Way back in 2011, Ashwin Damera and Chaitanya Kalipatnapu, both graduates of prestigious ivy leagues, startedfor business executives in India so they could have access to executive education from leading global universities.
For Ashwin, who holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, the primary goal behind the venture was making high quality education accessible and affordable.
“I was fortunate enough to complete an MBA from Harvard, and it definitely changed my life, but how many can actually afford or have access to it?” he asks.
Co-founder Chaitanya, who holds an MBA from INSEAD, was equally passionate about mentoring.
A chartered accountant by training, Ashwin started an online travel startup in 2005, which he later sold in 2009. Post this, he wanted to started something in the healthcare or education segment.
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Ashwin decided on education, and the rationale behind this was very simple.
“I would like to measure the quality of my life or purpose from the number of people who have benefitted because we exist.”
Eruditus started with small offline classes for management executives in India, with professors visiting from global universities. However, the launch was not so smooth as many of the universities were not convinced about the model, and it took some convincing to onboard them.
Still, Eruditus ran the offline model for five years – a profitable business that too, before the founders realised that if they had to really take it scale, then online was the best option.
To take their business online, Eruditus needed the money and this is where the irony lay.
“I approached about 20 venture capitalists to fund our online expansion but got rejected by everybody,” recalls Ashwin.
One investor questioned whether he was a promoter or entrepreneur as Eruditus was already a profitable business with around $7-8 million in annual revenue.
Not one to be dissuaded, Ashwin worked through his Harvard network, and received a cheque for $1 million from an investor in the US, and cumulatively raised around $4 million, before launching online. A year later, when the entrepreneurs were able to show the results of their online traction, Eruditus managed to raise more funding.
The five odd years the company spent in the offline format, however, had its advantages, as the company’s blended classes helped Eruditus come up with an optimum product suitable for both offline and online modes.
Eruditus, which offers nearly 250 courses, strives to bring universities and students on the same platform. As simple as that sounds, it is not, as the team had their work cut out in convincing prestigious universities and business schools to dispense their knowledge and expertise online without compromising on quality.
“Nearly 70 percent of the courses that are taught on our platform is very different from the way universities teach in the offline format,” says Ashwin.
So, Eruditus was left to create its online content from scratch – right from instruction, filming, post production, managing simulation, etc.
“Online classes are not just about listening to something online while eating popcorn,” quips Ashwin. To keep it engaging for the students, Eruditus had to work on various formats.
The classes of Eruditus are very interactive which requires constant interaction and attention from the students. There are also regular monitoring on the students performance right through the course.
The leadership team of Eruditus
The startup also began focussing on courses relevant for the future – data science, analytics, digital marketing, fintech, crypto, bitcoin, cyber security, coding, and more.
Video lectures, live sessions, and simulations take precedence at Eruditus. “These are pretty intensive and hardcore courses,” says Ashwin.
“We had to really think about designing courses for a working professional. As students, they need to understand if the courses are right for them,” says Ashwin.
And more importantly, understand the outcome of the programmes designed.
“From day one, we were very clear that learning outcomes matter as it is not just about getting a certificate. There is a delta on who you are before and after the programme,” explains Ashwin.
All that research helped, as today Eruditus is able bring in top-end courses from leading universities – be it MIT or IIT – and also in languages outside of English like Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, and Arabic.
“When we launched our fully online programme in 2015, the world changed for us. Based out of Mumbai, Eruditus started offering courses across 80 countries from the top 50 universities of the globe,” says Ashwin.
The student profile for Eruditus falls under three buckets: professionals early in their careers – zero to five years of experience; mid-career professionals with 5-15 year experience; and CXOs. Each category of students have their own requirements for upskilling, reskilling and strategic thinking.
What do universities gain from partnering with a platform like Eruditus? To this, Ashwin says, “We help them teach more globally and digitally. For every university, reaching global students is exciting.”
This is true for universities based out of the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Singapore, and even top tier Indian institutions.
However, Ashwin believes Eruditus’ biggest innovation has been the creation of SPOCs – small private online courses, as opposed to MOOC (massive open online courses).
“SPOCs is very cohort-based – where there is a lot of discussion, debate and feedback,” says Ashwin.
Today, Eruditus and its online brand Emeritus, reach nearly 100,000 students; with plans to reach around 250,000 in the next 12 months. Around 35 percent of its students are from the US, 20 percent from India and rest from across the world.
According to Eruditus, their courses have on an average seen around 85 percent completion. A large percentage of students experience a change in terms of newer jobs or better transitions.
In August this year, Eruditus raised $650 million in Series E round, and entered the coveted unicorn club with a valuation of $3.2 billion. Investors including Accel, SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Sequoia India, Bertelsmann, and Prosus among others, participated in the round. It has cumulatively raised around $800 million.
There is no dearth of competition in the edtech sector in India. Startups such as Upgrad, Great Learning or Coursera are in a similar league, although Ashwin does not view it that way.
The percentage of people getting into college after high school stands at 30 percent in India, and the government aims to increase that number to 40 percent. This would mean creation of 12 million new seats, which is unlikely to be fulfilled solely through the brick and mortar format.
“Higher education is a $3 trillion market globally, and no one company is going to solve this or the reskilling challenge,” he says.
He believes many models will emerge to solve this problem, but providing high quality education is tricky, and mis-selling by commercial establishments cannot be ruled out.
“There should be a certain sanctity to high quality education,” says Ashwin.
Eruditus has registered a heady growth in its revenue booking – growing from $66 million about two years ago to now touching $175 million. It aims to cross $500 million by June 2022.
“We are still breaking even in operations as there are still investments being made for growth,” reveals Ashwin.
Eruditus has a team of over 1,400 people sitting out of India, Latin America, the US, Europe, Dubai, and Shanghai. The larger goal for this edtech startup is to reach a $1 billion in revenue in three years – reaching out to over five lakh students.
From 50 universities presently, the startup aims to partner with 100-150 universities in the future.
“Our story started as an Indian company classroom, but now, we are a global company online,” says Ashwin.
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