Planet Spark wants to disrupt the unorganised private tuition sector in India with a 'blended' learning approach; it is looking to establish a presence in 10 cities with 20,000 learning centres in the next three years.
Maneesh Dhooper’s time at home services marketplace UrbanClap gave him an idea for his own startup. At the Gurugram-based hyperlocal services provider, he was head of the tuition services division, helping building the category from scratch and scale it to 10,000 service professionals across five cities. Sometime around 2016, he realised that what a parent really wanted - to ensure that their child was learning everything they needed to - could only be solved when “they owned the entire learning experience by combining online learning with classroom learning”.
Not long after, Maneesh, 34, decided to help fill up this gap with his own offering, Planet Spark, which essentially transforms traditional KG to Class 8 tuitions, by combining physical teaching with mobile technology.
“I realised that parents were looking for a blend, and not only offline or only online classes,” says Maneesh, who holds an MBA from XLRI, Jamshedpur. “I saw the immense need for a trusted brand that could provide standardised learning outcomes, make learning fun for children, and at scale.”
The past few years have witnessed a spurt in edtech startups in India. While some prominent players cater to conventional needs such as digital classrooms, others offer innovative products such as learning apps, gaming-based mobile learning, and much more. More about this later in the story.
“But none of these fast growing edtech companies has come up with a ‘blended’ learning experience like us,” Maneesh says.
Market research showed that the after-school learning segment was 95 percent unorganised – a “huge $62 billion opportunity”. He also roped in his XLRI hostel wingman Kunal Malik, who was working at Unilever at the time but had always wanted to become an entrepreneur.
“We kept discussing various entrepreneurial ideas and when we realised that there was no one actually bringing the best learning practices to the unorganised after-school learning segment, we decided to start Planet Spark,” he says. That was in July 2016.
Planet Spark offers a complete spectrum of gamified learning for pre-teen kids with mobile-based learning games, educational cartoons, board games, activity boxes, and workbooks. Classes are taken offline and teachers are provided with the materials and methods, as well as a mobile app to blend different aspects of the learning.
It follows an OYO-like model to blend the gamified learning aspect with offline teachers. The startup partners with tuition centres and home-based tuition providers, and enables them with technology, apps, games, etc. Says Maneesh,
“We also create study plans for children at those centres; these include app time, game time, books, practice etc.”
The company has a SaaS product for teachers, the Planet Spark Teacher App, which keeps track of hourly performance and progress of students.
“Our mission is to organise the largely unorganised sector of private tuition in India with our full-stack tech platform for K8 tuitions in India. We aim to make traditional tuitions obsolete through powerful and gamified learn-tech products and tech-enabled home tuition centres,” Maneesh says.
Planet Spark’s teacher-partners comprise two types of tutor profiles. The first is an educated homemaker in the age group of 27 to 45 with at least two years of experience, excellent communication skills and personality, and the desire to start a home-based learning centre with Planet Spark.
“Many such teachers have very strong qualifications such as BEd, MEd, MA in English, engineering and MBA. Many of them have been teachers in the past and now want to work from their home through Planet Spark,” Maneesh says.
The second profile includes teachers who are already running mid-sized tuition centres and want to upgrade them to Planet Spark’s content, technology, and brand.
The after-school market is currently dominated by local tutors, or standalone learning apps such as BYJU’s, Robomate, Toppr, Simplilearn, Meritnation, and others. There’s a problem with both, the co-founders feel. Local tutors often lack quality, innovative content, tech tools, and reliability, while learning apps do not provide a classroom-style teacher, Maneesh says.
Then there are players like Kumon, HT Studymate, and Cuemath, who do offer offline learning methods, but Maneesh says these “do not scale, don’t make learning fun, and are sometimes focused on just a single subject”.
Planet Spark now has 250 tuition centres on its platform, and is growing at the pace of 30 percent month on month. “We are clocking 10,000 learning hours every month at our learning centres. We are going at an ARR of close to Rs 1 crore,” Maneesh says.
In March 2018, Planet Spark raised its seed funding of Rs 1.6 crore from FIITJEE, and is now looking to raise the next round of funds later this year. It will use the funds to expand into six more cities, offer its product in all subjects from K-8, and strengthen its AI for teacher management and student learning.
At present, Planet Spark is available in Delhi-NCR. In three years, it envisions a presence in 10 cities, and aims to have 20,000 learning centres. The startup also plans to venture into vernacular with digital-only offerings, and is targeting 20 million customers through its purely digital approach.
In terms of content, Maneesh says the Planet Spark free learning app, which has been the company’s key to customer acquisition in the past, will have unlimited games and learning cartoons. “We plan to strengthen the product with all subjects up to Class 8 and offer over 5,000 learning games covering every concept,” Maneesh says.