From 150 to 5,600 schools: How edtech startup Uolo expanded across India
As an immediate consequence of the pandemic-led lockdowns, many schools and educational institutions rapidly switched to online methods of learning and adopted digital tools.
While many edtech startups were adjusting to the new normal,had an advantage up its sleeve—it had already partnered with schools across India.
Founded in 2013 by Pallav Pandey, Ankur Pandey, and Badrish Agarwal, Uolo Technology started out as a school communication platform by tying up with 150 schools.
The startup grew its network of schools to 700, and riding the edtech boom during the pandemic, expanded its partnerships by 700 percent to reach 5,600 schools in 2022.
To achieve this growth, Uolo Technology was acquired by a new venture, Delhi-based Uolo Edtech, in 2020. As part of this acquisition, Pallav joined the company as Co-founder and CEO, and his first order of business was to change the startup’s strategy.
“Uolo Technology was providing school management software to schools as their customer. Uolo Edtech had grander plans to transform the edtech landscape by partnering with schools. The acquisition of Uolo Tech was the perfect first step in that journey because we could inherit many school relationships on day one,” explains Pallav, in a conversation with YourStory.
After onboarding Pallav, Uolo raised Rs 20 crore in a Pre-Series A funding round led by Omidyar Network India and Blume Ventures in 2020.
Uolo—short for 'You Only Live Once'—used these funds to expand its tech and operations teams, and increase its offerings “to build a budding community of parents, schools, and students”.
"Uolo has helped bring hundreds of schools online and they have benefited from Uolo’s communication and learning platforms," Sajith Pai, Director of Blume Venture, said at the time of the funding.
Shift in strategy
From 2013 to 2020, the edtech startup reached out to schools through an on-ground team, which would visit schools, meet principals, give them a demo of the product, and convince them to partner with Uolo.
“This was a time-consuming process. In 2020, we changed the strategy. The first thing we decided was to not step outside of our office and only acquire these schools through the TeleFace app. What that allows us to do is acquire schools at a very fast pace,” Pallav says.
The team now reaches out to the school over the phone and then schedules a demo over Zoom.
Another change Uolo made was to reduce the cost of its primary offerings to zero. Before the acquisition, the startup worked as a SaaS (software-as-a-service) company that charged each school Rs 25 per child per year.
“This made the schools think of us as a cost. When we changed the strategy in 2020, we decided to no longer be a vendor for the school. We would instead be a partner; rather than being a cost centre, we would be a profit centre for the school,” he adds.
Since 2020, Uolo has been providing its software to schools free of cost. Once a school has onboarded Uolo, the two partner to provide students with mandatory K-12 programmes in spoken English, advanced maths, and coding, among others. These courses are paid, and are the main source of the startup’s revenue.
In May 2022, the total attendance in Uolo’s workshops and recommended courses was 2,09,571 students. These programs are delivered in batch sizes of 15-20 students. The cost per class for edtech programmes is Rs 600 while for Uolo it is Rs 60.
The partner schools also encourage their students to take up “recommended courses” such as calligraphy, art and craft, painting, and chess, among others on the Uolo platform.
Prior to the pandemic, Uolo Technologies clocked a revenue of Rs 88.12 lakh for FY19. In FY20, the startup clocked a revenue of Rs 1.02 crore—an increase of 15.7 percent.
After its rebranding, Uolo Edtech reported a revenue of Rs 56 lakh in FY21. The startup attributed the dip to the platform being made free of cost post the acquisition in 2020.
“We have to decide what is promotion and what is paid. Our promotion is our free SaaS software, but there are plenty of opportunities to make money. Essentially, our service to the school is a way to build deep relationships so that learning programmes can be rolled out for students whose parents are willing to pay,” Pallav says.
With Uolo Teach, the startup’s first offering launched in 2013, the company replaced the traditional diary system and panic phone calls with a smartphone application that reports a child's location, attendance, and progress in the class. It has since been developed to also share videos, images, notes, and homework through the platform.
“Earlier, this communication used to happen through school diaries. This moved on to sending SMSes, and then to WhatsApp. Parents now expect schools to have communication channels where they can share the information in mixed media format,” he explains.
The startup has increased its offerings since 2020 to include two new services—Uolo Manage and Uolo Learn.
Uolo Manage is a modular cloud-based school ERP (enterprise resource planning) solution that helps schools manage student fees, online fee collection, student attendance, marking student grades, and staff and student concessions, among other services.
Sr Silvia Christie, Principal of Holy Angels School, Bengaluru, says Uolo has helped in better managing school finances. “Managing receivables on Excel and paper receipts was a nightmare. In contrast, Uolo gives me a complete view on expected cash flow in a single click.”
Uolo Learn enables students to take courses and submit their homework through the platform. It also allows the school to track classes and attendance, submissions and grades, and take online tests, among other services.
The startup works with a team of 250 employees.
The way ahead
The Indian edtech industry, which was valued at $750 million in 2020, is expected to reach $4 billion by 2025 at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 39.77 percent. The sector raised $4.7 billion in 2021 to become the third most funded sector in India.
As part of its expansion plans, Uolo aims to reach 25,000 schools by September 2023, onboarding 10 million students. The company is currently not looking to raise further funding.
Uolo faces competition from the likes of Lead School, Teachmint, Eupheus Learning, and Questt.
“All schools of India evolved from being offline pre-pandemic and online during pandemic to now being hybrid. Schools will have, as part of their curriculum, digital programmes that students pursue at home on smartphones. These programmes are aimed at supplementing the learning at school.
"Uolo provides both the platform and the digital programmes that support hybrid education in schools,” Pallav says.
(This story has been corrected to show that Badrish Agarwal is the third founder of Uolo, and not Siddharth Singh.)