An enduring love for maths led Manan Khurma to launch edtech startup Cuemath

The Turning Point is a series of short articles that focuses on the moment when an entrepreneur hit upon their winning idea. This week, we feature maths-focused edtech startup Cuemath.

An enduring love for maths led Manan Khurma to launch edtech startup Cuemath

Saturday July 09, 2022,

4 min Read

IIT-Delhi graduate Manan Khurma’s fondness for mathematics began when was a child. But unlike many others, he didn’t go off the subject; he got even more invested as he grew up.

He attributes this to his strong fundamentals in the subject. “My maths foundation was built in a very strong manner. Partly, it was out of my own interest. And partly because my parents were teaching at universities and I had access to good books,” Manan tells YourStory. 

Manan started coaching high schoolers in maths while at college and by 2006, his third year at college, he was helping students with IIT entrance exam prep. He soon realised that early-learning experiences determined how well they understood the subject when it got more advanced. 

“My teaching experience with high schoolers led me to realise that by the time students reach senior grades—Classes 9-12—they've already learned in a certain way. And, it's very hard to course-correct if they learnt something incorrectly,” he says. 

First venture

By 2007, Manan and Niraj Singh (currently the Founder and CEO of Spinny) skipped college placements and launched Locus Education, a test-prep business. With a team of a few dozen teachers, they trained over 10,000 students in Delhi, Gurugram, Lucknow, and Jaipur. 

However, over the years,  the co-founders, who were also teaching students themselves, realised it was difficult to maintain quality while scaling in a teacher-centric business. Around 2010-11, they sold the startup to another player in the same market. 

“It was a great learning phase. I ended up teaching so many students from all kinds of backgrounds, different proficiency levels, and different cultural and socio-economic contexts,” Manan says. 

This time also reiterated that it was imperative to start early if he wanted to make an impact on student learning outcomes. 

“If you are a dedicated teacher, it's very hard to have any deep impact (then),” Manan says. “If you start early, it is easier to help that student evolve in the right direction.”

Starting Cuemath

This thought led to the launch of edtech startup CueMath in 2013, with an investment of more than Rs 40 lakh

Manan wanted to create a new kind of mathematics-learning programme to help kids fall in love with the subject, and learn it the right way—visually and intuitively—instead of mugging up formulae.  

“Maths is something that most kids start learning from kindergarten. You need to start early to make a fundamental impact on learning outcomes,” he says. 

He built a teacher-driven model to teach the curriculum in the form of printed workbooks. He approached stay-at-home, qualified teachers to join him as partners and take classes out of their homes. 

The model: a curriculum, a learning platform, and a pedagogy, distributed through a network of teachers.

For a couple of years, Cuemath struggled to get funds from investors. Manan even thought of shutting down a couple of times. 

“But by 2015, we had achieved decent traction. We had about 100 teachers in the Delhi-NCR area who had partnered with us and the feedback they were getting from students was very, very strong,” Manan says. 

This initial scale and feedback helped Cuemath get a seed round of Rs 1 crore from Unitus Seed Fund. This helped them scale to 500 teachers over the next few months. 

In 2016, Sequoia India led a $4 million Series A round in the startup. The next year, Sequoia and Alphabet-owned CapitalG led a Series B funding round of $15 million. 

By this time, Cuemath was getting demand from areas where they did not have teachers. 

The team realised that the hyperlocal matching feature would not help them scale. Teachers had to function online as well to serve a larger base of students. However, 1:1 learning was necessary to maintain quality.

Cuemath started building an online platform around 2017-18 and ran pilots. In 2020, the startup was ready when COVID-19 struck. In barely two weeks, all teachers transitioned to online classes. 

In 2019, the startup raised $5.5 million in an extended Series B round led by Manta Ray Ventures. In 2020, the company raised three rounds—undisclosed venture debt from Trifecta Capital, which also invested $2.9 million in a follow-on Series B round, and a Series C round of $40 million led by LGT Lightstone Aspada and Alpha Wave Incubation in December. 

Last month, Cuemath raised another $57 million in a fresh round led by Alpha Wave Global and doubled its valuation. 

(The story was updated with a new image.)

Edited by Teja Lele