How this serial entrepreneur started up during COVID-19 lockdown and raised funding too
Telecommunications engineer Gunjan Kejriwal was struck by the entrepreneurial bug early in his career. He founded Roomys, a platform that helped users to find roommates, in 2013. The startup, which was a YourStory Tech30 company in 2014, was later acqui-hired by Nestaway Technologies in 2016.
A year later, he founded LocalPlay. The regional media startup used collected hyperlocal news from and for the next billion users. “We were building tools to empower journalists and stringers in the hinterlands of the country,” says Gunjan.
Backed by Orios Venture Partners, LocalPlay was acquired by news and content aggregator Dailyhunt in an all-cash deal, last year. Until January this year, Gunjan was serving as the Director of the hyperlocal company, leading the content, news, and product.
But as the saying goes, ‘Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.’ On April 10, 2020, Gunjan took the entrepreneurial plunge yet again, and founded, along with his former colleague, Utsav Tiwary. The PaaS (Product as a Service) startup provides tools to teachers to set up their independent live classes.
“It is designed in a fashion to allow teachers, with zero tech-knowledge, to set up live classes in less than five minutes,” Gunjan says.
The co-founders built the product, formed a team, pitched their idea, and raised seed funding, all while working remotely from Assam and Kolkata, respectively, and in the middle of the nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
BitClass claims to be the first company to be selected under Waterbridge Ventures seed-stage investment programme ‘Fast Forward’.
Ravi Kaushik, Partner at Waterbridge Ventures, says: “We have a deep sector thesis in edtech. When we met with Gunjan and Utsav, we were really excited, not just about their background and experience, but also the deep insights they brought on the table. We believe live learning is the future and BitClass is building the infrastructure to enable offline teachers to come into the online education system, effectively building the infrastructure that powers live learning.”
The story so far
In December 2019, Gunjan says, “I was willing to take the leap of faith again and start another business.” He reached out to Utsav, who was then working with Medigo, a tech startup in Berlin. Utsav put down his papers and was supposed to visit his hometown and join Gunjan by April.
Before this, in January, the duo decided to build a live-streaming platform for various business use cases. “We believed the future demanded more online and real-time interactions,” Gunjan says.
After spending a month, the duo decided to use the platform to help small-town retailers buy from wholesale markets across the country, using live calls. From mid-February till early-March, Gunjan travelled across Delhi, Rajasthan, and Gujarat, interacting with wholesalers.
“The responses were encouraging, and organising the sector by building a tech layer on top of it would provide a massive opportunity,” Gunjan says. By then, Utsav had already started working on the technology.
In March, when Gunjan visited his hometown in Assam and Utsav came down to Kolkata, the nationwide lockdown was announced.
“Towards the end of March, we realised that if we persisted with the same idea, it would take us months to even test the first MVP (Minimum Viable Product). We could not start an operations-based B2B business when the entire economy was slowing down,” Gunjan says.
Keeping the core-idea around building a live-streaming product intact, the duo realised the rising demand for edtech products. While Utsav continued focussing on building the technology, Gunjan started talking to teachers who were already taking live classes in the first week of April. He realised teachers did not design the pedagogy or the delivery methods. BitClass was thus founded to give teachers the “power back in the online education space,” Gunjan says.
How does it work?
During his interaction with teachers, Gunjan realised they were using separate tools for conducting live classes. They used one app for scheduling class, another for payment collection, one for assignments, and yet another for video streaming.
“An average teacher used up to 11 apps to conduct one class,” Gunjan reveals. BitClass brings all these features under one platform, allowing teachers to create as many classes or courses as they want.
Once a teacher registers on the platform, they can create a class, schedule it, start accepting registrations, and finally, conduct live classes. Additionally, it also allows fitness instructors to take classes. The platform allows teachers or instructors to collect fees at the time of registration.
While the platform is free to use for teachers, the students are charged a small fee. “We have a few pricing models and let the teacher decide the structure,” Gunjan says.
The BitClass team is six employees strong already.
“The most difficult part was building the platform and the team while both the co-founders were remotely working. Activities like preparing the fundraising pitches and hiring the team were earlier usually done in person. To have been able to do this remotely was a big feather in our cap,” Gunjan says.
All the 75 teachers who are currently using BitClass’s platform were on-boarded personally by the founders. These teachers are using the platform for either group tuitions, to conduct yoga classes, language teaching, fitness and nutrition classes, among others.
According to Gunjan, BitClass has already delivered 35,000 minutes of learning on its platform.
In just two months, the startup raised its seed round from Waterbridge Ventures, Better Capital and angels Amarendra Sahu, Co-founder of Nestaway; and Raveen Sastry, Founder of VC firm Multiply Ventures. “Interestingly, all our fundraising meetings happened virtually inside the BitClass Classroom,” Gunjan says.
Vaibhav Domkundwar of Better Capital says, “Online education is experiencing an inflection point right now. I believe a completely new set of infrastructure layer will be created by companies to support the wide range of use cases in online education. One big use case is that of spinning an instant live class - that’s exactly what BitClass is. Yoga teachers, fitness instructors, travel guides, and others can create an instant BitClass without struggling with complex software. Teachers can also find students from anywhere in the world. I think that is very powerful.”
According to Global Market Insights, the video conferencing market is expected to grow at over 19 percent CAGR between 2020 and 2026, exceeding $50 billion. The market size last year was $14 billion.
US-based Zoom was in the limelight during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, platforms like Google Hangouts, Microsoft Team, Google Meet, JioMeet, and Bharat.live have also been providing video conferencing and live classes.
According to Gunjan, “BitClass is unique and teachers won't have to look back to other video conferencing tools, which are meant for meetings and not necessarily for teaching.”
The startup plans to raise further rounds of investment after gaining some traction. “We want to grow this exponentially and acquire teachers globally,” says Gunjan.