In 2011, Bertelsmann India-backed Eruditus created a new market in the executive education space by introducing blended (classroom + virtual learning) management programs by global Ivy League universities for working professionals in India. Today, the brand has also begun capitalizing on the online learning space with Emeritus, and has recorded 8,500 sign-ups for its courses from participants in 100+ countries
What stands out in the journey of Eruditus, the platform that offers executive education programs to budding management professionals, is the idea was born at a time when remote, classroom learning and short courses was still an ambiguous concept in India, and global universities had not yet set foot into this space in the country (with ISB and IIMs being the only schools at that time, offering executive education). In other words, the founders had to start from scratch in creating a demand for their offering, and build a market segment for others to follow suit. Of course, through our conversations with its co-founder, Chaitanya Kalipatnapu, we come to realize that there are a handful of factors that played to their favor in creating a solid business; foremost among them being networking.
Kalipatnapu and his partner Ashwin Damera are both graduates from Ivy League Schools; INSEAD and Harvard Business School respectively. Hence, when they began working together on a shared passion; of getting the Schools to the participants, instead of the other way around, among the first partnerships they explored was with INSEAD. “How can we provide world class executive education to working professionals in India? This was the question that led to the birth of Eruditus. Soon after, we also realized that the executive education market is such that there’s an evident need to be associated with a credible brand,” recalls Kalipatnapu. Quite rightly, the psyche of a working professional investing time and money in management education would be; how will I benefit from this? “It was a humongous task. That’s where Damera’s and my connections came to the rescue. Being alumni members of Ivy League schools, we reached out to them to strike our first partnership,” he adds. Of course, while being an alumni paved the way for a solid discussion, INSEAD did have its early concerns; how do we associate with a brand that doesn’t have the gravitas we do? Do we want to introduce programs in a geography we haven’t explored earlier? The discussion went on for months but in the end, the founders came out victorious; they launched the first executive education program in India; INSEAD Leadership Program for Senior Executives. “We made it our responsibility in terms of how to represent the brand and communicate this brand’s message to the geography. We also made the process transparent just so our partner is at ease in terms of how we are marketing the program or conducting the outreach,” explains Kalipatnapu.
Designing The Right Course
It goes back to why somebody would sign up for the course and what their objective is, cites the entrepreneur. It could either be to gain knowledge on a subject, or to make a career transition within or outside the company they work with. Keeping this in mind, Eruditus adopts three approaches to stay relevant; identifying skills that are in vogue through Glassdoor or LinkedIn, tapping its captive base of participants accumulated over the years for feedback, and securing inputs from its feet on street B2B team. “In the past eight years, we have accumulated a number of leads by virtue of marketing campaigns and other programs; which we put to use to test out an idea and secure feedback on programs,” says Kalipatnapu. And, the company’s feet on street B2B team, across Singapore, Middle East and India, meets HR and L&D teams at companies, to understand their learning and skill requirements and partners with schools to design programs accordingly. “For example, three years ago, there weren’t many courses available on design thinking, data analytics and digital disruption. These are areas we try to capture,” he adds.
In fact, the feet on street approach also delivers an additional advantage to this education company; it helps them understand whether the companies would recognize the brand and the rigor of the programs offered on the platform, as a result of which a positive transition could occur for the participant.
While our focus in the first two to three years was in offering programs in a largely classroom setup, in 2013, with technological advancements in the field and the emergence of open online courses, we forayed into online programs with our associated brand; Emeritus
Marketing & Outreach Strategy
Coming to the marketing aspect, for Eruditus, this typically means a combination of partner credibility, market research and surveys by B2B teams as explained above, and offline and online campaigns to reach out to prospective sign-ups; like master class, information sharing and securing visibility in print and online media.
On the first front, being associated with a brand like INSEAD, combined with the depth of thought-leadership and the kind of topics they bring to the table acts the first value proposition for Eruditus. Another strategy that works in their favor, especially with courses that have been on offer for a while now, is to showcase data points to prospects. “If it’s a new program, our conversations are driven around what corporate India values today, how professionals can lead themselves and their teams better, and how they can evolve from functional knowledge to management tactics. This helps accelerate awareness and adoption,” states the entrepreneur. For existing courses, the data points reflect what the participants have gone on to achieve after completion of the course; a form of testimony to the fact that the course has helped them achieve their goals.
Changing With The Times
In the first three to four years of founding, the education company’s focus was on bringing executive education from global schools to Indian working professionals, and offering courses in a classroom and blended setup (long duration courses with a component of classroom learning and virtual sessions). But, in 2013, when the industry saw the emergence of Udacity, Coursera and more, which opened up opportunities for online learning and created credibility around it, Eruditus captured that market soon after with the launch of Emeritus. Managed by co-founder, Damera, Emeritus currently has three partner schools on board; MIT Sloan School of Management, Columbia Business School and Tuck School of Business (Dartmouth), and offers 15 online programs for working professionals.
In fact, its recent round of Series B funding of Rs. 53 crore from Bertelsmann India is being partly channelized towards increasing its portfolio of offerings in the online delivery space. “The funding will also be used to expand our geographical footprint. We want to move beyond Middle East and India and establish a presence in the Americas and South East Asia. We are launching new programs which can appeal to these geographies,” he notes.
The Road Ahead
From less than 100 participants and two partnerships (with INSEAD and Wharton School of Business) in the first year, the company has now recorded participation from 8,500 professionals across 100+ countries, with revenues and participation count having increased four times in the last 12 months alone. In the next three to five years, Kalipatnapu only sees these numbers going further up. For one, it plans to increase the number of sector-specific, technical & management-related programs from the current 30 to 70+, and gather 50,000+ participants in the next three years. “I believe we are just scratching the surface. Even if we look at the population in India that is in need of high quality education, achieving this target is not difficult to imagine,” he opines.
With 190 employees across the U.S., Dubai, Singapore and India, Kalipatnapu is armed with the right networks, partnerships and technology to create a dent for Eruditus in the global executive education space.
Founders: Chaitanya Kalipatnapu & Ashwin Damera
Investors: Bertelsmann India
Schools Partnered With: INSEAD, Wharton School of Business, Columbia Business School, Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan, Tuck School of Business, Kellogg School of Management & more
Business Model: Partner with global Ivy League business schools to offer blended classroom + online learning programs for working professionals across the world. The programs are aimed at helping a participant evolve from functional to management leadership roles.
Course Design Strategy
- Understand the objective of the participant in undertaking the program. For example, to gain specialized knowledge in a particular technology or field such as digital disruption and data analytics or, to work towards a career transition.
- Keep track of top skills and learning requirements of working professionals from time to time, through sites like LinkedIn & Glassdoor
- Tap into the captive base of participants (who have undertaken earlier courses through Eruditus, or engaged with the brand in a significant manner in the past), for feedback on new courses, test launches.
- Setup a B2B team to meet HR and L&D teams at companies to understand their learning and skill requirements and, observe whether the companies would recognize the brand and the rigor of the programs offered on the
- Leveraging on the business school’s brand credibility, course design and faculty associated with the respective programs
- Engaging feet on street B2B teams to not only understand skill requirements but also to drive awareness among corporates and potential candidates
- Offline and online campaigns to reach out to prospective sign-ups; like master class, information sharing and securing visibility in print and online media.
Present to Future: Impact in Numbers
100 – 8,500 – 50,000
(Increase in no. of program sign-ups from Year 1 to Year 8 and target in Year 13)
30 to 70+
(Expected increase in no. of programs offered from the current year to five years down the line)