How this Jodhpur-based edtech startup went from a 2-room setup to 20 million students
The pandemic led to an upsurge for edtech, but slackening demand for tech-led learning since then has created a slowdown in the sector.
Amid the layoffs and funding winter, Jodhpur-based bootstrapped startupand Edutech has remained profitable by innovating and using technology to deliver quality and affordable education to students in Tier II and Tier III cities.
Earlier this month, the e-learning platform confirmed plans to hire 500 employees, including educators, sales and customer service staff, and senior leadership executives.
Founded by Dr Nirmal Gehlot and his brother Tarun Gehlot, Utkarsh Classes has adopted the hybrid model, and provides online and offline coaching for central and state government exams, competitive exams such as IIT-JEE, NEET, and CLAT, and school education for Classes 6 to 12 (CBSE and eight state boards).
“Our mission is to provide quality and affordable education to each and every household in the country. Through the Utkarsh app, millions of students are now preparing for their exams at a very affordable fee,” Nirmal says.
The company, which has offices in Jodhpur, Jaipur, Delhi, and Prayagraj, also trains students for IAS, banking, defence services, state Public Service Commission, and teaching exams.
The journey so far
Utkarsh was incepted in 2002 as an offline coaching institute for government exam preparation in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. The founders rented two rooms to provide affordable education to students unable to pay expensive tuition fees. The inspiration, they say, was Nirmal’s mother, Bhanwari Gehlot, who envisioned educating girls in her neighbourhood and set up the first free coaching class in Jodhpur.
Nirmal, Co-Founder and CEO, did his schooling at Adarsh Vidya Mandir and MA in Hindi literature from Jai Narain Vyas University (JNVU), Jodhpur. Today, he takes pride in having taken his company from two rooms to teaching more than 2.5 crore students across India with a total experience of about 20 years in teaching.
“India has lakhs of students seeking government jobs and there’s an increase in applicants year on year. But, the price of coaching centres can be high. We want to bring in a revolution in the affordable teaching sector and aim to provide the best coaching to lakhs of aspirants aiming to crack different competitive examinations in the country,” he says.
Nirmal and Tarun, Co-founder and CFO borrowed a small amount from their father, a government teacher, to set up the company.
Nirmal says, "Ever since the year 2002 we started introducing new courses and started expanding our students' userbase and hiring talents who could come onboard and teach our students. When there was digital boom in the year 2017, it was in favour to our business and we decided to launch move online. The YouTube channels were launched in 2017."
Currently, it has above 13 million subscribers on YouTube.
In 2018, the increasing use of mobile devices and internet in Tier II and Tier III cities led to the launch of the Utkarsh Learning App.
Utkarsh now runs 90 digital studios (for recordings and creating content for online classes on the app or YouTube) in Jodhpur, Jaipur, Delhi, and Prayagraj.
Offline centres for class programmes are presently operating in Jodhpur and Jaipur. Sixty digital classrooms (digitally enabled where offline classes are held) offer live teaching sessions that are streamed directly on the Utkarsh app.
The app has nine million downloads across iOS and Android.
It currently provides 700 online learning courses across nine categories, including central government test and state government test prep (for Rajasthan, UP, MP, Bihar, Haryana), defence, agriculture, nursing, NEET and IIT-JEE, CLAT, judiciary exams, and school courses.
Business model and early traction
The startup monetises through sale of courses to students through its online platform and offline centres.
The average price for online courses is Rs 2,500 while the course fee for offline courses ranges between Rs 12,000 and Rs 25,000.
Utkarsh claims to have witnessed massive growth from 6,000 to 1.5 million paid students enrolling for online coaching since 2018. It has taught more than 31,000 students (In FY22, offline students were more than 27,000 and FY 21 had ~4,600 offline students) in offline classroom programmes in the last two financial years.
The startup currently has over 1,200 employees, including 170 educators across categories, and more than 20 million students since inception across its online and offline platforms, learning app, and YouTube channel.
Revenue and the way ahead
Utkarsh Classes’ revenue from operations increased 178 percent to Rs 129 crore in FY21 from Rs 46 crore in FY20. The company’s net profit increased 77 percent to Rs 32 crore in FY21 from Rs 18 crore in FY20. In 2022, the company claims to have clocked a turnover of Rs 150 crore, while EBITDA stood at Rs 59 crore.
The bootstrapped startup plans to open 100 offline centres in the next six months. The company is also exploring opportunities to list third-party content creators on its mobile application.
Industry reports suggest that the aggregate revenue of Indian edtech startups has doubled since FY 2018 and this rate is expected to only multiply. Coupled with an exponential rise in the number of paid edtech users (projected by KPMG to reach 37 million by 2025), the Indian edtech industry still presents huge opportunities.
Some of Utkarsh’s direct competitors include BYJU’S, Unacademy, Allen Career Institute, Physics Wallah, and Upgrad Jeet.
“We’re one of the player working towards affordable coaching,” added Nirmal.
(This story has been updated to make a factual change.)