Pale faces, shivers and goosebumps, and perhaps even a few nervous tummies. It’s not a fever; it’s just maths.
Kids in India might not be scared of much these days, but maths may send them into panic. But the numbers and complex formulae would not seem complicated if the basics are strong. When students feel intimidated by teachers, learning the basics of maths can become a burden.
When Arpit Jain, Mayank Jain, Joy Deep Nath, and Umang Jain met as students at IIT Kharagpur, they noticed and observed the kids in and around the campus struggling to successfully do addition or subtraction for their homework, but they knew exactly how many more coins they needed to win to upgrade their car in a video game. Yes, it sounds like a movie trope, but even that cliché is based on real-world experience.
“In games, these kids were doing maths calculations that were far beyond their age but hand them a maths sum on paper and they wouldn’t be able to solve it. This proved that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way we’re teaching our kids,” – Arpit Jain, CEO and cofounder, SplashLearn
In 2011, the quartet launched SplashLearn (formerly known as Splash Math), touting it as the first game-based curriculum-aligned maths programme in the market. The company was bootstrapped and raised the first venture round from Accel Partners in October 2018 to expand into other subjects and beyond the US market.
SplashLearn is a game-based learning programme that adapts to each child’s skill level and helps them master grade-appropriate skills for maths and reading at their own pace. The platform is curriculum-aligned and covers pre-kindergarten through grade 5 for math, and elementary reading for pre-kindergarten to grade 2. The programme comes with a parent app that allows parents to track their child’s progress and helps them identify areas they need to focus on.
However, this edtech venture was not the firsts for the four founders. Together, while still in college where they met, they launched their first edtech company in 2008 called Intinno. The platform was a learning management system (LMS) that was designed to encourage collaboration between teachers and students. Although Intinno broke even, the team found it difficult to scale in India at the time given the low technology and internet penetration.
In 2010, the team decided to wind down Intinno and focus on elementary school learners, initially in the US. Cofounder Arpit told Inc42, “SplashLearn was initially launched in the US due to many favourable factors like higher internet penetration and high adoption of technology in schools and homes. It’s the fastest-growing elementary programme in US homes and is also used in 1 out of every 3 schools.”
He further said, that with the democratisation of technology, the team is looking to expand to new geographies, subjects, grades/classes, and platforms.
“SplashLearn’s modular tech architecture gives us great agility and the ability to launch the product in any country in just 20 days. We already have users in more than 150 countries but we plan to offer custom curriculum-aligned products for each region,” added Arpit.
Why India Matters For SplashLearn
As per DataLabs’ The Future Of India’s $2 Bn Edtech Opportunity Report, 2020, the opportunity in India’s online education market is estimated to soar to $1.96 Bn in 2021 from $247 Mn in 2017.
Jain recalls how affordable devices and the internet boom acted as catalysts for the business like it has for others. He said, “In the coming years, we’ll see a lot of change as technology slowly moves from the periphery of the classroom to its centre. The curriculum itself is changing and how that curriculum reaches students is shifting from focusing on how teachers teach, to focusing on how learners learn. We are now able to personalise lessons for each individual learner and allow for greater differentiation in the classroom to suit student needs.”
While many complain about the fact that kids these days are born with tech skills and are hooked onto gadgets right from the time they enter the world, SplashLearn believes that this predilection can be banked upon to capitalise on the opportunity to deliver the best learning outcomes.
“Unlike passive educational videos, game-based learning puts learners in an environment where they are actively involved in the whole learning process. While playing a game, kids learn at their own pace. They learn from their own mistakes and figure out solutions through minimal assistance, thereby improving their problem-solving skills. In the long run, this improves their ability to think critically and to apply these skills in real-world situations,” said Arpit.
All Things Are Difficult Before They Are Easy
As a sector which is on the cusp of mainstream acceptance among the Indian masses, edtech has been facing some key challenges like the lack of uniform internet accessibility, quality content, the dearth of technology training, cost viability and low absorption rate. In such a scenario, running a business in this space comes with its own set of challenges.
Along with identifying, recruiting and training the right talent for business, in terms of product research, cofounder Arpit believes that building a learning program that is effective and also engaging to children across geographies was a multi-layered and complex task.
“SplashLearn was launched in the US, a market with a high penetration of technology in homes and schools. Repeating the same success in regions that are still getting introduced to technology and the internet is a challenge facing most edtech players today. Even if the technology is available, teachers still find it challenging to use edtech products in the classroom due to red-tape and low budgets. To solve this, SplashLearn is free for teachers to use in classrooms. This ensures easy access to millions of students around the world,” he added.
More Than Just An Investor
A good investor-founder relationship is no less than a marriage. In his article, Joe Procopio states that a founder’s request to investors for advice are usually welcomed, even if they can’t all be met, while requests for money are never welcomed.
This brings to light the importance of having an investor with a vision and mentorship ability on-board. SplashLearn raised its first venture round from Accel Partners in October 2018.
“Accel is very different from traditional VCs. In addition to their investment team, Accel has built an in-house team of professionals from various fields including HR, Marketing, Product. This team acts as an extension of our internal team. Since they work with multiple companies, they bring in collective wisdom, cross-domain knowledge and help us in scaling our operations across various teams efficiently,” said cofounder Arpit.
According to an analysis incorporated in the Economic Survey 2017-18, the income elasticity on education is estimated at 0.93 compared to 1.95 in healthcare. DataLabs by Inc42 assessed that this indicates that be it any income level, the Indian consumer will prefer investing more on education than healthcare. The analysis uses Engel’s law of income elasticity to arrive at the conclusion and adds that gamification will add to the interest of young users and drive the easy simulation of concepts, besides knowledge enhancement and increased user acquisition. This could even force parents to gravitate towards such learning tools as children show a better understanding of concepts.
SplashLearn believes that India’s largest population age group of five to 24, with 250 Mn school-going children combined with the wildfire-like spread of internet penetration in the past few years makes the country an arena that’s ready for online learning – gamified or not.