focused on business and did not just dish out an off-the-shelf solution that lacked depth.”
And English For India was born in 2017. The startup runs offline training sessions for corporates to upskill their workforce. It has two different training programmes catering to customer-facing roles in retail setting requiring interaction with walkins, and client-facing roles requiring business communication skills.
“English For India's solutions are centred around our twin beliefs of understanding both the employee and the employer. We believe adult learners need a different approach to learning the language. At the same time, corporates needs to have a good RoI by ensuring that the people are able to hit the ground running in a fairly short period of time,” explains Arun.
What led them?
The duo started by talking to a few friends who were who were running their own startups and recognised the size and scale of the lack of English proficiency at companies.
“The more we spoke, the more we realised the gravity of the problem. We heard the same things about the conventional training programmes: cookie-cutter solutions that are too broad, lack of empathy in understanding the participant background, difficulty in remedying behavioral traits through a short intervention, and absence of clear business outcomes to justify the spend to management. We routinely heard HR managers talking about how soft skills and communication training did not really produce the result they were expecting,” Arun says.
Mahesh, 38, who has a Master’s degree in Journalism and Communication, started his career with reporting, writing and editing for Times Of India and The Indian Express. Over the past 15 years, Mahesh has traversed Indian media working in the television industry and the digital media industry, working with brands such as Hungama Digital and ESPN, creating online products.
While Arun, 41, has a Master’s in Computer Application and before venturing into training, spent over 10 years in the corporate world in a variety of technical and management positions at IT companies such as Wipro, Sapient, Arcot R&D (acquired by CA), and Talisma. His first venture in the training space - CrackVerbal Edutech Pvt. Ltd. has been running successfully.
English For India’s current team size is three, with a network of about 10-12 partnered trainers.
“We have freelance trainers whom we have handpicked after a rigorous process. Our selection rate is roughly five percent. We have signed contracts and can readily deploy the trainers across India - Bengaluru, Mumbai, NCR, Hyderabad, Pune, and Chennai,” says Arun.
According to him having in-house teachers makes the business model inefficient as there are only specific times they need to deploy them for training.
The key issue
Talking about the key gap it is addressing, Arun says, “The problem in India today is many of the jobs that are being created don't have takers as the talent pool available is woefully inadequate from a skills perspective. The situation is really paradoxical.”
On the one hand, there is a huge shortage of employable people. The Employment Commission of India in the report The Challenges of Employment in India laid heavy stress on the issue of skills development in India, and the Government of India has resolved to train 500 million people by 2022 in employability skills, including English.
Those who speak English fluently earn up to 34 percent more than those who don't speak the language, a recent report has found, confirming the link between an education in English and the scope of employment opportunities.
Only 20 percent of India speaks English and of that only four percent can be considered fluent. On the other hand, India is likely to have the world’s largest workforce by 2027, with a billion people aged between 15 and 64. As a result, many entering the cities looking for employment are being denied opportunities to upskill themselves because their English-speaking skills are deficient.
Customised for companies
English For India creates structured modules that cover a whole gamut of requirements for the company. “When a company approaches English For India, we try to understand the background of the participants, the training requirements, the inputs from the line managers and the objectives that the HR is trying accomplish. We create a custom training plan based on the inputs received. Typically, the training is delivered at the client location through one of our handpicked partner trainers,” Arun says.
The business model is centred around collecting revenue from companies for training their workforce. “We work on a ‘per employee trained’ fee, which could lead to a longer-term association either through a subscription fee model or through a success fee model. We currently earn revenue from our offline programmes but eventually would like to monetise our online programmes as well,” says Arun.
The firm has so far worked with brands like Puma, Foodhall, and GlaxoSmithKline, and claims to have clocked over 250 hours of training across multiple cities such as Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Delhi. An average training session is said to be for 16-20 hours.
Its customers typically have training needs ranging from small teams (20 members) to entire retail staff (1000+). The training is conducted in batches, for which English For India likes to keep the batch sizes around 20 to ensure optimal quality.
It is so far bootstrapped and aims to train one lakh people in the next three years.
To scale operations
A Technavio market research analysts suggest the language training market in India will grow at a CAGR of close to 19 percent from 2017 to 2021.
A Statista report suggests that in 2017, the global language services industry market size reached just over $43 billion and is forecasted to rise to almost $47.5 billion by 2021
English For India faces competition from various institutions teaching English and soft skills among adults through offline and online channels.
Talking about its differentiator, Arun says, “Truth be told, there is very little ‘moat factor’ in an offline training programme - but what differentiates us from the rest is our understanding of the business problem. We sit down with the HR and the business owners to ensure that our programmes are meeting the objectives of the business and the HR team.”
Its customised programmes, he adds, ensure it takes specific scenarios and challenges that employees face in the organisation.
Arun continues, “No two training programmes are the same so we select the trainer to ensure the quality of intervention is tailored as per the audience. Our customised solutions benefit participants, since our in-house content team creates scenarios that these brand representatives would encounter in their daily working lives. Our solution gives them ready-to-use applied English for every scenario that they may encounter in their regular work lives.”
For the future, it is working on building solutions that will scale by using AI and machine learning. Arun says, “We already have a technology partner, Bluegild Solutions, with whom we are building our technology solutions. Parallelly, we are taking user feedback to work on the version 2.0 of our solution suite.”
English For India sees a huge opportunity to act as the bridge between the employees who need to sharpen their English skills and the employers who are looking at both recruiting and retaining such talent.