We are nowhere close to saturation in edtech space: Byju's founder & CEO

A blended format of learning with the best of online and offline is what I expect to evolve on the other side of the crisis, said BYJU RAVEENDRAN, Founder and CEO Byju's
The last few months have been quite action-packed for education technology company Byju’s. Even during the pandemic, the Bengaluru-based firm has received investments from celebrated investors like Mary Meeker and Yuri Milner, and now from US private equity firm Silver Lake, taking its valuation close to $11 billion. Founder and CEO BYJU RAVEENDRAN tells Bibhu Ranjan Mishra in an interview what all this means for the company. Edited excerpts:

How are you coping with the new environment where you are closing funds, and even acquisitions, virtually?

I am very comfortable doing everything remotely. In fact, for me, this is a more productive chain because people on the other side are also willing to do it online now. We have closed acquisitions and investments like this. Rather than travelling to multiple places for investor meetings and conferences, now it seems everybody has more time than before because people are not wasting long hours on the road or in the air. So it is very efficient.

From a ‘learn at home’ company to foraying into the ‘after school’ segment and then teaching ‘coding’ online — what is now left in the broader education segment for you to build expertise in?

There is so much left outside than what we are doing today. We are not trying to do everything. We are focused on something which is common. WhiteHatJr, for example, is focused on the school segment, and also on the same age group as ours. Also, there is an opportunity to go deeper into the test-preparation segment because offline test-prep will move online quite fast now. And there are subjects which you can learn better provided that they can find the right format. We are quite clear on the segment we want to focus on — mostly children from pre-K to 12, and in the age group of 4-17.

What’s your plan for the test preparation segment?

We have just launched Byju’s Classes, which we are scaling up as we expect after-school tutoring will also move online. So we have an opportunity to redefine tuitions by offering them best of the teachers in a scheduled format. And that is something which will be very complementary to our on-demand, asynchronous learning app. This is to positively disrupt the after-school tuitions because many a time, it is difficult to find good tuition teachers or coaching centres in the area where you are residing. We are also launching test-prep. For JEE, NEET, and all such exams, we will have a new format, combining the learning app and scheduled online classes.

Where does your acquisition of WhiteHat Jr fit in?

There are a couple of reasons why we made this acquisition. Most important one is, ‘coding’ was something very complementary to us. Coding is also an important future skill and there's a growing percentage of parents who are realising it. It will also get into the curriculum in accordance with the new education policy.

Could that not have been built in-house, organically?

Everything can’t be built in-house, even if you have money. There is a lot of expertise which comes with people and the team. Though there are a lot of players offering coding, what WhiteHat Jr has done in a short span of time is, getting the product market fit. They also have a different format, which is a combination of live and one-to-one. There is a lot of promise to scale that model globally with teachers from India. We can accelerate our expansion using that – not just in coding but beyond.

Which are the markets you are looking at?

It is starting with the US, but it is also possible to launch that in a few more markets, including Australia and Europe, because we have enough teachers in India. If that model works and when we have 2 million students on that platform, we would also have created 100,000 teaching jobs. That’s a big opportunity. So we can attract good talents back into teaching.

A lot of credit for growth of edtech firms is being given to the Covid-19 pandemic...

Since we launched Byju’s app in 2015, we have been growing at least 100 per cent year on year. This (Covid-19) is accelerating the growth. Not just in the short-term but in the long-term also, it will have a much bigger impact. But the pandemic has brought in a clear inflection point, and I would say that we are fortunate to be in a sector which has a positive relevance (during this time).

Do you think the craze is going to stay once schools reopen?

Schools are important because it is not just about classroom learning. There is also a corridor time and playground time... It is very important to learn social skills and soft skills, which can be learnt better by being in a group. So, a blended format of learning with the best of online and offline is what I expect to evolve on the other side of the crisis (once things normalise).

Are you looking at offering co-curricular activities?

There is so much to be done in the core segment itself. So, we want to stay focused on the same age group. There is a lot of scope in helping teachers to teach better by giving them better tools to teach. There is an opportunity around helping institutions go online, in terms of giving them platform and content support. That is a B2B opportunity. There is an opportunity around reskilling and upskilling in the B2C segment itself and there are companies around it. These are still early days for making an intervention in education using tech, and we are nowhere close to saturation. A lot more firms will emerge and most of this sector will actually grow because people are just trying out learning online.

You have been steadily raising funds and have picked up speed during the pandemic. People are talking about your IPO. Are you ready?

That's a clear option because we have a strong business model and we are generating cash. But to be honest, we have not thought about the timelines. But it’s a big aspiration to create a large public company coming out of India, and more importantly, something which can last after decades. But obviously, we don’t need to do that to give exits to early investors who have taken partial liquidity and are also thinking long-term. All the recent investors who have come onboard are very long-term. We mostly may have the option of listing in India as well as in the US, and we're figuring out all these.

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