Decoding Vedantu's journey as a category creator as the edtech startup turns unicorn, a YourStory Exclusive
When Vamsi Krishna took his first live online classroom session in 2014, few could have foreseen then what— India’s newest edtech unicorn — has today made mainstream: online live tutoring.
By enabling a student to ‘tap’ a teacher directly, India’s newly minted unicorn Vedantu and other startups in the edtech space have disrupted the traditional knowledge framework as we knew it.
Today, far from being a hierarchical model of learning, the personalised learning model has bridged the so-called gap between the master and the pupil — symbolic not just in meaning and scope, but in the creation of an ecosystem of diversified learning products, tools, and technologies.
And with that, the growing number of students who take live online tutoring sessions, not just through Vedantu but other edtech startups — the kind of impact that Vedantu Co-founder and CEO Vamsi Krishna tells YourStory affords him a real “sense of satisfaction” and pride, more than achieving lofty valuations or joining the coveted unicorn club.
Vamsi Krishna, Co-founder & CEO, Vedantu in an exclusive video interaction with YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma
“The unicorn (status and) the valuations...we do not like to make a big deal out of that. But what I am really proud of today is the fact that from the first live class I took in 2014 till date, there are now millions of students doing this and this is becoming mainstream. That is something that makes me happy and proud,” Vamsi told YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma in an exclusive interaction after Vedantu became the 27th Indian startup to join the club of private tech companies valued at over $1 billion this year.
On Wednesday, the Bengaluru-based online tutoring startup Vedantu, which started with just Rs 1 crore in seed funding from angel investor Ramaswami, became India’s fifth edtech unicorn, after raising $100 million in Series E funding led by Singapore-based ABC World Asia, with participation from existing investors Tiger Global, Coatue, GGV Capital, and WestBridge, among others.
Vedantu is among the edtech startups that have grown significantly in the past two years amidst an online education boom that has been spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Designed as a one-stop platform for professional teachers and students, Vedantu provides live online classes for students from Class 6 to Class 12, preparing them for board exams like CBSE and ICSE, as well as competitive exams like medical and engineering entrance exams.
Lessons in perseverance and humility
As a pioneer of live online tutoring, having been an early entrant in the online education space at a time when India’s digital infrastructure was in its infancy, Vedantu has faced its fair share of challenges.
“People used to ask us kya hota hai live classes? (What are these live classes)?” says Vamsi who had to deal with the perils of slow progress and, above all, a sense of disenchantment among his audience. The concept was so alien at that point of time that the question of ‘why’ outweighed ‘how’.
But far from deterring him, these challenges helped Vamsi and his three Co-founders Pulkit Jain, Saurabh Saxena, and Anand Prakash stay grounded and not lose sight of their goal.
This, he emphasises, has been especially true in the past two years, a period when the startup witnessed rapid growth of upto 4X amidst accelerated momentum in the Indian online education industry, Vamsi tells YourStory.
“I would say the biggest learning for me, the founders and our team is this: just be at it. If you fundamentally believe in something, if you believe that you are doing something good, in our case for the students, so just be at it because goodness will show. In short spurts it might be demotivating or it could be very good, but both should not affect you.”
Vedantu Co-founders Anand Prakash, Pulkit Jain and Vamsi Krishna
Indeed, through a single-minded focus on building a strong content resource pool and delivering live classes, Vedantu today has over 35 million students in 500+ cities worldwide and has delivered over 24 million hours of live learning sessions by teachers with an average rating of 4.8/5.
But there’s more to the Vedantu philosophy than these numbers.
A far cry from the traditional four-walled classroom, the ‘open’ classes of Vedantu allow ease of access allowing a student to engage with learning in an intuitive set-up.
In a departure from institutional learning characterised by barriers of pedagogy, a Vedantu classroom is typically designed to disrupt the ‘herd mentality’ in learning. And this core school of thought is not just native to Vedantu but any disruptive edtech company.
Opportunities in an underpenetrated market
With its latest funding, Vedantu plans to strengthen its core product and technology, expand internationally, diversify its co-curricular courses, and explore both organic and inorganic growth opportunities in a market that Vamsi believes is “...still so underpenetrated.”
“Currently, we have seen less than 5 percent penetration of the overall market. Even with all the edtech boom, the number is still very less. So, there is a long way to go. There are so many categories and products to invest in and we are trying to create this, maybe through organic and even through inorganic, and for that, it is always good to have that corpus,” he adds.
While it’s the largest player in the K12 segment, there are still a lot of categories that Vedantu does not yet have a presence in. In these categories, the edtech startup is open to acquisitions that make strategic sense and are a cultural fit.
“When we think of a category, we think about whether we need to invest in it ourselves or whether there is already another company out there which is at a scale and with which there is a culture-fit. So, we are definitely open to both organic and inorganic growth opportunities. And yes, definitely, you may see Vedantu make a few related announcements in probably the next 12 to 15 months,” Vamsi adds.
With an eye on both organic and inorganic growth opportunities, Vamsi says the commitment continues to be about creating “...more products at different price points, in different vernacular languages and different classes which are still not there.”
The freedom to click and connect is at the heart of the edtech story in India that has seen a sea change in the traditional model of learning especially during the pandemic with the closure of schools and millions of children cut off from the knowledge system.
As schools had to adapt to hybrid models of learning, the edtech startup space too saw a burgeoning boom — one that revolutionised the landscape of learning in India like never before.
Already, Indian edtech startups have seen close to $2 billion in funding this year, with the addition of three new edtech unicorns this year, including upGrad, while last year became the second Indian edtech startup after to turn unicorn.and
Byju’s, the world’s largest edtech company, became a decacorn last year and is now reportedly eyeing an initial public offering (IPO) even as it continues its acquisition spree amidst the global edtech boom.
Vedantu too, Vamsi tells YourStory, is eyeing an IPO over the next two to two and a half years.
Still, while an IPO is definitely a natural line of progression for Vedantu, its core focus remains building a long-term sustainable company that continues to centre on innovation and impact.
“Creating a long-term sustainable company which continues to innovate: that’s the core goal. There’s no other way. Definitely, an IPO is on the cards. I do believe we are a little early right now but definitely in a two or two-and-a-half-year timeframe, I believe we should definitely be there,” he signs off.