With all major edtech startups BYJU’S, Vedantu, Toppr focussing heavily on coding and programming courses for kids, this has emerged as the new battleground for edtech in India. What is most lucrative about these homegrown coding platforms is that not only are they seeing traction in India, but they also have great adoption in international markets. For instance, WhiteHat Jr’s revenue grew by 10x after it expanded into the US.
And WhiteHat is not alone in tapping the international students’ market for success. New Delhi-based Coding Ninjas has also found similar traction in overseas markets with 40%-45% of its “Coding NinjasNi Junior” users being from abroad. Among the factors driving the growth of Indian platforms overseas are the comparatively low price charged by Indian startups and the lack of personalised teaching alternatives in many countries.
While many such coding platforms have sprung up in India, what sets Coding Ninjas apart is that while its Junior programme is fairly new, the startup has been teaching programming courses to Indian college students online since 2016.
Cofounder Ankush Singla sees this experience as a huge advantage for the children-focussed products as well. “Being into the college market has given us access to a pool of about 20K students who are either learning computer programming or are currently working as computer programmers in the industry. This enriches our team with a very unique teacher pool and hence, gives us an edge over the competition,” Singla told Inc42.
Coding Ninjas Junior courses include relevant maths and science concepts that reflect what the students are learning in schools. For example, if they are learning gravity in their school curriculum, their coding course project/assignment will include some references to that concept. At the same time, there is also an understanding that not all child learners will end up becoming software developers.
“We believe that coding for kids is something that should not be a standalone product, coding is something that can be used to actually show kids the practical implications of what they are learning in school,” the cofounder added.
He believes that coding is just maths 2.0 and whatever career path one chooses, programming is a helpful skill to have in the 21st century.
“The biggest difference you will see in students before and after learning to code is that they move away from being a consumer to being a creator,” he added.
The Alternative To College Rote-Learning
What sets the Coding Ninjas curriculum apart from computer science colleges, Singla believes, is colleges teach coding like it’s history, instead of being taught on the basis of principles like math. “Colleges are teaching it like something which can be remembered and be written in the exam. But, the right way to teach coding is to get the student to write a lot of code, similar to how we learn maths,” he added.
In order to address this gap, Coding Ninjas designed its courses to give more time to the learner to actually write the code than explaining the theory. For instance, if there are 60 hours of video content on a subject, the students will be expected to write at least 150 hours of code on it.
“If I am teaching a concept maybe I will spend 5-10 mins to tell what it is, and then I spend 30 mins telling the students how to use those concepts to code by actually implementing a program. And then I expect them to write a lot of code,” Singla said.
He added that while some colleges have a culture of practical learning for coding, it’s all dependent on the trend being set by senior students for the juniors. There are a lot of active coding clubs who take care of practical learning, but not every college has that.
For the senior-level courses, 75% of Coding Ninjas’ users are college students and 25% of students are working professionals. However, the company only markets to college students, and working professionals are said to have joined through word of mouth thanks to the job successes seen by college learners. About 20%-25% of these college students enrolling for Coding Ninjas are from Tier 1 colleges, including the likes of IITs, NITs, Thapar University, NSIT and others.
Among its inventory of 10-11 courses, the lowest performing course accounts for 5%-6% of the user base, while the highest performing one — C++ fundamentals course — makes for 20% users. The company claims to have a healthy repeat rate of 35%-40%. The users in the seniors programme are mostly from Indian colleges, while international students make up for some 2%-3% of seniors.
The courses in the senior category are pre-recorded sessions and hence, self-paced. Students get five months to complete a course but some do finish the course in 2-3 months. Though the course is self paced it also offers students 1:1 assistance through real-time teaching assistants. The course fee ranges between INR 8K to INR 30K in the senior category. In the case of junior courses, the packages are priced at about INR 694 – INR 778 per class.
“We realised that irrespective of the college, the problems kind of persists everywhere. Students need to practice a lot to master coding and this is not really part of the college curriculums today,” Singla said.
Coding Ninjas also offers a coding bootcamp called Career Camp where students undergo rigorous online training to upskill and reskill their skillset with in-demand courses like Machine Learning, Web Development, Data Science and Android.
Word-Of-Mouth Marketing Reaches New Heights
A lot of the word-of-mouth marketing is thanks to the student ambassadors programme which has over 500 active ambassadors across 350 different colleges. These Coding Ninjas ambassadors help the company to conduct a lot of workshops and webinars in colleges to introduce courses to students. Further, student reviews on Quora, Facebook and Google are said to contribute a lot of orders for the company. Interestingly, digital marketing only contributes to only 12% of its orders.
While the company’s primary efforts have been towards acquiring users directly, Coding Ninjas has also seen some progress in the B2B space after the Covid-19 outbreak. According to Singla, after the pandemic, colleges have started realising that now they need help in offering students a better learning experience digitally. The company claims to have witnessed an increase of 130% in student enrollment during the pandemic.
The Info Edge-backed company has recently tied up with Chitkara University in Punjab to help the first-year engineering students learn programming fundamentals in Python. The collaborated program is designed to be taught in a blended learning format — the students will learn from Coding Ninjas’ course modules and get live sessions from the faculty members of the Chitkara University.
The breadth of courses include programming fundamentals as well as advanced courses such as machine learning, data science, web development and more. The courses are completely online and are available in both English and Hindi languages. Coding Ninjas reported a revenue of $2Mn in FY2019-20 and claims to be on track to make 2.5X to 3X of that in FY2020-21.
Going From Offline To Online Learning
Founded by Singla, Kannu Mittal and Dhawal Parate in 2016, Coding Ninjas started as an offline initiative to fill the knowledge gap between colleges and industry. Within a year, though, it was running as a blended learning model, which lasted till 2019. The company only moved its courses fully online in late 2019.
Although it is no longer dependent on offline learning, Singla claimed that that phase for Coding Ninjas helped it perfect the course content and teaching methodology. “The problem with online learning courses, in general, is that people get demotivated very soon. Learning is a social experience and everybody wants instant access to someone for resolving doubts, if they get stuck somewhere,” he added.
This realisation led the company to integrate a Teaching Assistant model for all enrolled students. Currently, there are over 2000 teaching assistants on the platform made up of ex-students of Coding Ninjas. The primary objective of these TAs is to help in doubt resolution of enrolled students throughout the course duration. This model is particularly useful for the senior students programme where the classes are conducted through pre-recorded lectures, as opposed to 1:1 live classes in the junior category.
In the junior programmes, TAs get paid on an hourly basis. For example, if they teach for 100 hours in a month they will earn about INR 30K in compensation. Whereas in the senior programme, a variable pay structure is followed. Here, the compensation is calculated based on two factors including how many doubts they are resolving, and the quality of that doubt resolution as well. The quality of doubt resolution is measured based on the rating given by students post the conversation. So the pay for TAs can vary from INR 20K to as much as INR 1 Lakh.
“The kind of mindset shift we are seeing in new parents is very exciting, they are looking at coding as a means to turn their kids unhealthy screen time intot healthy screen time. Junior coding courses are a major growth area for us. In the coming years, we will focus on expanding our footprint in this category across markets,” said Singla.
- The article was updated to reflect that Coding Ninjas’ income sharing agreement (ISA) model has been discontinued.
- Some sections of this article have been edited post-publishing to fix typographical errors and improve clarity of language.