This episode is co-hosted by GGV’s investment colleague Madhu Yalarmathi.
In this episode, we have Vamsi Krishna, CEO & Co-Founder of Vedantu. Vedantu is India’s leading online tutoring company that enables students to learn LIVE with some of India’s best-curated teachers. The name Vedantu is formed by two Sanskrit words Veda (Knowledge) + Tantu (Network), signifying a ‘Knowledge Network’ where any student can tap into and learn from a teacher, anytime-anywhere. Vedantu is a GGV portfolio.
In our conversations, Vamsi shared his experience in moving into online after building a successful offline tutoring center, getting his early users and his definition of an “EdTech” company. Before starting Vedantu, he has been a teacher for 13 years and founded a test prep company Lakshya, which was sold to a listed education company in 2012. You can watch Vamsi’s TedTalk in which he made the argument against the standard curriculum.
Hans: Today on the show we have Vamsi Krishna. Vamsi is the CEO & Co-Founder of Vedantu. Vedantu is India’s leading online tutoring company which enables students to learn LIVE with some of India’s best-curated teachers. It has some 500+ teachers who have taught more than 1 Million hours to 40,000+ students spread across 1000+ cities from 30+ countries around the world.
Madhu: Vedantu is founded by a team who have been teachers themselves with over 13 years of teaching experience and has taught over 10,000 students. The name Vedantu is formed by two Sanskrit words Veda (Knowledge) + Tantu (Network), signifying a ‘Knowledge Network’ where any student can tap into and learn from a teacher, anytime and anywhere. Before starting Vedantu, Vamsi has been a teacher for 13 years and founded a test prep company Lakshya, which was sold to a listed education company in 2012. Vamsi graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay with a bachelor’s degree in Technology and Engineer. Welcome to the show. Vamsi.
Hans: Welcome to the show.
Vamsi: Thanks Hans, and thanks for the invitation for having me over.
Hans: So I’ll start first and ask the obvious question. You were trained as an engineer, how decide want to be a teacher?
Vamsi: That’s like, so we’re all trained to be engineers, but as in India, very few percentage of us actually go on and follow that profession. But anyways, that’s that’s a great question. So this was more serendipity is what I would say. Me and my founders, the fortunate part was,we knew each other even before college, few of us were childhood friends. So the idea was that we wanted to do something together. But this was 2005, 2006 in India, startups were not as glamorized as they were today. So the idea quickly got shattered, we joined some few jobs, and into the jobs, we decided to work on few ideas. And two of my friends were placed in a very small, remote tier three town, it was actually a very small town in northern India, Punjab. We ended up actually going there many times. And we were thinking of what to do, what idea to pursue. And this town had a big plant, chemical engineering plant where these guys were placed in and the kids of the factory workers out there, and few of the kids around, they needed some mentoring and coaching. So informally, we just started mentoring and teaching them and that experience was extremely satisfying. We saw there was a lot of issue around the awareness of the students itself. So we made them aware we took some sessions in the local schools. And, frankly speaking, that’s how the journey in mentoring and teaching really began, because that experience was simply very, very satisfying. So I would say that was the literal start of our entry into the the field of teaching.
Madhu: After operating the company for eight years, you gave a famous TED Talk, in which you argued that standard curriculums and standard delivery mechanisms won’t work. Share with us more on that argument.
Vamsi: Sure, Madhu. so quickly on a journey of Lakshya itself. We started that as a brick and mortar teaching setup. It was just us founders who started teaching and slowly eventually we had some of the like-minded individuals joining us. For first three years, it was just in one location where we taught and this was a tier four location in rural India, Punjab, and the very first year of 36 odd students who we taught first cohort, the, to our big surprise, 11 students out of 36 got into the top five IITs, in which actually the selection rates are less than 1% out of million plus students to give the exam. And this was from a very small, remote place in India, where there was no precedents of even once get selected. That actually, that that experience really influenced a lot and it shapes us what even today we do. The big insight there was, unfortunately, and I can speak this about India and many other parts of the world as well, that teachers become teachers more by chance than by choice. And unfortunately, in society, the best of the society do not come back into teaching.
And the big realization for us was that when people like us, you know, who are from good colleges and what you know, the better of the society can come back into teaching And, you know, if can give awareness and mentoring and with passion, notice the students. That data is very high. And that was a big inspiration. And to your question, and we did that for over seven, eight years, the results speak for itself, our average selection in this in the overall eight years was 17.8%, while all other selection totally was less than 1%. And so that was a big inspiration. And what we really realized was that the quality of teaching, one is really not there for the mark. And a lot of it has to do with, you know, the whole glamorization of the teaching itself, you know, in a third world country like India, and many other parts of the world as well.
And if you don’t have the best of the society coming back as teachers, it creates a lot of problems. Now, coming back to that TED talk the thing which the government schools is to standardize the curriculum in order to hide the quality of the teaching part itself. But that just doesn’t solve the problem. What we realized was that if you can actually have great teachers, teachers who are inspired, then you really need not go out there and standardize everything you can actually give them freedom, right? If the teacher is there, who is very passionate and who is inspired, the fact that that teacher is able to inspire and generate that interest in a child that itself starts the process of teaching and learning, right, and then the kid itself is so inspired, that learning becomes a consequence. And that was a very big insight. And that’s something we’re driven by even today, we give a lot of focus in generating that interest, creating that interest in a child. And what we have seen consistently is once that gets generated, learning just becomes a consequence.
Hans: For those of most of us who invest in U.S. and China is not as hard to believe that looking at the fast internet user growth, that investing in online education company makes sense. And China had two New Oriental and TAL, both started offline and moved online and did extremely well. When you were doing your second startup, back in early 2012. Internet users in India were growing but not as fast as was happening around the world. And that was way before JIO and 4G came out in India with the cheap data pack. So how did you gain confidence that in India, the right way to build your second startup and education should be online?
Vamsi: Oh, that’s a great question Hans. And that was a question we’ve been confronted and asked numerous amount of times when we were starting the second venture Vedantu.
I will tell you the background to this, I think the biggest contribution to that goes to Lakshya, the first offline venture we were doing. And we did that for eight, nine years. And what we realized there was that what gave us success was the whole orchestration of multiple attributes, like for example, teachers, great teachers, then training them on, you know, on good content, orchestrating that according to the level of the child, and then segmenting the children according to their own grasping levels in cohorts and batches, giving them content after the class, testing them, motivating them where they were trying. So all these things, you know, all of these things, which we call as service layer, is extremely critical and important to bring for learning superior learning outcomes, or results. So when we were actually thinking of Vedantu, the online venture, the whole thought process was that you know what, we got amazing success in terms of learning outcomes at Lakshya, how do we create an online version out of this?
At that time, this is 2013/2014 times in India I’m talking about. So at that time, as you said Hans, 4G was not there, in India, internet, no connections or access is patchy. So it was very tough to, you know, think about, you know, this whole construct of LIVE tutoring. And add on to that fact, there were a bunch of other companies who were doing asynchronous, you know, models, which is recorded video models. So at that time, it was obviously extremely tough for us to think about LIVE, but I think what convinced us was, at the end of the day, in the long term, what will give you success is the success of the child. And we were extremely convinced teachers and ourselves, having taught for, you know, so many years and having seen the success at Lakshya, that you have to have a full stack service model, in order to not just replace an offline experience, but actually bring about a learning outcomes, and the closest one we could think of, which could actually achieve that was a full stack solution, which is a LIVE tutoring model. So I think keeping the student at the center, and keeping the child’s learning outcomes and experience at the center, you know, really inspired us to go about doing that.
Now comes to execution part and which was extremely tough, I would say, because at that time, you know, 4G was not there. Nobody knew about LIVE tutoring. So the, the initial days were extremely tough. So the least, what we did was, we started with a one to one model in LIVE tutoring itself. So the one teacher teaching one student, and why we chose that because, you know, it was easier to execute. Right? And I know and definitely less complex as the group model, which we currently do. And we did that for almost one and a half years, right, for almost 2014 or 2015. Entirely we did that, and the idea was, first of all to see whether this works in a country like India, will a teacher be able to teach, the student will able to study? Will actually come back? Right? Because one year at least what it takes, you know, because in India and that’s one you know one thing I would like to tell the audience here that in India we follow an academy year cycle, like a, look unlike, unlike a semester cycles in other parts of the world. So one year was important for us to validate with the child comes back, he likes the teacher, and that once we started seeing that happening is when we shifted to the group model.
Madhu: I wish this existed when I was preparing for IIT. I went to the offline experience, which which was phenomenal just because of the teacher that I have, and not many people do get access to those teachers. So for our audience, help us explain how did you take the best parts of the offline experience and how did you layer online to bring the Vedantu experience?
Vamsi: Oh, yeah, so I think there were a lot of parts which are common, a lot of parts which needed to be rethought and reinvented from this medium perspective. So the good part was the teachers itself. So I think that thing as founders ourselves, having been teachers and having trained and deployed more than like 500 teachers in our, the offline experience, that was pretty, you know, I would say natural and easy here in Vedantu.
We went through an almost a similar process in identifying teachers who are more, we use that word teachers by choice, then by chance. And that’s very important, because when a teacher is therefore by choice, you really see that passionate energy, you know, flowing in. So that was the easy part. And that’s, I would say, it’s pretty common. We had to improvise multiple model for online media, like for example, as teachers who were 15 years 20 years experience in offline, not all of them were comfortable teaching online, so there were definitely a few things which had to change with respect to our recruitment process itself, but that’s on the teachers, but the bigger challenge was on the interaction with itself, because in a good best offline experience, a good teacher interacts with the students on a real time basis. And in online the biggest issue, you know the perception issue when the parents and the student says, like, how can you interact, right, and that was a big challenge to solve. Otherwise, there is no difference between a LIVE class and a recorded video lecture. So this is where we invested a lot of, you know, content and pedagogy and technology product. And this is where we continue to invest even today. So, just to help you visualize, if you think of a LIVE interactive class, happening over a group of let’s say, 50 or hundred students, spread across, every few minutes, there will be some other interaction in the form of the teacher asking the children on a feedback and the child immediately showing some feedback by actually clicking on the content, or the teacher taking some form of a quiz, and where the children are able to attempt that quiz, or do some interactive exercises, and ask their doubts, and so on and so forth. So, in fact, the entire pedagogy is designed in such a way that every few minutes, there is some interaction, right? And that that is one big element, which makes a LIVE class so much more engaging, and so much more, you know, interactive, and if not better, it closest to the best of the offline experience.
Hans: So during the due diligence process, we play with your app and attend classes and see that they’re like you said there’s a lot of like quite a bit of interaction between the teacher and the students. It says it is one to many model, it is online. Can you sort of walk through what are the scalability aspect of the business model to make it easier for new students to get acclimated to this learning environment. And for the teachers to be able to share best practices and improve very quickly.
Vamsi: So first of all, there’s a lot of orchestration as we call it, which happens between the teacher content, right? So the advantage we have in online is every lecture is recorded. And we can actually go back and look at how it has happened and the data which we’re able to generate on top of that all it helps us in improvising.
So, first and foremost, how we designed this entire experience is break the class into parts, and ensure that every few minutes there is some interaction happening. This interaction is not just for the sake of interaction, but actually we are capturing data from these interactions and using that data to profile the students into clusters so that we are able to personalize the experience for the students both inside, and more importantly, after the class. So we follow what we typically call here as a two-teacher model, in which we have a main teacher, we call them as master teachers at Vedantu. The main teacher, who is the main lecturer who takes the class, and he supported by the secondary teachers, or you call him TS, right? who is also present inside the class. So think of like for every, say, approximately 50 students, there will be a secondary teacher. And let’s say if the entire classes of 200 students, there will be four secondary teachers and the one main teacher taking the class. So the main teacher’s role is to take an extremely engaging class. It’s full of energy, it’s very high quality content, interactive content, which is used, and there are a lot of interactions in terms of what we call as hotspots. I’ll talk about that later. And also quizzes and a lot of interactive content right? It’s very tough for me to, you know, help visualize, but you know, as you said, You already saw that, it’s, you need to really experience that. So, you know, for early grade students, they can actually do exercises like drag and drop, or fill in the blanks and bunch of stuff, right? Now, what we’re doing at the background is a capturing all this data, we know exactly how much time did the student take to attempt the question? Was that right? Was that wrong? You know, we do almost 76 parameters we capture. Now what we do is we have this data, so it helps us in three things. One, it helps us personalize content and interventions for the child. So now for example, let’s say there is a student who we see has done the first part of the lecture amazing. But the second part he had, he didn’t attempted or he attempted fewer rounds. So the secondary teacher has this information. And the post class content for the child will be customized according to these data points. So he will probably have more questions on the second part, right? stuff like that. Other case example is let’s say he was not attentive during the second part, he was not looking at the screen itself. So the secondary teacher would probably call him up and would give him content specific to that and say that you know what, I could see that you will probably not you know that into or present, you can probably, you know, use this and bring up to the speed, and so on and so forth. Right. So that’s the second part. Because we have data of the engagement of the entire class on this content. It also helps us improve our content itself, and the teacher training. So for example. Let’s say at the third part of the lecture, we saw a lot of doubts coming up. Now we certainly know the content team knows that you know what this part has many doubts coming up. So probably there is some problem with the pedagogy itself. So we then improve on the pedagogy, or helps us on teacher training. Let’s say there are two teachers taking the same class and one teacher has a very high engagement score, the second teacher has relatively lower, so we can go out and train that second teacher on that. So in a sense, Hans, if you look at this, we certainly have made a product out of the, you know, our lesson itself. And we can actually do those AB experiments, improvised content, teacher training, and that helps us iterate so much faster than comparable offline, in our center. Right. And this is a huge advantage, which I believe online companies have.
Madhu: As someone said, you’re creating more of a painkiller, rather than a vitamin. By that in Indian cities. either you have to travel to three hours every day to go to these tuition center hubs. Or if you’re a middle class family from tier two or tier three cities, you move to your city and your family, middle class family has to sacrifice earnings or time rent to move there, right? So you fundamentally giving the best of the offline world to the online world, whereas the rest of the industry is more focused on adding supplemental education. This is a hardsell to users. It makes a lot of logical sense, but to have a leap of faith and move towards a fully online instituition to prepare for their most important moment in their life, an educational life. It’s hard so how did you get your early users and how are you going about it now?
Vamsi: It’s a very hard sell. I think the big inspiration was our first experience with Lakshya when people like us ourselves, none of us were from that city of, you know, northern India, Punjab. I was from Bangalore and my other friends are also from another top five, six cities. The fact that we could go there and we could teach there. And that actually helped get us this massive data in terms of selection rate was a big inspiration for us to see that you know that if people like us, we just like us can actually go into this tier three, tier four locations, there is a huge data.
Unfortunately, if you are in a big city, you might be lucky to get a good teacher. But if you are in a tier two, tier three city, even if you are willing to pay, the willingness to pay is very high for education in India, by the way, but even if you are willing to pay, you won’t get an access to a good teacher. And that was the fundamental problem we’re trying to solve through online at Vedantu. Now to your question, when we actually started Vedantu, we wanted to be the primary, we wanted to replicate and better the best of the offline experience. So all of our positioning was, if you are coming to Vedantu, you need not go to any offline center. So in a sense, we wanted to replace the offline centers. So we were not at all positioned in a supplementary thing. So yeah, it’s a very big sale because for parents they had studied in offline. So that’s the default which comes to their mind. And for us to be able to convince them to think about online as a serious medium was a tough task. Compared to the fact that in India, parents really think of online equaling games, and that obviously didn’t help us at all. So how we went about solving their problem was really vent and first started giving a lot of exposure to our online classes itself. Because no matter how much I say, it’s best for the parents and the students to actually come and attend. And that’s when we are they are able to appreciate and value the great teacher and you know, the whole interaction but which happens. So our strategy was twofold one was to give an exposure to as many parents and students as possible to our classes. So we designed what we call as modular, you know, courses and lectures. So these were think of them as 45 minutes to probably, you know, few hours worth of classes, free classes, which would help explain a very small topic to the child, but the topic is complicated in itself. And then we gave them a lot of, you know, free trials of these things. And that really helped us scale that because that actually gave them a glimpse of what’s possible online, the great teacher, and how also, you know, comfort with the medium, and then we used to convert them into paid subscribers. Now to a question of how do we recruit our first set of users in 2014 and 2015. It was, it was very tough. Nobody knew about this term called LIVE classes or LIVE tutoring. Vedantu was the first company to start LIVE tutoring in India. So literally we had to invent that category in that term as going forward. So what we did was just went about a few schools, and started doing few seminars or webinars, and they had some small exam or test coming up. So we launched a few courses around that. That’s one. Second, we also since we started with one on one, we attacked the tutor listing websites in India, which gave home tutoring. And home tutoring tis also a big market in India. So we attack that and we sort of like call us to literally call them and say that, you know what, you’re looking for a home tutor? Why don’t you just try Vedantu, if you’re not getting access to a home tutor. so that was literally those few initial hacks through which we, you know, got our first set of users.
Hans: As you have star teachers that emerged from different topics, like model mentioned, how do you keep them and incentivize them to stay on your platform?
Vamsi: Oh, that’s a good one Hans. What we learned from Lakshya, the offline experiences that it’s going to star teacher away is not the best way. Right? And we were cognizant of the challenges of that model. Because that is pretty common to offline as well as online. Right. So, so right from day one here at Vedantu, although we do have star teachers, right, and when I say star teachers, essentially like the teachers who are more, you know, popular and so on and so forth. But the thesis the philosophy has been to have reliance on system and process more than just the star teachers. Now, I’ll explain this in little bit detail. If tomorrow a parent or a student is coming to Vedantu just for a star teacher, then in my opinion, we have failed as a system. Because if it’s just if it’s just a teacher for which a parent or student is coming, then I think what we want to stands for, which is the full stack service solution, right? It’s not adding enough value to the parent. So that’s how I put pressure back on the team, that if the teacher, we change, or let’s say we don’t give a so called popular teacher, and because of that, if a parent and student is not joining or dropping off, then it means we need to further work on our, you know, service layer.
So in the long run, what I really want Vedantu to stand for is the full stack service solution in which teacher is just one part of it, rather than just talking about star teachers, and we do a lot of things around that. So for example, the first in the form is our as I said, our teacher training process itself. So we have identified various attributes and parameters, which actually make a high engaged class, and, you know, a popular teacher popular, and we have identified those and incorporated that into our teacher training program. So now we are confident that even if you are able to get a four to five year, and we have multiple parameters in which we check, you know, what we want, what contributes to a great charismatic teacher online, and we get them in, and we put them through a training process of two to three months. And, and we are almost I would say 90% certain that this teacher, if he takes a class will get a rating about, you know, the 95 percentile. So, this is the direction in which we are going at, so that the reliance on the system is more than just honor teacher. And that’s that’s the long term vision.
Madhu: And that explains why your score, your NPS Net Promoter Score is higher than that of a specific teacher in a class. One of the key questions EdTech companies are struggling is an education company or the tech company? Or can we do both. And eventually, they end up being one or the other. You’ve been able to take despite coming from a teaching style, you’ve been able to launch WAVE technology and a lot of other technical enhancements to the product. What do you look for your tech team? And how are you thinking about building that team?
Vamsi: Sure. You know, what, this is a singular, you know, question, you know, I get asked when probably I go to a few conferences and stuff like that in education technology, I think it’s a very important one to, you know, ponder on. Many technology companies commit this, you know, basic mistake that they think of technology first than education. And I think, you know, at least that’s my personal opinion, and I strongly believe around, you know, this factor that EdTech, you know, its first Ed and then Tech, right, so that sequence is there for, you know, a very specific reason. So how we think about this model, and it’s a very important one. So the framework I, we use at Vedantu, is you need to keep the students interested the center, it’s very easy for, you know, technocrats like us to get fascinated with the possibilities around technology. And we’re all and how walking we can apply it, and so on and so forth. And it’s easy to get carried away. What keeps us grounded is to have extreme strong metrics and parameters around students. And in that too, specifically, we look at two parameters, one is called student learning experience, and second is students learning outcome. So if you have learning experience and learning outcome at the center and the core, and then design, you know, educational pedagogy around it, and then think of how can technology help us help you in scaling it and making it better? That’s the framework views. So it’s very important to have education at the core, right and then think about technology and how can technology be able to help you, let’s say make the learning experience better, or personalize stuff for the child. So that is learning outcomes improve, how can it make you, you know, get access to great teachers, or help you scale faster, efficient, better, so on and so forth. That’s how technology pace the road. But you can’t flip this around, you can think about, oh, I have a great piece of technology here. Now let me apply this to education. That’s, that’s, that’s where, you know, you know, even we have committed a few mistakes, right? And we learn from that. So that’s on that, how do you think about education and technology, right and sequence to start. To your question on our, you know, our own roadmap and how we are built around it. So first and foremost, we were very, very fast in iterating what really works for the student and that’s the first few years of Vedantu from 2014 to almost 2016. We developed less, we actually use the third party. And we iterated and we learned what is the best for the student. And that’s when we started developing our own platforms, our own tools, with a singular objective of capturing more data. Because the more data we have on the child, we will be able to do better that much better for him. So, we have our own LIVE teaching learning platform, we call it WAVE that stands for whiteboard audio video environment. In fact, work has been going on on that for years now. And very proud to say that few of the stuff we have done is cutting edge. And we had applied for almost 20 odd claims, and we’ve been granted US patents on that as well. Right. So, so yeah, very proud of the team. We’re going to be working on some cutting edge stuff there. And that’s, so we have huge lot of you know, tech product team, which works on that, and there are other models as well.
Hans: It’s very impressive that you guys have both innovated very quickly, as well as look at other models around the world that’s interesting, and then figure out how they should be adapted for the business that you’re in as well. What are some other companies and business models that you have seen that’s interesting, that’s worth sharing with our audience.
Vamsi: So I’ve traveled to Southeast Asia quite a lot. And what I believe is in Southeast Asia because the educational culture, the context, very similar to India, I see a lot of companies especially in China, Beijing, one of the largest education companies in the world TAL is also investors in Vedantu, so it’s also great exposure.
For me personally and my team, whenever we visit their centers, we get to see you know, the few of the things which actually are working very well there. We get obviously inspired and we see that how can we actually adopt it to Indian use case and context. So, I think somewhere on the last year, one of the things which was very fascinating for us was that we used to think that batch size of hundred is very large. And, you know, that’s, that’s like, that’s, that’s insane. And that’s awesome. And we were very happy about pulling that out. And then we visited TAL. And there we saw some classes happening. And we asked the teacher that that okay, how many students are there in this class? And he said, 2500 and we were like “What”, then we again asked that, you know, one class we thought he just answered like, you know, in a week probably that’s what happening and we asked like no in just one class of students are there, he said, yeah. 2500. So that that was like a real eye opener. right for us. And, you know, it’s sometimes Like, you know, you are close to few things and when you actually see that some of that happening that really opens up to the possibility. And that Hans, I think is a big very big unlock because normally normally in a you know, people say that most of the companies the gross margins you know start with is the gross margins you you dive it is like a typical thing they say, but I think, you know, here with respect to probably, you know, us LIVE teaching, I think that completely got sidelined when we saw this, because the margins you can have when you are teaching hundred students versus thousand students, this is completely different. And that was a very big exposure, I would say not just for us for the entire team, which made us believe that thinking of hundred is just our constraint, we should actually push, and now very proud to say that Vedantu, just one year, we also have, in our free classes, at least, almost 2000 students attending one single LIVE class. We have done that. And in paid students, we probably have gone up to even 600 students as we speak. So yeah, I think they were definitely a few exposures which have a profound impact on you. This was one of that.
Madhu: And from an impact standpoint of view it’s phenomenal. Because when I was doing my coaching classes, the maximum that a teacher who’s really good at that topic can have is 100 people. And they’re enterprising and hardworking teachers do three or four classes and say the same thing, but that still caps at 400 people, having the best teacher for that best topic, they being able to teach 2000 people irrespective of your learning, irrespective of your willingness to pay or ability to pay or your location, being able to access that wealth of knowledge is truly impactful.
Vamsi: And to add to that point Madhu, for a country like India, it’s even more impactful because the pain propensity obviously here is much lesser as compared to China. Here, when we are able to scale the students in one class from, let’s say, hundred to let’s even say 500, the price reduction per student per, you know, per class or per hour, which we’re able to do, and because of that disrupting the price points of the existing offline players, right, and employing that price point to tier three, tier four locations really unlocks massive potential, because now, at half the price that the student sitting in a tier three, tier four location has access to probably the best, you know, teacher he can ever think of, you know, getting an interaction with right. So that’s, that’s a massive unlock, especially for a country like India. And that really gets us excited.
Hans: Yeah. Right. And you mentioned you mentioned earlier in the online model you have before for group lessons, you have one secondary teacher for every 50 students. What tweaks do you have to make, you know, to scale your online session to 2000 per class.
Vamsi: So there are a lot of parts to it. Right? So first and foremost is the, the teacher itself, right? So the teacher training needs to incorporate that change when you are teaching 50, so let’s say you’re teaching, let’s say, 500. Yeah, so when you’re teaching 50, you can still probably, you know, afford to do some interactions, right? And take names and 50 it’s not a big group, like in a normal offline class, also, you take 50, not a big deal. But when you’re taking 500 now, suddenly, you need to be much more organized and orchestrated. Right. And there we use, not just teacher training, but also technology. For example, in primary school students now which names so the teacher take, so the class fields by now, everyone is being addressed to and motivated. So the algorithm itself, you know, sort of like tries to identify that and being the teacher and so on and so forth. A lot of small to big things which we do to, you know, to train the teacher, that’s fun. The second part is the interface itself. Now, as Madhu was mentioning earlier, in an offline class, if you are in a classroom of more than hundred, you literally feel it. Because you are sitting there you see all these students you feel a little stuffy, the teacher is that much more distant, the biggest advantage of an online LIVE classes, you don’t feel that, you don’t know that, that you are sitting in a classroom of 50 or 500. And that’s where a lot of interface design comes into play. Wherein, because for you, it’s just the teacher in front of you. But you know, there’s a lot of other product interventions we do, so that the child feels that he’s part of a group, but he he doesn’t know that that group is a 500 or 50. Right. So there’s, you know, those that product interventions, which we do, which makes him part of a group thing, but you know, not that he’s part of a very big group. Yeah, the third and the most important and that this is very specific to India and that comes down to somewhere adaptations are you were mentioning from Southeast Asia to India we had to do is the doubts. So what we observed in, let’s say, at least in China is students are very disciplined. And they don’t interrupt a teacher a lot while the session is happening, right?
Hans: Right. Not so much elsewhere.
Vamsi: Oh, I mean, not at all in India, I mean, you should see, in our sessions, the students are left right and center asking anything and everything right. So, this required a lot of product interventions, right, and also an orchestration. So here, what we did was for a group of 50 to 100 students, we have the secondary teacher. So the doubts of the students first goes to the secondary teacher, and he or she solves it, and the best ones, they get bubbled up to the main teacher, and the main teacher then reserves time for doubts after like every 15/20 minutes, and then he would address the best doubts. So in that way, we actually distribute our, cut the class into these sections and these roles. And that’s how we are able to, you know, organize a fine students class, right? So these are some of the, there are a lot of things, right. But yeah, these are some of the top of the level things, which we use. And last, but most importantly interactions. So if you are constantly interacting with the main teacher, every few minutes, you are not much more engaged, and you feel not much more energized and not participating in the class. So the whole pedagogy itself had to change when we move from one to one to let’s say, a smaller group to a bigger group, right. So the content had to go through a lot of changes with respect to interactions, the quizzes, and so on and so forth. So yeah, this was one of the things we had to you know, change in order to adapt ourselves from a you know, one to one to a larger group.
Madhu: Our podcast is listened to by tens of thousands of people, across U.S., China, and across the world, how can some of them come and join the mission of Vedantu?
Vamsi: So education is not just a high impact. But according to us a big level of. Me personally, healing from a middle-class background, we have seen the power of education in our life and how it has helped us achieve what we are able to achieve. So I think especially in a country like India, which is very aspirational, education, as seen as the only way in which people from tier three, tier four locations can actually be able to change their lifestyle and achieve, you know, greatness. That’s mission of Vedantu, our fundamental singular belief is can we provide a 10x better version than the best of the offline experience at quarter of a cost? And that’s how we are able to reach to, you know, if not billions, the millions of the students, there are 260 million students in India, right. And that’s, that’s what we want to, you know, change. So if people out there who are really, you know, motivated in creating solutions, which impacts this many millions, I think, Vedantu is like the perfect platform where you can really be able to see that impact happening. With respect to the platform itself. I think we have just got started in India, all of us combined are probably less than 1% of the market penetration, right. It’s a huge market now offline. And we are just getting got started. As we speak, we are looking for enough people to help us build the next level teaching learning platform. We are actually looking to ramp up our AI talent as well. So yes, any, you know, people who are really mission driven and are motivated to contribute, would love to have you guys coming and seeing what we are doing and yeah, I would love to take that up.
Hans: As you know, very happy to become a new investor in Vedantu. And we love the fact that you’re building something that’s country-building and making impact in society. And pushing that idea further, given the talent of the Indian teachers, and it’s quite obvious being on a platform, they’re very engaging, and very good at their work. It’s not given their English fluency. It’s not hard to imagine that given the large talent pool of Indian teachers here, that the business could exponentially expand beyond India at some point in the future, that share a bit about that and how you think about that, and even when there’s something that would be appropriate for Vedantu to embark on.
Vamsi: Sure Hans. So you said it right. So the big advantage with the Indian teachers and Indian workforce in general is when is the language comfort around English and also the Indian teachers are really good. In fact, as we speak at Vedantu, we have around 7% to 8% of our paid students coming in from outside India as we speak, and this is without even us doing anything outside India remotely. And why that happens is primarily Indian expats, but they want their kids to study from an Indian teacher. So the quality as well as the price point both have a significant role and impact in that. So going forward, we always imagine Vedantu as a category agnostic and a geography agnostic platform. I mean, nothing prevents this from adding more categories and more geographies. And we see that happening in future and to Madhu’s point, I think there are two ways in which we know we are looking at it. One is obviously the talent line or recite or invest or even in China, where we are very, very inspired to, you know, to see some of the pioneering work happening in AI and other fields and we’d love to partner with other local groups or the people experts there to build out our next set of innovations in these fields. That’s one. And second is, you know, from the supply itself. We see the Indian teachers, and very soon, more so from a developing nations perspective, where there is a lot of need for getting access to high quality teachers at a low price, we see that Indian teachers can play that role. And in future, we look forward to taking a few of these new geographies and where there is a standardized curriculum and seeing that can Indian teachers post getting trained, can they deliver for these local requirements? Yeah, that would be very interesting to see how that spans out. Right? There are a few exams which are pretty much international in nature, like SAT. I know, that’s pretty obvious for us to do. But we are also interested in taking up some local curriculum and see how it goes so yeah, exciting to see how that pans out.
Hans: As a global fund with presence in San Francisco, New York, Beijing, Shanghai and Singapore, we’re love to help.
Vamsi: I’m in really impressed with the kind of exposure GGV has with the best practices and the best teams in all these geographies. I personally, along with my team, are really, you know, waiting to get started and learn from your exposures and experiences. And also probably, you know, interlaced with these amazing entrepreneurs in other parts of the country in your portfolio and share knowledge.
Hans: Thank you.
Vamsi: Thanks a lot Hans.
Madhu: Have a bunch of quickfire questions. Who or what is your best teacher and why?
Vamsi: I think in the fifth grade, there was a social studies teacher and I still remember her as a best teacher because that was one subject which I just literally hated. And I used to almost like barely pass and this teacher came out and I just, obviously the next year that I top that exam. This is a profound influence which a teacher has. And I’m a big believer of that. So yeah, that was the first remembrance I have of an inspiring teacher.
Madhu: If you could spend a day in someone else’s shoes, whose would they be and why?
Vamsi: One day I would probably would love to spend in education ministry’s shoes. Right. in India, because I think there’s a lot of change which can be done from a government side. Right. And I would, I would really be excited to, you know, be there and bring forth some of the changes, which I believe is very much critical for Indian education system.
Madhu: What’s something you read recently you recommend to our viewers?
Vamsi: I mean, the most recent book I’m reading is that everything store that amazing story, I think, that because it’s the latest, very recent one I’m reading, so it’s fresh in my mind. Right. And there are few other reading list recommendations I will give Madhu. But in that one thing, which actually really stuck to me, which I was reading through last week was, despite the, you know, the ups and the downs. the singular focus around, impact never went away. Right. And I think that’s, that’s very important. Any business will obviously go through its own ups and downs, and so on and so forth. But, but the singular belief that we can, I mean, at least in Amazon’s case, they can create everything store that was at the center, that was something which was really transformation. And the second thing is the customer obsession, tailoring everything around a customer and not, you know, freaking out about the competition or probably what others are doing, but actually just having the best interest of the customer in mind can really help you navigate very, very tough corners and situations and I think there is a very, very powerful message I could take out of that. So that’s one. Apart from that one of my top reading book recommendations is in the Hard Things About The Hard Things. I really love that. And zero to one. That’s, that’s pretty standard. But apart from that, the, you know, I’ve also recently started doing some, you know, introspection on this thing. So I think there is a few books on mindfulness also. Right. I, you know, I really think entrepreneurs should also, you know, read a few of that.
Madhu: Who’s, beside Bezos, I guess, who is the entrepreneur you admire the most and why?
Vamsi: Apart from Bezos. I think Elon Musk is someone I do admire. And Steve Jobs as well. Right. Elon Musk for just, you know, dreaming big. I think, you know, I think dream is what it’s starts everything starts with, I think I just admire him for the diversity of the dream, right. And Steve Jobs was simply, you know, reinventing, not just one, but you know, multiple categories. And it requires, you know, innate understanding of the customer at the center to be able to transform not just one industry, but for multiple industries as well. So those are the few from outside India, but inside India, I really admire, you know, the Infosys founders, and then Narayana Murthy for actually creating some of the best like the big entrepreneurs like I obviously admire the recent ones like Flipkart and all, but I think Infosys was one of the first companies which actually made us believe that big companies are possible out of India. And I think these examples are very important for local entrepreneurs, to have that belief that you know, we can create some outstanding companies from India and Syria. That That’s very important for the ecosystem.
Hans: Yeah, just to add that, I think, you know, our first few investments in India, we’ve been very impressed with the quality of the founders and the management team. And in addition as well as the investor syndicate, you know, thanks to you and your team for working at about something amazing the last four or five years.
Vamsi: Yeah, but we do look to learn, you know, the best practices and the stuff from you guys as well. And that that’s really the it’s really important that even though if we can gather what you have learned, as the best practices and experiences from other entrepreneurs happening in other parts of the world that will really help us.
Hans: Sure, we’ll be happy to share. And besides Madhu and myself in San Francisco Bay Area, you also have, as you know, you met Jixun and Jenny and Erica, in Beijing and Shanghai and we connect to you to Dimi in Southeast Asia and Robin in New York. And also amazing talent team in both in China in the US, that can help you as well. Again, you have a very good investor base too. Anand from Accel India, Siddharth from Omidyar, Scott from Tiger Global. You have TAL from China and also Westbridge in India. Kudos to you for building all that together. Not easy.
Madhu: Thank you, Vamsi for joining us. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Vamsi: Thank you Madhu. Thank you Hans.
Hans: Thank you. Thank you Vamsi.
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