How this edtech startup is working to train and upskill students in the finance and accounting space
Two chartered accountants, friends since college, saw considerable gaps between theory and practice as they stepped out into the world. Many things they studied at college did not seem to have much relevance in the form of practical application when they started their professional careers.
This led Pratham Barot and Anant Bengani to foray into the world of entrepreneurship.
Mumbai-based edtech startupwas founded in 2015 as a bootstrapped venture focused on finance and accounting segments “to help students crack competitive exams, upskill themselves, or simply learn everything about personal finance”.
Pratham, Co-founder and CEO, Zell Education, says there “are gaps between what we are taught and requirements of the industry”.
Focusing on skillsets
The gaps could pertain to concepts like problem solving or having a analytical mindset, and Zell wants to help students build these skillsets in order and have successful careers.
To ensure this, the startup created an online platform, developing their own content and bringing in the best professionals in the field of finance and accounting as tutors.
“We have created programmes where students have a differentiated approach of studying to help them understand concepts faster and better,” Pratham says.
Anant, Co-founder and Director, Zell Education, chips in. “Many publications available today are made for self-study and are voluminous, but our curriculum is crisper and case study-oriented, which helps students prepare better for exams.”
For example, accounting tasks have seen a slide these days due to barcoding but this has increased the need for auditing.
Zell ensures there are constant revisions and updates so students keep up the intensity of their learning.
The key to success has been the tutors - a mix of people employed by the edtech startup and professionals from the industry who work on a part-time basis.
“These industry experts are able to provide real examples to students while they are studying, which gives us an extra edge,” Anant says.
The mode of interaction of Zell is predominantly online with a small percentage of offline interaction.
“Our goal has always been to make our classes interactive and intuitive,” Pratham says.
Zell has also entered into partnerships with a couple of universities like Bennett University and Chandigarh University where their courses are embedded with the curriculum.
What it offers
Zell Education provides services across three main segments – professional certification, upskilling, and university-mandated accounting courses.
Under professional certification, students undergo courses to take competitive exams of CA, ACCA, CFA etc. Te upskilling segment sees mainly corporate engagement for employees.
According to Pratham, around 60 percent of its students are “those seeking professional certification, with about 35 percent looking for upskilling”. The rest are people keen to understand personal finance and the stock market better.
The courses span three months to three years. The fees range from Rs 50,000-1,00,000 per annum on an average.
Zell Education gets around 85 per cent of its students from India; it also has students in the UAE, the UK, the US, Singapore, and Australia.
Pratham says around 12,000 people have undertaken their courses till now, a combination of both those seeking professional certification and upskilling.
The founders claim the percentage of their students who clear these competitive exams is “”much higher than the industry average”.
“We have had students who could not clear their CA exams earlier but qualified after joining us,” Anant says.
The edtech startup also has a strong placement structure to help students get recruited in top-notch companies like Grant Thorton, EY to name a few.
Finances and the future
Zell Education, which now has a team of 100 people, is completely bootstrapped, and the founders say they “did not borrow even from friends or family”.
“Our focus has always been students. If we are able to serve them well, the rest will take care of itself,” Pratham says.
The edtech startup reported a revenue of Rs 8 crore for FY21, a growth of 60 percent as compared to the previous fiscal. It expects to close the current financial year with a revenue of Rs 15 crore.
The founders claim that Zell Education has always been profitable and its growth over the years has come from internal accruals.
According to a study by Redseer Consulting, the edtech market in India is expected to touch $5 billion by FY25 from around $1.6 billion in FY21.
For Zell Education, the competition comes from both offline and online players. In the online space, there are players like Coursera, Udemy, and Eruditus, which offer similar courses. Offline, there are numerous players in a largely unorganised market.
On the competition, Anant says, “We always try to understand the user’s journey and ensure that the delivery of our services is very strong till the end.”
Speaking about the future, Pratham says, “We want to dominate the entire finance and accounting learning space, starting with India and then overseas.”
This would also mean adding more courses and products on the platform. Zell is also looking at the option of raising external round of funding.
“This is a huge sector but really underpenetrated. We want to change how finance and accounting is taught,” Anant says.