It's that time of the year when examination results will be released in various parts of India. Time to rejoice for some and time for some to make bold career decisions ahead.
Whether it is competitive exams or exams that affect important decisions of their careers, parents are always very concerned about the way children are adapting to various structural changes in the education system and of course, the culture that has drastically changed from the time they themselves went to school.
In today's day and age, the pace of learning has become much faster and a lot of kids these days are very savvy with computers and online activities. That also makes it easy for them to better adapt and interact with online learning, compared even with conventional forms of learning. This opportunity was realized by Indian portal, Meritnation.com, which is operated by Applect Learning Systems.
Set up in 2009, the portal offers online learning and assessment services catered to the learning needs of students in the K12 segment across CBSE, ICSE, and other state boards (Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu). The learning resources by Meritnation.com range from high-quality multimedia study material, tests, detailed reports, curriculum-aligned activities to specific online test packs for entrance exam requirements.
To understand more about Meritnation, how its startup journey came about, and what their future goals are, I reached out to Pavan Chauhan, the company's CEO and co-founder, in an e-mail interview:
Q: What was the idea behind building Meritnation?
Chauhan: We wanted to make a difference to the K12 segment as this presented great opportunity. Our basic idea was to leverage technology to identify and understand each student's specific requirements and provide them with customized content based on that.
However, both of us had limited experience in the K12 space. It is in this situation an opportunity to set up a KPO (knowledge process outsourcing) came our way from a Canadian company that was producing content for schools in the U.S. and Canada, and then there was no looking back.
The KPO experience was a great opportunity to learn how international companies approached content development, how they set up exacting standards, systems, and processes which control quality, delivery, and so on.
The concept took a concrete shape when I, along with Ritesh Hemrajani--who is co-founder and director--of Applect Learning Systems launched the learning services portal, Meritnation.com, in 2009. With over 10 years of experience in the education industry and expertise in the areas of educational content development and curriculum design, our foray into the online education space coincided with a time when the education landscape in India was changing rapidly. Through our KPO experience, we learned to create world-class content and now technology has evolved to help us deliver these learnings in a customized way.
What is your revenue model, and how many paid users do you have on your site?
Currently we have over 40 lakh (4 million) registered users. The education setup has a subscription-based revenue model, while the features offered include study material, videos and animations, adaptive assessments and interactive modules, among others. Students can opt for an annual subscription for the entire course or may pick from basic or advanced online courses as per their requirements.
Subscription charges vary as well, from 1,000 rupees (US$18.03) to 16,000 rupees (US$288.55), depending on the type of course. In addition to standard online and offline payment modes, students also get the cash pick-up facility. We are registering a year-on-year growth of around 300 percent.
What's the demographic of your users?
Our product caters to students in the K12 sector (kindergarten to class 12), in the age group of 3 to 17 years but the decision to sign up is taken by parents who are typically in the age group of 35 to 45. For smaller classes, evaluation as well as purchase is done by parents.
From class 8 onward, a child starts playing an influencer's role in varying degrees. Our challenge is that while a large number of students are aware of our brand, parents need to be introduced to it. Parents are largely unaware of the advantages of online education so our marketing strategies are geared toward making parents aware of the potential benefits of online K12 education, and attracting students to sample our product and experience the difference first-hand.
Do you have insights in terms of verticals they choose, or where your users come from?
India has the largest population globally--and growing--in the K12 age group. Furthermore, there is an increasing preference for the private sector which is stemming from growing awareness of the importance of quality education, coupled with an increasing ability and willingness to pay for it. The online K12 education industry is worth US$1.5 billion to US$2 billion at this point of time and with competition toughening among students, custom learning solutions deployed online see quite a few takers.
Although Internet penetration and broadband continue to remain major challenges, the sheer number of schoolgoing kids who have access to the Iinternet is growing rapidly. According to the IAMAI Report 2012, India witnessed a phenomenal growth of over 150 million Internet users, 41 percent of which had been contributed by smaller towns and cities. The rest remained largely untapped.
The education landscape, however, is changing rapidly and children, who form a whopping 21 percent of total Internet users, are more receptive to adopting new ways of studying through videos and taking online tests.
What makes you stand out as a product?
The biggest differentiating factor for Meritnation.com is the depth and width of the content that is offered. Among online players, we cater to classes 1-12, while most of the other players cater to fewer classes. Our repository of videos and interactive exercises is way bigger than other players, and the biggest advantage we have is the assessment-based learning which provides a unique learning experience to each child. Our student base--of over 40 lakh (4 million) students, and growing--is much larger than that of any other online player as of now.
What are the different and new courses you offer?
Meritnation.com has online courses for Maths, Science, and other subjects for classes 1-12 across CBSE, ICSE, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu boards. These resources include concept strengthening video tutorials, revision notes, practice intensive chapter tests and sample papers, and textbook solutions.
Our online preparatory courses for IIT-JEE and NEET are also becoming quite popular among aspirants preparing for theses exams. The year 1 and 2 IIT-JEE/NEET preparatory course have been prepared with the latest changes in the syllabus. Multimedia tutorials, revision notes, practice questions, and live test series where students can assess and compare their performance with other students taking the tests across India, are some of the highlights of these courses.
In addition to these, we also offer preparation material for other entrance exams such as BBA, NDA and CPT.
What makes you better for competitive exams space like JEE, IIT, and NEET compared to conventional competitors such as coaching classes?
With the possibility of IIT-JEE going completely online from next year, Meritnation's online IIT-JEE course is aimed at equipping students with skills for acing the online mode of the entrance exam. Specifically, online courses have distinct advantages over traditional classroom coaching in preparing students for competitive exams.
Students gain confidence in taking exams online because they have studied and taken repeated practice tests on the Web. All study material are prepared by the best brains, readily available at one place and also constantly updated. Students no longer need to be at the mercy of the quality of teachers at the institute. Everything is already organized and structured systematically. Students can access them at their convenience any time and any place. It is just a click away.
Multimedia tutorials make it easier and more fun to learn difficult concepts. Students can rewind and replay the videos any time whenever they get stuck.
Individualized attention is also possible. Each student has a unique learning style. Digital learning guarantees methodologies that can provide customized courses for students, based on their own style of learning. There is no need to worry whether a student will get the "best" faculty for the fee.
After understanding the concept, students can further strengthen their base by studying from revsion notes and summaries that can help them save valuable time. Students can use this time to study and reflect closely on their understanding of the subject as a whole.
It is very important for an IIT- JEE aspirant to know how to tackle all kinds of questions that come under a topic and repeated practice through chapter tests, followed by an immediate assessment of strong and weak areas which can help accelerate the learning curve dramatically.
You raised funds two months ago. How is this helping?
In the four years of our journey so far, we have had a dramatic year-on-year growth. We hope to break even next year and start becoming profitable the subsequent year. This space offers exciting opportunities to scale up in the coming years. We will continue to invest to further strengthen our leadership position.
The funds will be largely used to build our brand and expand geographically. We have already started work on developing content for newer state boards. We recently launched content for Maharashtra board and others are in the pipeline. We also will be looking at creating new products for our existing customers.
The education sector is complex. The choices, influences, and decisions interplay in various combinations. This sector is also constantly evolving, mirroring the socio-economic changes in the consumer. For example, in the K12 online learning space in which we operate, the "consumer" is the student, while the "customer" in the lower grades is the parent, and in the higher grades it could be the parent or the student. Taking along all the stakeholders--students, parents, and teachers--and creating value for all appears to be by far the biggest challenge.
Taking learning to the Web
Certainly this startup has flourished quite a bit from the time it was incepted and is rapidly growing in terms of further achieving their goals. This is highlighted especially with its recent funding from Infoedge, of an additional 200 million rupees ($3.6 million), through a mix of equity and convertible preference shares in Applect Learning Systems--which operates Meritnation.com. Infoedge had earlier invested 115 million rupees (US$2.07 million) in the e-learning portal.
We'll keep a watch and see how this startup changes the way kids learn and what milestones do they further achieve in the education space in India.