SaaS startup School Diary started as a parent-teacher communication platform but has developed 42 modules since, covering the entire data lifecycle of a K-12 educational institution
The startup claims to have reduced late payment of school fees by more than 50% and brought down expenses by 40%, besides boosting teachers’ productivity by 20% and students’ academic performance by 41%
School Diary underlines its user-friendly solutions and angel funding and mentorship from The Chennai Angels as the key factors propelling its growth
Ashish Chaturvedi and his wife found it overwhelming when their kid’s school bombarded them with information on every possible channel, from physical diary notes and frequent phone calls to texts and email messages. They wished there was a more organised and streamlined way for the school to communicate with them.
As a school teacher, Chaturvedi’s wife also found it challenging to keep parents informed about their children’s whereabouts at all times. Clearly, there was a ‘disconnect’ in parent-teacher communication, the couple felt.
The year was 2012, when WhatsApp was still an emerging concept. But Chaturvedi, who was completing his MBA from IIM-Calcutta at the time, was already working on a smartphone solution that could broadcast messages to a large audience.
He pitched the idea to his wife’s school, and to the couple’s surprise, the school principal loved it. The same year, Chaturvedi founded UFony, the parent company of Management Information Systems (MIS) platform School Diary.
The parent-teacher communication platform that started with preschools has grown significantly since its launch. Currently, it offers end-to-end SaaS solutions for 42 modules (more on that later), covering everything from admission to graduation day that happens within an educational institution. To date, the startup has served 1,000+ schools in 10 countries while more than 2.25 Lakh parents are registered on the platform.
“Although the edtech segment houses many MIS solutions, these are too scattered and need to be organised. Also, some of these solutions are too complex for not-so-tech-savvy users, or they do not reach/work for most of the vernacular and affordable schools in the country. Our goal is to become an easy-to-use, one-stop solution for schools, students, teachers and parents,” said Chaturvedi.
Although School Diary didn’t disclose its revenue, Chaturvedi said that the startup is aiming for a 100% YoY revenue increase with a 25% net profit in FY23.
How Simplified, Seamless Information Management Helps Schools
When Chaturvedi launched School Diary in 2012, the number of active internet users in India had just started to take off. According to Statista, there were about 159 Mn internet users in India in 2012. The number has gradually increased over the years, hitting a whopping 932 Mn in 2022 (a 486.3% increase in the last decade).
The initial challenges were obvious, given the low penetration of internet usage. “No one cared about mobile-first solutions. Besides, data charges were high, and people hesitated to share files and images,” recalled Chaturvedi.
Today, School Diary runs Android and iOS apps, as well as a user-friendly web interface. Usage types vary based on convenience/requirements. While 98% of parents and teachers use mobile apps for quick access, the admin staff of most schools use the website for managing data across modules.
Although the rise in smartphone adoption and the fall in data prices accelerated the startup’s growth and relevance, repeat business from partner schools became a steady revenue generator, said Chaturvedi.
Schools can pay an annual fee for the entire package based on student headcount or choose modules based on their requirements. These solutions can be customised and integrated with an institution’s existing software/system using open APIs.
“We have a near-free package [for communication and fee collection]. But schools have to pay more when they want premium features or customisation,” he explained.
School Diary claims that its solutions have reduced late payment of school fees by more than 50% and brought down expenses by 40% by saving manual labour and cumbersome paperwork.
On the other hand, teachers’ productivity has increased by 20% while students’ academic performances have improved by a whopping 41%. Additionally, to get all school stakeholders on a single platform, School Diary has onboarded providers such as book and uniform sellers, content providers and banks. The startup charges commission from these third-party providers for leveraging its platform.
As the startup gained prominence and popularity, many schools, including overseas institutions, were keen to come on board. “About 90% of our business in International markets has come to us organically,” said Chaturvedi.
The first international partnership came in 2017 when a school from the Philippines opted for its solutions. Today, Zoment (the international version of School Diary) is present in places such as the Middle East, Portugal, Oman, Hungary, Tanzania and Nigeria.
The Angel Thrust Accelerated New Learnings, Growth
Chaturvedi credited his mental makeup for attracting the right kind of investors during the early stages of the startup’s journey. But in the subsequent rounds, the state of the business and its market potential would determine the funding factors, he added.
“People invest in people. In the early stages, angels look for founders who are grounded and ready for the long haul. So, having such a mindset can really help founders raise angel capital,” said Chaturvedi.
Among its first investors was The Chennai Angels (TCA), who came on board in 2012 even before School Diary’s massive expansion of its service portfolio. Interestingly, TCA participated in three rounds raised by the startup at later dates.
These angel rounds and subsequent hand-holding helped School Diary find the product-market fit and refine its offerings. The first two funding rounds helped build a strong sales team, while the last two were crucial for product and market growth.
Receiving a recommendation from a fellow investor in TCA, Naru Narayanan, CEO of Nett10 Digital, led the first investment round in School Diary in 2012.
TCA has participated in three of the five funding rounds raised by School Diary.
Referring to the funding from TCA as “smart money”, Chaturvedi said that the investors from the group not only helped him with their advice and guidance but also asked him to bounce ideas off them.
Besides, staying in touch with the investors helped the founder connect with influential customers and potential funders.
Narayanan, lead investor from TCA, still fully involved with all major decisions and activities of the startup, said that he had seen the business mature and become wiser in decision-making.
“Our goal is to encourage a startup to come to us with a problem and its solution. With School Diary, this experience has been really good. Its solutions are always seamless and require minimal intervention from us,” he added.
The funding in 2014 saw the startup scale from three modules to 42 and clock 300% revenue growth in just two years.
The Road Ahead For School Diary
Digital transformation is not easy, to say the least. Take, for instance, how the fortunes of traditional edtech dwindled from the digital boom of 2020-2021 to layoffs and cost cuttings in 2022.
The return from online during Covid-19 to physical mode has impacted some of the biggest names in the sector, including BYJU’S, Unacademy, Vedantu and many more. Overall, downsizing across edtech has already affected more than 7,500 professionals.
Although the B2C edtech segment is now competing with physical institutions and struggling to reposition its offerings, those in the B2B space, like School Diary, Bloomz, ClassDojo and the ilk enjoy a distinct advantage. B2B edtech will remain sustainable due to its critical role as an operations specialist that caters to the enterprise-level requirements of all platforms.
According to industry experts, be it ERP, information management or secure test delivery for assessment/hiring, B2B players target multi-year engagement based on real-time feedback. Simply put, B2B edtech is in for a steady, if not meteoric, rise.
Furthermore, players in this space are exploring different avenues, with an increased focus on personalised and adaptive learning using AI and other technologies.
“We are expanding fast even during post-Covid times. We never fired anyone during the pandemic or never let a school go because it could not pay during Covid-19. We have built a sustainable model ripe for scaling now,” Chaturvedi said.
The outcome is encouraging. School Diary has already established a strong presence in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Its expansion plans in northern and eastern India, starting with Uttar Pradesh and Delhi-NCR have been set in motion. It is also planning to venture into tutorials and has already onboarded a few colleges.
As we entered 2023, there are many assumptions regarding the future of edtech segments. But it is a rapidly changing field, and hence, not easy to predict.
The future of edtech will be marked by innovation and a continued drive to improve education and training. It will be worth watching the strategies and approaches put forth by Indian startups as they navigate through the market slowdown and a long-lasting funding gloom.