With a focus on doubt-solving, this IIT dropout’s edtech startup offers live sessions in 9 Indian languages
Randhir Kumar is an unlikely entrepreneur.
He dropped out of IIT Delhi in the late 90s, when quitting college for entrepreneurship wasn’t a fashionable thing to do, especially in India. ‘Starting up’ wasn’t common, but Randhir and a few of his IIT pals decided to turn education entrepreneurs.
They set up Pen4Future, a highly successful and long-running coaching centre, in their hometown of Ranchi. It prepared students for the most sought-after entrance exams in India, and was operational for more than two decades.
As a mentor and Director of Pen4Future, Randhir went on to influence the careers of over 40,000 students who wanted to pursue engineering or medical degrees. More than 3,000 students, who were tutored at Pen4Future, made it to IITs and other reputed colleges in the country.
Back to the 'basics'
Cut to 2019 and the education universe has changed dramatically. Randhir, of course, has been acutely aware of it.
Now in his mid-40s, he has started up again to bring his two-decade-long coaching experience online. “I wanted to put the 21 years of my knowledge about entrance exams online and help students from all kinds of backgrounds,” he tells YourStory.
That was the idea behind BasicFirst, an edtech startup he launched in January 2019. Randhir is the Founder, CEO, and Chief Mentor while six of his friends — all experienced teachers from IITs and IIMs — are spearheading the venture.
What BasicFirst offers
The startup focusses on doubt-solving, which is one of the fastest-growing segments in Indian edtech.
A 2017 Google-KPMG report found that “real-time query resolution” topped the list of problems faced by homegrown edtech startups when it came to acquiring and retaining customers.
Hence, BasicFirst aligned its vision with this need.
Its subscription-based Doubt Clearing Programme is available on-demand, 24x7 through email, voice and video calls, chat, and message. The content is targeted at K6 to K12 level students from 22 state boards, and also at students preparing for competitive exams like GATE, AIIMS, IIT-JEE, etc.
The startup has already built a repository of 50 lakh questions, and is using data science and AI to map doubts and their solutions.
“We’re creating personalised content around doubts. Every student’s psychological mapping, IQ and EQ levels are different. A student from Delhi will not have the same perceptions as someone from a village. So, we are building our own AI models to map teachers to students.”
An average doubt-solving session on the platform lasts for 25 to 35 minutes, but can go up to even four hours if clubbed with a live online class.
BasicFirst says it is India’s first e-learning platform to offer live online classes in nine regional languages, along with English. This helps the startup attract students from the country's small towns and even remote villages.
To bridge the learning gap in remote areas, BasicFirst launched its unique ‘rent-a-learning-tab’ initiative in June in partnership with Samsung. This initiative provides branded tablets to underprivileged students, starting at a monthly rent of Rs 750.
Students can use these tabs to practise online tests, get their doubts cleared through personalised coaching sessions, and even browse other learning content on the web.
The Samsung A7 tabs are sometimes topped up with complimentary doubt-clearing minutes and free live classes from BasicFirst.
Randhir shares, “Rent-a-learning-tab was conceptualised for the benefit of lower middle-class students who cannot afford a quality learning experience. Par unhe bhi toh tests ki taiyaari karni hai na (But, they also have to prepare for tests).”
About 13,000 tabs have been rented so far, and the startup is exploring partnerships with village schools to increase adoption.
Bootstrapped and growing
The 10-month-old startup is bootstrapped, and currently running on the founder’s finances as well as contributions from close-knit IIT alumni networks.
BasicFirst claims to have reached more than 20,000 students already. It has a team of 700 people, which is fairly large for any new startup. There are 85 instructors, and the rest include product, tech, sales, marketing teams, and hundreds of BPO workers.
“We’re generating good revenue and putting it back into the business. The focus now is on building a good product and innovation.”
It has a corporate office in Noida, with sales offices in 18 locations across India, including Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Kochi, and more.
It is also supported by the Jharkhand government, which recently allocated the startup space for a 600-seater BPO in Ranchi.
Revenue, funding, and future plans
BasicFirst is pretty bullish about its growth prospects.
It plans to generate revenue of Rs 1,700 crore by 2021, and have five million registered students. The content repository will also be expanded to about 10 million questions.
The startup looks to hire more talent to increase its business partnerships, conduct on-ground product demos, and offer more live classes. Funding is on the cards too.
BasicFirst is not the only player in the hot and happening doubt-solving segment in edtech. It competes with the likes of Sequoia-backed Doubtnut, Toppr, Gradeup, Simplilearn, and several other startups.
But, Randhir asserts that BasicFirst has a “unique” offering, and it will stand out because of its wide, regional reach, and quality educators.
There’s also the enormous market opportunity of 1.5 billion doubts raised by students on online learning platforms every day.
“But learning isn’t always fun,” says the entrepreneur, taking an obvious dig at a certain edtech giant from India. “Sometimes it is tough and confusing and makes you want to give up. That is what we are trying to solve for every student out there,” he signs off.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)