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Move over retail, omnichannel has come to learning

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The edtech companies that were seen as rising stars before Covid started got a huge boost when the world came to a sudden halt due to the pandemic. Students moved to online classes to learn new skills or upgrade specialisations. Indian edtech companies such as Byju’s, WhiteHat and Unacademy saw their membership grow exponentially in this period.

Talking about the future of edtech in India at the recently concluded TiEcon Delhi-NCR’s Unstoppable India virtual event, GV Ravishankar, Managing Director, Sequoia Capital India, said: “If you look at founders today, and the examples that have been set by people who have built large global businesses out of India, it has created ambition among entrepreneurs to dream big and try to achieve greater heights of success.”

The event held on March 25-25 saw the participation of business leaders, entrepreneurs and industry representatives

What people want

Consumers today are looking for three things: something that is cost competitive, more choice and greater convenience. Technology is providing all the three. People can access the best of education from the comfort of their homes. A student can choose to learn from anyone across the world.

As more and more people come into the market, it becomes more cost competitive. While earlier one had to pay a couple of lakhs to get trained, the same can now be done much cheaper. This does not mean that offline classes are going away, it means online complements offline and they can work together as a package. This is leading to the rise of an omnichannel way of learning.

Lessons to entrepreneurs

Of the lessons one can learn, Ravishankar said, “The entry barriers are very low. Anybody can build an app, create or curate some content, as there is so much content out there. The cost of curating a content is also low. Putting something out on the internet for adoption or getting a group of teachers to start teaching on a tech platform is very simple now. So, hundreds of companies are entering the market. But the next step, that is to scale up, is difficult, as it is a competitive market and there are many established players. Education is a business of trust that doesn’t come very quickly. It will take time for people to scale up.”

The other point, he said, was the question of monetisation. There are examples of people creating something new and it getting downloaded by many. But to convert that usage into revenues is a challenge. That requires a sales plan and trust in the brand.

It is very easy to get the initial traction but to get to the next step can prove to be challenging for entrepreneurs. People need to have the patience and be willing to go deep and solve the problems in monetising a product. “We keep talking about Byjus’ but forget that he started his career as a teacher way back in 2003. It wasn’t until 2016 that he raised his first institutional capital. Top institutions like Harvard and Cambridge have survived because they focus on quality and continue to remain patient about how they scale up. We should be careful not to dilute the quality of delivery, service and keep the consumer at the centre,” he said.

Making profits

The key lies in building a sustainable brand. When times are good, markets are hot and capitalist. Entrepreneurs think of acquiring a large number of customers and building a profitable business.

“You have to get to a point where the brand and the trust that you’ve built allows you to get a lot more organic consumers signing up for your edtech portal. Most powerful brands are built over a period of time by delivering results. One must keep in mind that customer acquisition isn’t easy, because there are so many people competing for the same set of students and despite being a large market, people end up spending a lot of money, and this is the core to the problem of profitability,” added Ravishankar.

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