Faering Capital-backed Linkstreet aims to become the premier technology solution for enterprise learning and development. Arun Muthukumar, the founder, believes, the time has come where every enterprise in the world will need a platform for learning and development, much like ERP twenty-five years back
“My involvement with the education sector started off as a CSR activity,” recalls Arun Muthukumar, co-founder and CEO of Linkstreet, a technology enabled learning and collaboration platform. He was a part of an organisation called IndiaTeam in the US where he helped rural schools in India raise funds from the U.S. “Whenever a pool of money was allocated, we could do a project in our native place. I allocated the funds to build infrastructure for a government school in my native place, Kalipatti in Erode district,” says he. Subsequently, this technology entrepreneur, who has over 18 years of experience in information and communication technologies across the U.S. and India, felt the urge to do something more and soon he relocated from the U.S. to Bengaluru.
Back in India, Muthukumar realised that while technology was an enabler, the issue was primarily around access to a good teacher. Around this time he got talking with his current co-founder and partner, Vikram Ramakrishnan, and as a part of an experiment they tried to remotely connect teachers from the school his family runs (Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan in Tamil Nadu) to the rural schools. “I was in that classroom watching the students. The impact was so profound on all of us that we wanted to take it further,” states he.
Incidentally, that’s when, CISCO, Muthukumar’s ex-employer, was exploring a similar opportunity; that of applying Internet and networking-related technology to enhance education, healthcare and transportation. “I ended up leading the learning solutions group in CISCO. We did projects globally, all the way down to rural government engagements in India, Karnataka and TN,” states Muthukumar. After being involved in this project for two to three years, he realised that for this concept to make a better impact, a company needed to offer end-to-end solutions – everything required to enable online remote education, like administrative solutions, learning management solutions and so on, should be available at a single login to the end user.
In 2011, the duo started Linkstreet. Their whole experience made them understand the power of technology and the impact it can have in India’s education sectors, especially in areas with poor infrastructure.
Reminiscing the early days
“When we started we did not have a clear idea of the geographies or specific target market we wanted to go after. We just went with the broad mandate of applying technology in education,” recalls Muthukumar. Today, using Linkstreet’s solutions, leaders at organizations across the globe like the U.S. and Singapore, including more than 30 clients in India, are reaping the benefits of implementing a cost-effective and efficient solution. It helps staff, partners, trainers and trainees interact and learn in real-time or via asynchronous collaboration across locations and departments, often involving hundreds of people. For example, IIM-B runs its entire Executive Management Programme on the Linkstreet platform; MIOT hospitals runs training across continents for doctors on this platform, and more. Additionally, this platform is also being used for learning and collaboration by organizations such as ISB, Columbia Asia, Teleradiology Solutions, as well as individual experts such as noted wildlife photographer, Sudhir Shivram. Apart from education and healthcare, the founders are now also targeting retail and financial services sector.
The founders believed in removing boundaries of geography and location. The teacher and the student should be able to access whoever they want from wherever they are. While the company did try to tie up with regular colleges, after one or two years, its focus moved towards the private course providers and more into higher education services. The company also has an individual retail model where students can connect directly from home.
Most of its content is video-based, be it live online or recorded. One can also share presentations, white boards and so on, and also access it on tablet and mobile devices.
Its customers include private course providers who create certificate programmes for schools, colleges and professionals. As its platform is an end-to-end model, it also has the ecommerce component and each gets its own learning portal. The company manages the services and hence, it operates on a pay-as-you-go model. It sets up a portal where there is a minimum one-time payment. Subsequently, payments are based on the number of users and teachers. “You could start off with as little as 20 students and then scale up to 1,000 students,” says Muthukumar.
The company also has corporate customers in sectors like banking and retail, whose distributed sales force teams get trained on the platform. Muthukumar cites an example. A retail store, with over 400 to 500 stores, needed to train its sales force across stores on an ongoing basis. “Our platform offers a solution that can enable continuous real time and byte sized learning. It’s a 2 to 3 minutes video explaining what you want to do. This is being launched very shortly,” says he.
The company is also creating a corporate knowledge portal that is private and secure. “It sounds similar to intranet but it is video-based. And, it is targeted at the right people. It is not like intranet where you dump all information in one place and someone goes and finds it,” says he.
Incorporated with a team of four people, today, the company has grown to a team size of around 45 employees. It recently received Series A funding from Faering Capital, an asset management firm founded by Aditya Parekh and Sameer Shroff. The funds will be used in product development and marketing as the company scales to double employee size, quadruple clients and double revenues by end of 2015.
To achieve this, the company aims to reach out to different verticals, especially in healthcare, retail and finance where there is a lot of distributed workforce and there is need for continuous learning. “If you take finance, there are always new policies coming up,” states Muthukumar. He continues, “In the longer term, potentially every company can be our customer. Creating more knowledgeable work force is critical to any organisaiton and through our platform we feel that they can achieve it. All the analytics makes it a scientific process.”
Of course, the company’s journey is not without challenges. For instance, the whole newness of the concept was a challenge. “Many people just believe in the advantages of the presence of a teacher. We don’t deny that either. But what we are saying is this is the next best thing. And there is a better realization now than a couple of years back. We don’t have to do much of hard selling now,” says Muthukumar.
Three years from now, Muthukumar sees the space growing well, with every company wanting a solution like this, rather than looking at it as an option. “It will be similar to what happened to companies 25 years ago when they adopted ERP solutions. When you fast forward to today, every company has ERP and now there are verticals as well. I see a lot of parallel growth in this space when companies would have something like this. I hope to see Linkstreet as the leader in this space both in the terms of thought and market leadership,” concludes Muthukumar.
Founder: Arun Muthukumarand Vikram Ramakrishnan
Business: A technology enabled learning and collaboration platfom
Investment: Series A funding from Faering Capital