Let’s take a walk down the memory lane and analyze why and how education ripened for disruption – technological disruption, precisely. Is technology really required to optimize education? Even if it is, should we push technology into every aspect of learning? To what extent we need to innovate to educate? Perhaps getting a flashback helps us reimagine the education and understand the role of technology better.
Remember the days when we would depend on teachers for everything from gathering information to solving problems? We couldn’t even think that there would exist something like Google ever that would give us immediate access to everything in a single click or touch. The dependency on teachers did nothing but made us overly dependent on them. The story doesn’t end here. The education was more teacher-centric and whatever the teacher said became the last word. There was no alternative to teacher-centeredness.
Lets’ take another example. How many of the working individuals pursued higher education or took professional courses simultaneously? They had to compromise on one for the sustenance of the other. But with the advent of online education, they can enhance their skills right from the comfort of their homes. Not only has technology made it possible to pursue multiple things simultaneously but also made it easier.
Tech for the sake of tech or tech for the sake of education
There’s a huge scope for technology in education. But the question arises whether we should think of technology as something replacing the classroom or brick-and-mortar system or something complementing education. Should we see online and offline modes of education as complementary to each other or one replacing the other or one superior over the other?
Pushing technology into every aspect of education might not be an optimized way of thinking about a problem. Nor can online education be considered superior to offline. Tech, in fact, should be considered an education-enabler rather than a stand-alone proposition for education. To discuss how tech can improve education came together education visionaries, edupreneurs and investors from around the country at a conclave “Innovate to Educate” organized by TiE, Delhi-NCR on Friday, September 2, 2016, at New Delhi, India on the occasion of India Education Entrepreneurship Day. The event was inaugurated by Manish Sisodia, the Deputy Chief Minister, and Education Minister of Delhi and followed a series of discussions and forums.
Harman Singh, the founder and chief of WizIQ – a comprehensive online learning delivery platform, moderated a session: Online and Offline – Bridging the Divide. The agenda was to understand whether
- eLearning actually plays a crucial role in improving education or is a fad that technopreneurs are pushing
- online and offline modes of education are complementary to each other or are competitive in nature
- online works better for today’s learners
Also, the aim was to identify the challenges that edupreneurs face when promoting their products in the market and factors they ignore when targeting their audiences. With Harman Singh, Piyush Agarwal, the co-founder of SuperProfs, Saurabh Arya, founder and CEO of TotSmart, and Vinay Sharma, head of Digital and Services Group at S. Chand – a big publishing house joined the conversation.
Here are the excerpts from the talk:
Host: Let us begin with our next session which is “Online and Offline—Bridging the Divide”. Something that has probably been introduced by Ramsey – is it one or the other? Or, are they both complementary going forward? Are there learnings from one which can actually help us improve the other? Are they complementary to each other? And so, why is it and what is it that entrepreneurs look at or switch [to] or pivot [of] something going forward.
The session is called Online and Offline – Bridging the Divide.
Talking about the two vehicles of reaching the target audience in the education space, I would like to invite Harman Singh. Harman is the founder of WizIQ, a very well-known EdTech startup. He has a career of 14-long years working in this space. Let’s give him a second to join us here.
“Harman, may I request you to please come on stage?”
So that’s Harman Singh, from WizIQ, bringing you the next session: Online and Offline Bridging the Divide.
Harman: Hello everyone. This session is just before the lunch that makes me a little nervous that everybody’s going to leave. Let’s try to make it interesting as possible.
I’m the founder of WizIQ. It’s an online education platform. Some of you might know [about] it. But this session today is about the three panelists that I’m going to introduce right now to you guys – Piyush Agarwal, Vinay Sharma and Saurabh Arya.
All three of them are either entrepreneurs or leading an education technology business. Piyush – he’s a co-founder of SuperProfs. I won’t go into too much of this stuff. I’m sure a lot of people know him already.
Vinay Sharma heads a digital and services group at S. Chand, a big publishing house. Saurabh is the founder and CEO of TotSmart education. All education technology businesses. Let’s let each of them introduce themselves and then we can get started.
Piyush: Thanks, Harman. Hi, everyone! My name is Piyush Agarwal. As Harman mentioned, I’m a co-founder of SuperProfs.com. It is an online career education platform, targeting college students and graduates, and helping them making [become] employable, and get [build] aspiring career paths. And, the way we do this is by helping them crack the standardized certification programs, like Chartered Accountancy, Campany Secretary, or the other standardized exams like, banking, Civil Services which are today being used for recruitment across public and private sectors. So that’s what we do.
Saurabh: Hi everyone, I am Saurabh. I run a company called TotSmart Education. We are trying to make education personalized. We play in K12 area, focused on the junior classes. Besides our core digital product that we use [sell] – games and videos, we also publish textbooks. A lot of people aren’t able to put these two things together, but we’re going to talk more about it. So we are trying to make education personalized and we also publish textbooks for school kids.
Vinay: Hi, I’m Vinay Sharma. I head digital and services business for S. Chand group. S. Chand Group, as some of you might be knowing, is the largest publishing cum educational services company. This company started 76 years back. But about 6-7 years back, we also started the digital services business, which is what I look at. And, within this business, we have two-three businesses that we do [run and manage] ourselves. And then [In addition] there are some companies that we’ve invested in. We help those companies grow. We pretty much try to deal across all the education segments from pre-care to K12 to higher education to TestPrep. So, that’s what we do. Thanks.
Harman: Thanks, guys. So, I prepared a bunch of questions for each of these guys here relevant to what they do, and relevant to the theme today. We’ll open up the forum for discussion in the last 10-minutes [of the discussion]. I guess, that’s the format here. So, let me just get started with what I have.
So, Piyush, this one is for you. Your business, as I see, is a pure play online, and it’s a B2C business. That’s a tough business to be in. I’ve tried that. So, I know how hard it is. And, we also know that most of the education in this country (and yours is India focus) is offline. [Though] I don’t have any data about it but if I make a guess, my guess would be 95%, maybe 98-99%. Haven’t you ever been tempted to go offline?
Piyush: I think that’s a great question. First of all, as Harman mentioned, running a B2C online education business and actually making money is [a] slightly difficult thing. We have seen very few companies here in India that have been able to do that. I think, on the specific question on the temptation to get offline — you know, I was having a discussion with Harman on that earlier. I think the way I look at offline vs. online is that there is no one standard formula which you can apply and say, “No. You have to get online.” or “Online is better than offline.” The way I look at the entire education thing is that at least there are three stages which your potential customer or the end customer, which are students, will go through.
The first stage is – the awareness – the student and the parent knowing about your offering. The second stage is – experiencing it and actually paying for it, or getting enrolled. And, then the third stage is – the actual consumption of the actual education phase which happens over a period of time. And what we’ve seen is that offline presence or product plays a very important role, especially, in the first [stage], which is “the awareness”, where we have seen [that] even today students in tier two, three, and four towns, which are our target audiences—they really value what they see in the offline [setting], whether it is an article in one of the newspapers or a hoarding or some kind of seminar. They value that kind of thing much more as compared to Facebook, Google ad actually.
So, when it comes to customer acquisition, I think if you can afford and if you have a strategy about [for] that having some kind of an offline presence really helps. And secondly, in terms of enrollment as well, if the ticket sizes are anything more than a few thousand rupees, we have seen that people are not very comfortable in small towns in paying completely online. Or at least, they want somebody offline for the first-time payment to go there, to see if there’s something available to make the payment.
When it comes to the third stage – which is the consumption stage, our experience has been that “Online is actually fundamentally far better than offline.” And, one of the reasons why we have been able to get a lot of students in these exams is the convenience associated with online. Like, every student we cater to, either they are working in some kind of a job, or they are going to college. They just don’t have the time to go to [attend] offline coaching. Online [education] really helps them in breaking those barriers and studying at their own pace and time. And, we don’t think there is any need [for offline centers]. I mean, I would not get into establishing offline learning centers or delivery centers. If I have to do that, probably I will look into the first and the second stage.
Harman Singh: Thanks, Piyush. See, this is very interesting. One of my friends [clients] Akash Tutorials – they have obviously an offline business, and a few months ago, they actually went online. They ventured into [online education]. They merged the two businesses that are doing beautifully well because the student acquisition engine is [has] already [started] working. And today, I think he’s [they’re] launching a new television advertising for their online products. So, it’s very interesting. If you noticed, these days Amazon in the US has started opening physical bookstores. I am personally a big believer of that. Starting online, and then going offline would be great businesses to be built in education.
Okay, my next question is for Saurabh. So, yours is a B2B K12 business?
Saurabh: We do B2C, yes.
Harman: Okay, I understand. I haven’t had personal experience [in this particular line] and building a business like this, but what my observation has been in this kind of business is that there are several products that are pitched to schools that are to be consumed by the students, or even parents. But only a handful of them ever get adopted [are popular and taken up]. SmartClass is a great example of adoption for such a product. And I’ve seen, because there are too many layers, like, you have to work with the administrators, then you have to convince the teachers in the schools before you even reach out to the end user. So, how do you overcome these challenges of adoption?
Saurabh: At every touch point, there are challenges. For an entrepreneur that started out with no experience whatsoever of education as of running a business point of view, it is extremely difficult to even get an entry into the schools. And, people who have done that would associate with me as well. Once you get an entry, you talk to the principal, or with the department head maybe. We don’t know whether they are the decision makers. You end up reaching out to the decision-makers somehow magically. [But] You don’t know what those decision-makers lever. Is he even concerned about the learning improvement? Or they all exist once there’s an opportunity to make some money? We don’t know. And for every school, these things change. So, it’s very difficult to construct a tease around it and just attack it. You have to be dynamic in that sense. Challenges are there everywhere.
We also face similar issues. For an entrepreneur who was bootstrapped, survival was also an issue besides all these. So, we had to run a company, we had to pay salaries, and so on. What we decided was while we were building our tech product which obviously had taken a lot of time to reach a point where a customer would start accepting it, we needed to do something to get an entry into the school as well. That was where we thought that we needed to do some ancillary business. I’m a big believer on focus—I believe on doing one thing [t one time] to the best of my ability. So, this was a deviation from that. But survival was more important there. So that was why we decided that we’d probably explore textbook publishing that fortunately did well for us. We ended getting into 400 schools.
Now when I’m into 400 schools, I have sold them books multiple times and I have got payments from them—the relationship was established. That helped us get into the schools. Now obviously, those challenges still remain because when you are trying to sell books and you’re trying to sell technology. Things are different. But at least, I have that advantage versus [over] other people who were still outside the gates. So, it’s up to you. You need to figure out what you can do to get the attention of the administrator over there. But fundamentally, the most important thing is to reach the decision-makers, understand what they value the most, adjust your pitch accordingly, and then probably start. So that’s my take on it.
Harman: So it’s very hard to get entry into the schools, but if you build that kind of business it’s very solid as well. And what I’ve also seen is the cost of acquisition per customer is low because you reach out to the school and there are probably four to five thousand students to get you started with. Now, my next question is for Vinay. Vinay is the head of Digital and Services Division at S.Chand. S. Chand, as we all know, is a what we call a traditional publishing house. It’s very interesting [that] I’ve come across S.Chand for last several years over and over again in different conferences, different forums, all digital education forums. So that was surprising. A traditional publishing company pushing their way to the digital world is very exciting because somebody got to have that vision in the organization to lead/maneuver the entire ship towards that. So what I [want to] ask Vinay is for us to understand what drove this. One, what’s the thought process about online education or digital education inside S.Chand? And two, if you could share some of the success stories of incremental innovation because unlike the rest of us as entrepreneurs, we try to innovate something new and just push through it for adoption. Whereas a large company cannot usually afford to do that. They do incremental innovation and see how things change. So, if you can share those stories with us, that would be awesome.
Vinay: Thank you, Harman. S.Chand Group, as you know, is a leader in publishing. We published nearly around 50-million books. But six-seven years back, what [our] company thought over was that essentially we were in a content publishing business. It just so happened that in the last 200 years, books were the only form of content examination. So what we also realized that as users are moving towards different kinds of content consumption, whether it’s digital services or others, we also needed to make sure to repeat our success into [for] the other forms [of content]. So, the whole philosophy at S.Chand Group is that how can we leverage the existing essence that we are building when it comes to highest quality content or even network. For example, If all companies work together, you might be reaching 25,000 schools, other brands, other relationships. How can we use all that and identify opportunities in the new businesses? So for us, the idea is not how to go digital. For us, the idea is – what the new areas which are emerging in education are. Where can we build large businesses?
And as Harman said, we also realized that not being an established company [in digital arena], it is not possible for us to do everything. So, when I look at the digital services portfolio that I handle, so part of it is the businesses we run and the other part is the edTech company where we have invested – places where we think that we may not be the right people to build businesses, but we will support the company which is innovating or building a business in that category. So, the way we have approached the entire thing is that we have looked at the segments within education where we think there’ll be a large digital play along with the offline. And within those segments then we have taken a call; and in some segments, we will build our own businesses where we think we are able to do it. And in other segments, we have chosen to invest in the company as well by doing that.
So this offline versus online—our view is very simple. That the user or the education ecosystem doesn’t think like that. When I go to a school, when I go to a teacher, when I go to a student, when I go to a parent, they don’t think that now I need an offline solution or now I need an online solution. They are very clear that this is our problem, this is how we are doing current things. Is there a better way of doing it? Is there a more efficient way of doing it? Is there a more effective way of doing it? If there is, then we will adopt it. And I think that’s something which happened in the previous discussions also. It is very important. This tech-part, people get too enamored by it. The idea is to solve that problem. The idea is to improve the situation. That is what’s more important.
Let me give you an example. One of the companies we have invested in is Digital TestPrep. So that’s obviously a large segment. Most of the exams have become online. It’s a huge opportunity. So this company TestBook operates in government services and GATE exams. So Bihar is a very big market. For example, when I went to Bihar, there are very few people who were able to pay online. So, they came up with cards which were, let’s say if you buy a card for 500 bucks, you have access to online tests. But the challenge is there are a lot of people who came to them and said, “We don’t even know where to get the internet.” So today, they opened some centers in Bihar, and what they are offering is a cyber café. So once they sell a card for 500 bucks which are for the tests [assessments of exams], and another card for 200 bucks which is for the internet. So you see there are huge challenges on the ground for you to scale up the acquisition. And honestly, these guys have scaled up 4-times in the last 6-months. So the idea is, are you solving a genuine problem from the ground or not? Or is it just that you know a fancy tech solution?
So I believe, offline and online are going to stay here in the foreseeable future. And the transition which is happening is very layered. It’s not a very simple transition, unfortunately. And of course, this transition is happening very differently. In K12, the offline and online transition is very different. In Test prep, it’s again a very different transition. In higher education, it’s a very different transition. So one has to get into the layers to figure out which segment you are in, what kind of transition is happening. Whether it’s offline to online, or if it’s offline and online, or there is more offline than it is in online. And as Saurabh said, “Offline actually helped you enable online.” So we have that advantage because of our offline presence.
Just to give you a small example, we launched a mobile app Master Digger which actually adds value to the books, as well as gives a lot of additional resources for students. Without us spending a single penny on marketing, I [we] have 1.5 million downloads. Why? Because I [we] have books.
So you know, the whole idea is how you use your resources to solve genuine problems on the ground. That’s what I think the key is. Thank you.
Saurabh: Just to add to that, I think from a consumers’ standpoint they also appreciate what I’m already using—something more is coming along with it which is helping me do better. We, as entrepreneurs, when we start off, we start off with our digital thing in our mind. At least, I did that way. But we soon realized that the consumers were not really praying for that. So we somehow need to dig it into ourselves what they do and how they behave. That gives us a better chance of adoption and growth as well.
Harman: So we keep hearing all this time—I think in the previous session also—tech is not just meant for tech. Solve the real problem. We understand this. I mean, these are very abstract concepts but I’ve had the same observation in the industry as well. One of our customers—they had their offline business and they also started building products for online. They had a separate division for online. The entire organization structure was divided like that. A complete separate division for offline. Their own marketing budget, their own marketing folks. They have to go out and reach out to the students on their own products, advertise separately, and so on. They would have the parent brand and the pricing was low as well. So what they did was – they merged [combined] that digital product as just a mode of consuming the main course—it wasn’t an offline course.
So, “Hey! We are selling this course to you, would you like to take it offline or online?” The pricing was exactly the same. The whole structure moved into one direction, The marketing team became the same. And suddenly the price of the course went to double the original price and [it] started selling [eve] more. So well said here, that online is only a medium. Design the products so that you can use it as a medium, not as a separate kind of product itself.
So let me ask this Piyush. This is relevant to you a lot. Online education industry—although 2-3%, I would say it’s a decent size as of today and it’s growing—it’s growing fast. However, my observation is also that not all segments in the [all] age groups are ready to adopt online education. So, are there specific segments that we all should look at that you think, or anybody on the stage thinks that we should focus on? It could be K12, TestPrep, could be corporate. And what kind of courses and learning segments we should go after for easier adoption cycle?
Piyush: I think that’s a great question. Earlier also, I mentioned that there’s a different way to look at that entire Ed Tech space is to fragment—to look at all segments actually. And I have seen that when we started with SuperProfs, we initially tried out different segments like IIT JEE Test Prep or Medical Test prep, and even some of the K12 programs. And apart from that, you know the CA and the other higher level programs as well. And what we realized was that, unless your solution or your product is really a painkiller people will not be very willing to pay for that. It really has to be a must-to-have thing as compared to a good-to-have thing.
And we have seen typically in the K12 segment when we’re talking about things or products which will help you in improving your marks by 5% or 10%, that’s a great thing to have. But will you find enough people who will be willing to pay a good amount of money for that kind of solution? I have personally felt that it’s not there actually. As compared to when you come to see college students—you see there are two phases, a pre-12th standard and a post- 12th standard. Once the student is in college, all he is thinking about is “How do I get a job”? And how do I get a good decent job or an aspirational career? And the pain point becomes that anything which can give me a very clear ROI that by spending X-amount of money I have Y amount of probability or you know 100% probability that they’ll get a good job or a good career which they are looking for. The probability of that student being willing to pay for that is much higher. And that is the reason we have felt to know the students who are probably 18+ or starting in college or just out of the college and maybe doing not so good with their job right now and are looking for aspirational job—that’s the segment where the adoption of online offerings is far higher.
And the second thing is that because of nature and their own commitments (if they are in college), they just don’t have enough time to go to the traditional model. And for them, it makes sense to look for… I mean it’s a real painkiller—online offering or an on-demand offering is a painkiller for them, rather than good-to-have thing because that’s the only way. There is no other way for them to prepare. And there are some students who would be willing to leave everything and just prepare for the exam, but that’s probably like 5%-10% of the market. And the 90% of the market which is undaubed is just having an access problem actually.
So just to summarize, I personally feel that college-going students and recent graduates, and even some of the working professionals—these are segments where we can expect the pastured option of new offerings and then there could be different kinds of offerings—things which are around certifications or on getting a better job or even acquiring the right skills which are required to get a good job and finance some of these industries. That is something that can be explored.
Saurabh: Just to add to what Piyush was saying, I think you have to look at it from the market perspective. Even in offline we have different segments and they behave differently. For example, if you are looking for a K12 segment—a K12 segment is typically included by large schools as Harman said. So there are inferences like school management, principals, teachers, students, parents. So if you are looking for a digital solution in K12, you have taken to a countless channel and make a solution for that.
For example, if you look at most of the models of attraction as of now are B2B or B2C models where school plays a very important part unless you are Byju’s and you are spending 100cr on marketing and building a category, that’s a different thing. But otherwise, most of the people who have been successful in building a model going to the school because that a very big influence in that thing. If you’re going to a TestPrep market, the students are directly buying the course, and that is what we’re doing in offline also. In offline, the student goes directly to the center. Hence, in offline or in a B2CC model like Piyush was talking about makes sense there, or even in HE. Let’s say, if you want to get a course in digital marketing to improve your job credentials, you will pretty much go directly and buy their course. Same in [with the] online. So I think you have to understand it not whether it’s online or offline. You have to understand from the market perspective, from customer’s perspective – how they behave and that will give you a lot of inputs what kind of digital model you want to build.
Vinay: I agree with both of you but I have a slightly different take on it. So the question was which group is most likely to adopt digital, okay.
I know how I’ve grown up and I look at my kid looking at devices—there’s a huge difference. He’s less than one year old and he knows this is the phone. When a beep comes, he’s immediately looking for the phone and he knows something is happening. He’s a digital native, I wasn’t. So the way the new generation is growing up, digital is a part and portion of their lives. The challenge is not whether he will use or not. The challenge is if the system will present good options for him to consume or not.
If the school always says, “You have to look at the blackboard. Go home and maybe potentially look at the website.” I don’t think we are doing justice to the capabilities that are out there. I’ll take an example of an old school which is in the US. They are trying to make education personalized again. They have created the schools from ground up. So, all of the technical solutions that we think of—school management system, learning management system, apps for parents to monitor and so on—everything is integrated within the school. Now if a kid goes to that school, that’s life for that kid. So that kid will end up using it. Whatever the fees are, the parents will pay.
So I think, from a sector point of view, there are so many different segments—Pre-K, K12s, senior classes. We have different markets—Bihar, for example. Delhi is different. There are so many variables. The thing that one solution—you launch for K5 and everyone will use it, I think that’s not going to happen. We will get our option for all kinds of digital products provided. They are very well integrated into the system and everyone sees the value. That’s the time when we will make much more money as entrepreneurs also.
Harman: So, Saurabh pointed out a compelling reason as if the school has those products, students would have to use it. I think it’s a great compelling reason which actually leads me into thinking sometimes that if there is a room for Apple for education. What I mean by that is – building an entire ecosystem yourself right from schooling to colleges, and make a $100-billion company, I don’t know. I think that’s possible.
Another point I had in mind regarding this topic was, online is not an add-on product. What I’ve also seen is – most of the students who enroll in online courses or consume anything in online learning, don’t necessarily give up on offline. In fact, my guess would be – up to 90% would be enrolled in the offline courses and also take online products. So it’s not an either-or strategy here. It can be a big time on this product and this product. In fact, Byju’s is a great example Vinay have pointed out. Obviously, they are investing a lot in online marketing and all that. The product that they are selling is an add-on product. So they are asking every student to buy the $700 content-based product. And I have some friends whose kids use that product and most of them use it at the time of the exam. They use it to revise whatever they’ve learned. They are not eating up the revenue from other avenues. They created a revenue scheme, a new cost center for the consumer. Nobody minds paying another $700-800 even if the student is going to use it for 10-15 days, right? It’s like that.
So, education, unlike other industries, is also a great business in a sense. You don’t have to show ROI. There is no ROI required. Just go out, and if it sells, it sells. Start advertising and it will multiply. And I’ve seen it personally, it has.
So what we’ve learned so far here in this session is: an online product, just like an offline product, has to be a painkiller. Great term. I’m going to start using that from here on. Painkiller segments are which ones? TesPrep has obviously high stakes. You get a job or certification which is why Udemy, Coursera, Udacity – all US-based companies are focused on that. The market is huge. And not just that, they are focusing on the IT-side of it. I’m an IT guy. I spend a lot of money online. Everything I buy on Amazon. I always have a credit card. So IT guys are those guys who spend a lot of money online, right? And they are the ones who are the most tech savvy. Even if you’re product is poor, they’ll figure it out how to use it. So I love that—we learned from Saurabh some of the things I used to do in the past. To keep building a product which is not giving you a revenue stream. You have to bring it in the door some other way—like building textbook businesses like he did. I built a services business in the past. It’s back breaking, it’s killing, but it’s a great way to fund yourself.
Another thing I learned from here is why go online? I fundamentally believe that some of the greatest education businesses to be built are going to start online and then they’re going to move offline—just like the Amazon story. Amazon, I believe is going to eat up both Walmart revenue and all other bookstores in the US because they started online, now they are moving offline.
So another reason to start online as I’ve personally seen and as Piyush also pointed out, customer acquisition is much easier in online play. You have to do a series of strategies, you can do other digital marketing strategies. That scale is huge. Today as we know, everybody is online and millennials especially—if you offer them anything that’s not online, they are like, “Duh!” So these are some of the takeaways I take from the session—a great panel. I’ll open the floor for any questions by the audience.
Audience: Can you comment on the role of games in online education?
Harman: I think Saurabh, you can answer this best.
Saurabh: Yes. So there are two sides of it. One is the consumer side, and other is the customer side. So consumers are very happy playing games if that’s the medium to learn. My consumption of games is super high. But the challenges for us as an entrepreneur are if the customers will feel the same way or no and if it is integrated with the overall learning process or not. So I have met with all sorts of people—most of the parents, if you show them quantifiable proof that learning is happening, they are okay. Teachers, on the other hand, are sometimes a little circumspect. So for me, the important thing is to get usage—which is a consumer, which is great with games.
For customers, we face some challenges. We were working in Punjab with a rural pre-primary school. The idea was why not test out that market as well? So what happened was the teacher recommended that everyone had to play games as homework. Two parents came back after three days and said in Punjabi –“eh ki kitta e tussi sara din khelda hi rehnda hai (What did you do? He keeps playing the whole day.” So that’s the customers’ feedback—that I have sent him to learn and you are making him play. “I am not going to pay you.” That’s the rural mindset. So with customers, you will always face challenges, but for consumers, if learning is happening, it’s a win-win thing. I personally believe in it, and we do it.
Audience 2: You said that it is very good to go online. I have a product and I am good in that product but I am not good in going online. So, how could I go online?
Harman: That’s a very tough question, I’ll say on the onset. That is a challenge a lot of entrepreneurs face. I faced that personally as well. Because when you start and you focus only on the product because that’s the ultimate thing. Right? And then you forget how to market and sell it. Now this has to be a complete engine. I’ll give you some examples of the non-educational world. They are two of my favorite companies in India—one is Zoho, the other is Freshdesk. Not sure if people know about it but one is in the CRM space and the other is in the helpdesk space.
So, they built decent products but they have better products in the US. They are already selling very large companies but just because of their digital marketing and actually inside sales effort in India, one has been able to build $700 million revenue company, and the other is $100 million revenue company in just 5 or 6 years. These are just the case studies for us education entrepreneurs to follow. I believe online marketing and online selling are a game changer in the education world. I think we talk too much about the product and the value proposition. I think all of us know about that. I think all of us can build decent products. The gaps we have are in the marketing and that too in online marketing. So you need to make investments in that and meet with people. It’s an art and a science. You will find experts, nothing new anymore. But it’s all about bringing the focus there.
Audience 2: I want to meet Mr. Sharma about my product. Thank you
Audience 3: Hi, I’m Rishu. My question is to Piyush. So while in the SuperProfs platform, did you focus on making it a marketplace? For example, like making it a good platform versus comparing the quality of the content. For example, you have 10 faculty members who are teaching you different subjects for the same course. So, what is your approach? Is it a platform or is it the content?
Piyush: Great question. So if I understand [it] correctly what you are asking is—what is the reason behind having multiple professors and what we are trying to do? Is it a marketplace or is it like education company or what?
Audience 3: Yeah.
Piyush: And I’ll just take you back to when we were started this two and a half years back. Prior to that, I had been doing B2B business under the same company for 2 years. And my first experience was that when it comes to some of these exams, these are a very region specific exams. So, for example, a teacher who is very popular in Delhi, he will be able to cater the audience in Delhi region, in UP, in Rajasthan, and some of these states; but if you take the same teacher to teach the students in Mumbai, they will not like to learn from him. There are so many cultural differences; for example, you go to Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh, the mode of teaching is very different—the kind of examples, the contexts are so different that the Delhi teacher will never be able to engage the students in those regions. And the biggest reason of having multiple teachers is that we can cater the requirements of a different kind of audience.
At the same time, we do not believe that we can have an open marketplace—they are some companies like Udemy which have a marketplace – a model where any educator can come and conduct the classes. It’s possibly a good model, but what we have seen is that what people want is curated content, certified content which they can be sure about the comprehensiveness of that content, and about the authenticity of the person who is teaching it. So at the platform, what we try to do is—we have all the technological tools and processes in place to onboard the teachers, and then to assist them in creating, engaging, and engaging content which happens to be very long. Each of the courses is like 200 hours—so if we’re going to do that in the traditional manner of content production, it would cost us a lot of money. So we have used tech to kind of reduce the cost of content production and having multiple teachers help us in catering to different kinds of students from across the country.
Conclusion: Though technology has a vast scope in improving education, it is only an enabler. Learners are interested in finding better, simpler and economical ways of skill enhancement whether online or offline. And, online enjoys an upper hand only because it drastically cuts down the cost and makes instruction available at home. However, this doesn’t make offline less important. Both have their pros and cons.
The idea is: edupreneurs shouldn’t just propel technology just for the sake of it. Rather they need to work on the problems of learners. They must think of improving learning outcomes keeping learners at the center and then devise a solution using technology. They can start with identifying the gap and think if their solution fills this gap. After all, it’s all about the tangibility of the technology solution.