For Pavan Chauhan and Ritesh Hemrajani, learning flourishes only when you focus on a customised approach. "In a classroom environment, you have 30-40 kids (or even more) and tuition centres are equally crowded. So it becomes extremely difficult to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each student. Our basic idea was to leverage technology to identify and understand each student's specific requirements and provide them with customised content based on that," explains Chauhan.
The concept took a concrete shape when Chauhan (co-founder and MD) and Hemrajani (co-founder and Director) of Applect Learning Systems Pvt Ltd launched the learning solutions portal Meritnation.com in 2009. The online learning and assessment solutions company caters to the learning needs of students in the K-12 segment across CBSE, ICSE and other state boards (Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) and was one of the Techcircle Fastrack 2012 Winners.
Both Chauhan and Hemrajani are IIM Bangalore alumni and they have over ten years of experience in the education industry, with expertise in the areas of educational content development and curriculum design.
Meritnation has a student base of around 25 lakh (free registered students, not paid subscribers) and the company is currently operating out of its Delhi office. The content is generated by an in-house team which includes teachers and subject matter experts. The company also has animators and graphic designers on board and the content is constantly fine-tuned in tune with students' feedback.
The online K-12 education industry is worth $1.5-2 billion at this point of time and with competition toughening among students, custom learning solutions deployed online see quite a few takers. Meritnation has already raised close to Rs 31 crore from BSE-listed Info Edge (India) Ltd (the company behind Naukri.com) across three rounds. The first funding came in 2008 when the company received around Rs 6 .5 crore, followed by Rs 5 crore in 2010 and another Rs 20 crore in September 2011. The company does not require any more funds as of now, but it will look for a fresh round of funding in 2014.
The education startup has a subscription-based revenue model while the features offered include study material, videos and animations, adaptive assessments and interactive modules, among others. Students can opt for an annual subscription for the entire course or may pick from basic or advanced online courses as per their requirements. Subscription charges vary as well â€“ from Rs 1,000 to Rs 10,000. In addition to standard online and offline payment modes, one also gets the cash pick-up facility.
Brick-and-mortar Facilities Versus Meritnation
"What a tuition centre promises to do is similar to what a school does and at the end of the day, even at a tuition centre; you have a classroom scenario and a teacher. However, tuition centres only try to complement schools while we provide customised content based on each student's specific requirements," notes Chauhan.
But if students have instant access to the entire study material (discussed in classrooms over the course of a year), do they need to go to school?
"It depends on the grade a student is in. Young children would obviously need a facilitator to help them learn content," points out Chauhan. "However, in terms of content, we are covering the entire syllabus and it is totally aligned with the curriculum. So it's really comprehensive," he adds.
Although according to Chauhan, the biggest differentiating factor is the depth and width of the content that it offered by Meritnation. He also claims that Meritnation's student base of 25 lakh students is much larger than what any other competitor has as of now.
Opportunities & Expansion Plans
According to Chauhan, the education landscape is changing fast in the country and a huge number of school-going kids now have access to the Internet. Students now form 21 per cent of the total online population in India, compared to a meagre 14 per cent last year. Also, more and more kids are now using Tablets and smartphones â€“ in fact, the Tablet culture is spreading fast in schools and other educational facilities. Chauhan believes that it is important to push growth strategies in this space and leverage the handhelds to ensure that learning becomes more enjoyable and meaningful.
"We have had a 3x growth over the last one year," says Chauhan. "We started with study material that covered Standard VI-X (CBSE), went on to add content for XI-XII, and then covered the curricula of other boards as well. So it's an on-going process and it's growing fast," he comments.
In a bid to keep up with the market growth, Meritnation plans to invest in its content and technology capabilities â€“ scaling up the current team and building new apps. Right now, it is a 180-strong team and the company intends to increase the number to 250 in the next six months. It is also looking at other state boards to develop relevant content.
"At some point of time, we may advertise through mass media but as of now, we are focused on reaching out to schools and their students. And we already do a fair bit of online marketing," says Chauhan.
"Online learning is now getting traction in India and five years from now, it may become one of the focus areas in the education space. And we are keen to see ourselves in the leadership position there," he concludes.