BYJU RAVEENDRAN

Edtech in India | HEALTH & EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Byju Raveendran, Founder & CEO of BYJU'S, about a decade of operations, international expansion, and momentum in the edtech sector.

2021 will be the 10th anniversary of BYJU'S. What are your proudest achievements thus far for the company at this milestone?

BYJU'S has understood the importance of challenging itself, working on continued growth, and never settling for anything less than its biggest aspirations. Knowing that our actions can possibly help change the life of a student, through quality education, has inspired us for the past decade and enabled us to be fiercely passionate about our mission. We have touched the lives of over 80 million students, making us India's largest and most loved school learning app. We were among the top 10 most downloaded education apps in the world during the lockdown. And two years ago, we hit standalone profitability and have been able to grow sustainably ever since. The past year itself has been extremely challenging for everyone, and with the pandemic impacting the learning journeys of over 1 billion students across the globe, the education sector has seen monumental changes in the way it functions. Being a digital-first company, we quickly pivoted our course of action and swiftly enabled our workforce to work remotely.

How would you characterize the start-up ecosystem in India, particularly for edtech companies, now versus 10 years ago when BYJU'S was started?

The start-up ecosystem in India has seen consistent growth in the past decade. From 29,000 startups in 2014, the numbers have grown exponentially to touch 55,000 in 2020. In fact, India today has the third largest start-up ecosystem in the world and in 2020 alone has added close to 1,600 new companies to just the tech start-up ecosystem. Start-ups do not exist in a vacuum but are a part of a broader business environment or network. In the past decade, factors such as economic reforms, market trends, the impact of technology, and the changing attitudes of the government and society overall have all contributed to the accelerated growth of the start-up ecosystem. 2020 was arguably an unprecedented year for all start-ups. Generally, start-ups launched during a downturn tend to be far more resilient than those started in a better economic state. BYJU'S witnessed over 45 million new students using its learning platforms over the last 10 months. We also witnessed a significant change in the perception of online learning in parents, students, and teachers. With more students exploring online learning for the first time, and teachers becoming digitally empowered, we have seen the scales tip in favor of online learning.

As you prepared for further international expansion into markets in the US, UK, and Oceania, what challenges are you finding, if any, in exporting the BYJU'S model?

BYJU'S has always centered products around the needs of students and have always paid attention to what works with them. Global expansion is on our cards and is in line with our vision to revolutionize learning. The team at BYJU'S is convinced that once we build the right platform, the aspect of online learning is not limited to a specific geography. The innate nature of learning math and science is universal. Although challenges may arise in terms of cultural sensitivity and culture, we believe we can tackle this issue by adding a few layers to the content and making it more suitable. And while we may need to design the content to accommodate pedagogical constraints, the overall concepts, especially for K12 are universal. We are thus looking at expanding overseas in a phased and sustainable manner. Having said that, India is still our largest market and our biggest focal point. India has the world's largest school-going population and we have only touched the surface of the target market here. Additionally, the focus of all our acquisitions and collaborations have always been to strengthen our offerings and create holistic learning experiences on a single platform. The one question we ask ourselves is if it will be useful to students and if it will be used by students. This is the most fundamental part of our evaluation process. Our core model has continued to grow at 100% year after year. In early 2019, we acquired Osmo, a Palo-Alto based learning games company and last year we acquired India's popular coding platform called WhiteHat Jr. What is so special about white hat Jr, is that it is not just about coding, in a short span of time we have created a community of more than 10,000 high quality teachers on that platform. We are looking to expand this model and tap into the high quality talent pool of teachers in the country. These acquisitions also fit perfectly into our vision of giving students more, and getting them ready for the future. The demand for skills like coding is very liquid all over the world and kids are very willing to learn it. These acquisitions have also given us a headstart when it comes to the U.S. market and have given us a clear opportunity to accelerate our international expansion plans. With regards to other Indian edtech firms, I think they can definitely emerge as global companies. What matters most is the focus on “value creation". Once a company is able to create value in the lives of its end users, it is set for success. Additionally, the fact that Indian ed-tech firms are attracting interest from eminent global investors demonstrates that India is pioneering the digital learning space globally.

What must BYJU'S and the edtech sector do to maintain this momentum, even when/if the pandemic is largely over, and lockdowns are no longer in place?

Edtech cannot be considered different from education. At the end of the day, it is all about how we can use technology as an enabler and, in some cases, a driver. In terms of technology, and its intervention in education, these are early days. Having said that, the education sector has emerged as a sector of positive relevance owing to the pandemic. With the temporary closure of educational institutions during the lockdown, students became solely dependent on online learning. The education sector is most certainly going through an inflection point. On the other side of the pandemic, we will be able to further capitalize on the current momentum we are witnessing. I am certain we will see the rise of a blended model of education. As a society, we will realize technology and online learning are more allies of offline education than competition. Edtech platforms like BYJU'S will continue to help students learn from the comfort of their homes and experience personalized and contextual learning that would complement their school learning.