This celebrity-driven learning platform offers courses from Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Madhur Bhandarkar among others
Siddharth Prabhakar has devoted half his life to coaching and training programmes for students, teachers, corporates, small businesses, and governments.
The 30-something serial entrepreneur from Mumbai claims to have touched the lives of over 80,000 people in the last decade. The idea of MasterSchool dawned upon him during one such project in India’s hinterland about a year ago.
Siddharth and his team at Floating Campus (family-run educational venture) were holding sessions for engineering and MBA aspirants. While interacting with students, they realised that rural India had alternate passions, most of which it cannot pursue.
“The students would come up to us and talk about their acting, singing, and filmmaking dreams. They didn’t want to do engineering or medical. But, there were no avenues to follow those passions because they were not in Mumbai,” Siddharth tells YourStory.
Siddharth's team surveyed over 5,000 students across India to understand if there was any value in building a platform for passion courses.
“We asked questions like how much are students willing to pay, do they want monthly or annual programmers, who do they want as trainers, what courses are they looking for and so on, before we finalised the product,” he shares.
After getting encouraging results, Siddharth launched MasterSchool as a celebrity-driven vocational training platform.
What is MasterSchool and who’s it for
MasterSchool went live in September 2019 with five courses: ‘Acting’ by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, ‘Independent Filmmaking’ by Madhur Bhandarkar, ‘Singing’ by Shaan, ‘Communication Skills’ by Sabira Merchant, and ‘Business’ by Siddharth himself.
The founder says, “We spent a lot of time understanding if students wanted to learn from new-age actors like Vicky Kaushal or seasoned experts like Nawaz, Naseeruddin Shah, and Anupam Kher. We finally decided to go with senior actors because they bring years and years of experience to the table.”
Besides students, MasterSchool also looks to tap into young office-goers in big cities. “This will be our main target audience for the future,” he says.
“People in Mumbai, Pune, and Delhi have given up their dreams and are cramped into offices they don’t want to go to. When we speak to them, they tell us ‘yeh hum nahi hai, hamara passion kahin chhoot gaya hai’. We want to revive those passions through MasterSchool,” Siddharth explains.
Each course runs for four to six hours, and is broken into 10-odd sections. More content and FAQs are added based on user feedback. In some cases, there are also live Q&A sessions with the celebs.
“Our instructors include superstars who are passionate about their craft. The video courses are 100 percent exclusive to our platform and the content is produced, owned and distributed by us,” says the founder.
Top courses and who teaches what
When students opt for the Acting course on MasterSchool, they have Nawazuddin Siddiqui taking them through the journey of an actor, ways to bring real-life experiences into characters, voice modulation in dialogues, memorising scripts, acting for the camera, and much more.
“I think his journey alone is worth the price of the product,” says Siddharth, alluding to Nawaz’s incredible growth from a 30-second role in Sarfarosh (1997) to being counted among India’s most celebrated actors today.
In the Filmmaking course, Madhur Bhandarkar, who journeyed from a video cassette delivery boy to a National Award-winning director, offers insights on working with shoestring budgets, developing a story idea, framing shots for leading heroines like Tabu and Kareena Kapoor, and creating hard-hitting cinema. Students who opt for the course are also treated to exclusive footage from his films.
Shaan, who teaches the Singing course at MasterSchool, throws light on playback in Bollywood movies, breath control, riyaaz, taal, warm-up exercise, mastering vocal techniques, hitting the high notes, and more.
The Communication Skills course is taught by celebrity image expert Sabira Merchant (who’s trained beauty pageant winners like Priyanka Chopra and Lara Dutta). She shares lessons on grooming, body language, public speaking, social etiquette, art of answering with flair and finesse, corporate dressing, confidence building, and more.
Siddharth reveals that Sabira’s is the most sought-after course. MasterSchool. “Just the other day, 60 doctors bought her course. Communication has value across professions,” he says.
Many more courses are lined up for release in 2020. These include Editing, Photography, Cinematography, Scriptwriting, Dance, Chess, Creativity, and Leadership. MasterSchool has held conversations with domain experts.
“Our vision is to rope in India’s top 100 celebrity trainers in the next few years. We’re in talks with Daboo Ratnani for photography, Harsha Bhogle for leadership, Sonam Wangchuk for creativity, and Vishwanathan Anand for chess. They have great passion and willingness to share their learnings and knowledge with us.”
Business model and user growth
MasterSchool is a subscription-driven product for now. Each course is priced at Rs 2,999. Users can also avail an all-access plan for Rs 7,999 that gets them all five courses at one go.
“Before launching, we did A/B testing with different price points and found that Rs 2,999 was the optimum cost for our target audience. But, our upgrade rate has been fantastic. About 35 percent of users are getting the all-access subscription from a single course.”
The platform has witnessed an uptick in sales post the coronavirus lockdown as homebound users engage with new things online.
MasterSchool claims to have recorded peak sales of 350 courses in a day post the lockdown. That is a 75 percent increase from its daily average of 180 to 200 courses. It counts 12,000 paid subscribers and 30,000 registered users for its newsletter.
“Six months ago, we were selling only five courses per day. The user growth has happened organically. We’ve just started spending on marketing, and are already seeing a 5x return on investment.”
The bootstrapped startup employs eight people along with some contractual workers. It is financed by parent company, Floating Campus.
But, artists, studios, filming, editing, marketing, overheads, etc. make it a cost-intensive business that could require institutional capital to scale up.
“We are talking to VCs and look to raise funds this year,” says the founder. “But, money-making was never the only motive. We want people from the smallest of locations in India to chase their dreams with MasterSchool.”
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)