[Product Roadmap] Focus on content and customer feedback helped Cuemath expand to 20 countries amid the pandemic
When Manan Khurma was at IIT Delhi, he would teach mathematics as a hobby. He went on to found Locus Education, which offered courses to students preparing for IIT entrance exams.
“While interacting with these kids – mostly 12th graders – I found their mathematical foundations lacking. While the test preparation industry is huge in India, it is limited in the outcome, which prompted me to sell the company. Thinking of a way to develop a model that would strengthen the mathematical foundation in children is howwas born in 2013,” Manan says.
The startup offers a live online learning platform for mathematics and coding. It started as an offline model, with teachers at physical centres, usually their homes, where children would go and learn. However, the team moved online after the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns.
“Our programme contrasts mainstream approaches that focus on memorisation and rote mechanics to understand underlying math concepts. The Cuemath curriculum is highly intuitive, featuring visuals, games, puzzles, simulations, and innovative technology, like whiteboard and Geogebra, making math easy and fun for students of all ages and levels,” he says.
Focusing on the content
Innovative educational technology represents a completely new way of teaching, or it can reflect a better way to use an existing teaching tool. Examples of innovative educational technology range from the most advanced electronic classrooms to the more modest technologies used in the developing world.
“We ourselves found several, including Geogebra, a simulation-based math explaining tool that we have employed to teach concepts to our students. Other tools include Cueboard/Whiteboard, Desmos, Graspable Math, Amplify.
"At Cuemath, we continuously review and monitor classes to check if the recommended best practices are followed. We have the best-in-class resources and teachers trained to deliver the right math education for every child,” Manan says.
He adds that the teachers are trained to work either one on one or with a small class. The 1:1 ratio gives students the attention they need to master concepts thoroughly and quickly. The platform has also been personalised for each child.
“We adapt to children’s educational requirements and teach at precisely the right pace. We like to call it ‘the Goldilocks zone’ of math: The problem isn’t too complex, nor is it too easy. This way, we aim to train, equip, and empower the next generation of invincible problem solvers,” Manan adds.
He explains in the past 18 months, they have moved to 20-odd countries, including the US, the UK, the Middle East, Singapore, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, to name a few. “We aim to reach 50-odd countries by next year.”
Building the prototype
The first prototype for an online classroom had the basic framework to consume math content. The team used to hold the classes on Zoom. At the time, they had a small team comprising three to four engineers and a product manager. It took the team two months to develop the prototype.
“Producing a new product is a prolonged process that demands deep R&D. While the initial idea for the product can come from asking the right questions, it is not enough. One needs to go beyond team feedback and collect insights from the people who will end up using the product – the target audience,” Manan says.
Several factors are taken into consideration. The team first focused on features to build a core learning experience. At the same time, they outsourced features such as the chatbot and AV calls that weren’t in their core expertise.
The team also first soft-launched the product to a closed set of users who represented the TG before its final release to the market. This strategy helped the team ascertain their first reactions, record feedback, and fine-tune the product based on customer insights.
Looping in customer feedback
“The initial response from the group was encouraging and positive, and we did receive some feedback related to the core features of the product, especially the interactive worksheets. Since then, Cuemath has come a long way. We continually strive to enhance our offering even further and improve on the delivery of exceptional student-teacher experience,” Manan says.
Online learning accounted for less than 10 percent of their revenues before the pandemic. However, the team managed to build a stable and high-performing tech platform during the lockdown to cater to the growing demand for online modes of education.
“It was during this period that we scaled our business and started catering to an international audience. As millions of K-12 students switched to online learning last year, we trained our entire teacher base (8,000) and brought them online,” Manan says.
Amidst scaling efforts, the team realised that several third-party applications that they used required customisation to deliver the best user experience. That is when they took a conscious decision to build these into the platform from the ground level up in-house to ensure uncompromised user experience and further the cause of digital-first teaching and learning. The efforts have paid off “spectacularly”.
Moving 40,000 students online
“At the start of the pandemic, we had to move nearly 40,000 students and 8,000 teachers from an offline way of learning to an online model. There were challenges involved as we had to scale the system at such a short notice and get an online curriculum in place. Other challenges included merging user data, training teachers at scale, and training internal teams to use the online platform seamlessly. The struggle paid off: today, we are growing at a rate of 3X,” Manan says.
The team had a microservice-based approach to building systems and was able to scale the product effortlessly.
After the first few weeks of training and putting together a business continuity plan, the team focused on adopting a features-based approach based on user feedback, which helped solve major consumer pain points.
The core platform was built by the Cuemath team. However, before they scaled it, the team of engineers worked on the high-impact core features – like the backend architecture for interactive worksheets, and third party integration for features such as the Whiteboard (Cueboard) and AV calls.
The core differentiator
Manan says the team has grown significantly in the last 15 months.
“Team building was crucial once we started seeing demand for math online learning increase as schools shut down and the nation went into an indefinite lockdown. While the pandemic opened the floodgate for edtech players to grow their user base, we, at Cuemath, understood the intrinsic challenges that students and parents go through for math learning. Other players in the market offer one-to-one learning, but we are ahead in terms of the value we provide. We attribute this to years of experience that we have had in developing an effective curriculum,” Manan says.
He adds the team understands that every child has their own pace of learning, and they strive to deliver math learning to students in a way that best suits their needs.
“Other edtech platforms have a huge batch of students or offer pre-recorded videos to students. At Cuemath, we conduct classes one on one with a teacher interacting live with students via audio, video, and chat. Each class will have less than six students, which helps the student get adequate time and attention from the teacher. Personalised worksheets allow students to solve intelligently as teachers monitors each step and help with cues wherever required,” Manan explains.
When the pandemic struck, the team had a well-developed, specially curated online learning platform already in use for its international students. Many of the teachers teaching on the platform were well trained, knew exactly how to leverage the technology, and were already teaching international students on this platform.
Taking a ‘Leap’
Teachers not teaching international students were quickly trained and skilled, and ready to handle classes on the digital platform. Over 95 percent of the teachers were equipped in terms of hardware, infrastructure, training, and skilling to embrace the switch to online teaching within two weeks of school closures.
“The live platform, which we call LEAP, was built with the sole purpose of providing a rich one-to-one learning experience to make remote learning even more enriching than offline learning. LEAP harnessed the power of the digital teaching ecosystem with numerous visuals, aids, simulations, etc., to offer cutting-edge math teaching to students across continents,” Manan says.
Free access to some of the curriculum and content is allowed on the website and other platforms, which drives a lot of global traffic of math learners, helping the team grow.
In the next three to six months, the team plans to double its 1,100-strong team as it enters international markets. The aim is a system that ensures a child masters concepts based on spaced repetition and interleaving.
“Our advanced technology-enabled learning platform gives us valuable data on students’ difficulties, time spent on topics, progress, online real-time dashboards, etc. The learning resources have much more depth and breadth than any offline workbook system could have,” Manan says.
Going online enables the team to offer more and richer content than would be possible in an offline model. .
“We believe that math makes you invincible – with the power of math by their side, students can achieve greatness both inside and outside the classroom. Our mission is to be the global math leader, unlocking the multitude of possibilities a strong math foundation can provide for students across the globe,” Manan says.