More than 2 Lakh students move to Kota every year to prepare for JEE And IIT entrance exams
A number of students who come to Kota for coaching belong to underprivileged families, with an annual income of less than INR 1 Lakh
Founded by three IITians, eSaral intends to replicate the educational framework of Kota's coaching institutes and make it accessible to students, eliminating the need to relocate to Kota
Rajasthan’s Kota, which is known as the country’s most prestigious coaching hub for IIT aspirants, witnesses more than 2 Lakh students flocking to the city, dreaming of securing a seat in their dream college. However, behind the glittering success stories that emerge from the city every year, along with the promises of academic excellence, there is a dark reality.
According to Saransh Gupta, an alumnus of IIT Bombay and a former teacher of Allen Career Institute in Kota, several students who come to Kota for coaching belong to underprivileged families, with an annual income of less than INR 1 Lakh.
He added that many such families have no other option but to liquidate assets such as jewellery and family land or take mortgages against these assets at high-interest rates, so that their children can get access to better education to crack some of the most competitive entrance exams.
Hailing from Kota, Saransh is also no stranger to the city’s fiercely competitive coaching industry. His father, NK Gupta, an IITian, served as the vice-president of Allen Institute from 2008 to 2018 and has mentored thousands of IIT aspirants.
The father-and-son duo are not indifferent to the plight of students who leave their homes in pursuit of better education. Saransh noted that the pressure to excel academically often triggers anxiety and other mental health issues among these students.
Therefore, in 2018, he, along with his brother (also an IITian) and father, started building a platform to offer quality and affordable education to every student, regardless of their financial background.
The IITians launched eSaral, a K-12 platform that helps students from classes eighth to 12th prepare for school and competitive exams. The bootstrapped startup runs a mobile app (on Play Store and App Store) and three YouTube channels. To date, the app has attracted more than 12 Lakh downloads, and its three YouTube channels have a combined subscriber base of 7 Lakh+ users.
How Word-Of-Mouth Worked Wonders For eSaral
India’s K-12 market, which is expected to reach $15 Bn by 2030, fosters giants such as decacorn BYJU’S, unicorn Unacademy and soonicorn Adda247.
Given that such edtech platforms are backed by investors like Sequoia India, Blume Ventures and WestBridge Capital, what chance does eSaral have against them?
The answer lies in the platform’s core value proposition. The startup intends to replicate the educational framework of Kota’s coaching institutes and make it accessible to students, eliminating the need to relocate to Kota.
“We at eSaral have digitalised the pedagogy of Kota’s JEE and NEET coaching, which is well-known for producing top-performing students in these competitive exams,” said Saransh.
eSaral’s team of experts, including IITians and teachers, have drafted the curriculum intending to help students master important concepts and succeed in competitive exams. Besides this, the startup also offers practice sheets, notes, test series, live videos, pre-recorded videos and one-on-one mentoring to help students in their learning journey.
The founders said that they have come a long way in establishing and reaping the benefits of their endeavours since 2018. However, the journey has not been easy for them.
With little funds to spend on marketing, eSaral’s only competitive moat was to build a strong community of students, which could endorse their distinct teaching methodology.
“The approach worked wonders for us. We have created a strong network of students and teachers through word-of-mouth marketing. Once we started growing, we began prioritising customer service and support to offer a seamless learning experience and used targeted advertising to reach out to potential students,” Saransh said.
In addition, its YouTube channels, which offer free educational videos on a range of topics, are taught by the founders themselves. This creates a personalised connection with learners and encourages them to download the app.
“eSaral’s reputation as a reliable and result-oriented platform has also helped it acquire new students over the years,” said Saransh adding that one out of every three students from eSaral lands a seat in IIT, NIT or IIIT colleges and many students who initially scored low in their first JEE attempt have been able to score 99+ percentile after studying with eSaral.
eSaral’s Core Principles
The edtech platform is built on the following principles:
Affordability: eSaral operates on a freemium model, which means a lot of its content can be accessed for free. But for more advanced features, such as one-on-one mentoring and doubt-clearing sessions, learners are required to pay a fee. The average price point ranges between INR 1,200 to INR 3,900 annually. For more advanced and personalised features, the prices can range from INR 12K to INR 29K.
Visual Pedagogy & Personalisation: The app uses graphics and animations to make online classes more engaging, and data analytics to provide personalised revision sheets to help students improve. The founders make the study material available in English but make sure that the language is never a barrier when they teach, keeping the ease of students in mind. eSaral plans to expand to other regional languages such as Tamil and Kannada.
Hybrid Learning: The Next Frontier In Edtech
The post-Covid-19 era has brought a new set of challenges for edtech platforms as students have returned to classrooms.
Despite the hurdles faced by edtechs, the founders remain confident about the quality of education offered by eSaral.
“We are constantly upgrading our existing content and courses. We also plan to develop curricula for classes five to seven,” said Saransh.
Like many of its counterparts, the startup has identified hybrid learning as the next big thing in education. It is planning to pilot its offline centres in Kota and four other cities by 2024.
In the recent past, a convergence of sorts has taken place in the education sector, with traditional players and edtech platforms shifting their focus towards hybrid learning. The winds of change were initially felt when BYJU’S acquired a 33-year-old physical coaching franchise, Aakash Institute, for a whopping $1 Bn deal in 2021.
Other players such as PhysicsWallah, Vedantu and the ilk, too, have gone the hybrid way, with their experience stores, coaching centres and acquisitions.
As of now, edtech giants are competing fiercely among themselves to establish their dominance in India’s Tier 2 and 3 cities, and beyond, leaving enough scope for early stage regional startups to learn from them and solidify their long-term play. Given the opportunity, it remains to be seen how early stage edtech ventures like eSaral build robust playbooks to secure their share in the market.
Disclaimer: This article is part of Inc42 and Government of Rajasthan’s initiative to shine a spotlight on the state’s emerging startups.