Tarun Saini calls himself “a country boy-turned-hustler who made a dent in the Australian education space” and is now building ‘Bharat Ka Online School’.
While growing up in a farming family in a Haryana village, Tarun had to travel 35-40 km to get tuitions in the nearest town, Ambala.
Later in life, he would go on to work in Australia’s government-funded education space, and deliver door-to-door affordable learning to 15,000+ people.
When he returned to India in 2018, Tarun discovered that despite the growth of online learning, the situation hadn’t improved much in villages and small towns.
“In my home town, kids would still travel 40-50 km for basic tuitions, where one teacher would be teaching five subjects,” Tarun tells YS. “State board students also faced a huge language problem,” he says.
After a bit of market research, Tarun discovered that almost 70 percent of India’s K-12 student population was studying in state-board affiliated schools. The UP Board alone had more students than CBSE, for instance.
However, most quality education — online or offline — in India was being imparted in English. Hence, the demand-supply gap in afterschool learning for state board students was massive.
Tarun founded Vidyakul in August 2018 to solve this problem. He also roped in Raman Garg as Co-founder and CTO.
Solving for vernacular learners
Vidyakul is one of India’s earliest vernacular e-learning platforms that offers quality education at affordable prices to children from low-income families that may own smartphones, but have limited spending power.
The Gurugram-based edtech startup’s mission is to help state board students in Tier-II, III, and IV towns get wider access to online tuitions and afterschool coaching in languages like Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, and so on.
Founder and CEO Tarun elaborates, “State board students in villages had zero awareness of and access to online education. For them, if a teacher sends notes or YouTube links via WhatsApp, they think that’s edtech. They haven’t even heard of things like Zoom classes or BYJU’S or Unacademy. Especially after COVID-19, when the schools shut down, these students had nothing to do.”
After 15 months of research and product development, Vidyakul launched its learning app in January 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 outbreak in India.
What the learning app offers
Vidyakul’s offering rests on three core pillars: vernacular, affordable, mobile.
It offers live lectures and pre-recorded video courses (from Class 9-12) for six state boards. The course content has been developed by local academic experts who have analysed state board exam papers and NCERT books over the last 10 years.
Students get access to video lessons, handwritten notes (in PDFs) , ebooks, mock tests, sample question papers, daily quizzes, etc.
They can work on their problem areas and improve scores with handpicked questions, and get detailed scorecards of their subject-wise performance.
Students can also get their doubts solved in real time in a classroom-like environment on the app or via Vidyakul’s WhatsApp channels.
At present, the platform houses over 505 courses and video lectures spanning 50,000 hours of content shared by more than 50 teachers.
“We empower our educators and help them earn a substantial monthly income. We also incentivise them based on performance,” Tarun reveals.
About eight lakh students visit the Vidyakul app per month to join live classes or view pre-recorded lessons. The startup has conducted 27,000+ live classes in batches of 30 since launch.
“We have both paid courses and free classes on the Vidyakul app. About 40 percent of the content is free. For the rest, we charge a minimum subscription of Rs 300 per month,” says the founder.
“We also have three million subscribers on our YouTube channel, which is where we began. You can call us the Unacademy for Bharat,” Tarun adds.
Going ahead, the startup also plans to expand to test prep content for IIT-JEE, NEET, AIIMs, and other popular competitive exams in India. It will also look to add more state boards to its K-12 content library. “We want to add 10 state boards and get 200+ educators in the next three years,” the founder reveals.
Growth plans and future roadmap
Vidyakul is nearing a million learners, and looks to grow to seven million in three years. It claims to have seen a 350 percent jump in user base and a 100X growth in paying subscribers so far. Much of it has been driven by the overall surge in the adoption of online learning in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Add to that, India’s afterschool learning market is one of the world’s largest, contributing $21 billion in annual cashflows towards the education sector.
Tarun says, “Our target market is any student who has access to the internet. We want to serve the next billion users in India’s villages.”
In August 2019, Vidyakul was also one of the seven Indian startups to graduate from the 7th batch of MOX — the SOSV-backed mobile-only accelerator, which works with seed-stage startups in emerging markets.
Later in October 2019, it went on to raise a seed round of $500,000 from angel investors, including Neeraj Tyagi (Ex-Managing Partner of VCats), and others. The startup is currently in talks to raise a $2 million pre-Series A round.
Vidyakul is also forging partnerships with local education companies that are associated with lower income students across states.
It acknowledges its first-mover advantage in this space, but also prioritises speedy execution.
Tarun’s vision is to scale up quickly. “This market is huge and there are gaps as most players are focused on test prep and CBSE content. If small companies like us can find our product-market fits and scale up, no one can ignore us.”