Alakh Pandey unplugged

The CEO of edtech unicorn PhysicsWallah gets candid in this exclusive interview with YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma.
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"To all who come to this happy place: welcome." – Walt Disney on July 17, 1955, at the opening dedication of Disneyland. 

The iconic amusement park, the only one designed and built under the direct supervision of Walt Disney, opened on this day in Anaheim, California. Almost seventy years after its launch, the “happiest place on earth” –as the founder dreamt it–still attracts millions of visitors every year. 

Speaking of dreams, Alakh Pandey, better known as Alakh Sir, also has a dream–to make learning fun and engaging. 

In an interview with YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma, Alakh, the Co-founder of Physics Wallah talks about how he went from dreaming about being an actor to becoming a celebrity teacher, and finally a businessman running a billion-dollar valuation company.

Another dream–that of James Webb Space Telescope looking at the universe–keeps on giving. After dazzling the world with images of unseen universe, NASA has released stunning images of the planet Jupiter captured by JWST. And, this is just the teaser of what’s to come from the project.

In other news, Elon Musk wants time to prepare for a trial over his withdrawal from an agreement to buy Twitter for $44 billion. Elon’s team filed a motion on Friday opposing Twitter's request to fast-track the trial.


Alakh Pandey unplugged 

Alakh Pandey, Co-founder and CEO of India’s newest edtech unicorn, PhysicsWallah, says his love for teaching isn’t tied up with his success.

“I enjoyed my work even while I was shooting videos out of my single-room rented apartment in 2015,” he tells YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma in an exclusive interview. 

Over the years, the co-founder has remained committed to making learning accessible to all. Despite the rise of edtech platforms, PhysicsWallah kept its course fee low with the starting price being Rs 4,000.

Alakh also reportedly turned down a multi-crore-rupee offer to join an online startup as a teacher. He says he sees a similar commitment in his teaching staff at PhysicsWallah. “There were times when they had huge offers from other institutions but they chose to stay,” the co-founder adds.

Top of the class:

  • The company is now working on a ‘PW Certification’ that will allow other teachers in geographies where it cannot reach physically to associate themselves with PhysicsWallah.
  • PhysicsWallah is also working on a programme called ‘Sarathi’ to allow students to call teachers over video for instant guidance on any study-related issues. 
  • The company is also expanding its reach in regional languages. After opening a Bangla-medium centre in Kolkata, PhysicsWallah is targeting Hyderabad for Telugu-speaking students.

A D2C brand for school shoes

Why should children be willing to be in their shoes, six hours a day, day after day?

The question sparked a quest for Ravi Kallayi, Co-founder and CEO of direct-to-consumer (D2C) shoe startup Plaeto. In 2020, he launched Plaeto, a kids-focused shoe brand, along with Sara Kilgore and Pavan Kareti, his colleagues and friends from his nine-year stint at Portland-based sports shoes giant Nike. 

“Children have growing feet, and it is normal for parents to buy bigger shoes. But the strategy is not very good and could affect feet in the long run because the foot placement is not correct while walking,” Ravi says. 

Quality shoes for kids:

  • Plaeto’s product Fitliner, similar to an insole, can be peeled off when the child’s feet grow, giving an additional half size and increasing the product’s use by two to six months. 
  • The startup began by selling via school tie-ups. It now retails through Myntra, Amazon, and Flipkart. Its D2C channel comprises about 15-20 percent of its sales, and the rest are from school tie-ups. 
  • It has joined hands with about 30-40 schools in Bengaluru and Chennai and plans on partnering with at least 100 schools by the end of FY23.

“It was not an easy task. We had to pitch our products to many schools and explain the importance of quality school footwear as children wear these shoes for six to eight hours a day,” he says. 

Ravi, a former executive at Nike, started developing the idea while still working at the firm.


Inside Soumita Basu’s adaptive clothing brand

Kolkata-based Soumita Basu was 30 years old when she lost 80 percent of mobility and found herself wheelchair-bound due to an autoimmune disorder.

“Apparently, I had a very unique manifestation of the disease. So now, I've resigned to the fact that I'm an extremely unique person,” laughs Soumita in her characteristic cheerful manner.

Soumita’s need for customised clothing eventually led to the birth of Zyenika Fashion in 2019. 

Helping differently-abled people: 

  • Based in Kolkata, Zyenika provides a range of adaptive and inclusive clothing for those with disabilities and physical challenges who found dressing up difficult or need assistance.
  • A wrap-up saree that can be worn lying down, a top that opens up from the armholes for people with limited shoulder and arm movement, a kurta without buttons, etc., are some of the clothes she has worked on and is still innovating. 
  • Soumita is mindful of employing women and people with disabilities, directly or indirectly. She outsources the stitching work to marginalised communities and is also in the process of building her factory.

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