These women entrepreneurs left their cushy corporate jobs to start up in the early education sector
Hailing from a business family, Pooja Midha grew up observing traditional core businesses. She focused on new initiatives, branding and launching a new product that the India team built ground up and setting up new programmes for cultural integration. This “building” of new things extended to her corporate career at Intel. The thrill of “building” soon became the driver of taking the entrepreneurial plunge with Wonderhood and her former colleague and friend of 10+ years, Kavitha Mohammad.
After graduating with a computer science degree from BITS Pilani and an MBA from Wharton, Kavitha entered the corporate sector and has been responsible for incubating and scaling several initiatives at Cisco, Intel, and Kearney in the US, as well as for Asia-Pacific startups.
Over the years, Kavitha has volunteered her time at primary schools and for girls’ education.
“One of the early realisations was that children – of any age – learn better when the concepts are introduced through visuals and educational kits. They gain confidence early on when the subject is discussed in their first language. Children thrive when the same concepts are repeated and applied in various contexts,” she tells HerStory.
, the early learning startup founded in 2017, initially focused heavily on pregnancy and early childhood.
“The decision to be in that market stemmed from data points that pregnancy and child were found to be the most widely searched medical conditions on Google. With that, Wonderhood wanted to do meaningful work in this segment by bringing everything that expecting and new parents needed in one place and making this phase fun and relevant,” says Pooja.
The early years are important
As the founders navigated through the journey, understanding this segment's needs and pain points, they realised that for an expecting or new parent, what mattered more than anything else was – physical safety, wellness and growth of their baby, and the mental development of their baby. Also, the aspect of physical security, which is crucial in the early stage, soon took a back seat as soon as the baby turned three months old and starts meeting key physical milestones.
Pooja believes that while early years are crucial to set the foundation of a child's learnability, there is very little focus on it at the present, with parents solely relying on pre-schools.
“Mental and learning growth of their little ones is an ongoing quest of any parent. From there, the idea of wonderLearn started taking shape more and eventually led to the solution we have in the market today,” Pooja says.
Put together by education experts, wonderLearn is a learning programme with over 400 toys and activities and 75+ hours of digital content.
“Through wonderLearn, we are working towards bridging the gap in the early learning space by bringing its unique strength in product design and learning content development together,” she adds.
According to the founders, wonderLearn’s mission is to make early learning for preschoolers and their parents a fun, delightful and rewarding experience. It focuses on the 3T model - ‘Toy-first, Tech-enabled and Teacher-aided’ approach to delivering high-quality learning experiences for children aged two to six years.
“Through the learning programme that includes toys, puzzles, books, activities, live classes, wonderLearn helps develop problem-solving, thinking skills, sensory and motor skills, social skills, ability to work and play in groups, listening and understanding and many more. The programme focuses on building all the key skills children need at this early and nebulous stage,” says Kavitha.
Employing the play-way method as an anchor, the programme includes learning toys, inclusive content, and a best-in-class teaching community together.
WonderLearn works on the D2C subscription model, with its target audience being parents of children aged two to six years old in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.
The startup enables parents to get access to learning toys, digital content, and interactive classes – all bundled together. Catering to three distinct age groups (2 – 3, 3 – 4.5, and 4.5 to 6 years), it offers subscription models for six months or longer. Toys are delivered every month; teachers are available to facilitate learning, and children practice the concepts on the digital app. Children can enrol on the programme any time of the year as per their age.
The founders are seeing an unexpected demand for Tier III cities and towns/villages as many young parents have relocated from Tier-I cities to their hometowns during the pandemic.
“We are thus bridging the gap between cities and towns through our virtual programme, which well-trained teachers deliver. We are on a mission to break the access barriers which have long existed between Tier I cities and the rest of India,” says Kavitha.
The entrepreneurs say that as per the feedback they have been receiving, the impact has been two-fold
“Children look forward to the weekly classes with teachers and are excited to receive our monthly kits. They do share lovely ‘thank you notes with our teachers. Parents, on the other hand, share that their communication and social skills have improved, which took a toll during the pandemic,” she adds.
They also claim to be on a high-growth trajectory with excellent renewal rates, repeat purchases, 100 percent customer satisfaction and a 4.6/5 NPS (Net Promoter Score).
The market is vital for all players
While the learning market for this young segment (two to six years children) is fast emerging, Kavitha and Pooja emphasise their unique strengths lie in customised toys, live classes with teachers and bespoke digital content, which has given them a clear advantage over the rest in the market.
“We may find ourselves partnering with strongly established brand names rather than competing with them in the short term. The market is large enough for all strong players to participate,” they add.
Wonderhood recently closed pre-seed funding round from investors – backed by
Pooja Goyal of Avishkaar, Amit Ranjan of Slideshare/LinkedIn, Shalini Puchalapalli of Google, Abhijit Kane of Postman, Varun Aggarwal of Aspiring Minds, Shivani Singh Kapoor of Intellitots/Klay, and Ganesh Rengaswamy of Quona Capital. A few other investors have chosen to be anonymous.
The main challenge for them has been to build a team remotely. In the future, they would like to expand to other markets globally.
Kavitha says biases and stereotypes exist – partly in the ecosystem and partly in our minds
influenced and inflated by the incidents we hear from fellow entrepreneurs.
“I am training myself to remain open and patient in all my interactions. Once the growth story of the startup takes over, the perception and narrative change almost instantly. Falguni Nayar of Nykaa has set a great example in that regard. It’s time for many women entrepreneurs to step up, bust the existing stereotypes and pay forward to future generations,” she says.
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