VAMSI KRISHNA

Edtech in India | EDUCATION & RESEARCH | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Vamsi Krishna, CEO & Co-Founder of Vedantu, about record growth in the sector, access to capital, and the general outlook for 2021.

The edtech sector has seen record growth during the pandemic and the related lockdowns. What has been the biggest change for Vedantu?

2020 was unprecedented, and it has been extremely positive for our sector, specifically in India and for Vedantu. Vedantu was the first company to introduce live tutoring in India; in fact, we were pioneers of this category of service back in 2014. 2020 saw this sector become mainstream, as schools, principals, and teachers were using some form of online teaching aids. One thing that stands out for me is the awareness of the category of online teaching. What would probably have taken four or five years took place in just the last year. No amount of marketing dollars could have created the kind of awareness and growth for the sector that COVID-19 did. The number of students coming onto Vedantu's website to take a free live class grew by almost 25 times in 2020 compared to the previous year. Previously, around 90,000 unique students would come online and attend a live class with Vedantu every month, while in July 2020 we passed 1.5 million unique students. In 2020 6.3 million students took a live class on Vedantu which is a 25X growth on 2019. Student obsession and continuous Innovation towards Impact at Scale has always been the mantra of Vedantu and It was a great year as far as the sector and business is concerned.

How might this growth translate into the edtech start-up ecosystem regarding investment and access to capital?

This growth will be great for the overall online education ecosystem, not just in India but globally. However, even before the pandemic hit, online education in India was growing rapidly. Vedantu was growing three times YoY even before the pandemic. COVID-19 merely accelerated this growth. Likewise, funding rounds were taking place before the pandemic. In September 2019, we did another round with Tiger Global Management and WestBridge Capital, and in January 2020 we did one with GGV Capital. Legend Capital came in subsequently as part of the same round in February 2020, which was another USD35-plus million. Then, in May 2020, Coatue came in with USD100 million. There were three funding rounds in the space of one year pre-pandemic. Online education, and Vedantu specifically, is growing rapidly because India is a massive country with access to quality teaching at an affordable cost. Southeast Asia is similar from a cultural context—people truly value high-quality teaching and education and are willing to pay a premium for it.

To what extent have investments in your in-house platforms helped you develop unique learning tools, and what how important is India's internet infrastructure?

The situation today is 10 times better than when we started thanks to 4G and better infrastructure. The bandwidth ability and the total number of people who have access to the internet have grown substantially. Having our own platform also helps, not just with this optimization, but also in terms of data. We can capture some of our data from what is happening during a session and use that to personalize the experience for students after the class. Therefore, we created our own platform called WAVE. Our online live interactive learning platform – WAVE, uses AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning) to personalize teaching and to increase engagement. It has been operating for four and a half years, and it is one of the best teaching-learning platforms in India by a wide margin. WAVE is more sophisticated and interactive than anything else out there, we can mathematically measure the effectiveness of each teaching-learning engagement and the level of improvement in learning outcomes. This helps in creating a better student experience and results in higher NTSE and other examination results. Investments in our own platform have definitely given us many benefits. The internet continues to be a challenge here, but it is getting solved exponentially in India over time.

What is your outlook on the relationship evolving between edtech companies, the government, and traditional offline educational institutes?

Edtech is in very early days in India, so any of these types of relationships with edtech companies are not that big yet. Private offline education coaching institutions have been a mixed bag. There are more solutions being created now for traditional institutions by online companies—that is one market. As for partnerships with private companies, many things have been going on in this space in 2020. For example, Vedantu partnered exclusively with Airtel Digital TV to launch its own dedicated interactive educational channels on Airtel D2H platfrom. We have doing something similar with a few other channels as well. 2020 has seen a good jump in these types of private company partnerships, and such partnerships will help Vedantu. They will improve our reach and distribution.

What is next for Vedantu, and are you looking to expand your portfolio internationally, and what is your general outlook for 2021?

Vedantu is always focused on providing quality education. For us, it is about the classroom and post-classroom experience. With any child that comes into our system, we are thinking about how we are teaching them, what courses and after-class materials we are giving them, and how we help them solve their Q&A, and then improve from there. It is all of that experience that goes into creating a superior learning experience and hence a positive learning outcome. That is Vedantu's goal and one of our pillars, though that is not the only thing. Vedantu is one of the largest providers in India today in terms of our distribution. We got around 210 million unique traffic on our website and platform in 2020 and around 25 million unique users on our app in 2020. And we do not just wait for children to come to us; we go where they are. One of the largest searches for our platform is via YouTube. Vedantu has the largest YouTube K-12 channel on YouTube, and we get almost 65 million views per month and in 2020 we got over 510 million views across our channels. We have invested heavily in increasing our distribution so that more and more students have access to Vedantu's high-quality teachers and their teaching, whether on our platform or elsewhere, and we continue to invest in that.