Adopting a marketplace for teacher’s model, Accel Partners and Tiger Global-backed Vedantu is building a live, one-on-one online tutoring platform for teachers and students across the country
“Between us, we trained 10,000 students and 250 teachers, which helped us learn extensively about teaching and training.”
“In 2010, we scaled from a 25 member team to a 200 member team. This taught us vital lessons on when to hire people into the company, and the importance of team management.”
“We learnt that what takes you from 0-10 won’t take you from 10-100 when hiring skills.”
…shares Vamsi Krishna, as he looks back at his first venture, Lakshya, an offline tutoring institute, which he founded in 2006 along with his IIT mates Anand Prakash, Pulkit Jain, Saurabh Saxena and Ujjawal Misra. The team scaled the venture to tutoring 3,000 students a year across five states before selling it to MTEducare (for a 51 per cent stake) in 2012.
Yet, when the same team founded Vedantu, its second venture in the online tutoring space later that year, the founders faced several unforeseen challenges. “Though both are education ventures, there were some things we were unprepared for. Like, what kind of people should we bring in? What skill sets should we focus on?” he points out. But, with a clear vision in place, the team took a half-yearly goal revision strategy to expand the venture horizontally and vertically. “While the earlier venture was operationally intensive, the current venture is highly technology-dependant and customises course delivery according to the needs of students,” he says.
While Lakshya operated in the offline tutoring space, Vedantu operates as an online marketplace for teachers and teaching professionals. It acts as a platform for instructors to launch their own manuals and offer courses to students. Unlike MeritNation, TutorVista India, Udemy and Coursera, the company claims that its prime differentiator lies in offering live tutoring sessions instead of pre-recorded audio-video sessions. Moreover, the platform has been designed in such a way that the students can choose a tutor of their choice at their time of convenience, and be trained for entrances or regular tuitions.
Laying the foundation
There are 250 million students in India’s K12 segment. Of this, 33 per cent avail private education and all of them to go tuitions. This means, the market opportunity in India’s tutoring space is a whopping US $10 billion, claims Krishna. And, these are the numbers Vedantu is looking to capitalise on. Yet, among the biggest challenges the team faces is in convincing parents to shift their mindset from traditional to online tutoring. “I still remember the first tutoring session we held when our product was in Beta. When we asked students to take a session, the parents were quite skeptical because they didn’t think online was even an option. When the session started, all eyes in the room were on the computer,” he jokes. While the demand has moved from one session a day to two parallel sessions every hour today, Krishna says that a shift in mindset can happen only if the market sees more such players emerging.
A second challenge that the company faces, more so in Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities, is bandwidth shortage. To tackle this, the company has innovated extensively on the technology front, with one of the solutions being WAVE (White Board AV Environment). Built entirely in-house, the solution ensures effective session delivery in fluctuating low Indian bandwidth conditions. In simpler words, every time there is a bandwidth shortage, the solution allows users to switch off audio or video according to the conditions. “For example, if the speed is more than 1MBps, everything will be smooth. If it falls below 1mbps then it will suggest the user to turn off video and retain only audio and whiteboard. If the speed falls even below 256kbps, then we have a click-to-call implementation,” explains Krishna. When the click-to-call solution is activated, it switches off the audio as well and initiates a two-way server initiated mobile call to both the teacher and the student.
I still remember the first tutoring session we held when our product was in Beta stage. When we asked students to take a session, the parents were quite sceptical because they didn’t think online was even an option. A shift in mindset can happen only if the market sees more such players emerging
Enabling traction on the platform
Typically, the instructors at the company are professional teachers, working professionals, college students or housewives. The company has put in place a three-step process to verify the credibility of the instructors. First, the instructors have to specify information about their teaching expertise and subject of interest. Then, they have to upload a video of their teaching manual, and lastly, students rate the teacher (share feedback) post every session, which will help the company monitor the performance of the instructor and take actionable steps accordingly.
The team charted out a focused strategy to expand categorically (subject-wise) and geographically. During the first six months, the team decided to focus only on students in sixth to 10th grade. Additionally, it sought tutors with expertise only in math and science. Once this segment began to grow, it began expanding the number of categories (subjects) offered on its platform. Today, with a current team size of 35 members, Vedantu has tutors for three subjects; math, science and English, on its platform, has taught students in over 50 cities across the country, and has clocked more than 6,000 hours of teaching. While the fee for students ranges anywhere between Rs. 150 to Rs. 300 per hour, the tutors are paid on a 60:40 or a 70:30 revenue share basis with Vedantu.
This May, Vedantu raised U.S. $ 5 million from Accel Partners and Tiger Global, with the funds primarily allotted towards category building and brand awareness. “In fact, our immediate plan is to take the experience to tablets and mobiles,” adds Krishna.
The company is running several experiments to get the ‘marketplace for teachers’ model right, following which, it plans to aggressively expand its business categorically and geographically. “While our focus market is currently only Bengaluru, we see students signing up for tuitions from other metros and Tier II cities too,” he claims. In a year, Vedantu hopes to get its mobile and tablet strategy right, and tutor at least 25,000 students across the country.
Founders: Vamsi Krishna, Anand Prakash, Pulkit Jain, Saurabh Saxena and Ujjawal Misra
Concept: A one-on-one live tutoring platform connecting students and teachers from across the country
Investors: Accel Partners and Tiger Global
Reach: Trained students from over 50 cities and clocked over 6,000 hours of tutoring