This Bengaluru startup is helping students enter IVY League colleges, IIMs with its on-demand GMAT training
For students who wish to study in the US, cracking exams to find the right IVY League college is hard; the training and effort require discipline. With their edtech startup, Arun Jagannathan and Shreekala Kurup are trying to get this discipline restored among students.
The Bengaluru-based platform has helped over 15,000 students with their GMAT preparation. Besides, it also helps them getting admission into universities, including Harvard Business School, Stanford, Wharton, INSEAD, and London Business School, as well as in ISBs and IIMs (for one-year executive MBA course), in India.
Founded in 2012, CrackVerbal started as a physical classroom and as an online model. However, in the wake of the pandemic, it has moved to digital learning permanently.
The early days
Co-founders Arun Jagannathan and Shreekala Kurup worked in Talisma and HP, respectively, before the startup bug bit them in 2011. The husband and wife duo decided to solve the problem of preparing students for global competitive exams like GMAT, enabling them to receive high scores to secure scholarships in reputed institutions abroad and at home.
In an interaction with YourStory, Arun Jagannathan, Co-founder of CrackVerbal, says,
"By training thousands of students in our classrooms over the years, we have developed an in-depth knowledge of the test and the admissions process. This experience has also given us a very close view of the customer, their aspirations, and pain points. More importantly, we understand how students learn.”
“Our platform gives them measurable outcomes. It tracks student success rates and helps them work hard to improve those metrics. We believe, this has to be achieved through a mix of both technology and human touch," he adds.
Interestingly, post the lockdown, the edtech startup is witnessing a surge of users on its platform as many students felt that it was the right time to pursue higher education. In fact, CrackVerbal also saw increased engagements on its YouTube channel and social media handles.
Commenting on the same, Co-founder Shreekala Kurup, says, "The lockdown has given enough time for professionals to question their career direction. A lot of professionals see an MBA or a Master’s as a perfect way to effect a career change — in either industry, or geography, or both. Getting a Master's degree from a top college provides you with the brand credentials and global exposure that gives tremendous RoI over the long-term."
Getting prepared with CrackVerbal
Shreekala believes most professionals want to ride out a rough economic downturn in the years to come. Most students who will apply this year for higher education will get admissions next year, and graduate sometime in 2023-24 — hopefully, by the time the economy should pick up.
Amidst the lockdown, many colleges embraced digital ways to reach out to students, as depending on local city-based “consultants” or MBA “fairs” were not enough if they wanted to reach out to the target audience. That's where CrackVerbal stood a chance to gain.
In FY20, CrackVerbal has enrolled over 2000 students on its platform, and each student pays Rs 30,000 per year for the course.
On the platform, students can choose to prepare for GMAT by signing up for live coaching on the startup’s on-demand self-paced programme. CrackVerbal also allows students to use the platform for completing their application process for colleges.
"Though our user base is typically from India, we are also seeing interest from students from other countries, including Brazil, Singapore, the US, Russia, Oman, the Philippines, and Ghana," says Arun.
In the past six months, the co-founders realised that going online does not mean replicating the former physical classroom model. The startup's faculty members, including Arun and Shreekala, have spent the last several months brainstorming and fine-tuning how to better the learning outcomes — understanding the subject and cracking the exams.
In the test preparation space, CrackVerbal is trying to look at various factors and parameters that impact scores, such as the time of the day a student is studying.
Presently, the test prep space analytics is restricted to metrics such as the number of mistakes made across different topics, and it measures the time taken to solve a problem. These metrics are lag indicators, which means, they tell you what the student did on the test rather than what has to be done.
CrackVerbal is going deeper using machine learning models to predict exactly "why" students are making mistakes. It also has a university application platform, where applicants can evaluate various options before applying to colleges of their choice and get scholarships.
Arun, founder of CrackVerbal
Before the pandemic began, the co-founders completed the Stanford Seed Transformation Programme — where professors from Stanford Graduate School of Business and CrackVerbal team worked closely to transform the startup to an online-only platform.
"A major insight we had through this programme was that we had developed deep expertise, not just about the admission process but also how students think and behave. The plan was to create CrackVerbal 2.0 by digitising all aspects — from customer acquisition to customer experience," says Arun.
Bootstrapped since inception, CrackVerbal has been cash positive since 2013. Over the years, it has grown by reinvesting all its profits into the business.
"We are investing in technology that will help our students accurately predict their GMAT performance along with providing a plan on how to improve it. We are also creating a new platform that will help students find their best-fit colleges, get scholarships, and connect students with alumni," says Arun.
CrackVerbal will close its FY21 revenue at Rs 4 crore and expects to increase its revenue by 3X in FY22 on the back of global expansion. It competes with the likes of GMAT Pill, ExpertsGlobal, and Jamboree in the test preparation segment.
The startup has a 50 member team. At present, it is focussing on hiring the right to talent to scale its online platform.
"We realised our target audience consumes digital content to form opinions and make decisions. In edtech, a brand is built not just on tech superiority but also on the quality of teachers and mentors. At CrackVerbal, all our faculty and mentors go through an arduous selection and training process, maintaining a reputation for quality. Over the last few years, we have been able to build a panel of over 100 such experts who work with us part-time," says Arun.
It is also trying to build a team of experts who can help the startup bring its ideas to fruition. “We are looking for people who can not only help us with the skills they have but also people who can join us to create something that is the best, We are looking to do this over the next year or so,” Arun shares.