“It took us three years, from 2017 to 2020, to reach this level and in July 2020, we went out to the market and said that this is what we were doing inside our office for the last three years,” said Shantanu Najhawan, founding member of Tekie.
To put things into perspective, it took WhiteHat Jr under two years to build a similar coding for kids platform and for the most part, it was the company’s MVP or v1 product. So what makes Tekie different from any other ‘coding for kids’ startup?
While most competing platforms are teaching students block-based programming which means students drag and drop functions to build a logical sequence of commands, Tekie is attempting to teach young students the fundamentals of text-based programming, which is to write actual coding language syntax.
If the challenge was enabling 12-year-olds to grasp these concepts, for Tekie, the solution is an animated educational series to help the students master the basics of Python programming language. Besides this 39-episode animated series, the startup also uses examples coupled with activities centred around real world concepts and abstract sci-fi problems to break down the concepts for kids in classes 6th to 12th.
Animation Meets Coding: Tekie’s Unique Approach
Founded in 2017 by Anand Verma and Naman Mukund, Tekie aims to grow student’s confidence and capabilities with the foundational knowledge to write basic scripts and complete coding challenges. After getting hands-on with some programming basics and intermediate-level concepts, Tekie’s students are said to be able to design algorithms for basic assignments such as programming an elevator, rock-paper-scissors game, a calculator, and guessing a number, etc.
We witnessed an introductory class of Tekie to see how exactly the course progresses. A typical class starts with a student watching a 12-minute animated video. The video shows the protagonist meeting a mystical owl from an alien planet, who tells the protagonist that he is the chosen one to save the alien planet from destruction. The protagonist gets interested and starts asking questions about the alien owl’s advanced technology, which is when the owl introduces them to the concept of programming. The owl draws an interesting parallel between the child’s life and software programming — like how kids follow a set of rules to get ready for school, a computer also needs to follow a sequence of commands to perform a task. To communicate these rules to the computer, we use a programming language.
After the completion of the video, a chat window appears to help the learner discuss their learnings. The student is also asked questions about these concepts in the further learning path. Throughout the course, there is a teacher who walks the student through the process and ensures that the concept is understood by the child. The platform also has an inbuilt code simulator, workbooks, and projects.
Tekie’s live classes are offered in multiple variations. While 1:1 classes cost about INR 28K (INR 728 per class), 1:2 classes are priced at INR 17K (INR 450 per class), and 1:3 classes at INR 12K (INR 320 per class).
The company claims to have 75 paid users currently, out of which 30% were acquired through organic referrals and the rest from Facebook ads. Tekie’s net promoter score (NPS) is said to be above 85%.
“We are the only company in the whole country, which doesn’t have a sales team. Because, if you’re sick, it doesn’t feel good that people reach out and offer you paracetamol. If someone needs medicine, they will go to the chemist and buy. Education is also like that medicine, if parents like the product, they’ll come back to you,” said Najhawan. The company claims to have a conversion rate of 25% from its trial classes.
The company is now also working on partnering with schools who have been deeply impacted by the pandemic and are now actively looking for tech solutions to justify the tuition costs. Other competing companies like WhiteHat Jr, Tinkerly have also tied up with schools for such courses.
Engineering Graduates As Teachers
Tekie teachers are primarily fresh engineering graduates or students pursuing engineering degrees. Najhawan noted that Tekie teachers being engineering students are able to offer a practical picture of the course to students. For example, Tekie doesn’t promise students that they will be able to build an app in just a week’s time — that would be a plain marketing gimmick, the founding member added.
Like other coding platforms, Tekie also operates on a platform model wherein teachers are paid on a per-class basis. Given that the platform offers three teacher-to-student ratio variations for the live classes including 1:1, 1:2, and 1:3, the teacher earnings vary from INR 200, INR 250, and INR 300 per class. Further, for every successfully onboarded student, the company also offers an additional incentive of INR 1000 to the teachers.
“Since mentors are either pursuing college or are early graduates, we also keep their timings super flexible, with no set rules on how many classes a mentor needs to take per month. Thus, with an average of four classes per day, they can expect a monthly earning of approximately INR 25K to 35K,” said Najhawan.
Teachers can mark their availability on the Tekie app and they are notified as soon as a student books a slot in their preferred time. If the teacher marks that they only have the capacity to handle 10 kids, once they reach this threshold, they can continue with the classes every week.
In terms of the operating model, the company has kept the class timing and frequency flexible and adaptable to the students’ needs. On average, the classes range from 60 minutes to 90 minutes, but the students have the option to extend this if they feel they need more guidance. Classes are usually scheduled once a week but that can also be modified as per student’s need.
“It’s supposed to be an extracurricular activity, something which cultivates a student’s personality, by making it an everyday class or something — it’s basically pressuring kids into something which they don’t need to be pressured into,” said Najhawan.
The hiring of teachers is an exhaustive process at Tekie with a selection rate of about 1%. The candidates go through multiple rounds of evaluation, starting with a test around coding skills as it is mandatory to have a strong command of programming language and its frameworks. Next, the shortlisted applicants are called for a quick telephonic interview and then they are asked to send a 2-min video in which they should explain a programming concept. Post this, the successful candidates have to shadow a couple of live sessions taken by existing mentors, and finally, they take a couple of simulated sessions to prepare for taking live sessions.
“At the outset, it’s not just about hiring mentors but more about onboarding like-minded people to create a community that is truly passionate about teaching students and who share the same vision,” said Najhawan.
Going forward, the company will be working on producing more educational series besides Python. However, animated series is just one of the many content formats that the company offers students to learn programming. Tekie is also experimenting with a lot of other content formats like cinematic or live-action videos, creatively designed workbooks, gamification and more to understand which is the most effective way for student’s learning process.
- The net promoter score of Tekie was erroneously mentioned as 20%-30%, it was later corrected to reflect that it is 85%
- The company was launched in July 2020