Vedantu: from idea to delivering the idea. Candid conversation with co-founder Pulkit Jain

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India has one of the largest education systems in the world with over 225 million students and around 36000 higher education institutes. In spite of these astonishing figures there is still a lot of room for growth & development in the education industry. The online education market size of India is expected to touch a whopping 40 billion USD by 2017. With a big social factor attached to it, the education sector is certainly attracting a lot of entrepreneurs. One such EdTech startup which is taking quality education to even the remotest places of the country is Vedantu.

Vedantu is an education technology startup that provides live online tutoring sessions for students from grade 6 to 12 in maths and science along with preparation courses for exams such as NTSE, PSA, IMO, JEE Mains, etc. The company uses an in-house platform WAVE, short for whiteboard, audio and video technology, to enable live learning and interaction between the students and the teachers. The focus of the company is on providing 1-to-1 tutoring to the students for a more personalized learning experience. The students can also rate the session and the teacher after taking the sessions. Vedantu is co-founded by Vamsi Krishna, Saurabh Saxena, Pulkit Jain and Anand Prakash was launched  in October 2014 to public. The same team which had earlier launched Lakshya, a test preparation and training venture. This Bangalore based ed-tech startup has also raised USD $ 5 million in a Series A round of funding within just 6 months of their public launch, from Accel Partners and Tiger Global Management.

We caught up with Pulkit Jain, the Co-Founder & Head – Product at Vedantu Innovations Pvt. Ltd., to share the story behind this EdTech venture.

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Give us a snapshot of your professional journey till now. When & how did the entrepreneurial bug bite you?

All of us, co-founders of Vedantu, are childhood friends. Right after finishing our graduation at IIT, we accepted corporate jobs, as is the norm. However, within six months we realized that it was not our true calling. We wanted to take up something that would create a deep positive impact at a place where no facilities existed. Hence, in 2006 we started our journey as teachers from a very small rural place – Barnala in Punjab, in Northern India. Lakshya, our first venture in education was a highly successful Test Prep Institute. I, along with my 3 friends, have taught and mentored nearly 10,000 students amongst us. In seven years, we scaled Lakshya to 4 locations, catering to over 3000 students annually with 60 teachers on-board.

While the journey at Lakshya was extremely gratifying, we also realized the limitations of offline-tutoring model. So we exited our venture with a vision to start something which can touch more people and be instrumental in bringing forth a bigger change. Thus Vedantu was born. At Vedantu we are focused on using technology to make quality education accessible and create more ‘teachers by choice’. Personalization and democratization of education is at the core of what we do. I head the Product team, fondly called RDX [ Research Develop Explore]. The team has built a technology platform from the scratch called WAVE [Whiteboard, Audio and Video Environment] to recreate the most personalized live learning environment between a student and a teacher. In just over a year, we have scaled the platform to facilitate more than 50,000 hours of live learning & teaching.

Vedantu Co-Founders LtoR Anand Prakash, Saurabh Saxena, Pulkit Jain, Vamsi Krishna

What were the early days at Vedantu like?

When we conceptualized Vedantu we knew that the model had the potential to completely disrupt how learning takes place. Essentially, when we launched our B2C model, we set out to test two hypothesis – whether students would be able to study effectively online and if students would find live 1-to-1 online learning mode good enough to pay for it? Encouraged by the very positive response to our Closed Alpha phase, we launched the product in Public Beta in October 2014 and there has been no turning back since then. Vedantu has been growing at a rapid clip and within just six months of our public launch, we raised USD 5 million in a Series A round of funding from marquee investors such as Tiger Global & Accel Partners, which is probably the fastest for any startup in the Indian Ed-Tech space. 

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Can you please describe what a typical day at office is like? What sets Vedantu culture apart?

Vedantu is a flat, non-hierarchical organization. We have a no policy culture – we trust Vedans to take the responsibility for their actions. Each member of our team is driven by Vedantu’s mission to personalize and democratize learning with the help of technology. Our next goal is to achieve deep penetration of Vedantu’s platform to enable quality teaching/learning beyond the boundaries of metros and tier I cities. We want to take the platform to every student who doesn’t have access to quality teachers and bring on board every passionate & talented individual who wants to take up teaching. Every day, we huddle as a team, brainstorm and work collaboratively to achieve this vision. We work hard and party harder.

Can you tell us about the technology stack used at Vedantu?

Sure. We built the WAVE [ Whiteboard, Audio and Video environment] technology ground up to enable teachers and students to have the best live personalized learning experience. The goal was to develop the best platform that helps address challenges faced by teachers and students and not force-fit existing technology that may not be optimum for two-way live audio and video interactions. We have worked intensively on technologies like JAVA, Python, Play Framework, NodeJS, MongoDB, OrientDB, Hbase, Hadoop, AWS, Google Cloud, ElasticSearch, Lucene, Android Development etc. Frankly speaking, we are open to using any technology that helps us seamlessly run hundreds of live learning sessions concurrently and address the challenge of scale as we experience massive growth.

Is there any technology that you’re personally betting on to help you scale up?

We are working progressively to bring Vedantu’s experience on mobile phones and tablets to achieve deep penetration so that the students in tier 2 towns and beyond can have access to quality education. Given deep penetration of android devices in India, we are betting big on it to achieve our vision of reaching students not just in tier 1 cities but also in tier 2 cities and beyond.  

How are you using Business Intelligence and analytics at your company?

As far as 1-to-1 live online tutoring is concerned, Vedantu is a pioneer in India. Since we have no precedent to learn from, we use analytics to understand user behaviour and use those insights to evolve the platform accordingly. We are constantly monitoring the global trends in this space to assess how we can enhance the platform and integrate any new features that may suit the Indian context.

In terms of workings of our product, Vedantu is probably the only platform that uses data analytics and algorithms to connect the most relevant teachers with students for optimised learning. We also provide insights to teachers on each session so that they can continuously tailor their teaching methods to suit student-specific requirements.  

How else does technology help your company stand apart from its rivals?

Most of the other companies in the online education space offer asynchronous or content driven learning. ‘Live connection’ with teachers anytime anywhere is what differentiates us. As mentioned earlier, this live connection is made possible by the sophisticated WAVE technology that connects students and teachers. The best part is that the technology lets a session happen seamlessly on even low and fluctuating band-widths to suit the Indian conditions. This was the biggest challenge and we have successfully overcome it. If the speed is 1 mbps, all three elements [Whiteboard, Audio, Video] work, but if the speed falls below that [say 512 Kbps] then the platform automatically switches only to the Whiteboard & Audio mode. If the speed drops below 100 kbps then, click to call feature on the platform can be used to initiate a two way communication, connecting the teacher and the student on their mobile phones while they continue to use the Whiteboard functionality via Internet. Another technological feature is that an hour-long recording is stored in a few KBs for future reference.

What are some of the attributes you look out for in prospective technology employees?

We are building a top-notch technology platform from the scratch. We seek talented team-mates who are ready to learn and unlearn given how fast technology trends change. We look out for people capable of building systems from the scratch, flexible, adaptive and most importantly individuals who can align with our vision.

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How do you keep up to date with the latest happenings in the technology world?

Vedantu is a technology company at the core. We are tech enthusiasts and keenly follow global technology trends. We encourage Vedans to be abreast of the latest technologies by attending conferences, internal knowledge sharing sessions, etc. Our teams sign up for relevant courses on Coursera to acquire or refresh their skills.  We also work with external domain experts who have an edge in a specific technology area.

Which Vedantu value resonates best with you? What gets you excited about coming to work every day?

Our vision is to create a knowledge network where any student can tap into a teacher directly and learning can happen in a personalized way, anytime and anywhere. We are excited that we are attempting something different that has not been tried in India and trying to radically shift how learning takes place for thousands of students. Every time a session happens on a platform where we are able to connect a student with a high quality teacher for personalized learning, we feel a sense of achievement.  We are thrilled by the stories that we have encountered. For example, a student in IIT Bombay who went to Brazil to pursue internship continued to conduct live teaching sessions with students in India, even while he was away.  Another teacher on the platform [alumnus of IIT BHU], who works full time, has taught for more than 1700 hours out of sheer passion to teach and share knowledge. These are small sparks, harbinger of the much bigger change to come.

Any piece of advice for the techies out there? 

I think it is important to dream, as late president Dr. A. P. J Abdul Kalam stated – “Great dreams of great dreamers are always transcended.” Don’t be shy to experiment and if you believe in something don’t leave any stone unturned till you achieve what you set out to do. Having started two ventures, I can confidently tell you that there are no shortcuts to success. Keep learning every day and keep experimenting.

 

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