Lockdown has bumped up our user base 3-fold in past one month: Byju's COO

Topics Byjus | Coronavirus | Lockdown

Mrinal Mohit, Chief Operating Officer of online education platform Byju's
It’s only on the rarest of rare occasions that external factors that cause widespread disruption across most sectors, come as a blessing for a few. In the present scenario, this has proven true for the edtech space and within that, for Byju’s, India’s largest education technology company. As the whole country went into a lockdown starting third week of March, the Bengaluru-based Unicorn has not only seen a three-fold jump in user base, but has also quietly entered the live tutoring segment with an aim of positioningg itself as the best platform for “afterschool learning”. In an interaction with Bibhu Ranjan Mishra, the company’s Chief Operating Officer Mrinal Mohit talks about the new normal. Edited excerpts: 

The ongoing lockdown triggered by Covid-19 seems to have opened up more opportunities for you than challenges. Can you elaborate?

While the Covid-19 outbreak is unfortunate and we all wish it never should have happened, it has actually been a big opportunity for us. Byju’s as a company literally created the edtech segment in India. And for us, one of the challenges was consumer behaviour, especially in terms of convincing parents that their children can learn math, science and other subjects from the screen. Now, because of the Covid-19 situation, we (the online education industry) have become the only way to learn. Parents are also seeing first-hand how their children are using the app and spending several hours to learn things. That is something which was a huge barrier at one point, in terms of consumer behaviour. But it has changed to a great extent in the last six weeks.

How is this reflecting in your user numbers?

When this Covid outbreak hit India, we realised we have become the only way students can learn. Keeping this in mind, we decided to make the app free for this whole period. Because of the whole scenario and change in consumer behaviour, the engagement on the app has increased significantly. In the past one month, almost six million students used our app, a three-fold growth over the previous one-month period, while the level of engagement has also increased almost 200 per cent.

Are you also making available the premium version of the content free as well?

We always had a 'fremium' model. One can download the app at any point and use it free for 15 days. But now, we are really encouraged by the whole engagement. Because, when you download the app, we ask you whether you are a student. Now we have seen there is a tremendous increase in the percentage of parents downloading the app. We also launched a new feature called Byju’s Live when we found that students are not able to attend classes as schools are closed. Byju’s Live basically is the live classes taken by some of our best teachers where the students can attend the class just as they do in school. Because of that, we are seeing a huge increase in engagement.

So you have made a foray into the live tutoring segment in addition to the learning app. What is the thinking behind it?

We were always the ‘Learn at Home’ company. If you look at the education space, from the beginning it has been quite teacher-led as the teachers decide the pace of teaching in the class. But with the Byju’s Learning App, we created a fine balance between teacher and the student. All our contents are teacher led but is delivered on a platform which is student-led or controlled by the student. So with the ‘Live Classes,’ we are also looking at ‘after school’ segment. You don’t have to go for tuition classes, and Byju’s Learning App and Byju’s Live will take care of all your requirements outside of schools. Since it is being offered free now and the classes are being attended by lakhs of students, we are not offering two-way interaction feature. But we will add this in the paid version.

How did you mobilise the resources as the employees were working from home or elsewhere, to prepare yourself to tap into the opportunity?

The whole scenario was the testing time for all the businesses. It was the testing time in terms of how adaptable and how flexible you are as far as business model is concerned. But then for us, we being a digital first company, our challenge was far lower. Also, most of our employees are very young and tech savvy. So they found it easier to move to the work from home model.

The whole startup segment is going through a very tough time owing to the business disruption caused by COVID-19, with salary cuts, layoffs and so on. How are you responding to the situation?

I think, this (time) is the real test of the business model of the company as well. This has shown that our business model is strong and the business segment where we play has been positively impacted by the whole disruption. We do expect a positive impact in mid and long-term. Also, we will honour all the job offers we have made and hire more people as the year goes by. We are not looking at any salary cut.

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