Making entrepreneurs out of math teachers

Making entrepreneurs out of math teachers

Unitus-backed CueLearn aspires to evolve into one of India’s premier brands for after-school learning. Beginning with mathematics, the company has developed a unique methodology to impart technology-enabled learning through its teacher-partners based out of their home-tuition centres

S. MEERA

MANAN KHURMA, FOUNDER, CUELEARN

In a survey of 500+ students across classes 5th to 8th grade, a simple problem was posed to each student: find three odd numbers, which add up to 30. More than 97 per cent of these students tried out various combinations of numbers for a few minutes, and eventually gave up. None of these students gave a thought to whether this could even be done or not. And it can’t – the sum of three odd numbers must be odd, and hence can never be 30.

This convinced Manan Khurma, a B.Tech from IIT Delhi, and his father Jagjit Rai Khurma, a doctorate from Otago University and an expert in education management, that there was need for a tutorial centre that could impart training in math holistically, with a deeper understanding of the fundamental concepts.  “This implies not just faster calculations, but also better interpretation of the mathematical language, as well as reasoning skills,” explains the junior Khurma.

New Delhi-based CueLearn was started in 2011 for building higher order math thinking skills, while enabling the child to excel in school level math. Aimed at students of classes UKG to 8th, the curriculum created by industry experts and alumni of IIT, IIM and Stanford is a worksheet and technology-based learning system that also covers basic school curriculum while sharpening students’ math skills.

“CueMath’s curriculum is aimed at creating a love for math by not only improving math skills but also improving English comprehension skills for better understanding of problems”

Building on Strengths

“We have been deeply involved in all aspects of education – including teaching, content development, various delivery formats, and so on,” explains Khurma. CueLearn is Khurma’s second education venture. His first, Locus Education, was a JEE test prep startup (based on hybrid online + classroom learning), which he started right out of college in 2007 along with a batch mate. It did fairly well and was acquired by New Horizons in 2010.

Initially, CueLearn was funded by Khurma’s own investment. “We had a radical idea which we believed was exceptionally scalable. Hence, we were confident and invested a significant amount into building an MVP and piloting it,” explains he. As soon as the pilot took off, the two met the investment team at Bengaluru-based Unitus and raised a seed round, and used the funds to enhance the product offering.

“We will very soon be raising our Series-A round, and a large one. We have demonstrated huge demand for our learning program (both from parents as well as teachers), and we are confident that with our next round, we will go national in terms of our learning centres,” he adds. “The best part is that our distribution model is asset-light, yet very powerful and sticky.”

Strong Team

Currently, CueMath – Cue Learn’s Math learning program – will be hitting 200 centres and 1000 students in a few weeks. The centres are mostly located in Delhi/NCR and Bangalore regions, but the company also has presence in some other Tier-II cities such as Pune, Guwahati, etc.

CueMath has a team of about 20, distributed between technology, operations and content/product roles. Since the team is small, at this stage, the primary focus in recruitment is on understanding how well the candidate will gel with the existing team, and how driven he/she is. “Also, we tend to lean towards a hire fast-fire fast, approach which I believe is essential for a startup in its initial days,” he adds.

While tuition centres typically focus on homework completion and revision for exams, CueMath curriculum is aimed at creating a love for math by not only improving math skills but also improving English comprehension skills for better understanding of problems.

“Given my background in math learning – having taught math to 5000+ students and written critically acclaimed books with prestigious publishers like Pearson and McGraw Hill – as well as in building education technology platforms, I was perfectly placed to lead the product development efforts,” explains Khurma. He has a team that assists him in this endeavour. The building of content follows a process of rigorous research, development and assessment cycle, focused on learning outcomes.

Homemakers as Tutors

The tutors, Khurma believes, is CueMath’s secret sauce. “We have successfully demonstrated a model wherein we can use the incremental efforts of stay-at-home moms and senior citizens to deliver world-class learning to children in their locality,” he explains. These individuals are not tutors but facilitators. In fact, individuals with no prior tutoring experience are preferred to become teacher-partners, as they don’t come with a pre-formed mindset and follow the CueMath processes better.

“There are literally millions of such individuals across the country. That’s why I said that our distribution model is exceptionally scalable,” he adds. The company uses a mix of effectively designed online campaigns to acquire the teachers.

To eliminate subjectivity to the extent possible, the company has standardised every aspect of academic delivery and each step of the model is tech-enabled, to aid tracking at every point of the chain. “We also have internal audit tools to measure the effectiveness of our tutors, even as facilitators which is being constantly improved,” says Khurma.

The teacher retains the majority of the revenue. The model works out to be very lucrative as well as convenient for the teachers since they run the program from their homes and so there is no commuting and associated hassles involved. Parents too benefit in terms of having centres available right within their societies/neighbourhood.

Growing Fast

“This is only our second year of operations as far as CueMath is concerned, and we are already seeing significant traction. I believe we are onto something big here,” says Khurma confidently, and bases his observation on user feedback.

In three years, he believes CueMath will scale to 25,000 home-based learning centres and around half a million students. “ Our motto is simple: if our learning outcomes are exceptional, our growth will be exceptional. So that’s what we are focused on – 100 per cent of our students should consistently score 100 per cent in school-level math, and enjoy the subject. And that’s nothing short of revolutionary,” he shares his vision.


Snapshot 

Venture: CueLearn

Founded by: Manan Khurma, Jagjit Rai Khurma

Funded by: Unitus Seed Fund

Focus: Math tutorials, run by home-based teacher-entrepreneurs

Meera Srikant has been working with publishers and publications since 1993, writing and editing articles, features and stories across topics. She also blogs and writes poems, novels and short stories during leisure. Writing for The Smart CEO since 2010, she is also a classical dancer.