Extramarks turns a new page in growth story

Few start-ups can boast of turning profitable in the first year of their existence. Extramarks is one of them. The digital education technology start-up has had a profitable run since 2007, when it was founded in response to a personal frustration of its founder and chairman, Atul Kulshrestha.

Kulshrestha wasn’t the first to think of digital learning solutions in India. There were several entrenched players in the market by then. Yet, in the nine years since, he has managed to build one of the fastest growing companies in the country in the sector. Extramarks today has over 8,000 schools and about 1100,000 students subscribing to its digital services. Although the industry is highly fragmented and market shares are hard to come by, in some states, say experts, it is by far the leader when it comes to providing digital solutions to private schools.

With many start-ups now scaling back, Extramarks has decided to embark on the next leg of its journey. It plans to more than double its revenue in two years, from Rs 35O crore in 2015-16, and establish a sizeable overseas presence. While plans are afoot to make inroads in Singapore and Russia, its offices are up and running in five countries in Africa. Given the low initial investment — it only needs to hire translators to convert its already available content in English into the local language and some other staff to provide technical support — the overseas business is proving a lucrative one. In the first year of its operations last year, the international arm clocked a revenue of Rs 50 crore and is likely to touch Rs 200 core by next year.

Edutech is increasingly becoming a crowded segment. There are over two dozen — and counting — prominent companies focused on one aspect of the business or another. In addition, there are hundreds of others who have come up with learning apps to support school students.

What has helped Kulshrestha  thrive in this market is his focus on keeping things simple and the costs low. “It (Extramarks) is very close to customers, so it understands what the customer requires. It was the first to see the need for digital content in regional language, which is a growing market,” says Narayanan Ramaswamy, head (education), KPMG. “Besides, it has ticked all the boxes — it provides content, digital services and counselling. This has helped the company stand out.”

Before starting Extramarks, Kulshrestha was running a BPO catering to the UK market. The work across different time zones meant he often reached home well after midnight. As his children relied on him for help with their studies, they were forced to stay up late too.

As he fretted about his children, his solution struck a universal chord. Soon, Extramarks found a niche for itself by stretching the boundaries of traditional books and replacing plain text and images with interactive, multi-media powered solutions for school students from nursery to Class XII.

In the years since, the services on offer run the gamut from digital classrooms, interactive blackboards, digital labs (where students can virtually dissect a rat and perform chemical reactions), online content and home tuition to counselling and monitoring the performance of students and teachers. By next month, students will have the option to download their school textbooks in the e-book format.

Extramarks has taken a two-way approach to education. “If a teacher has to repeat a particular lesson over and over in the class, our management information system takes note of it and we analyse the data to offer solutions and feedback to the school,” he says.

With solutions to suit every budget, the growth in its market share has been rapid. For schools that cannot pay the premium price for digital content, only the blackboards are digitised. For a higher price, students don’t need to carry books to schools and the learning moves to tablets. From homework to classroom learning, everything is made possible on tabs. Over the years, Extramarks has worked to bring the cost of digitising a classroom from Rs 1.5 lakhs to Rs 75,000.

However, in reaching out to as many students as possible, it has been careful  to keep its own costs under check by rationalising staff and overheads. The newest addition to its business, premium tuitions, for example, allows parents to employ a trained teacher for their children at home  through an Uber-like service. While Extramarks provides content and training to anyone wanting to be a tutor and ensures they meet a certain educational criteria, the teachers are not on its payroll. “We have launched it on a pilot basis in Delhi-NCR and the response has been tremendous,” says  Kulshrestha. It is a win-win for everyone.

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