International Investor Lens with Abhishek Gupta

International Investor Lens with Abhishek Gupta

David Linke of EduGrowth and Abhishek Gupta from TVentures discuss the state of education in India, recent advances in EdTech, and an outlook on the future for the country.

In this session from the Melbourne EdTech Summit 2020, David Linke, Managing Director of EduGrowth, dives deep with Abhishek Gupta, Managing Partner at TVentures, to discuss the EdTech ecosystem in India and globally, changes that are occurring due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, and what to expect in the years to come from the Indian EdTech industry.

Highlights of the conversation and the full transcript follow below:

The state of education in India

TVentures is the investment arm of India’s largest media conglomerate, known as Times Internet. Under Abhishek’s supervision the company has made seed investments into up-and-coming EdTech businesses in India. As Abhishek explains, entrepreneurship, education, and EdTech in India carry various unique attributes:

  • India is a massive country with a massive population. Oftentimes education and testing responsibilities have been handed down to state governments rather than decreed nationally.
  • Major cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, and Calcutta have been able to adopt international curriculums aimed at, for example, the Cambridge Boards and IB exams.
  • With the introduction of India’s National Education Policy in 2020, the country is gradually moving toward a national standard which will allow greater access to standard curriculum and access to standardised classes through online platforms.
  • Approximately 50% of Indian students enroll in private education programs and tutoring outside of traditional school and university programs.
“There is always a latent need for education companies and better content companies, better delivered in India.”
Abhishek Gupta, TVentures
EduGrowth Cross Border Partnerships to Drive Outcomes - Warwick Freeland featured image

Recent and forecasted advances in Indian education

A major part of Abhishek’s responsibilities lie in studying and predicting how the education industry in India may develop in the coming years in order to assess valuable EdTechs to invest in. From his observations he believes that:

  • Test preparation, university entrance, reskilling, and certification programs will continue to grow very rapidly in India, outpacing K-12 and university growth.
  • The online learning space will also continue to grow, giving greater access to educational resources for rural Indians. Since Reliance Jio’s launch in 2016, internet access has become much more affordable.
  • When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Indian schools and universities were largely unprepared and did not pivot into the online learning space well. However over the past year, they have begun to make the transition
  • The B2B space is growing and has the potential to explode in size due to the proliferation of internet access, especially if universities take advantage of it to offer degree programs online.
“You will see an emergence of an online-offline concept of classes where offline it will only be proctored, but the teacher would actually be online teaching the course on a daily basis.”
Abhishek Gupta, TVentures

India compared to the world

India, as the second most populous country on the planet, has been able to function somewhat insularly to good success. Unlike China, though, India is open to marketing its products globally and to adapting foreign products into its own system. Nonetheless, Abhishek points out some differences between India and the wider world:

  • EdTechs in the US may use Canada as a proving ground for their products. EdTechs in Australia may use New Zealand the same way.
  • By contrast, Indian EdTechs debut their products in India and, if they are successful, then they may extend into Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, and the wider world.
  • Indian parents care deeply about their children’s education, and will often set aside money for it as a very high priority. This bodes well for B2C products in the Indian marketplace.

More and more, Indian EdTechs are looking to make products that will be attractive globally as well as nationally.

Investing in EdTechs

Abhishek speaks specifically to his own job of selecting EdTech investment opportunities for TVentures:

  • Choosing EdTechs to invest in is more of an art than a science.
  • Attractive investment targets will be able to show that they have analyzed the available market data, proven a market fit for their product, and built scalable revenue channels.

Companies that receive an investment from Abhishek and TVentures then need to find an effective way of growing their business with the newly available capital. Abishek counsels:

  • Consider two questions: “What is the engagement level that the customer might have with your product?” and “What’s the capability of payment and propensity of payment for that user base?”
EduGrowth Cross Border Partnerships to Drive Outcomes - Ravneet Pawha speaking

Culture and context in product development

Although an EdTech might have great talent, sufficient funding, and an innovative product, if cultural and societal understanding is left out of the equation, it may still be unmarketable or fail to address the community’s actual needs. Abhishek stresses several points about the Indian context:

  • India has a very distinct upper class that is able to pay US or Australian prices for products. But the middle and working classes are much less capable of paying those sorts of prices.
  • Educators should be very involved in the development of your product from very early on in the process.
  • Understanding the cultural and societal details of the specific area in which you are launching a product is key.
  • If you lack cultural and societal understanding, it can take two or three months at least to develop that and be able to structure a product for that market.
“There’s a lot of context needed to launch an EdTech company in a particular geography, and if you don’t have that context then you have to build that context or get somebody on board who has that context.”
Abhishek Gupta, TVentures

Full Transcript

Zoe:

The moderator for the next session is going to be David Linke. David leads EduGrowth,  Australia’s education technology and innovation industry hub. It has decades of experience leading education technology software and services, and services businesses across the Asia-Pacific region. Over to you, David, to lead this session.

David:

Thanks very much, Zoe. Let me welcome Abhishek Gupta. Abhishek is the managing partner at TVentures, the corporate venture arm of Times Internet, one of  India’s leading corporations. At TVentures, Abhishek leads significant investment programming in tech companies. TVentures is focused on uncovering the leading Indian EdTech companies, seeking career managing. Imagine learning in a digital world. Abhishek, thank you very much for joining us. Where in the world are you joining us today?

Abhishek:

I’m joining from Delhi, and thanks for having me, David.

David:

I think we’ve had you at a couple of our events. I really appreciate that you can dial into this thing. It’s fantastic. Why don’t we begin by getting you to just give us a little bit of an introduction to TVentures in the Times Internet business, and then maybe we might talk about the Indian tech sector.

Abhishek:

I’m part of Times Internet. Times Internet is the digital arm of the Times Group of companies also known as Bennett Coleman and Company Ltd. It’s a 182 year old company and India’s largest media conglomerate. Times Internet runs all the digital properties including news, streaming, tech portal, as well as real estate portal, and a couple of other internet businesses. And TVentures is the investing arm of Times Internet where I’m responsible for investing in thesis, consumer tech thesis, primarily, tech being one of the largest thesis where we have been investing for the last six to seven years. We have invested in companies like Baiju, apart from others like Delivery, as well, and a few other EdTech companies that you may have heard of. We have been, so far, at TVentures, invested in over 60 to 70 companies. This is a proprietary capital that we deploy, focused mostly on India and Indian entrepreneurs, and any company that is essentially also going towards figuring out the global market, but primarily India and Indian entrepreneurs are what we fund within Times Internet.

I have been running this for the last nine years. I joined Times Internet nine years ago to run the accelerator program which evolved into a full-blown investing thesis that we do right now. I previously ran a cloud technology company and a small education company before I joined Times Internet, which did not do fairly well. So I’ve dabbled my hands with education since 2010 or 2011, and finally found a little bit of success while investing.

David:

Nine years ago Times Internet decided they’re going to build an accelerator. Was it just in education, or was it in any other sort of business?

Abhishek:

Our accelerator was pretty much very wide. We were investing in B2B companies, B2C companies, and everything. It’s only while we started to build it out that we realised some sectors in India need more effort than other sectors, and that’s where, apart from some content companies that we did, because that’s our bread and butter, we started to invest more and more in education. Forward three to four years, what we realised was our journey of creating that accelerator was pretty much done, and we transitioned into investing like a Series A, Series B firm, but investing in EdTech per se still continued. Our latest company is class plus plus that has recently raised the Series B which we invested like one and a half years ago.

David:

I want to really unpack a little bit about the sort of investment you’re doing, and why, and you’re part of that thesis. But before we do that it might help us to get a bit of context around the size of the  Indian education market, the tech space that you’re working in, and I think you’ve got some slides that we’re going to show now. I’ll leave you to talk about these and I’ll be back in a moment or two, and we can chat about this stuff.

Abhishek:

This is the same slide that I’ve shared two to three months ago while I was talking about education in  India in another summit hosted by you, David. I’ve just kind of made a few changes on the fast-paced, changes that have happened in the EdTech industry in India. I’ll talk about that as well, and remember that we were talking about how I have opened up my ears and my eyes around what those changes have been. I was not a very firm believer three to four months ago that things will change for me to be in EdTech. I wasn’t a firm believer that coding could be something that Indian parents would buy frequently on the internet.

But some of these changes in the last three or four months, and I’m going to talk about it but just to give the context of education in India in numbers, so that whatever we talk about later, you can relate. There are over 260 million students in 1.5 million plus schools. Most of the schools, in an estimate, would be CBSE. I think 90, 92, 93 would be CBSE schools, and that is “Central Board of Secondary Education”. There are some schools which are ICSC, but there are also state boards. So India is divided into different states, and there will be state boards as well, which run their exams. From their separate curriculum, a smaller percentage of primarily tier one cities like Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore, Calcutta, etc. also study through Cambridge boards and IB higher studies. On the other hand, we have somewhere around 993 universities, 39,000 colleges with 34 million undergraduate students, and four million postgraduate students. You would see that the difference between 260 million plus students that are in the school, so 26 million students passing and undergraduates only having 34 million over two to four year courses is still great.

This is an interesting slide to understand. This is essentially the education journey of an Indian user from the age of three when he’s enrolled in a primary school up to 2130 and how he uses different services to learn. The blue box there is the offline services, and the yellow box is essentially offline that has gone online. So it’s a combination of an offline and online, so as everywhere a student goes through school, then goes to college, and then goes to a job where he learns online on the job as well.

What is unique about India is that, apart from school, there are almost 50 percent of the students who also take private tuition, and this tuition market is a big market in India which, to an extent, has been going online and Baiju, since you guys must have heard about Baiju as one of the big online tuition education companies. They have focused heavily on it. Baiju’s more of recorded videos and learning while you are looking at those videos when you have a problem understanding. But lately the online world is also mimicking the offline world where you go one hour and take a live class from a tutor who teaches you the concept and who clarifies the concept that you may or may not have been taught in school.

Another unique thing about India is the test preparation market. So if you have to get into any of the colleges, you have to also go through some kind of entrance examinations. Most of the technical colleges like engineering and medical have different entrance examinations. Most of the universities in humanity colleges will take you on the basis of what you have done in school, but for certain colleges there are also some tests that are taken in this, and I’ve divided this market into two parts which is test preparation, undergraduate and test preparation, postgraduate. Postgraduate is the part where people who are students, who are in college, actually take tests to get into government jobs. So big difference, and we will in the course of   understanding it more, we’ll talk more about it as well.

Apart from that, the reskilling and certification sectors are pretty big. Students generally start when they are near graduation or during their entire course of being in a job or on the job training, etc. Language learning and casual learning are again smaller but an industry that has been evolving pretty fast. A new addition to this is life skill learning, for example coding, that in the recent past have just accelerated and, if you have been attuned to what is happening in the  Indian ecosystem, you’ll realise that Whitehead Junior, which just got acquired for 300 billion by Baiju, was doing somewhere around 100 million annualised revenue run rate. Four months ago it was almost at a million or two million monthly.

David:

We always hear about these really big numbers in  India, so I do like the fact that you’ve broken down some numbers. We know that there are millions and millions of students, and we know that there are millions of schools. and then we know that there’s essentially a really quick drop off. Big primary school, big high school, and it starts dropping down around undergraduate, postgraduate, and reasonably accessible numbers are understandable compared to numbers for the rest of the world. So I’m really intrigued to get a bit of a little picture in your mind, and I have talked about this a lot but let’s do it again for this audience because not all of those people have been in those conversations. I’m really interested in your view around the B2B market and the B2C market in India, and I know you’ve just recently said that that’s changed.

Abhishek:

Primarily if you look at EdTech, you will see, David, that it has been in the last two years when it started evolving. So let me let me just go a little bit behind, even two years. What happened was most of the EdTech companies that I used to find at that point in time, used to target these schools and universities, and would sell them some kind of a tool, whether it’s a CRM tool, whether it’s a delivery tool, whether it’s an education content tool, and there were a couple of companies that were doing this. But essentially, for a lack of either their user experience or the content, those companies couldn’t survive and couldn’t become really large companies. One had to be delisted as well. What changed in the last couple of years was once, in 2016, if you know the Telecom Space, Indian data got very cheap, dirt cheap after the launch of Reliance Geo, which opened up an arena for tech companies to launch live classes and data rich content, and that’s where Baiju showed that B2C is possible in India, and that you could sell to parents who would want their kids to score better in exams. That’s where the entire journey of understanding that Indian consumers will pay, and why would they pay, and how they would come to  Indian entrepreneurs, and that’s where I think UnAcademy has scaled up, Vedantu has scaled up. GradeUp has scaled up and Topper has scaled up. So these four to five companies have scaled up rapidly in a way that even the Mckenzie report, they put the Mckenzie report to shame, which said that it will be a certain large market here.

But what happened post COVID, is that initially it was a shock. Everybody said and thought that schools and colleges will open in a couple of months. Schools were very ill prepared to go and impart education online, but once the realization hit that it’s not going to go away for the next one year, then slowly B2B companies started to go to big corporates like Microsoft and Google, and also small companies that had the products, and say, “Hey, will you provide me that product to teach my students?” and that’s where I think a lot of people, a lot of schools and universities have opened up to the idea of education tools, MOOCs deliveries, and even essentially buying content from private companies to educate their students online.

I think this entire last three months I’ve seen the acceleration of B2B models. I still cannot name a company that has become big or has raised pretty high, but in the next six months or nine months you will see that there will be certain education-specific tools that will either get funding or report that their revenues have skyrocketed.

David:

I’m just going to pull something back and then we’ll move on. So let’s just take the K-12 school market for a moment. I think there’s about 1.3 million schools, roughly, as I remember correctly. And I think, if I’m right, about a million of them in government schools, about three hundred thousand of the private schools, in India, roughly… Anecdotally, those government schools have had reasonably small amounts of annual funding per student when compared to an Australian school or a US school or a UK school. I suspect that that’s still the case. Do you think COVID may increase investment from the government in the school system or even the university system?

Abhishek:

I’m not sure too much about that data, David, when you say that per student spend in India is less. Last I was in a seminar, and there was a government speaking in that seminar about education, the number that came out was roughly 800 to 900 USD dollars is spent on education of a student in public and government colleges. In my opinion, that’s a high number.

David:

Do you think governments will spend more money on schools over the next period because of the COVID situation because they’ve experienced that they need to improve systems? Or do you think that they feel like they’ve achieved it?

Abhishek:

I think they’re partnering with technology providers like Google to enable schools to become online. What I can tell you from the New Education Policy, although it did talk about numbers, it did bring some sweeping changes on the way education can be put online and education can be provided to everyone in the country. My belief is in our prime minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, who is now the go-to person for all education policy. My belief is in the next focus on budget and on education policies is to take education online.

David:

Fantastic. I want to go back to some big macro themes here. Traditionally when you look globally, the big markets for investment and intake were coming out of the bay area in the US and also china. I haven’t picked the latest data from Holon IQ, but I’m pretty sure that India is either number two or number three. It bounces between there and the bay area, well behind China, but it’s essentially an emerging giant in space in broad terms. Why do you think Indian EdTech is having this really big moment in the summit? And it’s not just recent. It’s the last year or two. It’s not longer.

Abhishek:

The way I put it, David, is that there is always a latent need for education companies and better content companies, better delivered in India. I think two things have happened. I’ll go back to what I said earlier. There was cheap data that was available so it was much easier for people to access better content and data rich content. The second thing that happened was, by just proving it, that latent need can be served if the product and the experience is right. That enabled a lot of other companies to move in the same direction, use the same strategy to start selling to Indian parents. They’re related, and if you need to understand the latent need of education in India, you will have to go and sit with Indian parents to understand that they care about the education of the kids more than anything. In fact a fairly large percentage of the household budget goes towards the education of the kid. Indian parents are that way when it and, I don’t remember exactly the numbers, but even probably bigger than entertainment is, after food, etc. Food and travel are bigger than entertainment, is what will go into. They will save for education for their kids. It was, and India is a trust deficit society if you look at it. They wanted that trust, which I think was a strategy that Baiju has played out fairly well, and once that trust got built in, people were ready to open their wallets and pay for even online content.

I think that’s primarily what has changed in macro. There was always a latent need. People were ready to pay if you either promised or even made an iota movement towards that. Your award will be to get better education or they’ll get better numbers in school.

David:

We’re about to hear from Phalgun at UpGrad in the next hour, and he certainly is taking Indian EdTech offshore. Is the edtech sector in India predominantly a domestic player, an international player, or are they both being actively sought right now?

Abhishek:

Predominantly it’s the Indian market that most of the entrepreneurs are looking for, but entrepreneurs and companies that have scaled like UpGrad and Simply Learn, and even Baiju… 

If you understand the Indian context, in the Indian investor context you will realise that most  Indian investors understand the tech market in India and they always believe that the Indian market is fairly large for them to build large successful companies. But that said, what I’ve seen is large companies like UpGrad, and Simply Learn, and White Hat Juniors, and even to an extent Baiju have started moving into the international place. It’s not to say that Indian expansion has stopped, but my belief is that there is a fairly large ambition of some of these companies to actually get their product to an international market, and if you actually dial it back and you look at the content that some of these companies have produced, it is international quality content. It is also focused. I saw a deck which was focused on IB students and how we can coach IB students. If you actually know the innards, working off, for example, Check, they have a large teacher-based freelancer base in India. So there’s a large freelancer and teachers base in India that some of these international companies have been using traditionally for the last five to seven years. It’s now that Indian companies have started to tap into that education base, that teacher base, and have started to build products and build content for an international audience.

David:

Fantastic. Let’s talk a little bit about, not specifically around the TVentures investment thesis because I don’t need you to explain all of that component, but I’m really interested in your view. You obviously get to see lots of EdTech companies. What are the things that differentiate one from another in your mind, when you’re thinking about investing in them? Maybe it’s three or four things, just a few of them.

Abhishek:

It’s more art than science, frankly speaking. It’s all about the understanding of the market. When we used to invest pretty heavily in seed, when we used to do 150k to 500k kind of investments, I would focus my energies on the founder and his ability to build large outcomes and successful businesses. I would obviously focus on what he’s building, but I would give him some rope when it comes to his ability to pivot and his ability to take inputs from the market and then come back to me and say, “Hey, this isn’t working. But I have figured out another thing that might work.” That was a very open minded investment that I made, but if I’m going in with a three to five million dollar check, and I’m coming in Series B, then I will look at how you figured out the data? What is your insight that is very different from the public knowledge? Have you already proved that product-market fit? Have you already built scalable revenue channels? Have you built up audience channels with a lower CAC? Have you experimented in that? Do you have some thoughts on experiments? So it’s a lot of data checks.

David:

How big were these checks or seed rounds when you’re doing that sort of stuff?

Abhishek:

I still do seed up to 500k. Sometimes it could be a million dollars, but it’s very rare. I generally want to come in mostly at 200K USD, The sweet spot being somewhere around 500k. When I participate in Series A, that’s when I’m comfortable writing two and a half to three, four, or five million dollar checks.

David:

Even in your seed rounds you’re looking for traction in the market, or you’re looking for a product proof point, or you’re looking for founder understanding? What is the main driver?

Abhishek:

There are two things that I look for, primarily. Apart from other small things, one is the founder’s understanding of the market and unique insights that he has figured out about his market, his product. Second is the product market effect that he has already established with a little bit of traction that he has. The third most important thing about investing in seed is understanding and keeping an open mind about whether this guy can pivot if push comes to shove, if this model fails and his ability to experiment and keep an open mind about learning from the market.

David:

Are you seeing female founders in the market in India as well?

Abhishek:

Yes, but not a lot. Most of the companies who pitch to me, I would come across 2 out of 10 female founders, as opposed to eight male founders.

David:

That’s about the industry standard around the world, I think. About 25 percent of the EdTech sector in Australia is founded by females so you’re saying about 20. We’ve got some work to be done in India.

I’ve got some funding. You’ve given me some money. And now I need to go and grow. What do you think of the things that EdTech founders and entrepreneurs need to be thinking on in their first couple of steps to try and get on that growth path from your experience having invested in many, I think you said 80, companies so far.

Abhishek:

It’s different for the B2C and B2B market. I can speak more about the B2C market. I would speak less about the B2B market. I don’t have a lot of experience there, but in the B2C market there’s two more important things: one is your product engagement matrix, or the product market feed. It is defined as who you are really selling to. If you are doing a K-12 market, you are actually selling to the parents while the product is being used by the kid. If you are selling to a higher education segment, you are actually selling straight to a consumer who may or may not have the paying capability. I think in India, there are two important things that you should always test: “What is the engagement level that they might have with your product?” and “What’s the capability of payment and propensity of payment for that user base?” because pricing becomes a tricky game when you are selling to the Indian consumer.

You and I have talked about this multiple times, David. India is divided into multiple class segments. There is a segment of around 40 to 50 million users who can pay as much as anybody in Australia or even in the US, but then it drastically drops down to a point where users will have a very tough time paying you. So if you’re really building a product for the upper-middle class and the rich, in education your pricing will be very different from if you’re building for the bottom of the pyramid. So you have to be very price conscious about understanding your audience and pricing the product in a different way. But also, the quality of education or the quality of content will also differ according to your pricing. You have to take that into account as well.

David:

One of the things that I personally see here in the Australian market is that early stage companies, EdTech companies, that get to customers first, whether that’s educators or teachers, they bring them on board, they bring them advisors, and they do much better. Do you see something similar in India with EdTech companies?

Abhishek:

Absolutely. One hundred percent, David. If you look at the top three to four companies in India, the educators and the teachers are the founders. Baiju, himself, was a teacher. He used to teach CAD courses before he thought of launching Baiju as a product. That person is a guy. Actually his name is Baiju as well, if you didn’t know that. In Vedantu they were teachers before they started this out on Academy, one of the founders was actually a teacher who taught in a category in which officers are selected.

So even if you see the historical data, and even if you see the way the content is, I would say a lot of tech founders come and say, “Hey, content is commoditized.” But understanding your audience and their affinity to that content is a very important game. Understanding how you educate them with that content is what a teacher knows best. So the majority part of your product is delivery, and content should be made with teachers being the co-founders or the first few people in the company.

David:

You and I are in absolute agreement there. The reality is it’s very difficult to build a tech platform in the education space without all of the pedagogy, all of the classroom implementation, all the support, all of those structures. It’s really an incredibly important component.

Abhishek:

I would just add one thing. I don’t think that, without having a set pedagogy of the platform, if you are, it’s a free-for-all pedagogy. And if it’s dependent only on the teacher’s style of delivery. That whole scene doesn’t work because you are not able to standardise the way that you educate.

David:

There’s no doubt that you need to be able to get some efficiencies of scale there to be able to do that. We’ve talked a little bit about the founding teams and why you’re interested in them. We’ve even talked a little bit about the advice about growing as they are. I want to talk a little bit about domestic markets versus export markets, and in your view, in the Indian context, are you more interested in that traction domestically or internationally, or is it only a domestic play for you?

Abhishek:

I would say it’s more of a domestic play for me, but I’m not closed to an international play. But the way I see it, and it’s more personal, like I don’t have a thesis for it. The way I see it is that there’s a lot of context needed to launch an EdTech company in a particular geography, and if you don’t have that context then you have to build that context or get somebody on board who has that context. It is true with India. It is true with Australia. It’s true with the US and Europe, and that’s where sometimes I don’t understand that context. And if somebody comes to me, an entrepreneur comes to me, and he says, “Hey, I’m in a tech company, but India is saturated. I’m going to go to Indonesia or Malaysia and launch my product.” Unless you have a Malaysian educator or a tech founder, I just don’t see how you’ll be able to do it. You will waste probably three to four months of time building that context before you can think about the right product-content mix. But if you come with somebody who understands it, and who has been there and done that, or actually understands the insight and the context of the market to kind of take that bit. But, for us, structure-wise, it has to be an Indian company for us to invest in.

David:

The other question for you is, take Australia for example: Australia has a sort of parallel market being New Zealand, and obviously there’s differences. But there are synergies. The US has Canada a little bit, the UK has various markets. Is there a sort of parallel market for Indian tech companies, or are they predominantly just in the Eurozone? Bangladesh? Or is it Sri Lanka or Pakistan, or somewhere else? Maybe not Pakistan, but you get my point.

Abhishek:

Indians don’t want to launch in Pakistan, definitely. Even though there is a good enough market in Pakistan, we have had our differences. I think the way you have to see it, in terms of context and Bangladesh and Sri Lanka becomes very small, or even Nepal for that matter, or Burma for that matter, and India is so vast, so big that, and it has just started as you said, it’s a developing economy, it’s still the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot that needs to be done to democratise education to the deep corners of India. I think we’ve just served a very small percentage of India. My belief is that education, or rather technology, can democratise education. Physical education institutes can’t because of their usual constraints.

My belief is there’s a lot of work to be done and a lot of big businesses to be made just by doing  India. There are a few companies that have seen that, and have worked in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. But again, once you become large you try to expand into these markets, and not as the first port of call. But I’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs think about Indonesia or Malaysia, Indonesia being a large market. A lot of people think about their product extension, and partnering with some content provider or kind of building a team in Indonesia.

David:

In fact we actually talked about that this morning. Maria Spies from Holon IQ and I talked about the Indonesian market and then, in fact, anecdotally when I met with some EdTech founders in Bangalore this time last year, they actually talked about North Africa as being a market of interest, and there were similarities between those markets for them essentially in emerging economies, and essentially emerging education systems.

So I think we’ve got a really good understanding of the view around the Indian EdTech space right now. Let’s talk briefly about the COVID situation, and what it’s done. I know we’ve talked about B2B, B2C, and the change that’s making. Let’s talk a little bit about that. Let’s spend a couple minutes, and then I want to talk about what the future might look like. And then, if we’ve got time, we’ll take a couple questions from the audience. So let’s start with talking a little bit about COVID, what the impacts they have.

Abhishek:

So far COVID numbers are actually increasing in India. When it started in March, and when the lockdown happened, we thought it was a couple of months, and that’s how we made the plan. But it extended to four months, six months, and now we’re thinking that the schools at least won’t open till June. There are words that colleges will open probably in December or January, but I’m a skeptic, looking at the increasing numbers. I don’t think we should put our kids to risk. The schools I don’t think were open till June. If you looked at the numbers lately, we are still accelerating.

David:

So we shouldn’t talk too much about this. I’m in Melbourne, so I might cry. Actually people who are in Australia right now, we’re having a tough time, and we’ve just coming to terms in the last couple of days with an extended lockdown.

Do you think K-12 schools won’t open until June 2021? Do you think colleges are going to open  early next year?

Abhishek:

There were talks of colleges opening in September, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. My bet is that, and it’s a strong bet, that the colleges will at least open in June provided that we reach some kind of a leveling of COVID cases, which is what we are hoping. But my belief is K-12 schools will not open until June. But with that said, what COVID has done is essentially two things: primarily, it’s a tailwind, and a bunch of things that you can talk about in terms of, but there’s a huge difference in the behavior of the educational institutes and the behavior to attend these schools. The adoption rate for online schooling, which was unheard of at least from the college side, has now skyrocketed. My belief is that some of the adoption and the way of using tools, presentations, and online classes will continue. Remember that what we were talking about, absenteeism, could be a thing of the past. I mean if a student wants to miss physical school, let’s say schools open up on July 21, and wants to say, “Hey, I want to do an online class.” I think there will be more takers than what they are today. Today the schools are very strict on that you have to have a certain percentage, but is that something that will change in the future? I think it will.

My belief is that more schools will adopt technologies that help them to deliver education digitally, and what I’ve also started to discuss, and have thoughts about, and a bunch of these colleges that, “Hey, is it really important to go and attend Stanford physically? Can I take a less expensive course and attend it from sitting in Delhi for the four years?” I’m not a big fan of it. I think if you are going to college, that’s a great thing because you learn a lot other than just academics. I think you learn being a better person and you can learn being a bad person as well. But you learn a lot physically with your peers as well, rather than just with teachers and education. So I’m a firm believer that students should go to college. But I think that will also see some change for colleges launching digital courses and fully four-year courses which they’re providing a degree for.

David:

Fantastic. So it’s been five years time. We come back. We have this conversation again. What do you think will be the fundamental change in the EdTech marketing in India?

Abhishek:

Good that you mentioned the EdTech market in India, because I was gonna say that you’ll find more grey hair on me. I haven’t thought a lot about how five years will bring that change, but my belief is that there will be a fairly large, at least 10 to 15 or 20 large EdTech companies in India that will be imparting education online. My belief is, and since India also has far harder to reach places, my belief is there will be a public-private partnership of schools. One thing that you have to understand is that the quality of teachers in India drops after a certain point. So I think we have to teach our kids with whatever constraints, and the teachers that are available, the only way to do that is using online education and using content that I can beam into places I can’t reach. I think that is going to happen. You will see an emergence of an online-offline concept of classes where offline it will only be proctored, but the teacher would actually be online teaching the course on a daily basis. Similarly I see that for school. I think this will also happen for college, but much lesser than schools because it’s the need of the hour for a lot of places in  India.

If public schools really have to do well, they have to adopt this. They have to get teachers who are teaching at any given time, four or five, or even 10 or 20 schools that are in far-reaching places where I can’t procure or hire good quality teachers. Or he isn’t ready to come to the villages. I think that’s the only way that we can really elevate the quality of education of some of these schools in India.

David:

We’re getting very close to the time that we got allocated, and I just wanted to personally thank you again, Abhishek, for the time you’ve given us many times, including today. I just learned so much from your understanding of the EdTech sector, and there’s no doubt that the Indian sector is certainly of huge interest to all of us.