Why this Deepika Padukone-backed startup is targeting hobby learning, edtech's next big thing

Edtech startup FrontRow wants to make non-academic learning accessible and affordable for small-town Indians, and has roped in high-profile investors.
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While starting FrontRow, its co-founders Ishaan Preet Singh, Mikhil Raj, and Shubhadit Sharma had been “looking at the education space”. 

With prior stints at Lightspeed India, ZestMoney, and GlowRoad, respectively, they were acquainted with India’s startup ecosystem and the fast-growing edtech sector. A common theme emerged from their student interactions. 

“We realised that placements and access to resources were broken in the Tier-III and IV cities,” Ishaan tells YourStory.

But they gained a more interesting insight. There is a huge dearth of avenues in creative learning and non-academic fields like sports, films, music, and comedy. And, that is what they set out to solve with FrontRow.

FrontRow is essentially a learning and community platform where students can pursue their non-academic interests and hobbies.

Besides mentorship from professional experts and celebrities, learners also get access to peer-to-peer interaction and collaboration opportunities on the platform. 

Launch and funding

Modelled on America’s MasterClass, the startup launched operations in May 2020, and went on to raise seed funding of $3.2 million from Lightspeed India, Elevation Capital (formerly SAIF Partners), and Deepika Padukone’s Family Office in November. 

The investments not only validated FrontRow’s product proposition but also brought the vocational learning segment in edtech into sharp focus. 

“We’ve known this team for years and are excited to back a team building a new paradigm for learning – a cross between learning, entertainment, and community,” Akshay Bhushan, Partner at Lightspeed, said in a statement.

Last month, FrontRow went live with five courses after beta-testing with tens of thousands of users pre-launch.

“Initially, people didn’t believe that this kind of learning was possible. But we got very encouraging responses in the beta phase. Absolute small towns like Gaya [in Bihar] and even Kathmandu [in Nepal] have placed orders [for our courses],” Co-founder Ishaan shares. 

He adds, “We realised that the gap is much more pronounced in smaller cities where there is a large audience but no offline instructors or academies. Hence, we’re clear that FrontRow is not a top 10-cities company; it is for Bharat.”

Infographic: YS Design

FrontRow courses and pricing

FrontRow aims to become a democratic learning platform. Each course consists of 15 to 25 video lessons, and is affordably priced at Rs 500.  

At present, the platform is live across five categories — ‘Singing’ by Neha Kakkar, ‘Comedy’ by Biswa Kalyan Rath, ‘Batting’ by Suresh Raina, ‘Bowling’ by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and ‘Spin Bowling’ by Yuzvendra Chahal — with two more slated to go live in December.

These include ‘Rap’ by Divine and Gully Gang, and ‘Music Composition’ by Amit Trivedi. “We’ll launch many more courses in 2021, and also double down on existing categories,” Ishaan reveals. 

Besides offline and online access to the video lessons, FrontRow users can also participate in daily challenges and activities featuring celebrity judges, receive feedback and tips from the mentors, and engage in community learning

Neha Kakkar takes the singing course on FrontRow

The Bengaluru-based startup claims that its production aesthetics are “Netflix-like” involving multi-camera setups, high-quality graphics, and statistics.

FrontRow has roped in top talent from creative and tech industries to develop content. Its producers have fronted award-winning shows.

“Even if someone doesn’t have a professional outcome in mind, if you keep the content engaging, it is so much easier to learn,” says the co-founder. 

While it is too early to talk numbers, the startup claims that it is witnessing good uptick and is well-capitalised to “double down on growth” in 2021.

As it expands its courses, FrontRow will also look to tap into other growth channels like B2B partnerships besides the current direct-to-consumer (D2C) one.

Suresh Raina takes the batting course on FrontRow

Why hobby learning is edtech’s next big thing 

Co-founder Ishaan says there is a massive demand for non-academic learning in India. And it is accentuated by the lack of accessibility and affordability. 

“There are an insane number of people who are willing to pay and learn in these categories. About 30 percent are high-intent learners who actively pursue their hobbies and want to become professionals. So, it’s a huge but unorganised space,” he explains. 

Broad estimates suggest that every year, there are 130 million drama school applicants, aspiring singers, dancers, budding cricketers, and stand-up comics in India.

FrontRow is chasing this large emerging segment, which it believes will define edtech over the next decade. “The first phase of the internet revolution in India was about solving fundamental needs like roti, kapda, makaan. So, you had ecommerce, K-12, test prep, food delivery, mobility, etc. The next phase would cater to slightly higher-order needs that will include hobby learning," Ishaan explains.

Biswa Kalyan Rath teaches comedy on FrontRow

The startup's investors are also “aligned with” this vision. 

Actor Deepika Padukone said at the time of funding,

“If there’s one thing I wish I had access to while growing up, it would be a platform like FrontRow — one that gives individuals access to abundant knowledge in non-academic fields and connects them to a community of peers in their field of interest.”

Mayank Khanduja, Partner at Elevation Capital, added: “Our past investments in the education, social and creator space such as Unacademy, Sharechat, and CampK12 have made us bullish on the opportunity to create large learning and community platforms in India. Once we spoke to FrontRow’s early users, we saw similar potential, and the need for a platform like this became very clear.”

Hobby learning is poised to become the next big thing in edtech. And we have the front row seats to witness the boom! 

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

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