A passion to help students master chartered accountancy (CA) led Neeraj Arora to ditch a corporate career and convert his hobby, teaching, into an edtech venture offering professional courses.
Starting out with YouTube videos in 2012 to train CA students, Neeraj went on to take online classes on his platform, Edu91, from mid-2013 onwards. In 2018, it found a technology partner and turned into an edtech platform.
At present, Delhi, NCR-based Edu91 coaches students for all levels of CA, including Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) programmes.
From hobby to business
Neeraj’s first brush with teaching happened at his uncle’s coaching institute for Class XI accountancy students, around 2011-end and early 2012. At that time he did not think it would one day become his career and business.
“I started my YouTube channel towards the end of 2012 and early 2013 when online consumption was just picking up in India,” says Neeraj.
“Back then, it was just a medium of entertainment and no online creator was creating enough helpful content to tap into the large viewership of CA students. I started recording videos and shared my study tips, career guidance, articleship/internship doubts, subject-related concepts; hosted live doubt solving sessions, and also invited experts from the industry to share their experiences and prepare CA aspirants.”
As YouTube viewership of his videos grew, Neeraj was able to reach out to many CA aspirants and started understanding their problems and frustrations.
“I was delighted to see so many students were finding a lot of value in my lectures and could retain the subject matter to secure good marks in their exams,” he says.
Still, teaching continued to be a hobby and it was not until Neeraj had completed his CA and worked as one for a week that he found his calling. “I snapped out of it and decided that a corporate career wasn’t meant for me. It was at this point that I decided to devote my life to teaching. Since that day I have never regretted my decision.”
Taking the edtech route
In 2013, Neeraj launched Edu91, on which he started holding online classes. The platform also allowed students to connect with peers, share their experiences, and learn from each other.
Two years later, Neeraj designed a small working LMS prototype and uploaded a short course on service tax on the platform.
However, problems with scaling standardised solutions arose after he developed another course. That’s when he and his team realised they had to come up with an in-house structure that could be customised and modified according to user feedback.
“As founders, we don’t come from an IT background,” says Neeraj. “We had to find the right partner, who could take care of the technology, so that we could focus on delivering high-quality content to students.”
The team tried a lot of other standardised solutions, but none solved the problem of scalability.
In 2018, Edu91 finally found the right technology partner and that’s how it took on a new avatar.
“Now, Edu91 has become a household name for students pursuing chartered accountancy,” says Neeraj.
On Edu91, students can learn online from top educators and experts. The platform follows both a lateral and horizontal approach while preparing courses that are available at low prices, but for a fixed time.
Starting from the entry stage, the edtech platform has designed courses for all levels of CA examinations, including all subjects for CA Foundation tests.
“As a student proceeds to the next level, we have a comprehensive library of courses and packages for subjects like taxation, auditing, accounting, and strategic management,” says Neeraj. “For CA finals, we have subjects like financial reporting, advanced auditing and professional ethics, corporate and economic law.”
Students buy the courses on the platform and can access them in a variety of formats: Google Drive, pen drive, Google Play Store and Apple App Store, and website.
While the quality is the same for the courses and video lectures, the pricing depends on the formats. Prices start from Rs 100 and go up to Rs 15,000. Neeraj declines to share the prices for each format; however, Google Drive courses are typically more affordable than those taken on the Android app, he says.
“We follow an experiential approach for our students,” says Neeraj. “Since CA courses rely too heavily on theoretical aspects, our endeavour is to provide a holistic learning experience.”
This includes sessions with experts from top corporate entities who share their insights and experience, presenting industry-benchmarked case studies, live monitoring of classes and examples, and offering professionally produced video lectures to “create an immersive and highly interactive learning environment that simulates to a considerable degree the experience of a high-quality offline coaching centre”, says Neeraj.
Edu91 is run by a team of 25 that includes the founders Neeraj and Pooja, who joined in 2014.
In its first month of operations in 2013, the bootstrapped platform processed at least 23,663 transactions and earned Rs 1.59 lakh from four courses.
“We hit an overwhelming 12,799 downloads in the first month as well,” says Neeraj. “Edu91 now has a user base of over two lakh users, with more than 5.12 lakh enrolments in over 1,000 courses. We serve students across all states and union territories of India.”
On February 7, 2020, the edtech platform hit its highest daily gross revenue of Rs 55 lakh and recorded revenue of Rs 10 crore last year, he says.
Close to 20 percent of the revenue is reinvested in improving learning technologies such as LMS, doubt support, and content creation and delivery subsystems, says the co-founder.
According to a report by KPMG and Google, the online education market in India is expected to cross $2 billion by 2022 and $4 billion by 2025.
Edu91’s competitors include startups such as Klarity, Lambda School, Masai School, Pesto Tech, and BYJU’S (in the K-12 segment).
“We have now shifted our focus from a granular niche selection to a broader and larger competitive segment of skill-building courses,” Neeraj says, offering a peek into Edu91’s product strategy. “Such skill- building courses will cater to larger demand of students wishing to learn subjects ranging from financial modelling and valuations, practical masterclass in auditing and GST (goods and services tax) to Power BI (a business analytics service by Microsoft), blockchain, and more.”