[Startup Bharat] This civil servant turned entrepreneur’s edtech startup provides affordable UPSC coaching

Started in 2012 by GV Rao, Vijayawada-based Learning Space provides digital learning solutions to UPSC aspirants at affordable costs.

Beyond Indian metros, there is a large pool of talent that is ready to be fuelled. While these aspirants look for cost-effective resources to crack the toughest exams, lack of quality education, reach, and expensive coaching classes often hamper their test preparation process.

To help such students by providing quality education at an affordable cost is Vijayawada-based Learning Space Educational Services Private Limited.

Founded by 52-year-old GV Rao, a former Indian Railway Service of Engineers (UPSC 1990 batch), Learning Space provides digital learning solutions using educational videos, audio files, PDF, and Doc files.

Founded in 2012, the startup currently caters only to UPSC Civil Service Examination aspirants. The edtech startup also has plans to dive into the school education sector soon.

Team Learning Space

Entrepreneurship with a noble cause

An MTech (Civil Engineering) graduate from NIT Warangal, Rao worked with the Indian Railways for more than 20 years. While still in service, he founded an NGO called Educate Every Child Foundation in 2008.

Despite the success of the foundation, Rao felt the problem of lack of employability skills, affordable, and quality learning resources could only be addressed by making intensive efforts through a structured organisation.

“Perturbed by today’s educational standards, inner consciousness impelled me in leaving my service and venturing into setting up Learning Space,” says Rao.

He set up Learning Space in 2012 as a training centre for various bank PO and clerk examinations.

“Availability of skilled human resources and familiarity of the city made me choose Vijayawada as the base,” he adds.

Despite his best efforts, starting up from Bharat comes with its own set of challenges.

“Based out of a city without a supporting ecosystem for startups has been a challenge we could overcome by dogged efforts,” Rao says.

Relying on quality alone to sell their products has been another challenge for Learning Space. However, it eventually proved fruitful as subscribers helped the company spread the word.

Pivoting for better reach

The team, which consists of 23 employees, is working in unison to serve the learner community. Apart from GVR, the team consists of faculty members with IPS and IAS backgrounds. The faculty members are also supported by pre-production research team and post-production quality assurance team.

After three years of offering classroom coaching, the Learning Space team initiated its digital journey by sharing videos on YouTube.

In 2017, they launched their web portal and application for both Android and iOS users.

The content produced by the team is made into PowerPoint presentations, which is further used for the filming of videos. After extensive quality checks, the videos, along with accompanying audio files, PDF, and word documents, are uploaded on the website and application, as per the schedule announced in advance.

Subscribers can either choose to view the videos online or download them and view offline. In case of any query, users can contact the team or comment below the videos. The queries are answered by respective faculty members or the administrative staff.

Founder GV Rao

Business model

Learning Space’s revenue is solely derived from subscription fees. Currently, Learning Space offers three subscription models – Silver Plan for Rs 3,999, which is valid for 90 days. Gold Plan for Rs 5,999, valid for 180 days, and a Platinum Plan for Rs 7,499, valid for 360 days.

Subscribers get unlimited access to all content currently available on the website (more than 6,400 videos) and content that is regularly uploaded.

“Our primary target is the online test preparation and competitive examinations segment, which will be worth Rs 3,700 crore by the year 2021,” says Rao.

According to the founder, currently more than 47,000 students have signed up on the Learning Space website, and they have a subscriber base of 12,000.

Number game

Currently bootstrapped, Rao made an initial investment of Rs 1 crore for the development of the platform and setting up a state-of-the-art studio.

The startup is currently profitable and generated a net profit of Rs 14 lakh in FY 2018-19.

“Our target revenue for FY 2019-2020 is Rs 3.5 crore, representing a year-on-year increase of 150 percent,” Rao says.

“This will be possible as we are scaling up to reach into other domains that are yet to be fully tapped by us,” he adds.

Market overview and future plans

According to a KPMG-Google study, the online education industry in India will be worth $2,000 million by 2021. The report said the test prep and competitive exam segment will be worth $515 million with a CAGR of 64 percent, and most of the predicted growth will be from Tier II and Tier III cities.

Today, Learning Space competes with the likes of edtech unicorn Byju’s IAS, Unacademy, UPSC Pathshala, and IAS Baba. According to Rao, their unique selling point is ‘Crystal Clear Clarity’ in the digital content they produce.

“We explain the ‘Why’ and ‘How’, rather than just ‘What’ and ‘When’,” Rao says, and “We view our competitors as motivators who spur us to continuously improvise and improve ourselves,” he says.

Talking about their achievements, Rao mentions that two of their students – Ashima Mittal and Shivani Goyal secured All India Ranks 12 and 14, respectively in UPSC CSE 2017.

Learning Space was the first runner-up in Pitch Presentation at the EdTech Review Summit and Expo 2019, held in Bengaluru.

The startup is now focusing on foraying into the school education segment. “It presents a challenging but gratifying opportunity,” Rao adds.

(Edited by Megha Reddy)