Before 2015, Byju's classes used to appear like a concert -- a mathematical concert with hundreds of students assembled in a stadium to attend lessons from its founder Byju Raveendran. As the firm pivoted from an offline to a completely online model, the ed-tech company has come a long way since then. Valued at $10.5 billion, Think and Learn, the firm behind the learning app Byju's, is now the second most valued start-up in India.
As schools and tuition centres were shut during the last four months to curb the spread of COVID-19, students moved to online education apps to continue learning and the entire ed-tech sector saw momentous growth. To put this in perspective, when Byju's launched its app in August 2015, it reached 40 million free users in the first four years. As more and more students began their learning journey online, in the last four months, 20 million new students enrolled on the app, which is close to 50 per cent of the base of the first four years.
"Education sector is at an inflection point to create a global brand out of India," says Divya Gokulnath, co-founder Byju's. It wouldn't be surprising if Gokulnath's firm itself emerges as a global brand, which she mentioned.
While many students have turned to online platforms due to lack of options during these times, a large percentage of them are expected to continue including online as part of their learning journey even after the end of the crisis.
No wonder, Byju's clocked Rs 375 crore in revenue in May and crossed Rs 500 crore in June. "Our revenue is double of what it was before the lockdown. Given the positive response, we are looking at revising our yearly target on the higher side," Gokulnath had said earlier to Business Today in an interview. Byju's has over 57 million registered students, of which 3.5 million are paid subscribers who use the app for an average of 71 minutes per day. The paid subscribers have an annual renewal rate of 85 per cent.
Despite the 100 per cent growth year-on-year, Gokulnath says, there is infinite headroom for growth. "A product like this is even more relevant in smaller towns." Close to 60 per cent of students at Byju's come from outside the top 10 cities.
She says that they will now be looking at increasing their addressable market by increasing the product offerings. This will mean adding more subjects, grades and geographies.
During the lockdown Byju's started offering personalised online coaching by introducing live classes. These scheduled classes are to help students solve their doubts and get one-on-one guidance. They have also started teaching new subjects such as history, civics and geography, and are working to launch lessons in other vernacular languages as well. Currently, the learning material is available in English and Hindi.
The recent acquisition of WhiteHat Jr, a start-up that imparts coding skills to kids online, for $300 million fits into this plan. "It adds the subject coding to our offerings which is an important future skill and will also help us accelerate with international expansion," says Gokulnath.
She says that in a country like India with the largest school going population, technology can help solve the problem of access, in equity and scale in education. "Online learning can enable access to same high quality content created in one part of the country by one great team to the nook and corner of the country."
She adds, "Technology is probably the only cost efficient way to solve for these inefficiencies. It will democratise education, and bring quality learning to all."
Online learning cannot replace school education but it can help teach hard skills and core subjects in a country that lacks quality school infrastructure and content. It may also change how students learn. "One of the big changes online learning will bring is it will inculcate the habit of self-learning in students," she says.
"Technology has potential to make learning engaging because if you make a student love to learn rather than have to learn, they start learning on their own and this makes the student a learner not just for exams but for life."
Blume Ventures estimates by 2025, the ed-tech market in India should grow 5x to $4 billion, from the current $750 million.
Gokulnath was speaking at India Internet Day event organised by TiE.