Emerging Entrepreneurs

An education capsule that comes in a tablet

Meera Siva | Updated on January 12, 2018

Subbu Viswanathan and Kuljit Chadha, founders of Learntron

Tech start-up Learntron combines classroom rigour and self-learning

When two co-founders who are engineers and ISB graduates, who have had corporate stints in big names such as McKinsey, E&Y and Reliance Media and with prior entrepreneurial experience start a venture, you would think life is a cake walk. The journey of Subbu Viswanathan and Kuljit Chadha makes one think hard about the role of pedigree in start-up success.

Their second serial venture as co-founders of learning-and-productivity tech start-up Learntron is nothing short of being a poster child for success – marquee customer wins in India and overseas in less than one year of launch, 40 per cent quarterly growth and seed funding from Kae Capital. But the story starts with their first edu-tech venture.

“Subbu called me one day in 2010 and discussed an idea to do tablet-based teaching in schools,” recalls Kuljit, who was then working with Cleartrip. “I thought it was amazing and when he asked me to join as co-founder, I agreed,” he adds. Subash, then with McKinsey, launched Harness and the team in Chennai developed a tablet app for classroom teaching “We knew that tablets had a transformative potential in education,” says Viswanathan, whose entrepreneurial journey started, as a fresh IIT-Madras graduate, with an ERP start-up in the manufacturing space, along with his father. The new edu-tech venture faced difficulty in raising serious capital. “We still managed to raise four small rounds of funds from angels and debt from Indian Bank. The sales cycles in schools were long; still we got decent if not spectacular traction, especially in the Middle East,” says Viswanathan. In 2014, when they won a competition in Europe and had an offer to be bought out by a UK fund, they decided to take it. Technology transfer was completed by the end of 2015.

Harnessing the experience

Viswanathan, who is passionate about the education sector, wanted to harness their learnings with the first start-up. “Open online courses were catching on, but there were many issues. Completion rates are poor as students are not engaged. We wanted to develop a product to help blended learning – combining the flexibility of self-paced learning with the rigour that comes with instructor-led training — fully online,” he says. Learntron was launched in 2015 with a part of the original Harness team. “We got our first customer order in early 2016. There has been no looking back from there,” he says.

The product has a versatile learning engine that makes it relevant for both education and enterprise.

For online educators, it offers tools to go online from classroom training, combining content, assessments, gamification and collaborative social learning elements. Curriculum designers / teachers have features to break a long self-learning session into bite-sized chunks. But its USP is an innovative live classroom module that works on very low bandwidths. It also uses a new format for tutorial videos with support for features such as annotations.

For enterprises, the product can be used as a mobile micro-learning and engagement platform. This is helpful for companies with dispersed workforce as they can achieve better on-the-ground performance on core operations such as sales, distribution or logistics.

Learntron’s marquee customers include TalentEdge, UpGrad, Aakash and MeritNation. Other education customers include DPS Doha, Birla Schools Kolkata and GD Goenka Schools. The solution is also used in corporate learning environment by the Mahindra Group, Huawei, Delhivery and Scope International.

Shubhankar Bhattacharya of Kae Capital, which recently funded Learnttron, says that customer feedback for the product has been extremely positive. “The many possibilities in the corporate segment – as a communication tool for a distributed workforce – has been exciting,” he says.

Fast learning

Learntron recently launched sports courses in partnership with Baseline Ventures — the sports management firm that manages shuttler PV Sindhu’s and cricketer Ravindra Jadeja’s endorsements. Baseline’s role is in getting the faculty and content; Learntron will manage the technology and delivery. Courses are expected to start in March. “This association helped us build the e-commerce / collection feature, which is another key element in online education,” says Chadha.

The start-up is growing at a fast clip, with revenues increasing 40 per cent quarterly. This pace is expected to continue for the next six quarters, says Viswanathan. The venture is focusing on overseas expansions in geographies such as South-East Asia and West Asia, where it has a headstart.

“Our business is built on strong fundamentals and we don’t need to burn cash on digital advertising”, says Chadha.

The co-founders feel that their distributed corporate structure – of Chadha in Mumbai and Viswanathan in Chennai - is working well and would continue. “While our tech team is presently in Chennai, we are already experimenting with Mumbai as a development location. We think there is tech talent in Mumbai from local colleges that would prefer to stay there instead of moving to Pune or Bengaluru. We hope to tap that and our early dipstick has been promising”, says Viswanathan.

So, what do the co-founders think is one key trait that is a must to be an entrepreneur? Persistence, say the accomplished duo. Hands down, over pedigree.

Published on February 06, 2017

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