Thirty-six-year-old Tarun Uppal is not new to the world of entrepreneurship. He embarked on the journey way back in 2003 from the basement of his house. His efforts finally gave birth to Creed Infotech in 2005, a company that catered to both Indian and US markets in the BPO, KPO, and education space.
In the course of working with customers in the education space, Tarun was exposed to the challenges that kids faced in school. He realised that a student’s performance should not necessarily be judged by only talent and calibre but also on the basis of the environment — tutors, parents, and mentors — the student finds him/herself in.
“I wanted to help in shifting focus from improving children to improving the approach to the upbringing of children,” says Tarun. He further found that 80 percent of a child’s success at school depends on the education he/she receives at home. And that parents sometimes struggle to find a scientific approach to deal with their children’s learning issues and seek performance-enhancing solutions.
Having discovered psychometrics to be an effective approach to enhance learning, in 2012 Tarun and his wife Roohi (who had an MBA degree in Finance and Marketing from the Institute of Management Studies, Himachal Pradesh University) started an online tutoring company, E Online Tutors Inc, in the US to provide tuition in Maths, Science, and English to K-12 students in North America and Oceania. Their psychometric testing system was put to use in discovering children’s natural learning styles and then connecting them to teachers with compatible teaching styles.
Although the procedure did not yield the desired results because of the lack of acumen and strategy execution, they saw the way forward when their daughter started attending a school in Chandigarh that placed emphasis on improving parenting skills.
It was in 2015 that they decided to rebrand their venture as Vnaya, offering online educational products and services with online tutoring. Starting a venture in Mohali, however, proved to be more difficult than in a metro city, and the initial stages of Tarun’s journey are reflective of this. He recalls how he used to attend conferences in New Delhi to become more familiar with the startup world. Says Tarun,
“That was the phase when I invested a lot of time and effort in trying to raise money. Gradually, I understood the right approach and we did and were able to generate an organic growth without raising any outside money.”
Ensuring the quality of learning skill
Vnaya’s free online assessment offers support based on specific needs and helps parents discover their children’s learning skills and styles. Its psychometric test allows parents to receive an online report for the same. Based on the report, parents get a free 30-minute counselling call from the trained learning leaders. Based on this call, Vnaya offers various solutions like online tutoring for kids and edu-counselling support for parents, which includes improving the communication skills of parents with their children.
The online tutoring services are available in Math, Science, and English for K-12 and college students. Parenting support is a one-month counselling programme where parents along with specially trained learning leaders work on two skill sets their children need to develop. Says Tarun,
“Apart from the paid services, we have free support available in the form of videos and blogs. Parents can search for the parenting issues they are facing and will get solutions in the form of videos and blogs written by world-renowned educators and learning leaders. Students too can register for free and take one free demo in the subject they need support.”
The startup uses a shared whiteboard virtual classroom tool to connect tutors and instructors. It is a one-on-one session where both students and tutors can talk, type, upload files, share screens, draw figures, and more.
Currently, there are close to 2,000 registered users. The criteria for selecting tutors includes background checks, prior teaching experience, English proficiency test, and academic excellence. Once the tutors are shortlisted and documentation is done, they need to go through a special proprietary training module designed by Vnaya which includes technical training on how to use the virtual whiteboard and a training programme on natural learning style methodology.
A mentor that matters
Vnaya has partnered with Patricia Porter based out of British Columbia, Canada, who has more than three decades of experience in education. Porter is an expert in children’s learning and has a Ph.D in Education from the University of British Columbia, Canada, and a Master’s in Education from the University of Birmingham, UK. Says Tarun,
“The content and knowledge base which we provide to parents to assist them in edu-parenting is either created or approved by Porter. The training material is our proprietary programme developed jointly by Porter and Vnaya.”
Vnaya charges monthly, quarterly, bi-annual, and annual subscriptions for tutoring services. Parenting support products are on a freemium model. According to Tarun, Vnaya has been growing at a rate of 200 percent YoY for the last two financial years.
Vnaya is based out of Mohali and is registered in the US. With a team of 50 full-time employees, Vnaya has customers in North America, Oceania, the UK, and the UAE.
Where is the market heading?
According to India Brand Equity Foundation, India holds a very crucial place in the global education ecosystem. It is estimated to have more than 1.4 million schools with 227 million students enrolled. When it comes to e-learning, India is considered second only to the US. The sector is currently pegged at $ 2–3 billion and is expected to touch $40 billion by 2017.
Students from primary classes to Class XII are now actively leveraging websites and apps in their search for excellent tutors. In the last few years, the approach of the parent, teacher, and student fraternity in India has been veering towards the online world, especially in urban and semi-urban India. A handful of startups rode high on this behavioural change and succeeded in the online tutoring domain. Some of the prominent names would be Vedantu, Vidyanext, Flipclass, Eduwizards, and Helloclass.