What Irwin Anand, Udemy’s first employee in India, has to say about lean teams, marketplace, affordability

As the chief of the Udemy’s India operations, Irwin Anand is now setting up the online learning platform’s first office in the country. YourStory speaks to the former OLX COO to see how he plans to grow the local team and deepen the company’s investment in the region.

What Irwin Anand, Udemy’s first employee in India, has to say about lean teams, marketplace, affordability

Friday October 25, 2019,

8 min Read

With more than 40 million students from over 190 countries, San Francisco-based Udemy now has an India focus to bet on the $1.96 billion edtech market. Started in 2010, Udemy is an online learning platform for individuals, companies, and governments that allows experts everywhere to develop courses on thousands of topics and share their knowledge with learners.

Udemy has courses in over 60 languages and serves 4,000 global enterprise clients, including Pinterest, Booking, Publicis Sapient, and Adidas. In India, it serves companies like Wipro, Tetrasoft, Pitney Bowes, among others.

Irwin Anand, MD, Udemy India

Irwin Anand, MD, Udemy India

The online learning platform had appointed Irwin Anand early this year as the company’s India Managing Director. The former OLX COO is now tasked with setting up the company’s first office in India. In an interaction with YourStory, Irwin details how he plans to grow the local team to deepen the company’s investment in the region.


Edited excerpts of the interview: 

YourStory: You worked at OLX for several years in various senior positions, and now you are the first employee for Udemy in India. How has your journey been in the last few months?  

Irwin Anand: I joined OLX at almost the same stage of the organisation. I was actually the second employee when I joined OLX in 2012. I saw the organisation go from two to 250 people, find its product-market fit, growth, market dominance, monetisation, and revenue operations—a full cycle of starting small to a handsome upscale.

With Udemy now, being the first employee [in India] excites me again because I am a marketplace guy. I love being in organisations that have thriving two-sided marketplaces. 

YS: How much of a priority is India for Udemy? 

IA: India is our largest and fastest growing market outside of the US. We are doubling our revenue here in India, and the last six months have shown us that we can grow even faster. Udemy is a unique business model in edtech that has been able to scale globally despite being a marketplace.

Without having a single employee in India until this year, we have millions of learners and thousands of instructors based out of India. We have many enterprise and government customers already for Udemy for Business, our enterprise solution. 

But the need of the hour is getting closer to consumers to really understand what they need, and being able to orchestrate initiatives across user experience, supply, market development, to develop the market further. 

YS: How far have you progressed with your setup in India? How big is the team here and how do you plan to grow it? 

IA: One of the key learnings I have from my previous stints is that one should not over-invest in resources and people. It is important to first create proof points of success, and then expand and leverage that learning to build upon the resourcing plan.

So, we have started lean with nine people across sales, customer success, customer successes post-sales, and someone to take care of the government side of things as well.

However, the number of people in the team will keep changing. The initial team will act as evangelists. We are currently building a young startup team that also feels it is part of building a company from scratch. 

YS: How are you localising for Udemy? 

IA: Being a US-anchored company, we started with desktops first. But growth in India comes from mobile. We are amplifying our efforts and investments around mobile experiences in India, such as better video quality on weak internet network, localising on payments, and the go-to-market strategy.

We are currently figuring how to tweak our global models to serve our Indian customers better.

We have been interacting with our consumers here to collect localised market feedback and orchestrate initiatives that can be launched for us to figure out what works and what doesn’t. 

We are investing in people, market development, and marketing. The key focus area in India for us is Udemy for Business. It is not only about selling something; it's also about post sales—working closely with partners to deploy Udemy for Business, making employees get into a learning habit, and increasing the adoption of the learning solution over a period of time.

YS: Any plans on adding local languages?

IA: With about 16 million professionals doing white-collar jobs in India, the language of business is still English. Currently, there are already Indian instructors who are creating local language courses on the platform.

So right now, we are collecting the data signals in terms of the relative success of those courses. They're not as successful at the moment, mainly because the audience is still English-speaking.

But the more we think about further penetration and adjacent markets, these aspects will start becoming more relevant.

YS: You said India is the largest and fastest market for Udemy. Can you tell us how it is growing?

IA: Udemy is hosting 1.3 lakh courses on practically any topic under the sun, and we are adding a thousand courses per month. We have 40 million learners and two-thirds of our learners actually come from out of the US. 

While we don’t share country-specific numbers, I can say that our growth doubled in India on year-on-year basis in FY2018, and we will be growing at a similar or faster pace this year.

The learner base in India is growing 100-120 percent quarter-on-quarter.

YS: Is India a large market for you in terms of users only, or also on revenue? 

IA: Fundamentally, we believe that all markets are different in terms of consumers.

We might have a lower average revenue per user in India, but the mass in the volume of users compensates it. 

YS: What is Udemy’s investment in India?

IA: We have significantly upped our investments in India. While I can't share a number, I can say that we are well-funded, and have raised about $150 million to date.

And we will continue to figure out if any more funding is necessary for us to grow our business. 

YS: India has several players such as Byju’s, Khan Academy, Unacademy, Toppr, Meritnation, etc. How is Udemy intending to scale?

IA: Our differentiation essentially comes from being a marketplace. The beauty of our business model is that we do not produce our own content. And the critical differentiator is we neither own the content nor define the topics.

If we were a content producer, then we would need to have an in-house production team that is trying to forecast future trends and skills when it is a difficult task, and doing quarterly planning as well.

Instead of us doing that, on Udemy, the instructors who have the skillset to be experts are themselves managing their existing revenue and learners, on their own terms, and also thinking about what they need to invest in for building for the future.

The instructors continuously engage with their learners on discussion forums and through Q&A sessions, and continue to refine their courses on the platform. 

The final thing is affordability. We are not bringing offline curricula online. Instead, we are allowing people to teach skills, and teach in a manner that is extremely affordable.

So right now, we are not looking at online degree or certificate providers as competition, as the space is too wide. People will continue to read books, audiobooks, go for longer duration courses, do classroom training, take a sabbatical, and maybe get into a university.

But the larger use case here is that we are allowing you to be able to, whatever be your priorities, take out time and get into something that you can immediately practice, and acquire new skills.

YS: Since Udemy is a marketplace, how do you ensure affordability? Do you interfere with the pricing? 

IA: Instructors put their own price on their course. However, we also run our own promotional campaigns. So, instructors have an option to participate in the price promotion campaigns with Udemy.

In case they do, we set the price on their behalf. 

YS: How do you ensure the quality of the content?

IA: Udemy does a lean or lightweight moderation process. After enrolment, people can rate and review instructors and courses. Based on them, algorithms on the platform highlight comparatively higher quality courses.

We also have a 30-day money-back guarantee. If learners don't like the course, we refund it. 

YS: Are there any plans to partner with or acquire startups in India?

IA: Globally, we want to grow, and we are growing at a fast pace. Having said that, education is a much larger opportunity, and no single company can really address it.

I think multiple shapes and forms of education will continue to flourish. From an Udemy perspective, we continue to evaluate opportunities, which can help deepen our learning experience.

(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)

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