This woman entrepreneur’s edtech startup aims to remove the ‘rote’ from learning
Charu Noheria’s parents, both doctors, held comfortable jobs as medical officers at a government-run institution. In their early 30s, they quit to start their own venture and ran their own nursing home for decades successfully.
Charu, the Co-founder and COO of edtech startup Practically, says she inherited some of her risk-taking, go-getter, and entrepreneurial traits from her parents, especially her mother.
After completing her schooling in Chandigarh, Charu moved to Bengaluru for her bachelor’s degree in computer science engineering and later moved to the US for an MBA from University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign.
She began her career as a software engineer at Samsung developing mobile applications. Later, she joined Lumeris Inc., one of the largest value-based healthcare IT firms in the US, as a Strategic Leadership Development Associate and quickly moved up the ranks to become Director, Technology Partnerships.
A ‘practical’ solution for students and teachers
At Lumeris, Charu met her Co-founders, Subbarao Siddabattula and Ilangovel Thulasimani, and they founded Practically in 2018.
Explaining the pain point behind the startup, she says, “STEM learning has become rote and educators have no means to increase students’ engagement and interaction with concepts to boost rate of retention. Students have access to mostly passive and rote learning sources and methods when learning foundational concepts, which leads to less than 30 percent rate of retention. This disengagement leads to lack of interest in key subjects,” she says.
Practically is built on Edgar Dale’s ‘Cone of Learning’: that we retain 10 percent of what we read, 50 percent of what we see and hear, and 90 percent when we learn by doing. The more dramatic the experience, the more lasting the recall, and that most difficult concepts can be taught with experiential learning.
“Our objective is to enable ‘learning by doing’ and increase rate of retention of students to more than 90 percent for key subjects like math and science, and to make learning more fun and engaging,” she adds.
Practically aims to make everything that a learner needs available on a single app, helping the parent pay for a single product containing content, simulations/AR, test prep, analytics/feedback, gamification, doubt resolution, live classes, coding, and summer programmes.
Charus says Practically combines gamification techniques, immersive learning assets, test prep, and an AI-assisted study buddy in one compact cross-platform app.
Through its patent-pending technology, thousands of exhilarating, life-like simulations, and Augmented Reality (AR) experiences are combined with learning pathways to bring learning alive and increase rate of retention of concepts.
Practically also offers live classes, Coding++, and a 24x7 Seek Help feature for doubt resolution, where students can reach out to subject experts on the platform.
“Practically helps teachers with intelligent insights into their student population, helps them auto-generate question papers, correct answers, giving them two hours of operational time back and impacting their experience in teaching overall, making classes engaging and effective,” Charu says.
Practically is based on a freemium subscription model, with subscriptions ranging from Rs 1,300 to Rs 3,000 per month based on usage. It has onboarded mentors, experts in their respective fields, and highly qualified individuals from top universities and with decades of teaching experience.
Over 3,30,000+ students and more than 15,000 teachers have already started using its app that offers 3,000+ videos, 1000+ simulations/AR, live classes, Coding++, test-prep, doubt resolution, expert help, among other features.
More than 200 schools across India are already using Practically to enable online classes during the pandemic.
Some of the leading institutions using Practically School Solution are Dr KKR’s Gowtham Schools in AP and Telangana, Montfort School in Chennai, Velammal in Chennai, V Blooms Bangalore, Brilliant School Bangalore, St Mary’s Secundarabad, Satyakam International School in UP, JCR Chaitanya in AP, and GEMS-The Millennium School in Dubai.
According to Charu, Practically recently concluded its first-ever brand campaign around the theme, ‘Bring Learning Alive’, with over 32 million views on YouTube of its TVCs, making it one of the largest for a campaign to garner without a celebrity endorsement by any edtech company in India.
“We have seen a 3x growth in number of installs and are now at 340k installs. Industry standard view rates of the TVCs on YouTube are usually 30-35 percent, whereas we have been constantly going above 50 percent, with the initial one being around 70 percent for our TVCs online,” she says.
In 2019, Practically raised $5 million in a pre-Series A round of funding led by Exfinity Ventures and joined by YourNest, IDFC Parampara, and HNIs.
Last year, the startup raised $4 million in a pre-Series B funding round led by Siana Capital, along with participation from existing investors YourNest Venture Capital and Exfinity Ventures.
The company has so far raised $9 million primarily for product development. The Practically app launched in April 2020 and it has $3.2 million booked revenue run rate as of February 2021, which is expected to reach $70 million-$120 million by June 2022.
A lockdown launch
Launching the Pratically app amidst the lockdown also proved to be a major challenge.
“We put in all profits from the existing product sale into this and also went in for our Series A fundraise, which helped us achieve that. We faced numerous challenges when we started scaling our business to all parts of the twin states of AP/TS as this needed a larger team and growth capital.
"We were lucky that we were able to raise our pre-Series B round just in time to help us scale and grow in this region, and set us up for pan-India launch this year,” she says.
Practically is working on expanding pan-India in 2021, starting with the West and South regions, and adding more than 2,000 employees by December.
“2021 will also see us entering the K-5 segment (we currently work with Classes 6-12). We believe technology adoption in the education sector is yet to see its peak and what started as a mad rush to adopt technology during the pandemic is likely to continue and sustain well beyond the pandemic years. Outside India, the Middle East is our focus market,” Charu says.