One year of lockdown: 10 Indian startups that rode edtech’s hockey stick curve in the pandemic
There’s no doubt that India’s edtech sector has seen hockey stick growth since the lockdown in March 2020. In fact, some founders reckon that COVID-19 has been to edtech what demonetisation was to fintech in 2016.
In the last 12 months of the pandemic, online education (edtech) has not only topped user growth and VC funding, but also Twitter trends and Google searches.
Between April and December 2020, ‘edtech’ searches gained 60 percent on the Indian internet, according to Google Trends. Searches for individual companies such as BYJU'S, Vedantu, Toppr, and others that cater to India’s 265 million school-going students — the highest in the world — gained even further.
A joint report by BARC India and Nielsen revealed that there was a 30 percent increase in the time spent on education apps in the first three months of lockdown.
Edtech funding also grew — from $522 million in 2019 to an all-time high of $2.2 billion in 2020, according to the Indian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (IVCA). Not only did existing edtech startups pivot and persist, but a plethora of new online learning platforms also mushroomed to cater to the ‘new normal’.
A lion’s share of product and platform innovations took place in the K-12 segment, which is the largest in terms of TAM in the overall edtech pie. India has about 1.5 million schools, but less than 20,000 of them are digitally connected.
Hence, edtech startups rushed to help schools transition from offline to online.
KPMG estimates there are more than 3,500 edtech startups in India today. The HRD Ministry projects that India’s edtech expenditure would reach $10 trillion by 2030.
Several startups, which had earlier struggled to attract users due to high pricing or low awareness, recorded robust growth in traffic, engagement, subscriptions, and renewals. The scepticism around e-learning also declined, and it went mainstream.
Here are 10 edtech startups from India that captured the eventful year.
The world’s most valuable edtech startup was not built in a day. But the pandemic certainly expedited its growth. In 2020, BYJU’S raised record funding, became a decacorn, acquired companies across segments, and added 45 million new users.
During the initial days of the lockdown, the Bengaluru-based startup made all its content free, and introduced ‘Live Classes’ for the first time to replicate a classroom-like environment so students could attend scheduled classes periodically, just like in school. In April, BYJU’S grossed a record monthly revenue of Rs 350 crore.
“We are fortunate to be in a business that has a positive relevance now. The monetisation has improved because this is a clear inflexion point. Good companies in the sector will skip a few years in their growth,” Founder and CEO, Byju Raveendran, told YourStory.
“We’ve released more app updates in the last three months than we have done in a long span of time,” Co-founder Divya Gokulnath added.
In April, Vedantu — like many other K-12-focused edtech startups — made all its live classes free. Students had unlimited access to classes, tests, doubt solving, notes study material, recorded sessions, and other content on its proprietary live tutoring platform (VAVE).
This move led to clear improvements in engagement scores of early-grade and middle-grade kids. The Bengaluru-based startup crossed a watch time of one billion minutes across its channels, and recorded a revenue growth of 80 percent between April and May 2020 — achieving its highest growth in the last two-plus years.
Post May, when schools began holding their online classes on top of the live tutoring offered by Vedantu, students were faced with the problem of screen fatigue.
To address this, the platform incorporated time checks in its classes, where teachers were instructed to do eye exercises or hold interactive activities intermittently.
"Earlier, parents and students thought of online as a not-so-serious option. Then in 2020, online became the only option. We saw a marked difference in the attitude of parents. There was a shift in their mindset about online education, and a lot of parents started trusting the new way of learning and teaching," Vamsi Krishna, Co-founder and CEO, Vedantu, said at YourStory’s Future of Work 2021 conference.
Noida-based edtech startup ConveGenius went from offering tablet-based learning in budget schools to WhatsApp chatbot-assisted learning for individual students.
Since June 2020, it has scaled from 500,000 to 10 million users, and is enabling education access for 100 million school students at the bottom of the pyramid.
The startup has integrated WhatsApp APIs with its own, and is delivering bite-sized learning modules and course materials to users via WhatsApp every week. ConveGenius plans to reach 40-50 million students by the end of 2021.
“Mindsets changed after COVID-19. Customers were willing to look at a parent-based offering because parents were at home and children could use their phones to learn. We always wanted to go from B2B2C to B2C, and this was the right time," Jairaj Bhattacharya, Founder and CEO, ConveGenius, told YourStory.
Toppr, a prominent player in the K-12 segment, witnessed a 9X growth in traffic after it made all live classes free during the lockdown. The startup also launched a bunch of new products — School OS, Toppr Codr, Toppr Answr — in uber-quick time, and saw its user base swell from 6-7 million in 2019 to 35 million by the end of 2020. The Mumbai-based startup also recorded a 600 percent growth in user engagement.
“This was possible because of our comprehensive platform offering — video classes, live classes, practice, test series, doubt solving, etc. — all coming together to create a complete learning experience, something that Toppr has advocated since inception,” Zishaan Hayath, Toppr Founder and CEO, told YourStory.
Toppr aims to reach one million daily users and onboard 3,000 schools across 50 cities on its School OS platform by the end of the year. It is also reportedly in talks with BYJU’S for a $150-million sale.
Noida-based Edumarshal runs a proprietary ERP software that can track and manage all school-related functions. Schools can also automate pre-admission enquiries, student on-boarding, examinations, report grading and assessments, parent-teacher communication, fee collection, library and hostel management, gate and visitor management, and other manual processes on the platform.
The edtech startup also launched an integrated LMS platform that lets anybody run a virtual school, with live lectures, online classes, content hosting through e-books, session recordings, real-time chats, subject-based discussion forums, real-time student collaborations, and more.
It grew 250 percent during the lockdown by helping schools to go online via the newly launched product. “We’d been developing this add-on product for six to eight months and have tied up with 50+ schools since the lockdown began. The video-based LMS provides a seamless experience by replicating the actual classroom environment, thus ensuring continuity of students’ interest in studies,” Gaurav Kumar, Co-founder and CEO, Edumarshal, told YourStory.
Following the coronavirus lockdown, Precisely went from being an internship aggregator platform (that connected Indian students with global mentors, experts, fellowships, conferences, and networking opportunities) to helping tuition teachers and coaching centres in small towns move from offline to online.
The Delhi-based edtech startup launched Learnage, a learning management system with features like live classes, video lectures, assignment submissions, scheduling, test prep content, and more. Teachers can also record courses and upload them as a playlist for a certain fee. Learnage has also enabled support for 21 Indian languages.
Between February and September 2020, over 65,000 students joined Learnage. The platform has signed up over 4,000 small and mid-sized coaching centres, primarily across Tier II towns like Jaipur, Indore, Surat, Patna, Lucknow, and Kanpur. Precisely it is looking to hit one million users by June 2021.
“We’re charging only 35-40 percent of what other players charge. Plus, we’re 30 percent cheaper than Zoom. That helped us grow faster and drive product adoption. Our annual growth rate has increased by 55 percent,” Kirti Krishan, Co-founder and Director, Precisely, told YourStory.
Singapore-based eduTinker, which has an office in Delhi, is a born-in-the-pandemic startup. It began operations in July, and launched its one-stop student management platform in November 2020. It looks to onboard 500,000 users by the end of 2021.
eduTinker works towards eliminating the need for additional infrastructure in remote learning, thereby enabling quick scale and reach. It blends a learning management system with an ERP solution for schools and coaching centres that allows teachers/tutors to schedule classes, auto-mark attendance, create daily timetables, distribute and evaluate assignments, grade online tests, share study material, boost classroom interaction using features like collaborative whiteboards, and more
“Teachers were using different platforms for different activities and classes. Assignments were being shared on email, communication was on WhatsApp, and video classes were being held on some other platform. It involved a lot of manual work. So, we built a unified platform that can organise and automate all these activities under a single dashboard, and boost productivity of teachers and students,” Akash Aggarwal, Founder and CEO, eduTinker, told YourStory.
Hyderabad-based skilling company SkillPro launched mPowerO in May 2020 to tap into the rising demand for e-learning solutions and learning management systems.
mPowerO is a SaaS-based learning management system for educational institutions that helps them deliver training to students over mobile and web.
The platform’s focus lies on delivery capability more than learning content. Schools can build their personalised apps using the cloud-based solution, and mPowerO takes care of the hosting, distribution, app listing, and content delivery.
The platform essentially helps schools ensure learning continuity and scale up online classes.
“At SkillPro, we understood how learning happens. We thought if we could turn that and provide an enterprise-grade solution to schools and colleges with a focus on Tier II and III cities. Not as a replacement for classrooms but something to complement that and enable schools to teach students anywhere, anytime on the mobile,” Ananth Rao, Founder of mPowerO (and Chairman of SkillPro), told YourStory.
Codingal was founded in July 2020 coinciding with the coding boom in Indian edtech. The Bengaluru-based startup offers a platform for K-12 students to learn live coding and STEM subjects in a fun way.
There are three courses: block coding (Class 1 to 5), web development (Class 6 to 8), and Python and robotics (Class 9 to 12).
In five months, Codingal enrolled over 40,000 students and held 6,000+ live classes. Earlier in February, it was also inducted into Y Combinator’s Winter Batch 2021, after raising undisclosed funds from the Silicon Valley-based startup accelerator.
“Schools in the US and China have a well-defined K-12 computer science framework. But, in India, the school curriculum is boring and outdated. It confirmed my belief that this is an area worth spending my time on. [Because] Coding jobs are the future. They already constitute more than 60 percent of all roles in science, technology, engineering, and math. We envision Codingal as the default playground for every child interested in learning computer science by building apps, games, and websites,” Vivek Prakash, Co-founder and CEO, Codingal, told YourStory.
IIM-B incubated startup MyCaptain, which is an online mentoring platform that connects students with domain experts and professionals across multiple fields, saw its users surge amid the lockdown. Sign-ups increased across the board from high-school students to undergrads and working professionals.
“Between pre and post-COVID-19, we have doubled enrollments. COVID-19 is edtech’s demonetisation. Earlier, colleges and universities were opposed to online courses. But the situation flipped completely, and the demand has increased organically. Now, there's a higher acceptance of online education in universities,” Mohammed Zeeshan, Co-founder and CEO of MyCaptain, told YourStory.
The Bengaluru-based startup, which earlier focused on B2C, is now more bullish on the B2B segment. “The B2B landscape is going to change drastically hereon. Earlier, it would take about a year-and-a-half to close a deal in the B2B space. Now, it will take about three to four months, and the space is evolving,” the founder added.
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta