By Deepsekhar Choudhury
The are plenty of stories of how Silicon Valley majors were started in garages. However, there's a bigger strain of commonality they have: founders who started tinkering with computer code as kids. Microsoft founder Bill Gates wrote his first computer program when he was 13 to help him play tic-tac-toe. Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg's tryst with coding began in sixth grade when he cooked up a game for his sisters.
White Hat Jr., a company founded in 2018 by novelist and former Discovery Network executive Karan Bajaj, teaches kids in the 6-14 age group to code. They are first initiated into the world of coding-logic, sequences, algorithms-which they then use to create computer games, animations and apps.
According to the founder, when the industrial revolution started, less than 5% schools taught mathematics which led to widespread unemployment. Today, less than 1% of schools teach coding in early childhood. A 2018 McKinsey report titled 'Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce' says: "We expect the fastest rise in the need for advanced IT and programming skills, which could grow as much as 90% between 2016 and 2030. People with these skills will inevitably be a minority."
The company offers online courses for progressive stages of learning- beginner, intermediate, advanced and professional. The pricing is uniform across the stages, but is differentiated on the basis of what's available in
the package-Rs 5,999 for a basic course that involves sequences, algorithms, variables, functions, events; Rs 29,999 for a standard module including animation, game design, advanced app structures; and Rs 89,999 for an advanced program that deals with data models, Artificial Intelligence, space technology. Classes are arranged 1:1 which means a student gets the full attention of the teacher. Teachers are selected through a screening process that eliminates contenders who fall below the 99th percentile.
Will people be open to paying that much for an online course given that platforms like Khan Academy and Harvard University-backed edX host free tutorials? Bajaj says less than 10% of kids are self-learners and the primary product differentiator for his model is a live teacher on the other end who teaches children to pick up skills that can help create commercial-ready products. "At an early age, they view themselves as builders-makers of games versus players of games, creators of videos versus surfers of videos," he adds.
Bajaj says White Hat is seeing a revenue growth of 100% month on month and has done 100,000 trials already, on-boarding 5,000 students. White Hat picked up $1.3 million in seed funding from Nexus Ventures and Omidyar
last year. The two VC firms led a Series A round of $10 million last month, in which Owl Ventures also participated.
The start-up is looking to on-board schools in a bid to scale up. "Schools have no alternative for what we are doing," says Bajaj. He also plans to take his company to a foreign market by the end of this year.