Startuptimes recently spoke with Vamsi Krishna the Founder and chief executive of vedantu.com , an online tutoring education startup co-founded by IITians Saurabh Saxena, Pulkit Jain, Anand Prakash who were teachers themselves.
Vedantu is trying to build a knowledge network where any student can tap into a teacher directly and learning can happen in a personalized way, anytime-anywhere.
Read the unedited version of the Interview with Vamsi krishna
How did the Idea of Vedantu form?
It all started with friendship. Four friends – Anand, Saurabh, Pulkit & Vamsi – school buddies and college mates. Goa used to be one of our favorite destinations during college days and it there that the idea to start something of our own struck us. Sometime in 2005, when we were sitting by one of the beaches in Goa, discussing about doing something together. The idea was to bring about a positive change at a place where no facilities existed. Hence, in 2006 we started our journey in education as teachers from a very small rural place in Punjab, Northern India. Our first venture in education was born – Lakshya
We never knew teaching would be so satisfying, it was a life transforming experience altogether. The satisfaction to have done something for a student which can transform their life forever.
While on our journey there were few things which we noticed
The best of the society doesn’t come back into the profession of teaching:
Which is sadly hypocritical because our parents want us to be taught by the best teachers, but, when it comes to taking up teaching as a profession, the answer is resounding no. We felt we had to change this. For a transformation change to happen in education, it should be able to attract the best of the society into teaching. So, we made it one of our missions to ‘Glorify/glamorize the profession of Teaching’
Teachers were not by Choice
There was a marked difference in the quality of teachers, and when we analyzed we could classify them 2 types – those who were teachers by choice and those who were not. We made this as our motto to induct and create a pool of high quality teachers/mentors who really loved what they were doing and who were Teachers by Choice.
Accessibility: Having started from a small place, we noticed that accessibility was a huge challenge in quality education. Especially, in a country like India there were severe last mile problems.
Purpose of Teaching
We also felt from our experience that subject knowledge is secondary, what a child really wants is someone he can trust and look up to, he needs a mentor/friend. Once this connection is formed, a teacher, apart from subject knowledge, can instil values. Which should be the true purpose of education and primary role of a good teacher. So, there was a need to spread this message and create more mentors rather than subject teachers.
So, gradually we scaled our venture, found like-minded people who shared similar passion, but at the end we could only affect a small region, as there were scalability issues. This finally led us to rethink on our approach and we found our solution in Technology.
In 2012, after almost 7 years after starting Lakshya and scaling it to over 4 location, with 60 teachers catering to over 3000 students annually, we exited our venture with a vision to start something which can touch more people and be instrumental in bringing forth a bigger change. In 2012, we sold Lakshya to a listed educational company (MT Educare, also known as Mahesh Tutorials) and set on our next educational venture.
Vedantu was born.
As the name suggests ‘Veda’ + ‘Tantu’. Veda means knowledge, Tantu means connections. Vedantu translates to Knowledge Connections.
With our previous vision intact we wanted to use technology in education to bring forth a disruptive positive impact, to create more ‘Teachers by Choice‘, to make Quality education more accessible. And this is precisely the motto with which we have started on our new endeavor.
What big problem is Vedantu solving?
Education in today's world is moving towards generality. Over the decades, classroom teaching has taken precedence that most of the teaching done in a 'One Size Fits All' manner. Which we believe it is ineffective and should change.
All Individuals are different and ‘one-size-fits-all’ model will not work with students who require special attention, hence, the concept of personalized learning came forward. It’s difficult for students, as well as parents, to find mentors, who could understand a student’s capability and teach them at a pace they can cope-up with, and chances of finding such mentors close to their homes is even slimmer.
Vedantu as a one-to-one online tutoring platform has only one mission, and that is personalization, for the student. It aims at creating a platform where the student will be at the center of learning. Where a teacher will teach according to the need, pace and level of a student. Where learning graduates from One-to-Many to 1-to-1. Where accessibility will no longer be a challenge as the student can get the best.
In Vedantu student is directly connected to a teacher and learning-teaching happens in a personalized way. Imagine a world with Knowledge Democracy.
Tell us about the founders of Vedantu?
Vedantu is a venture by four IITian friends - Vamsi Krishna, Saurabh Saxena, Pulkit Jain and Anand Prakash, who turned entrepreneurs and have a deep domain expertise in education.
Vamsi Krishna (Co-founder and CEO) - Vamsi is an alumnus of IIT-Bombay and has been a teacher for more than five years. As CEO of Vedantu, Vamsi primarily looks after the strategy and overseas critical functions like Branding, Marketing and Recruitment. An amateur photographer and a poker player, you can find him clicking or bluffing in his free time.
Saurabh Saxena (Co-Founder & Head of Academics) - Saurabh is an alumnus of IIT-Roorkee and has been a teacher for more than 5 years. As Head of Academics at Vedantu, Saurabh looks into the entire academics, content and teacher flow, overseeing teacher induction, quality, training, pedagogy etc. An avid poet and a tennis player, you can find him smashing the ball around in his Apartment tennis court in his free time.
Pulkit Jain (Co-Founder & Product-Head) - Pulkit is also an alumnus of IIT-Roorkee and has been a teacher for more than 5 years. He is a hardcore product guy and is in-charge of the entire product, technology and design at Vedantu. A designer and painter at heart, you can find him at his creative best, working on abstract art at Vedantu office.
Anand Prakash (Co-founder) – Another IIT-Roorkee alumnus, Anand is a movie buff. Movie reviews are on his finger tip and the team calls him the IMDB of Vedantu.
When did you realize you had the power to do something meaningful?
From our own experiences as students we realized that there was need for a transformational change in the education segment in India. There was a huge gap in quality of teachers available and quality of teaching required. Most of the teachers were not even passionate about teaching and took it up as mere assignments. Hence, we decided to create a pool of high quality teachers/mentors who really loved what they were doing, and those who were ‘Teachers by Choice’.
That’s when we took the plunge and started our first venture in education, Lakshya, in 2006. We started teaching from a small place in rural Punjab called Barnala. And since then, we have been working hard to revolutionise this sector with both, the right resources (teachers) and the technology to bring a positive impact in the society.
Have you done a Proof of Concepts before you went into the market?
We ran a closed beta of our product for 4 months before launching it to public. With our 8-9 years of previous experience in teaching gave a lot of valuable inputs to bake into the product. Once the product was done we ran it in closed circles for 4 months to gather valuable feedback and engineered it back into the product. We religiously followed the MVP model of Lean Startups by creating/constructing multiple small experiments and then went about doing them.
What does it take to be a co-founder of a startup?
To be a co-founder of a startup, one needs to have the entrepreneurial zeal and most importantly the passion to make a difference. It requires a lot of patience, perseverance and energy, as it takes time to make a mark and to create a sustainable model.
To ideate is one thing, but to get your hands dirty and do justice to it, is another. One has to be a visionary and a realistic at the same time; while it’s important to have a great team by your side, it’s equally important to be a part of the team to understand and address all the issues right from the start till the final delivery. Multi-tasking and thinking out of the box also play a key role here.
Who are your competitors and how well are they doing by comparison?
We consider Offline tuitions/institutes as our biggest competitors.
The traditional form of offline tuitions/coaching, follow the classroom teaching model, where getting personal attention becomes difficult and hence it is not very effective. We wish to educate people and enable the shift to Online tutoring.
In the online education space however, if you compare us with the likes of Meritnation, WIZIQ and Tutorvista (they teach US students), our approach is quite different from theirs. These online education platforms have many other offerings out which one is live online tutoring, but again it follows the one-to-many model unlike ours, where its personalized 1-to-1.
Also Vedantu`s key differentiator is our marketplace of teachers model.
What do you think is most important in building a company – culture or product?
To build a successful company one needs to have a perfect combination of both; you cannot have a company if there is no product and for a successful company to thrive a good work culture is extremely essential. So, Vedantu as a platform strives on an innovative product, and it’s our team which makes it a great place to be in.
Both are important. What is essential to understand here is the relation and the sequence. A company is a product (that’s what others see), to create product we need great people and for these people to consistently innovate and create cutting edge products and refinements you need them aligned. Alignment comes from culture.
So the sequence would be – Great creative heads who have a common goal and working towards a great work culture around, this would attract more talent. With such people aligned to a great culture would result in an awesome product.
What’s the business/revenue model for Vedantu?
Vedantu works on a SaaS model that is the students select and opt for a live online course/class with a teacher of their choice. Every teacher/course has a rate of which is on hourly basis. Students’ pay for the minutes they consume and Vedantu takes a share of the transaction.
How did you pitch to your Investors?
We researched well before entering this space and addressed all probable bottlenecks before pitching to our Investors. The following facts and research findings help strengthened our pitch:
• The market is huge - 250M kids in k12 in India
• Presence of a great team
• Proven track record in education sector and the founders all were teachers themselves
• We already had a beta product which was getting used and we were showing awesome growth
How do you manage the technology part of Vedantu? What software / infrastructure is used?
Vedantu is a technology company at the core. We are working on building technologies for entire life cycle of student - teacher connect, live teaching learning and post learning session testing and reporting. We are building technologies for high reliability and scale.
For Live Learning Sessions, we do not use the normal curated technologies like Skype or Hangout for enabling video sessions between student-teacher. We have completely re-imagined 1-to-1 teaching learning and created our in-house revolutionary WAVE technology (Whiteboard, Audio and Video Environment). WAVE makes learning online a pleasure and enables very low bandwidth teaching sessions also possible. We have built in multiple tools for Teachers also to teach online extremely effective.
Another side of technology that we are focusing a lot on connecting a student with contextually best teacher on Vedantu. We are creating our custom algorithms for the same - which lists best fit teachers for a student looking for his specific requirement.
Vedantu's support doesn't stop at Live Learning Sessions - we have built in Online Testing and Reporting into the system. We are working on technologies to make testing adaptive for students based on his/her learn-ability and level.
Vedantu is entirely on cloud and relies on Google App Engine. We have focused a lot on scale to ensure seamless learning sessions at high traffic.
Who are the target audience for Vedantu?
Currently we are targeting students in the tier 1 and 2 cities, families where both the parents are working and cannot give much time to the child. But, eventually we do aim to extend our reach to even rural areas and impart quality education to areas where accessing quality education becomes highly difficult.
Current segment focuses on standard 6th to 10th and primary for Maths and science. We look forward to add more grades and subjects in near future.
If a VC writes a check for $100 mn in Vedantu what would you do?
Every startup requires funding for multiple reasons and it’s very essential for the founders to know the direction and speed at which they want to move (we fondly call Velocity of a startup). Hence, too little or excess money both are bad. So, we will not accept it, at least not immediately.
Currently, we have raised exactly how much was required and we would use it to grow our Tech backbone and bring Vedantu`s experience to Mobiles/Tablets. Once we are able to get a strong foothold in the junior grade segment then it will become easy for Vedantu to do vertical expansion (more subjects etc), horizontal expansion (more categories) and geographical expansion (more cities and countries). When that stage comes and if we require, then, we will probably raise more than $100M. But for now, we are very happy with what we have received.
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