[Startup Bharat] How Testbook is helping students from Bharat prepare for competitive exams during the coronavirus crisis

Mumbai-based Testbook, an online test preparation startup, is helping students prepare for government job exams amid the coronavirus pandemic, by taking several measures to ensure students continue to learn.

In early March, when schools, colleges, and universities were asked to shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, online edtech platforms such as BYJU'S, Toppr, Lido Learning, and several others, started offering several online courses to ensure uninterrupted education of lakhs of students in the country. 

While many of these edtech startups are addressing the educational needs of school students, a Mumbai-based startup Testbook, is aiming to serve about 70 million young men and women, who apply for government jobs each year. 

At present, the public-sector test preparation market is said to be at $5 billion and is one of the largest sectors in the world. 

Close to 70 percent of government job aspirants hail from Tier-II, III, and IV cities. While the Centre had long mandated government job exams to be taken online, most of the coaching for these competitive exams happens offline. 

“We ensure that the health of the students is protected and access to learning and education remains uninterrupted at the same time. This is our bit in making the situation better for crores of aspirants whose competitive exam preparations have been hampered because of the closure of coaching classes and institutes,” says Ashutosh Kumar, CEO and Co-founder, Testbook. 

Testbook Team

Challenges of going purely online

To date, the co-founders say that Testbook has worked with a mix of online and offline play, adding that a purely online model for the competitive exam vertical would not work in India, as about 80 percent of the students preparing for government exams, cannot afford a computer and most go to cyber cafes. 

“That's when we created Testbook-branded computer labs and provided a place for students to practise their tests in a real exam environment. We had 250 students in the waiting list at our first Patna centre in three months of launching,” says Ashutosh. 

However, times have changed. The coronavirus-led lockdown has turned students to use the platform’s mobile app. At present, about 70 percent of the content consumption of the startup is happening on mobile phones. 

Further, to make learning easier, the startup has integrated several lectures via video. Ashutosh explains that Testbook’s tech team has been focussing on building a stronger mobile platform. 

However, trust is an important factor in Tier-II and III cities, and can only be built upon by the presence of a physical outlet. 

Ashutosh says, “In small cities, a brand’s physical presence is critical in building trust. We started with a canopy on the roadside. I still remember, when I was selling the first voucher card, I had to show my IIT alumni card to a student to win her trust.” 

The startup noticed that students in Tier-II and III cities were uncomfortable with digital payments. To cater to this issue, in March 2016, the startup announced the launch of its voucher card – Testbook Pass – to help students pay in cash. The pass works like a recharge voucher that students could buy for cash and use on the website to give their tests.

Students appearing for a government exam test in Tier II India

Making it easier for students

Currently, the startup has come up with a new ‘Testbook Pass’ that will provide competitive exam aspirants complete access to over 100 online courses, over 3,000 mock tests, over 1,000 practice quizzes, and study notes just at Rs 149 per month. 

Its mock test subscriptions are sold at an average order value of Rs 300 per month, while the online courses are sold at an average value of Rs 1,800 per month.

“All the online courses provided by Testbook are very apt to study on mobile with its unique features like watching video lectures even without the internet, which is beneficial for the Tier-II and III students,” says Ashutosh. 

Each month, Testbook says that over 20 crore questions are solved by students on its platform. It has also helped in producing more than 35,000 selections across different government jobs in the last three years.

Till March 31, the startup was also providing free coaching to the students. 

It has built a wide funnel of organic traffic through content marketing, a current affairs app, free practice of questions, as well as a YouTube channel. The acquisition cost for each paid user is a meagre Rs 80. 

Founded in 2014 by Ashutosh Kumar, Manoj Munna, Praveen Agarwal, and Narendra Agarwal, Testbook has S. Chand publishers and Utsav Somani of AngelList as its early-stage investors. 

The startup has raised Series A funding from Matrix Partners in 2017, and Series B funding from Iron Pillar fund and Matrix partners in 2020. 

Testbook claims to have served over 10 million users and has more than 50,000 monthly paying students. It claims to have an annual run-rate (ARR) of Rs 30 crore. 

While the current coronavirus pandemic has ensured the growth of several online edtech players, it has hurt the income of many. With several edtech startups moving online, the problem lies in the fact that most people are still getting used to the idea of learning platforms. Further, most platforms have had to slash costs to accommodate more students during the ongoing crisis.  

Ashutosh admits that it will surely affect the business. “However, tough times demand tough measures,” he adds. 

At present, Testbook aims to scale its live courses and mock tests from the current 100 exams to 400 exams. Further, the edtech startup plans to invest in Data Science and Machine Learning to make the entire learning cycle adaptive for students by providing personalised curriculum and study plans for them.

(Edited by Suman Singh)