Arunprakash M says his stint in a data warehousing start-up in Bengaluru gave him an entirely new perspective on work. He had previously worked in large companies, including at Honeywell in Madurai. When he went for an interview with the start-up, he says he was surprised to find that they didn’t question him on his technical knowledge and instead chose to ask him about problem solving using data structures. “They didn’t care about my programming. I asked them and they said, if you are good in basics, you can learn other things from Google,” recalls Arunprakash.
This, in a way, laid the foundation for Arunprakash to turn entrepreneur a few years later. At the start-up he worked on multiple technologies. After three-and-a-half years at the start-up, Arunprakash joined PayPal in Chennai, where he learnt a few more lessons that would help him when he turned entrepreneur.
Arunprakash met his co-founders at the places he worked in; Sridevi at Honeywell and SP Balamurugan at PayPal.
The three started GUVI as a YouTube channel when they were still in PayPal. Arunprakash says a visit to his alma mater while at PayPal opened his eyes to an immense possibility. He felt that engineering students were not getting the right kind of exposure and he thought of sharing the technical knowledge in regional languages to help students in tier-2 and -3 towns. Their reasoning was that one can always learn English, but had to be strong in basics, which could be best understood in the mother tongue.
They started off with concepts such as design patterns, programming languages and data structures. And, rather than get into the what of it, they decided to focus on the why. They started off with one programming language called Python and then got into others, including C, C++ and Java. They had about 700 technical courses on the platform, in the form of byte-sized videos, for free. GUVI itself took off in 2014. They developed the content in five languages – Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Kannada and Bengali – and all the work was done on a voluntary basis.
It was a chance introduction to Ashok Jhunjhunwala, a professor in the Electrical Engineering Department at IIT-Madras that got them doing a project for IIT-Madras. For this, they built a platform and quit their jobs and registered GUVI as a company in 2014. They put in their savings into the venture and only when they started seeing revenues 6-8 months after launching the company did they believe that the venture would work out.
“Initially,” says Arunprakash, “we had a lot of trouble convincing people as we were teaching in regional languages. Now, that has become the norm. Three years back it was hard to sell the concept.”
GUVI, according to him, is a two-sided platform, where students can learn to do programming and companies can come and recruit. GUVI shares the profiles of those who learn on its platform with the companies and the work that those who learn on the platform is stored against their profiles. Instead of saying a person knows Java, whatever programming anyone has done using Java will be saved under their profile. That is the first level of validation that GUVI gives companies.
GUVI, according to Arunprakash, gets its income from the students who learn on its platform and the companies that recruit using it. It only charges students who want a certification. The company signs up with engineering colleges to get students on to the platform and charges each student a fee for 180-200 hours of course. “We give only courses that are in demand with the industry. Since we work with companies, we know what is in demand and we suggest only those courses,” says Arunprakash.
Apart from college students, GUVI has working professionals learning on the platform. It has learners from France, Australia and the US. The company has 150 experts to give individual mentoring. About 1.2 lakh students have signed up on the platform so far, of which 60,000 are free users and the balance paying ones.
The company estimates at least 5,500 learners on its platform would have been recruited by companies. These companies include GoFrugal, FreshWorks, PayPal and Symantec. Nearly 55 companies hire on the platform.
According to him, GUVI has a decent presence in Tamil Nadu and this year plans to tap colleges in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Eventually, it wants to have a presence in the national capital region, Maharashtra and West Bengal. Then, it would like to expand globally, to begin with in West Asia. The company will look to raise about ₹15 crore later this year. The course material is validated by independent experts, including for the language it is in, and the platform is versatile to provide courses in the latest technology. It will have machine learning capability to even recommend courses that a student should take depending on his or her preference.