The COVID-19 lockdown has accelerated digitalisation in the e-learning space, sparking a boom for edtech startups.
A report by BARC India and Nielsen revealed that there has been a 30 percent increase in the time spent on education apps on smartphones since the lockdown. Meanwhile, a SimilarWeb survey showed that the edtech segment saw an increase in user visits by 26 percent between April 2019 and March 2020, compared to the same period between 2018-19.
Gurugram-based live online education platform NeoStencil is among the startups vying for a piece of the e-learning pie. The edtech startup claims to have doubled its partnerships, joining hands with a 100 institutes within three months of the lockdown as compared to its earlier base of 50 institutes (enrolled over five years).
Founded in 2014 by two brothers, Kush Beejal and Love Beejal , NeoStencil is an online platform that live-streams coaching classes to prepare for government and competitive exams such as UPSC, GATE, Judiciary, NET, JEE, and NEET.
Speaking to YourStory, NeoStencil Founder and CEO Kush says the startup currently has around 150,000 active users preparing on the platform, with paid users comprising 10 percent of this user base.
Kush explains that most competitive exam students aspirants take coaching to get admission to top educational institutes. He says he noticed that good quality coaching was available in brick-and-mortar coaching institutes, but was not accessible to all aspiring students.
“NeoStencil realised the opportunity in leveraging technology to bridge the gap between two sets of people. We provide value to both stakeholders. We consolidate a fragmented base of institutes and digitise them, and help students access institutes of their choice and compete in exams at an equal footing with offline students,” Kush explains.
Incidentally, Love stepped down from his responsibilities as co-founder in 2018 and moved to the US.
Growth amid the pandemic
According to a report by RedSeer and Omidyar Network India, the post-K12 edtech market is expected to grow 3.7 times to touch $1.8 billion by 2022. The report also highlights that the coronavirus pandemic is proving to be one of the biggest game-changers for the Indian edtech sector.
Amid the growing demand for its live-streaming services, Kush says the startup has been receiving a significant number of queries from students in Tier II and III cities, who want to prepare for exams from their hometowns and access top institutes.
Speaking about the impact of COVID-19 on the edtech space, the founder says, “It [coronavirus] has saved the Indian edtech industry billions of dollars and two to three years of time that it would have otherwise spent on changing the consumer behaviour towards e-learning. With classes in schools, colleges, and coaching institutes going online, there has certainly been a shift in consumer behaviour in favour of online classes as they can see the benefits of convenience and flexibility in terms of timing and commute.”
Kush adds that while students and instructors now have access to Zoom and other video software, “content curation will be the key”.
NeoStencil is providing a comprehensive live-learning platform for exam preparation where students can access the live and video-on-demand courses from institutes of their choice. They can also use a host of other services such as test series, doubts session, study material, counselling, daily quizzes and news analysis, answer writing practice, and so on.
The idea is to help students across the country become a part of real-time classroom tuition programmes that are more engaging and competitive. The startup claims to have helped more than 300 students get selected to India’s most prestigious services such as IAS, IPS, IRS and state civil services.
“We began our journey with India’s most coveted job: the IAS. It was a relatively untapped segment and the problem was very big. As many as 12 lakh aspirants appear for the exam every year, spending an average of five to six years on preparation and even quitting their jobs to prepare full time. After a few pivots and nearly five years of helping the supply meet the demand and vice-versa, NeoStencil has now evolved as an online comprehensive test prep hub in the post K-12 segment with a B2B2C model,” Kush says.
Business and future plans
Speaking about the business model, Kush says NeoStencil is a curated marketplace and works on a B2B2C model.
The startup partners with multiple coaching institutes for one exam segment, and profiles them based on past results, reviews and ratings. The startup lets the students select their preferred institute and also allows them to design their own course bundle by choosing different courses from different institutes.
“With institutes, we work on a zero onboarding cost and a purely supplementary revenue sharing model. NeoStencil’s contribution margin stands above 40 percent. The pricing for courses is based on market discovery, but is nearly the same as offline fee,” he adds.
Currently, NeoStencil has partnered with coaching institutes across cities, including in Delhi, Jaipur, Pune, Trivandrum, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kota, Jodhpur, Lucknow, and Patna.
It has partnered with several coaching centres, including Target UPSC (Pune), Lukmaan IAS (New Delhi), Pavan Kumar IAS Coaching Centre (New Delhi), iLearn IAS (Kerala), and NICE IAS (New Delhi), Engineers Zone (Delhi-NCR) among others.
The startup competes with physical institutes such as Vajiram and Ravi IAS Coaching Centre (New Delhi), Made Easy Coaching Centre (Kolkata), and Rau's IAS Study Circle (New Delhi), and edtech players such as Unacademy, TopRankers, and Adda247.
Speaking about future plans, Kush says the startup aims to partner with 500 test prep institutions in the next two years and make coaching available to around two million students.
The startup is in talks with investors and is looking to finalise a funding deal soon. However, the founder declined to reveal further details. He says the team is expecting 3 to 4x growth in FY21 without external funding.
“Our vision is to build a leading online test prep or coaching hub, which is the go-to platform for leading test prep institutes and students to meet and get exam-ready,” Kush says.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)
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