Tuesday, May 21, 2024

BYJU’S makes its owner a billionaire

BYJU’s, the learning app which has a “mandatory” presence on our TV sets between the ad breaks, has hit the valuation of almost $6 billion almost overnight.

This makes Byju Raveendran, a former classroom teacher and one who developed the education app about seven years ago, one of India’s newest billionaire.  Still not 40, Raveendran joined the billionaire club after his Think and Learn Pvt Ltd scored $150 million in funding earlier this month, boosting the overall value to $5.7 billion for the company.

That BYJU’S have deep pockets shouldn’t come as a surprise. Afterall Shahrukh Khan is a brand ambassador and jersey rights of Indian cricket team is now with the company.

Originating from a typical your next-door family, Raveendran did have education in the air he breathed since both his parents were teachers. Yet none had any pretensions of being a business-person. But Raveendran is different. He always harboured ambition to crack English-speaking countries for the education app he had in mind. He used to fly in YouTube stars to feature in his teaching videos.

By 2011, Raveendran’s entrepreneurial wings were all set to take a flight. He launched “Think and Learn” the same year, offering online lessons before launching his main app in 2015. In due course, he had more than 3.5 crore users out of whom about 24 lakhs pay an annual fees of about Rs 10,000. Numbers brought in long-term investors such as pension funds and sovereign wealth funds.  It caught the eye of some of industry’s biggest investors in Naspers Ventures and Tencent Holdings Ltd to Sequoia Capital and Facebook-owner Mark Zuckerberg’s wife, Priscilla Chan. BYJU’s had well and truly taken off. It’s revenues are expected to “more than double to Rs 3000 crore ($435 million) in the year ending March 2020,” as per Raveendran.

Online learning is booming worldwide. While internet usage is exploding, giving credit to the ubiquitous cheap smartphones and wireless plans, India’s online learning market is expected to more than double to $5.7 billion by 2020, according to the government-backed India Brand Equity Foundation. “Education technology for kindergarten through Class 12 is one of the fastest-growing segments of the country’s internet market,” said Anil Kumar, CEO of Redseer Management Consulting Pvt Ltd.

BYJU’S provided educational content to students from class 1 to 12. It trains students for examinations such as IIT-JEE, NEET, CAT, IAS as well as for international examinations such as GRE and GMAT. The main focus is on mathematics and science where concepts are explained using digital animation videos. The app claims to tailor the content as per a student’s pace and style. The average time a student spends on the app is 53 minutes.  The app will soon be available in several regional Indian languages this year.

The biggest and the latest conquest of Raveendran is the announcement that the BYJU’s will team up with Walt Disney Co and take its service to US shores by early 2020. The 37-year-old entrepreneur is taking his biggest step and broadening his base geographically and rising on vertical ladder, creatively. In his new app, Disney characters, from The Lion King’s Simba to Frozen’s Anna, will teach math and English to students from grades one through three. The same characters star in animated videos, games, stories and interactive quizzes.

“Kids everywhere relate to Disneys’ Simba or Moana, who grip kids attention before we take them through the loop of learning,” said Raveendran, “In Disney, we expect to have found a ready-made audience.” The app will have the learning of subjects with Disney characters and would be a refined mix of context of the entertainment giant classics while staying true to the narrative of the content.

“Indian education startups are well set to seize the global opportunity given that they already cater to a large English-speaking base and have created unique education content,” Raveendran explained. Following a simple approach of captivating the attention of kids for short durations through informative content capsules, Byjus has hit the jackpot.

Raveendran’s success story begins in a small Kerala village called Azhikode where the founder of BYJU’S grew up. The one with aspirations to teach the world, he himself was a reluctant student, more interested in football. He began his education in a Malayalee medium school but he was keen on English too. His passion for maths though helped him become an engineer.

Raveendran began by helping friends crack entry exams to top Indian engineering and management schools. The classes soon swelled. It was to the extent that he needed to hire sport stadiums to teach aspirants. He was now a celebrity teacher. He began visiting multiple cities during weekends.

In BYJU’S latest funding round, the entrepreneur bought shares to maintain his equity level. Along with his wife and brother, the Raveendran clan now holds a total stake of about 35 per cent, said an insider.

BYJU’S is on a fundraising spree.  Earlier this month, it raised $150 million investment led by Qatar Investment Authority (QIA). The round also saw participation from Owl Ventures, a leading investor in education technology. In March, 2019, the company secured Rs 214 crore in funding from its existing investors New York-headquartered equity firm General Atlantic and Chinese conglomerate Tencent.

The Bengaluru-based unicorn had earlier announced that it has tripled its revenue to Rs 1,430 crore in FY 18-19, and also turned profitable on a full year basis. BYJU’S added that its app is recording high adoption, with an 85 percent annual renewal from small towns and cities. This shows an increasing acceptance of digital learning as a primary tool for learning at home.


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