How edtech startup CollegeDekho touched over a million students through its end-to-end career guidance platform
When CollegeDekho started in 2015, “career counselling” was largely an offline concept in India and limited to just the big cities. Only elite students had access to it.
“The penetration was low and you needed tech to solve that issue,” CollegeDekho Co-founder-CEO Ruchir Arora tells YourStory.
That was the core pain point Ruchir, a small-town lad himself, set out to solve.
He wanted to democratise students’ access to career guidance through a tech-led platform, and “fundamentally change and improve the college selection process”.
His stint at HT Media, where Ruchir headed the education business, further helped in the genesis of CollegeDekho. “We used to get a lot of questions from students, who were forced into either engineering or medicine because everyone followed their class leaders,” he recounts.
“But, someone could have been interested in law or design or mass communication and other courses. Where would they go? How would those students go about the admission process? These are the questions we wanted to answer,” he says.
To fill that void, Ruchir (along with Rajiv Singh, Saurabh Jain, Rohit Saha) launched CollegeDekho in 2015 as an end-to-end career planning platform for all students.
The platform allowed students to discover and browse through colleges, universities, and courses in 20-odd disciplines, including engineering, commerce and banking, management, medical, nursing, hotel management, agriculture, design, law, arts and humanities, performing arts, etc. It also enabled them fill up and send out application forms, track admission statuses, scholarships, details of entrance examinations, etc.
1.3 million students impacted
In four years, CollegeDekho’s network has covered more than 36,000 colleges, listing every minute detail and information related to admission, entrance exams, scholarships, and fees. It also provided students access to top career counsellors.
Essentially, CollegeDekho acts as a bridge between education seekers and education providers across the length and breadth of the country.
The Gurugram-based startup claims to have counselled 1.3 million students, processed over one lakh common application forms and 25,000 admissions since inception.
In addition to being a college discovery platform, CollegeDekho also actively works with over 400 partner institutes. “We are a transaction platform for these colleges, and students can pay their admission fees through CollegeDekho,” Ruchir explains.
The portal claims to have processed Rs 1,100 crore of admissions since 2015, with 12,000 admissions (amounting to Rs 500 crore) happening this year alone. “More than half of these are in Tier II and III towns,” Ruchir reveals.
According to industry estimates, India’s gross enrolment ratio in colleges is only about 26 percent - the lowest among BRICS nations. But, CollegeDekho claims that its application-to-admission ratio is higher at 30-35 percent.
“We have grown through references and credibility. A third of the admissions we do today are through references,” Ruchir notes.
Year of rapid growth, funding, and expansion
2019 has been a year of rapid growth for CollegeDekho. Without revealing specifics, the startup claims to have increased its topline by 250 percent riding on more partner-institutes, growing student admissions, and expansion of its offline cafes in Lucknow, Patna, Ranchi, Guwahati, and other cities.
Ruchir further asserts that CollegeDekho has been profitable from Day One.
“We are not a cash-burning company and have grown 100 percent every year. These numbers will double or triple as we are on track to work with 700 colleges next year,” he states.
Earlier in 2019, CollegeDekho also raised a Series B round of $8 million from GirnarSoft, London-based Man Capital, and other investors. With this, the startup’s total funding reached about $13 million. CollegeDekho intends to use the fresh capital for expansion, research, product development, and technology enhancement.
The startup will not only expand its offline cafes to 11 more cities in India by next year, but will also extend its service network to colleges and universities abroad.
Strengthening the ‘Study Abroad’ platform
To further its international footprint, CollegeDekho acquired Scholarship Facilitation Services in July. Through this deal, the startup will be able to offer university-based admission counseling services to Indian students pursuing degrees abroad.
CollegeDekho claims that it can bring down the cost of international admission from $25,000 to $10,000 by “facilitating need-based or aptitude-based scholarships”.
At the time of the acquisition, Manik Kubba, Co-Founder and CEO, Scholarship Facilitation Services, said,
“In the last few years, India has witnessed a rise in the cost of education, thus blurring the boundaries between domestic and foreign higher education. As these numbers grow, there is a need for an edtech company that can bridge the divide between domestic and foreign higher education.”
CollegeDekho already offers customised products and services for 200+ global partner universities are spread across the US, the UK, Canada, UK, Ireland, Dubai, Holland, Germany, Australia, and Ukraine.
“From counselling to shortlisting of colleges as well as visa and application process, we help students from the beginning till the end of their study,” Ruchir shares.
Other outreach programmes and opportunities
With India’s rising disposable incomes and increasing global connectivity, even undergrad students are now keen to pursue courses in international universities.
To tap into this younger student base, CollegeDekho has launched an outreach programme known as School Connect, through which it provides free counselling sessions to school students in Class 10, 11, and 12.
“Our biggest opportunity is that the market is still very underpenetrated. When we talk to students, we realise that there is an awareness challenge. They are hell bent on engineering and medical degrees because they may not know better.”
Hence, guided one-on-one counselling is the only way to go. To increase its “behavioural impact” on students, the 570-employee startup is now hiring new talent.
CollegeDekho has also made significant technological upgrades to automate student-counsellor conversations, and scale up faster.
“We are taking baby steps towards automation because we realised that students change year on year, but their questions remain the same. We have built one of the most sophisticated AI-powered chatbots that can guide them efficiently and help them make informed decisions.”
Considering India’s edtech market is poised to grow to $1.96 billion with a user base of around 9.6 million by 2021, opportunities abound for CollegeDekho and its peers (GetmyUni, CollegeSearch, CollegeBol, and others).
But, what perhaps makes it stand out is its expansive network of pan-India (and even international) colleges and highly personalised career guidance products.
“The latest funding we received from Man Capital is a stamp of approval for our approach. It will help us to provide better service offerings at a time when more and more people are opting for vocational and skill-based courses,” Ruchir signs off.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)