Fuelled by Tier-II India, how edtech startup PlanetSpark recorded 17X growth, clocking $18M ARR in FY22
Started in 2016 by XLRI graduates and hostel wingmates, Kunal Malik and Maneesh Dhooper, to disrupt the unorganised private tuition sector in India,sought to transform traditional KG to Class 8 tuitions by combining physical teaching with mobile technology.
However, the platform pivoted to online classes in October 2019 after seeing the dramatic rise in demand for edtech.
With over 2,000 tutors and 22,000 students trained so far on its platform, the Gurugram-based startup aims to make children between 4 and 16 years confident communicators.
PlanetSpark’s initial focus was on English and Math. However, the startup decided to completely focus on communication skills based on its consumer insights.
“Earlier we used to call it English and Math. About 80 percent of our classes used to be English and some of the teachers used to take up Math. Later on, we changed the offering and made it more diverse. We initially came up with this insight that English is a very strong need and English programme had different components like grammar, reading, writing, and communication skills,” Maneesh says.
“Then we started observing that consumers are opting for a small segment, rather than opting for the entire offering. And when we looked at the data, the overwhelming majority wanted one segment which was communications skills, and which is what drove us to this. Communication is a much larger market and hence we started focusing on it,” he adds.
Today it offers live 1:1 classes in public speaking and creative writing for children aged 4-16 years. Children coached by PlanetSpark have also become YouTubers, podcasters, and published authors across 13 countries including the US, Middle East, Europe, and India. It plans to enter into new geographies in Europe and South East Asia in the coming months.
“Our approach towards children’s communication skills development goes beyond the theoretical framework. We spent three years to design a curriculum that could make ‘public speaking’ and ‘writing’ interesting and application-based for K-12 kids,” says Maneesh.
PlanetSpark Classroom snapshot
PlanetSpark claims that its curriculum is broken down into 4 segments: Fundamentals such as articulation and body language skills, Practical applications including 11 different types of speeches, 7 different types of debates, the art of storytelling, mindset development to help children with logical reasoning and creative thinking so that they can craft an argument better and build a positive attitude to become generally confident in life and personality development through training on skills like negotiation, influencing, and social skills that add to their overall personality.
Behind the scenes at PlanetSpark
The platform offers 1:1 live classes to K-12 students where kids start opening up with their mentors without the fear of being judged.
“When they start speaking in a public environment, they're really fearful about committing a mistake or someone will make fun of them. So that is the root cause of kids not coming out of their comfort zone and making an effort towards public speaking. This was the reason behind us starting 1:1 live classes,” adds Kunal.
PlanetSpark teachers log into the platform's website and have access to the learning management system (LMS) where they can manage demos, classes, student attendance among other features.
On the Class Management page, teachers see a list of all their live batches and details. When they click on the link, they are redirected to the PlanetSpark live classroom where they connect with the student.
Similarly, students log in to the PlanetSpark website and see their enrolled course and the curriculum along with the live link on the LMS. Once they click on the link, they are redirected to the PS Live classroom where they connect with their teacher.
Apart from one-on-one classes, kids also participate in events like theatre, standup, poetry and debate.
Recently, the startup organised an event called Spark Tank, where children under 17 years pitched their ideas to potential investors. Its jury comprised esteemed business personalities including the marquee angel investor, Vikas Kuthiala who holds leading companies like Wow Momo, Bijnis, Instasafe and Box8, among others in his investment portfolio as well as renowned author-investor Dhruv Nath and active Startup Consultant — Tanya Singh.
YS Design team
Kunal stated that it was more like an initiative to inculcate entrepreneurial zest in students at an early age, and not a serious fundraising event and plans to make it a flagship competition.
“In this students-only competition by PlanetSpark, there were a total of 32 entries from across the world. While 15 entries came from India, others were recorded from countries including the US, Canada, the UAE, KSA and Qatar, amongst others,” says Kunal.
During the second wave in April 2020, the startup also provided free live online tutoring classes to children of the medical staff and police force who were working tirelessly to help India fight the coronavirus pandemic.
“We decided we would let our Corona Warriors know that while they are risking their lives to serve India, we will look after their children and ensure they do not fall behind,” adds Kunal.
The growth so far
Claiming that it is growing at 30 percent month-on-month, PlanetSpark says it has coached students across over one million classes across 13 countries.
"Between 2020 and 2021, we have grown 12.5X in terms of ARR (annual recurring revenue)," Kunal adds.
The Gurugram-based startup has clocked an ARR of $18 million, recording nearly 17X growth over the past year.
The edtech startup aims to touch $50 million ARR by the end of the coming fiscal year (FY23). The growth is expected to be further accelerated by its global expansions lined up for 2022.
“We are looking to scale across new categories and geographies, to take up a dominant position as the global leader in developing communication and other 21st-Century Skills — amongst both kids and young adults,” states Kunal.
Speaking about its growth number, he adds, “About 700,000 classes were conducted last year on the platform, vis-a-vis 25,000 that were conducted in 2020. And similarly, in terms of live students, we have 16,500 live students taking our classes on our platform this year, vis-a-vis, around 1,745 students which took live classes last year. So it's been 12-16X growth on all the parameters. On the number of teachers with the platform, from 280 teachers earlier, we have grown to 2000+ teachers.”
The startup is looking at another 10-12X growth in the near future.
The global market for communication skills is over $80 billion and the founders claim that it’s still largely untapped. Claiming itself as a category creator in the communication skills for kids segment, Kunal states 40-45 percent of PlanetSpark’s revenue comes from international markets including North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Australia.
“Going by the consistent rise in demand for live courses, the company expects international markets to make 60 percent of their revenue share by the next quarter,” highlights Kunal.
The edtech startup had so far raised $17.2 million in funding. In its latest round, the startup raised $13.5 million from Prime Venture Partners and marquee global entrepreneurs including Binny Bansal, Deep Kalra, Dr Ashish Gupta, Gokul Rajaram, and Shirish Nadkarni, in a Series-B round.
Talking of future plans, Maneesh says the company is focused on capturing huge opportunity in the communication skills training segment, where there are no large players yet.
“We expect the growth momentum to continue and accelerate from here. We want to do in the communication skills learning segment what BYJU’S has done in the test prep,” says Dhooper.
In the case of international markets, there are two sub-segments — one is a native English-speaking market and the other is English Preferred speaking market (similar to India where these markets look at English as an aspirational quality). Native English-speaking markets would include countries like the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia. While English Preferred countries include South Africa, the Middle East, etc.
Present across both these native and preferred markets, Maneesh says it plans to disrupt further in these two markets and solidify its grasp in the category.