[HerStory Exclusive] Of rays and matching wavelengths: Divya Gokulnath, on finding love, and a passion for teaching at Byju’s
Divya Gokulnath - Co-founder, Byju's
It’s not easy to pin down Divya Gokulnath, Co-founder of Byju’s, for an interview. It took around eight months till she finally agreed.
It’s not that the young entrepreneur, and wife of Byju Raveendran, star of Byju’s, India’s leading edtech platform and unicorn, is reticent. A few minutes into the interview, I can see why.
Divya believes she is a teacher first, and Co-founder and Director of Byju’s later. She also points out that Byju’s did not begin with just Byju and Divya, but with a bunch of eight like-minded and passionate people who came together to create an impact with education.
From being taught to teaching millions of students all over India to being a co-founder, Divya’s is an interesting story.
Meeting Byju and life after...
After completing her engineering in Biotechnology from RV College of Engineering in Bengaluru, Divya was planning to apply to universities abroad for her Master’s. She wanted to hone her Maths skills before appearing for her GRE and heard of Byju Raveendran’s classes from a friend.
“After writing my GRE, I called him up to say I have written the exam. Since I was waiting for the results, he suggested that I try teaching and take a class. I was 21, wore a saree, and took a class for students just four years younger to me on easy hacks to get through campus recruitment. I took many classes in Maths, English, and Reasoning and realised my happiness lay in teaching. By that time, my results were also published and I cracked a few universities in the US, but I decided to change the course, and stay back.
“I took a conscious call to stay back for two reasons - I had begun to love teaching, and being an only child of my parents it made sense to stay in Bengaluru,” Divya recalls.
Making education interesting
An interesting Biology lesson in progress.
Soon, a bunch of other students joined in to help Byju who was taking classes seven days a week all over India. Divya began working on the content at its core - formulating question papers, and practice tests with a focus on teaching students in a way they didn’t forget. It was during this time that they also decided to launch programmes for school students.
The progression was quick. Byju took “physical” classes till 2009, and later made his first tryst with technology through V-Sat. They grew almost overnight from seven centres to 90 centres across the country.
“In 2011, we started research and development on our school learning product (app) where our Chief Content Officer Vinay had to play a huge role. While teaching was the primary focus, we also started thinking about how we could make visuals and videos more interesting. Our first Physics video on Angles of Reflection and Incidence saw us use a ray to make it more interesting, and engaging, and thus our journey began,” she says.
If you watch Byju’s video lessons, you will find Divya in a lot of them. In fact, when she went on maternity leave in 2013, she utilised the time to getting the platform in shape by recording videos whenever her newborn son was sleeping. Since she already came from a biotech background, she concentrated on Biology lectures for Classes VIII, IX, and X, and Maths for Classes V and VI.
So, in between all this talk on education and lectures, I subtly interject to ask Divya what drew her to Byju. She laughs, “I really don’t know what happened. I could say our wavelengths matched. Also, he is so passionate about everything he does. In fact, the others say that only the two of us can laugh at Math jokes.”
We get back to education and why Divya thinks Byju’s stands apart from other apps in the market.
“There were two things Byju made people understand: nothing is as complicated as you think it is; and you are much better than you think you are. This confidence brought the eight of us closer and passionate about one goal. And that’s also the reason why the bunch of us who got together right in the beginning are still at Byju’s tied to this passion for education,” she adds.
Divya Gokulnath says she is always a teacher first.
While Divya is Co-founder and also Director at Byju’s she strongly believes she is a teacher first. She points out, “Being a teacher involves some crazy hard work where you need to understand and explain concepts on camera, for students from different parts of the country. You need to think of all the questions they could possibly ask. My secondary roles would include brand marketing, communications, and mentoring.”
Divya pauses the conversation to show me some videos, and I wish I were back at school again. The simplicity of content with some great visuals is attractive and engaging. The method is simple but there are thousands of hours that goes into each video.
“Today if I am teaching a fourth grader or tenth grader, my video would do a much better job than me taking this class one-on-one. Our data tells us that students spend 64 minutes in one session. We have a 600-member R&D team. Earlier I used to write my own scripts. As we grew, we have teams to review them multiple times. So if you see a line on the video, there are 50 people behind it. The goal is to break down the information in a simple and engaging way with many real-life examples.”
Work is life
Making learning fun
It is evident that Divya lives and breathes education with Byju’s. “I would say I never switch off. People talk of work-life balance. For me work is life, but I still have time for my five-year-old. He is my world and I am his. I do believe I am giving my best to both worlds. I love to travel and work gets done efficiently because I don’t feel the need to micromanage,” she says.
She also reveals that she is a trained singer and wanted to be a performer at one time. “While that didn’t happen, today, I am a teacher and a performer.”
On the subject of women entrepreneurs, Divya agrees that there are very few women in leadership roles.
“One reason for this is because don’t have many role models. If there are women in senior leadership positions, then it sets off a chain of events, that they can also do it. I believe 50 percent of the ownership is with women, if they start believing in themselves and other women start pulling them up, it will happen,” she says.
She is of the opinion that diversity drives efficiency. And the number of women at Byju’s is certainly proving the point. There are two women out of six on the board, four out of nine in top management, and 49 percent of women across the company.
Success equals gratitude
Despite the huge success Byju’s has seen over the years, Divya tells us it’s the success stories of children that give her an immense sense of pride and accomplishment.
“My day is made when a student from a small town in Gujarat calls and asks to speak to me. Or a boy from Srinagar who says that he relies on my app because schools are shut due to unrest. There is so much of gratitude,” she adds.
According to Divya, it all comes to Byju’s core philosophy.
“We can do much more than we think we can do. One needs to be really passionate, nothing can stop at 50 percent, the goal is to take it all the way to 100 percent.”