Edtech startup DronStudy wants small-town students to ace the learning game
The shutdown of educational institutes across the world has led to a boom in edtech platforms, including BYJU’S, Toppr, Vedantu, and Lido, which are stepping in to help students study in their homes.
But most of these edtech startups focus on metros and other big cities. What happens to children in Tier III and IV towns?
Neetin Agarwal and Nikhil Sharmawanted to solve this problem with Surat-based edtech startup DronStudy in 2016. The startup provides online coaching for students in Classes 8-12, and preparation for IIT and NEET exams.
“The coaching market in India is disorganised. Anyone with no certification can become a tutor. Parents want to put their wards in the hands of a trustworthy tutor, who can provide quality education at an affordable price. But they struggle,” Neetin says.
He adds that with the rise of technology that lets you get food, cabs, and goods with one click, “parents are increasingly looking online for the right solution”.
The founders are old friends; they passed out from different IITs in the same year and began their first job in same company.
Neetin has three years’ experience in the technology industry and six years in the education industry. Nikhil comes with 10-plus years of experience in technology. Both founders are highly passionate about changing the lives of students and “the way we have been learning for ages”.
The founders bootstrapped the startup in 2015 with less than Rs 1 crore.
Neetin lists down the many challenges that cropped up along the way, including building processes to create the product, find the right marketing and sales strategy, manage finances and day-to-day operations, get the best out of the team, and build the right communication.
“These are challenges everyone faces and so did we. Getting the right product-market fit is always a challenge especially in edtech, which has been a challenging sector. We experimented a lot to get the right fit,” Neetin says.
How DronStudy works
Dron Study offers an online live tutoring solution where a small group of students are taught by an online facilitator. It started by creating a techplatform that allowed students to access video lectures, test series, and exercises created in-house.
As many as 1,000 video tutorials, created by IIT-level faculties, provide an engaging and personal teaching experience. Students can also access to study material such as NCERT textbook solutions and chapter/revision notes. They can use the test series to practice and get doubts resolved by experts.
What sets the edtech startup apart is the fact that learning can be done in Hindi. It is set to launch tutorials in Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada in the next 18 months.
The startup, which has notched up one million YouTube subscribers, has an in-house team to create content. The facilitators are 100 plus freelancers working from home. The startup has a tech platform to take care of the delivery, for students and teachers.
The founders believe that learning has to be a fun exercise. “A Harvard study says that a student’s mind cannot focus on studies for more than seven minutes. But, I disagree. How can s/he then focus on a three-hour movie?” Neetin asks.
He adds that children are born curious, but our education system stymies – and often kills – their innate curiosity.
Teachers have their own problems. Apart from taking classes, s/he needs to put in massive research, find the right way to explain, ensure correct sequencing of concepts, and make tests and assignments.
“A teacher either spends a lot of time doing all this instead of engaging with students or does not do it at all, impairing quality. DronStudy wants to empower such tutors,” he says.
The startup works on a subscription model where students pay on an annual or monthly basis, students can chose a class at Rs 25.
The edtech landscape
According to IBEF, India has one of the largest education systems in the world with more than 1.4 million schools, over 227 million students, and more than 36,000 higher education institutes. A 2016 KPMG report said the Indian edtech market was pegged to touch $1.96 billion by 2021.
There are umpteen edtech solutions in the market but widespread adoption remains a dream despite the marketing and sales money being pumped in.
The reason is the lack of a product that can solve the real needs of middle-class Indian families. Neetin says there are three types of tech players in the coaching market for school students. These include:
Content aggregators:The syllabus for K-12 is fixed, and doesn’t need 100-odd teachers to create courses. “Aggregation is a good idea for courses with no defined syllabus and lot of variation like business management, learning guitar, coding,” Neetin says.
Remote tutoring: This brings a group of students and a teacher together in an online class. This model is similar to offline tuitions, except that it functions online. A few companies are working with schools on this.
“The fact is that most schools are more interested in profits, and get more applications for admissions than they can entertain. So, they are slow to change. They can spend Rs 10 crore on constructing a school building but will not pay Rs 50,000 as teacher’s salary. That’s because a beautiful building is often more likely to attract parents then a quality teacher,” Neetin says.
AI is the future
The founders believe the use of AI in teaching is now mandatory.
“I strongly believe AI will take education to a new level. Currently, students are taught in herds, but all are different and need to be treated accordingly," Neetin says.
The edtech startup plans to upgrade the platform, tap deep AI, and acquire customers through digital marketing.
DronStudy’s revenue is Rs 1.6 crore at present, and it plans to be a Rs 100 crore company in five years. The plan for the next 18 months is simple: to double the number of students from the current one million.
“Our solution is highly affordable to the customer. The variable cost for us is only Rs25 per student per class, which means that we can make healthy profits as well as satisfy a price-sensitive Indian market. For any product to become mainstream and low touch, it has to win trust of parents and ensure marks for students,” Neetin says.
“Like McDonald’s in the food sector, our model ensures consistently high quality in a highly scalable way at an affordable price,” Neetin says.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)