From a small village in Kerala's Kannur District to building an e-learning empire, the brand BYJU's has come a long way.
When you talk about the Indian edu-tech sector, Byju Raveendran is one name you cannot miss. Walk across the length and breadth of Bengaluru and you will find hoardings that prove it is the name in e-learning to reckon with.
BYJU's is co-funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan's initiative, Sequoia Capital, Sofina, Lightspeed Ventures, and Times Internet Limited. And, it recently acquired Bengaluru-based career guidance and academic profile builder Vidhyarthi.
BYJU's learning app (Android and iOS) has more than 7 million downloads since its launch, and 3.5 lakh students are on paid subscriptions. Now, that talks volumes, but behind the successful entrepreneur is a story of determination and passion of a boy from Kerala's Azhikode.
Here's the BYJU's story:
Choosing between an overseas job, joining IIMs and teaching
"Teaching was never the plan, it was just by chance," he tells us. Byju's journey started as an informal teacher, someone who volunteered to help friends during his vacation from an overseas job during 2003. His helped them score well, and so spread the word. In fact, he also decided to take the exams but just for fun and scored 100 percentile.
A couple of years later, he took the exams again and scored 100 percentile, yet again. This time was different as he decided to appear for the IIM-A, B, and C interviews and managed to clear them as well. Then, came the big decision to choose between an overseas job (like most Malayalis do), joining IIMs (as most aspiring students would), or teaching students. And, he chose to follow his passion for teaching.
Well, he is the founder of one of the most successful startups, but comes from the era that was sans the booming startup world we see today. In fact, many IIM students who he taught joined BYJU's later to assist him. These students now form his core team. As a company, there was no formal announcement, but by 2011 BYJU's' was formed.
He started building core products that took about 4 years and are now helping 4th to 12th graders. Meanwhile, it was online preparation tests that kept the company funded.
Teaching in auditoriums to building e-learning apps
Byju's first classroom was of about 35 students, and it was by word of mouth that it grew from 35 to an auditorium of 1200 students, to teaching in stadiums. When you teach such a large number of students is when you realise that one to many teaching format is usually non-interactive, which puts the focus on the need to visualise and conceptualise.
BYJU's move into e-learning wasn't aimed as an entrepreneurial jump, but rather a product of a hectic schedule. Soon, he was travelling to teach in nine cities in a week and the extensive travel compelled him to work on a video format.
As India was taking leaps into becoming one of the biggest phone markets, deeper penetration of phones only worked in his favour. Byju explains that technology as an enabler has played a very big role in his journey. As aforementioned, Byju had started building the core products back in 2011, which were finally released in 2015.
The products are build using three core teams that focus on content, media and technology. He aims for a right mix of all three, which means, content that makes learning effective, media for an engaging format and technology helps makes it accessible to all. "Technology has helped improve the way concepts are taught by making them flexible and personalised for students to match their pace and style of learning," he further explained.
"Right from the beginning, we've emphasised on a student-focused approach. We build engaging format with content that is easy to understand by students, yet effective," he said. Probably that’s one of the reasons why almost 90 percent of the students accessing BYJU's apps spend around 40 minutes per session.
Parents usually see students watching movies or surfing the web, but when they see them accessing quality study material, the challenge becomes an advantage, he explains.
Childhood in Azhikode and better learning accessible to all
BYJU's doesn't just cater to just metropolitan cities, but over 1700 towns in India. e-learning plays a huge role in tier 2 and tier 3 cities, wherein sometimes the most basic problem is accessibility.
e-learning or mobile learning solves challenges likes access to good quality teachers, improving the delivery or the way concepts can be thought, and access to teaching content anywhere, anytime and how many time you want. Smartphones and apps have made it possible to create a high-engaging format.
Coming from a small village in Kerala, he emphasises on extra-curricular activities. It is sports and other activities that help build leadership qualities. "Curricular activities are important, but it is extra-curricular activities that are even more important," he said. While he spent a lot of time playing games, he spent quality time understanding the basic concepts of the subjects he loved.
Deeper in India and international debut
"Look at 3 or 4 year olds, there is a good chance that they are learning from a screen. There is a lot of scope for improvement for what technology can do with learning. These are early days, but exciting times are ahead of us," he said.
Byju has now planned further expansion in India, but an international debut is also on the cards. He is working on apps for international markets. There is no time frame of the release, but they will be targeted at English speaking markets. While he didn't single out any particular market, once they are out to English speaking nations, the focus on a particular market will depend upon the traction.
"Our learning is driven by fear for exams and not love for learning. We need to create a system that focuses on learning and these learning will take care of the exams," Byju tells us.