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Byju's Relentless Onward March—And He Has Only Just Begun

Founder Byju Raveendran has the opportunity to build a whole new learning paradigm, infused with artificial intelligence, cloud-based analytics and related technologies

Harichandan Arakali
Updated: Jan 27, 2020 04:55:48 PM UTC

I'm the Technology Editor at Forbes India and I love writing about all things tech. Explaining the big picture, where tech meets business and society, is what drives me. I don't get to do that every day, but I live for those well-crafted stories, written simply, sans jargon.

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Image: Nishant Ratnakar

A student using Think and Learn’s Byju’s online tutoring application on average engages with the app for 8.3 hours a week. That may only indirectly point to how effective Byju’s is in teaching a concept to the student, because given a choice, today’s generation of K-12 students would immediately gravitate to the smartphone or tablet.

However, parents of some 3 million students are satisfied enough with it to have their children be paid subscribers. About 85 percent of them are also renewing the subscriptions annually. Overall, Byju’s has about 42 million registered users, the Bengaluru unicorn—private ventures valued at $1 billion or more—has said.

Clearly, founder Byju Raveendran has come a long way over the last 15 years—from training students to crack college admission entrance tests, travelling from city to city and hiring auditoriums, to building the world’s most valued ed-tech company. And yet, in important ways, he’s just getting started.

The company’s valuation is said to have gone up to $8 billion—from about $5.5 billion in March last—after the company raised $200 million earlier this month from New York’s Tiger Global Management, according to reports including one in Economic Times. And Raveendran could be looking for another $1 billion in funding, the paper reported, citing two sources it didn’t name.

That figure may not be incredible quite apart from investors always looking to get in on the action at what is seen as a winner. There are two things that Raveendran must certainly be preparing to do. First, penetrate much deeper into small-town India, as the country’s broadband data access improves. And second, take the sophistication of his learning platform to an entirely higher level, by infusing artificial intelligence into it.

In the latter case, he has already taken an early step in the direction by acquiring a company that brought him a small team that knows how to do this. About a year ago, Think and Learn bought a Palo Alto-based company called Osmo, which made educational games for young children. The $120 million acquisition brought Byju’s a complement of experts in artificial intelligence and machine learning, led by Osmo’s co-founder Pramod Sharma.

It makes sense to expect that Sharma has certainly been tasked with building out the AI team, and also experiment with augmented reality and virtual reality to see how such technologies can be integrated into the Byju’s app to make the learning more effective for the end-user student. That is why, it wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that Raveendran is only getting started.

And in addition to investors who are happy to pump in hundreds of millions of dollars, Think and Learn is itself profitable now. The company tripled its revenue to Rs 1,480 crore in the fiscal year 2018-19, and clocked net profit of Rs 20 crore, it said in a recent statement. And it is on track to double revenues to Rs 3,000 crore in the current financial year, according to the statement.

While expanding the company’s operations to more towns and cities and even overseas, Raveendran now has the wherewithal to invest in building a whole new paradigm of learning, using AI, computer vision, machine learning, AR/VR and cloud-based analytics. And with 3 million paid users and growing, Byju’s will have the data it needs to feed its AI efforts. Expect a future version of the Byju’s app that adapts itself to each individual learner-student.

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