Five years ago, when Atul Lakhotia’s niece was going to pre-school, he found WhatsApp had become a common platform for parents to communicate with teachers and the school. But there were certain limitations - there were many unnecessary discussions, which would bury the important messages. Teachers also did not have any privacy, as parents would end up contacting teachers during any time of the day.
Seeing a genuine problem in the space, Atul started Hello Parent in Delhi-NCR in April 2016 with the view of making parent-school communication simple and seamless.
With Hello Parent, parents can get access to student information, fee details, transport, progress, and any important announcement.
Starting with pre-schools
The startup initially started with preschools to figure out the market fit. To begin with, the team conducted a survey of over 10,000 parents across multiple cities – Delhi, Bengaluru, Pune, and Mumbai. Although many schools were using some form of ERP systems, 90 percent schools were dependent on SMS or WhatsApp to communicate with parents.
“We provided the necessary communication module where the contact number of teachers was masked. Parents then get automated reminders about the activities happening in the school. The teachers were also able to communicate with the parents on a one-on-one basis, and their privacy was ensured,” says Atul.
He says, “Our eureka moment came when the first 10 schools that came on board completely shifted to Hello Parent and converted into paid customers. We had 100 percent retention when time came to renew the subscription next year.”
An IT engineer from Delhi College of Engineering, Atul has worked for the likes of Cisco and EXL. Prior to starting up, Atul also worked five years for his family business, which was into trading electrical products.
The Hello Parent interface is simple to use, says Atul. It starts with a simple sign up process with mobile number/OTP (as against usernames/passwords/admission IDs, etc). Once a school registers on the Hello Parent app, the information about students/staff is collected and uploaded into the system.
In the school, the teachers are mapped to their respective classes so that they can start communicating with the children. On the student side, the parent can login to the app, and is immediately connected with the school.
"Next, we set up other modules like details of transport and fees, for the parent to access. We also keep the school authorities in the loop, so that the data is correct. Within one to two weeks, all the other modules are setup and the school can start using the system,” says Atul.
He says one of their biggest advantages is the modular and flexible nature of the system. This helps them to do minimum customisation while setting up the system in the school.
"While most ERPs take three to six months to be setup, we are able to complete the entire process within two to three weeks,” says Atul.
Atul adds the technology needs a constant update, and they have been building the product for the last four years. This includes revamping the product to handle scale, and introducing new features based on latest technology like face recognition, etc.
“We are a 12-member strong development team, and as a result, we are the only school-focussed company to provide online classes with assessments on a single platform,” adds Atul.
Hello Parent incurs two types of cost - product and distribution. The distribution cost includes reaching out to schools and institutes and convincing them to sign up for the product.
Atul says, Indian schools are still value conscious, and take their own time to finalise the product. Sometimes it can take months to convince the schools to get on board.
“The initial biggest challenge for us was that schools were using multiple tools like SMS/WhatsApp to communicate. And to collect fees, they were using NEFT, cheques, cash, etc,” says Atul.
Also, there is no way to track children while in the cab, and for bus tracking, the schools have a bus tracking software in place. The school management also does not have control over all the things happening in the school.
“We are a standalone solution for our customers for all their requirements,” says Atul. He says, they convinced the school authorities how technology can not only help in better operations of the school, but also build parents’ confidence, which can further help in school admissions and better branding.
Building differentiator moats
"Today, with Hello Parent, teachers are comfortable as their privacy is ensured, and up to 30 percent parents are paying fees through the app. Now, we have scaled to include all the necessary features like fee management, child security, examination, admissions, etc. We started in Delhi, and now have offices in Bengaluru and Ahmedabad as well,” says Atul.
At present, Hello Parent has a 30-member team, which includes a strong sales team of 10 plus members in Delhi/Bengaluru, and a 12 plus-member engineering team.
There are several startups operating in the school ERP systems space like Proctur, Wiziq, Classplus, and Classpro. However, Hello Parent works as a single platform for all communication.
Use of technology
The startup believes in having minimum dependency on hardware as it gets redundant every few years, and updating and maintaining it costs a lot. For example, it uses QR codes instead of biometric machines for staff attendance. It also uses QR codes and mobile GPS to track buses, and uses it for digital visitor entry tracking at the school gate.
Also, the software can be updated on a real-time basis to resolve any issues, which helps in reducing the cost of hardware and the effort required to manage the same.
Atul says, features like contactless visitor management and QR code based staff attendance have been highly appreciated by the schools.
Speaking about the coronavirus lockdown, he says: “With a strong development team in-house, we were able to provide online live classes within a week of the lockdown. Our schools did not have to struggle to start online classes as parents were already on the app,” says Atul.
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The market and revenue
A report by RedSeer and Omidyar Network India says the coronavirus pandemic has proved to be one of the biggest game-changers for India’s edtech sector. Online education offerings for Classes 1 to 12 are projected to increase 6.3 times by 2022, creating a market worth $1.7 billion. The report added that the total edtech market in India will touch $3.5 billion by 2022.
Hello Parent is currently working with schools like GD Goenka, Oxford Foundation, Arwachin Bharti, Kidzee, Shemrock, Little Millennium, and Maple Bear Franchises to name a few.
The platform generally charges schools $4-$7 per kid every year. In case of individual subscribers, the revenue model works on either per kid basis, or can be paid annually. Atul says, about 60 percent of schools pay them annually.
Hello Parent made a revenue of Rs 3 crore last fiscal, and claims its revenue is doubling every year. “Currently, we are working with 650+ schools - 100 of which have signed up in the last two months. We have 2.7 lakh app downloads on the play store,” says Atul.
Currently bootstrapped, the startup is looking to integrate more technologies to its platform like facial recognition that can help enhance security in the schools.
“The product has a global reach. We are getting inbound interests from countries like UAE, Kenya, Indonesia, etc. Besides Indian schools, we are looking to tap into the international market in the coming year,” adds Atul.
(Edited by Megha Reddy)
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