“The real fun is not in creating a multibillion-dollar company but in changing the way millions think and learn” – Byju Raveendran, the CEO and Co-Founder of BYJU’S.
Today, BYJU’S is one of those Indian brands that is instantly recognised, making its presence felt not only within the region but internationally as well. The start-up is the only EdTech unicorn in India, and its founder is the newest member of the prestigious billionaire club in the world.
BYJU’s overall valuation stands at $5.7 billion with CEO and co-founder Byju Raveendran owning a 21% interest in the company with recent fundraising at the cost of $150 million. Needless to add, as it extends its reach across foreign markets, the EdTech unicorn has been on a fundraising binge, having raised $969.8 million from different investment capitalists so far.
In June 2019, to launch the Disney-BYJU’S Early Learn app for the domestic market, the firm joined forces with US-based media tycoon Disney’s India arm. The uniquely curated software provides children aged between six and eight with customised learning programmes while enticing them with famous stories and Disney classic characters such as Frozen, Cars, the Toy Story franchise, and so on.
While the growth of this EdTech startup is showing no signs of stopping, who is the man responsible for this global phenomenon?
Meet Byju Raveendran
Byju, a keen believer in self-learning, grew up in the Azhikode district of Kannur, Kerala. He went to a Malayalam-medium academy, unlike most city-bred entrepreneurs, and had an immediate passion for mathematics and science; the two subjects that also happen to be his strong points. In fact, when he candidly realises his “average” English ability in a recent interview, there was hardly any hesitation.
However, none of these variables has been a barrier to his vision. A successful EdTech company was founded by Byju, who set out to improve and transform the learning environment for thousands of students in India. One forged with a basic philosophy at its core: curiosity is necessary for learning!
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A Teacher First, An Entrepreneur Second
To be a successful entrepreneur in any industry, it’s crucial to have a passion and love what you do. Byju is a perfect example of this. In 2003, during his two-month break from a service engineering job abroad, Byju decided to help some of his friends appear in Bangalore for CAT. It was an informal way to help, and he took the test and scored 100 percentile as well. He began coaching some of his colleagues, and again took up the exam without any planning in 2005, and again scored a perfect 100 percentile. He also appeared this time for interviews with IIM-A, B, C and cleared all of them. Nevertheless, he opted not to try an MBA and instead saw the opportunity to teach students how to crack CAT.
So all in all, he just followed the entrepreneurial route by accident, but teaching was a decision he made. It was by word of mouth that the number of students increased slowly and gradually. It can be considered a very different type of offline education, as back in 2007 he will teach more than 1000 students in an auditorium.
The Journey From Offline To Online
Byju quickly began using the video format for CAT and related entrance tests, jumping across 9 cities. But it was in 2011, with the aid of some of his students who had graduated from IIMs, that he founded a firm called BYJU’S. It was in 2011 that they began to develop key learning items that are now part of the format focused on the app. Byju mentioned in an interview that making these items took 4 years. In reality, he managed to make it both successful and fascinating when developing items for students from standard 4 to standard 12.
Byju said, “We made sure that the learning experience was created in a format that students liked. It was always effective, but we tried making it interesting with interactive videos. To build a learning app for school students to get their fundamentals clear in those early crucial years when they start learning as it will have long-term impact. We are teaching students how they should learn rather than what they should learn.’
The multimedia room has always existed in the form of online recordings, along with its distinctive offline way of teaching in auditoriums. There was soon a change from online to core-learning. The goal was to make students from school understand better. It was all about how and why, rather than what, in Byju’s words.
Keeping Up With Advancing Technology
The plunge into the world of online teaching by Byju was well-timed, or rather a step ahead. And with the timing of the app launch becoming more or less perfect, he’s been keeping pace with technology. For a mobile-first world like ours, the rapid penetration of smartphones has enabled easy access. The way we deliver our content has improved. Technology has become an enabler. Byju’s app-based product has a distribution of over 1400+, not only metros but also smaller town students. The app-based model has some benefits, with any use, students grasp it quickly, and the app also starts to understand the behavior of student learning. Data plays a massive role in personalising learning.
In reality, in an offline or traditional process, Byju says personalising has become a sore point because it’s typically one of many forms of teaching. Visual and idea play a major role in personalising, and higher interaction time is often assured by a personal computer.
Funding for BYJU’S in 2020 & Expansion Plans
As per regulatory disclosures published by Entrackr, BYJU’S has received $122 million from DST Global. The financing comes after $23 million was received by BYJU’S from Mary Meeker’s BOND at the end of June. The financing comes after $23 million was received by BYJU’S from Mary Meeker’s BOND at the end of June.
Created by Israeli-Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, DST Global is purchasing a 1.2% position in EduTech Decacorn. In 2016, the fund invested in Swiggy and Udaan.
Byju’s meanwhile has earned $545 million in 2020 alone and has seen its valuation jump from $8 billion to $10.5 billion. The valuation for the new round though appears to be the same as the previous – $10.5 billion. Reports claim that BYJU’S is not done, and might raise more funds in the same round.
2020 has been a busy year for the organisation. Also eyeing overseas growth, the Byju Raveendran-led startup recently purchased White Hat Jr coding company for $300 million. In six new nations, such as the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Germany, Byju’s and White Hat Jr are planning for launch.
Byju’s company has been helped by the coronavirus lockdown, with schools closing and online learning taking over. The business has benefited from this online transition and now has more than 57 million students are using the platform. The startup, which had doubled its revenue in FY20 to ₹2800 crore, also made money during lockdown with its April sales clocking ₹340 crores and May sales amounting to ₹370 crores.
A Story Worth Telling
Byju Raveendran is a mathematical genius and his infectious creativity and enthusiasm make him the company’s perfect CEO-founder. None of the team members who participated at the beginning has left, while some have gone for their post-graduation and then returned. This is truly a great sign of leadership, which is one of the key components for the success of any startup.
For the sake of studying or knowing the subject, he emphasises learning rather than rote-learning for exams. Raveendran sincerely believes in making learning the focus of overall education. And while his plan may not be as subversive as his pitch likes to make it sound, he has succeeded in finding a way to turn it into a profitable enterprise with immense growth potential. That is really where his brilliance is. After all in John C. Maxwell’s words, “The courage of a great leader to fulfil his vision comes from passion, not position.”
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