Episode 85 / October 4, 2020

Mohan Lakhamraju, Founder, Great Learning on building $100 Million ARR EdTech Business in India

hr min

Episode 85 / October 4, 2020

Mohan Lakhamraju, Founder, Great Learning on building $100 Million ARR EdTech Business in India

hr min
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In this episode of 100x Entrepreneur Podcast, we have interacted with Mohan Lakhamraju where he shares his journey of building Great Learning and Great Lakes Institute of Management.

Mohan initially worked with Tiger Global Management for 3 years, setting up their India office. During this period one of his focus areas was the education sector in India and South-east Asian markets. This was how he developed an inclination towards the education sector and decided to set-up a B-school specifically catering to management professionals in the Energy sector.

Notes –

01:20 – Journey from IIT Bombay, UC Berkeley & Stanford University to joining Tiger Global

06:19 – Realising himself to be more of an Entrepreneur than an Investor

07:13 – Taking insights for online learning from the early journey of Coursera

08:56 – How has high-quality education impacted his journey?

10:15 – “Most people never experience excellence”

17:05 – Learnings while building Great lakes & Great learning?

23:33 – At what scale Great learning is currently operating in terms of enrollments & programs

31:09 – What is the opportunity cost of not learning or not doing something new?

38:50 – How is Great learning helping colleges & universities conduct effective online classes with their platform?

43:36 – His viewpoint on the future for Edtech in India

49:22 – His advice for entrepreneurs looking to build Edtech startups

Read the full transcript here:

Siddhartha 0:00

Hi, Siddhartha Ahluwalia. Welcome to the 100x Entrepreneur podcast. Today, I have with me Mohan Lakhamraju, who is the founder and CEO of great learning, an E-learning platform for working professionals to upgrade their competencies and succeed in the digital economy. He also co-founded great learning with a vision to make it a lifelong learning partner for Indian young professionals. Great learning has delivered over 25 million hours of learning to thousands of professionals from across India and conducts programs across six cities in India presently. Mohan also served as the vice-chairman and CEO of Great Lakes Institute of Management, one of India’s leading business schools, where he spirits its growth and innovation. Over the past six years, he has set up and developed a second campus in Gurgaon. Prior to this, he was the managing director, India for Tiger global, where he focuses on investments in India and other emerging markets. He has also spent close to 10 years in Silicon Valley first as an entrepreneur helping building a SaaS company called stratify, which is now a division of Hewlett Packard. And then as a venture capitalist, at Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Mohan, welcome to the podcast.


Mohan 1:17

Thank you, Siddhartha. It’s great to be here.


Siddhartha 1:19

Mohan, though I have summarized your profile. I would love to know about your journey from yourself, you know, how you got started after your education? What were the key things in your life which changed your trajectory? And what are you doing in education, and why you’re doing it?


Mohan 1:40

Siddhartha, you know, as you will be able to relate to so many more people will be able to relate to, I come from lower middle class family. Both my parents were government servants, my mother was a lecturer, my father was a researcher. And so, always there was a lot of emphasis on education, I was always good at studies and all of that, and went to a very small school, not much exposure. And then I appeared for GE, and was fortunate to do well. So went to IIT Bombay, did computer science there, and did well there was able to go to graduate school at at UC Berkeley. So, you know, one big transformational point in my life was going to IIT, I think, you know, the exposure that I got there, the kind of people that I met there, really changed my worldview. And another big transformation point was when I went to the Bay Area, and got exposure to the people there. I realized that, ironically, that I did not want to be an academic. And dropped out of my PhD, I joined a very successful serial entrepreneur called Rakesh Mathur, in this company called stratify. And you know, this was the late 90s. And we had a very, very interesting ride up and down, you know dot com, bust the bubble. And then, you know, went through some pivots and eventually had a fairly successful outcome. At that company, I realized that I needed to learn more, and equip myself with better awareness and skills. So I went to business school at Stanford. And again, that was a very transformational experience, a massive amount of exposure and learning about a lot of different things. And as I was going through all of this, I was very clear that I wanted to come back to India, I felt that I got a lot out of what India had to offer. And I wanted to have an impact in India, that was a very important driving force for me. And I felt that at that time, if I can be, you know, kind of a facilitator for a lot of investments happening in India, and support the whole India shining in India growth story, that would be a very meaningful contribution. And so first, I did that at DFJ, where I was the first person looking at investments in India, this was very early days in the Indian investment ecosystem, and then at Tiger Global. So, that’s what I did for a few years. And as I was going through that, at Tiger, it so happened that I was asked to look at Education globally. And so I got exposure to education companies in China, in Korea, Singapore, you know, Latin America, US, Europe, India, of course. And that’s kind of how I got into education, and over a period of time, have developed a passion for it. I was always good at education, and it’s something that always resonated with me, but once I saw things closely, particularly in India, I heard so many people complain about the poor quality of our education system. And I saw very few people actually doing anything about it. You know, this was a time when most academic institutions were, you know, kind of owned and owned by people from real estate, political backgrounds, you know, manufacturing, and all of those kinds of things. And these are not people that were really focused on education. And that was kind of the state of affairs. So 2009, when the whole slowdown happened after the financial crisis, you know, it gave me a lot of time to introspect and think and so forth. And that’s when I decided that, you know, I, you know, I really want to get into education and solve the quality problem, that was really what was motivating me, the other thing I realized is that I’m by nature, a very passionate person. And as an investor, you need to be dispassionate, you know, so, in fact, passion makes you, you know, not be a great investor, right, because you get too attached to different things, you don’t really, it’s hard to figure out the right time to sell if you’re very passionate about something. So I think my nature lends myself to be an entrepreneur more than an investor. And, you know, I realized that as well. So these two things came together in 2009. And that’s when I left and, you know, focused on education, internet wasn’t as well developed at that time in 2009. And so online learning was practically nonexistent. So, while my goal was always to have an impact at a large scale, and to ensure that as many people as possible can experience, the transformational impact of high quality learning, we started that time in a physical setting, that’s when I set up a business school and then later, you know, combine that with Great Lakes, and, you know, so and then worked on Great Lakes for several years to produce a lot of innovative things. And, you know, it’s the youngest Business School in India today to, you know, be among the top-ranked schools. You know, but the goal was always, you know, to do things at a larger scale. So 2012-2013, once we saw that, you know, Coursera was beginning to take off globally, Edx had started, you know, so that those kind of gave the initial visibility that people were beginning to learn online. Yeah. And the founder of Coursera is my classmate from Berkeley. And, you know, I used to interact with him every year. So I, you know, kind of got some insight into what was happening on Coursera, what was working, what was not working. So that informed choices. So in 2013, when we started the online business, and we kind of spun out, spun it out from Great Lakes to great learning, that was how great learning was born, the call that we took was that, to have high quality learning outcomes, most people need support and assistance. You know, so our education system in India doesn’t really equip us to be good self learners. Yeah, because we’ve always been kind of handheld and, and guided towards what we do by our teachers, right. So, therefore, the completion rates on platforms like Coursera, and edX were very poor continue to be very low. So, we said that we don’t want to be another MOOC platform. And instead, we believed and formulated this model of assisted learning or mentored learning, as we call it, where students learn, but with assistance, so the entire learning journey is supported. So that’s kind of how Great Learning started in 2013. And yeah, and here we are. So let me pause there, and then we’ll be happy to go into more detail.


Siddhartha 8:45

So, Mohan to summarize your experience going into IIT, and then going into UC Berkeley and Stanford, helped you to think big, if I have to summarize it in one word?


Mohan 9:02

Oh, absolutely. And you know, so, these schools are very good at bringing together you know, the most talented, the most ambitious, the most capable people on the planet, right. You know, so in IIT Bombay, you know, you have the best guys in India coming there with a variety of talents. Same thing in Berkeley and Stanford. So when you see those things, when you interact with folks like that, you know, you one, it expands your horizons a lot, right? You kind of you get to see what is possible, because there’s inspiration all around, right, so so it’s very easy to get inspired. And these kinds of places. You know, in fact, one thing I believe is that once you experience excellence in any form, you know, you it changes you as a person, you know, your own expectations from yourself, change and That’s actually one of the things that drive me. I’ve noticed that most people in India, you know, go through their entire life without ever experiencing excellence. You know, unfortunately, that was the case, things are changing now, which is wonderful, but in something that I observed this and saw it closely that most people never experience excellence, right? So through high-quality learning, if we can actually get them to experience excellence, that changes your mindset, it changes your expectations from yourself. And, you know, and it can have really superlinear impact. And that’s what happens at these top schools.


Siddhartha 10:37

And you never wanted to, let’s say, be a venture capitalist or an entrepreneur before joining these institutes. That worldview, you only got after you got into the B schools.


Mohan 10:49

Absolutely. I’ll tell you, so, till my 11th class, I’ve never heard about it. Okay. My father heard about it, because one of his colleagues’ son got into it. Okay, before that, I had never heard of it. My aspiration, or whatever my parents and grandparents told me growing up is that I should become is IAS. So that was the only thing I knew about, right. I didn’t know anything about IIT. So, at that time, my dad told me that this is something that’s good, it’s a good college, so you should prepare for it. And you should get it till I went to IIT, I didn’t know anything about the universities in the US. Okay. You know, till I went to Berkeley, I didn’t know anything about venture capital, I didn’t know anything about entrepreneurship. And even that, I got to know because there were professors at Berkeley, who had started companies that had become very high profile. Okay, there was a professor called Eric Brewer, who had started this company called Inktomi, which was actually a search engine that had started before Google. So he was like a rockstar there and, you know, by learning about him, and, you know, that was my first brush, with entrepreneurship, and, you know, and venture capital. And of course, then there were so many people there that, you know, like, every other person in the Bay Area is an entrepreneur or wants to be an entrepreneur,


Siddhartha 12:07

So, Mohan, which town in India, you grew up in, you know, while you were doing your 11th and 12th? And why I’m asking it is, you know, you consistently pushed above your weight, you know, going into IIT, then going into Berkeley’s and going into Stanford, what was the force driving you to do it,


Mohan 12:23

You know, like I told you, right, it’s basically inspiration from the people around me, you know, so, and in my school, my inspiration came from my teachers and my peers, and I went to a really small school with only 500 students. And, you know, that was the, that was what I could see, that was the thing that was more than that right to be, you know, as good, if not better than what I could see. When I went to, you know, IIT you know, I saw a lot more, I was inspired by the people around, their capabilities. And I always believed in my ability to work hard. Right? So I felt that if I work hard at anything, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to accomplish something. So you take inspiration from folks around, and then you work hard at whatever it is, and then you know, and then hopefully, the outcomes will happen.


Siddhartha 13:15

And similarly happened to you, you know, when you went into Tiger global, what position you join in? And, you know, what was the ride of those three years? Tiger global, because today Tiger global is the best, you know, I would say, among the best VCs in terms of the kind of returns, they have delivered.


Mohan 13:34



Siddhartha 13:36

Flipkart or other investments.


Mohan 13:39

Yeah, you know, even back then, you know, Tiger was having excellent performance. So the people at Tiger were extremely talented, extremely talented, extremely smart, you know, so, in fact, when I first went there, I was totally, totally intimidated. You know, and I, I had this thing that, you know, like, that I don’t really belong. You know, I don’t you know, these guys have so smart, how am I going to, you know, you know, be like them, right. So, and, again, I learned from them, I, you know, they were good at coaching and pushing you to learn. So, so it was good to learn. I spent about a year in New York, where it was all about learning. You know, it was like a crash course in learning. And I think that the learning journey never stopped. It was ups and downs. 2006 was a crazy year going up. 2007 was another crazy 2008 was all down. You know, so, it was a bumpy ride. And at that time, it was largely public markets. You know, Tiger was more of a hedge fund. There was no early stage investing that Tiger was doing at that time. So I think all of those started after 2011 when I was there, it was all public markets and late stage private equity.


Siddhartha 15:07

Yeah. And I think that’s the point that Lee Fixel became active after 2009 2010 Tiger in a different direction, from hedge funds to early stage that’s firstly in a very far known or I would say unknown land called India.


Mohan 15:26

So, you know, Tiger is doing investments in India and all of that in India also since 2006 2000. Even then, but it was all like I said, public markets, and late stage and so Lee focused on, you know, rest of the world and China and all of that, I think 2010 or 11, is when he started looking at India.


Siddhartha 15:48

And once you, you know, moved out of Tiger and because you said you are a passionate person by nature, so, here is another very key point, which I want to highlight that you said that being passionate helps you being an entrepreneur, but not an investor, because if you start becoming more subjective towards your experience, rather than having a look at look at experiences or situations objectively, is that so?


Mohan 16:14

Exactly, exactly, yeah, so I had a tendency to, you know, kind of become, you know, heavily, emotionally invested in the businesses that I would back. You know, and, and I think, particularly when you are a late-stage, and I think it helps when you are in early-stage investors, because they’re, you know, that involvement in investment is required, but as a late stage, and public markets, investors, that’s actually I think, not a good thing at all, you need to be able to be very objective and decide, you know, when to move on, when to get in and be able to take those calls, you know, much more driven by numbers, and driven by data.


Siddhartha 17:01

Yeah. And Mohan, coming onto your journey of building Great Lakes, and then Great Learning, you know, can you share the key moments, you know, which pushed you into a different orbit, let’s say, for example, IIT, Berkeley and Stanford pushed you into a different orbit Tiger put into higher orbit? What were your key moments as a journey in the entrepreneur, that put you into a higher orbit?


Mohan 17:26

I think it was basically learning experiences, right. So, you know, education is hard. You know, that’s one thing I have learned, right? So you know, you are talking about something that’s very important to people. And it’s not a transactional thing. It’s not something that happens, you know, in one instance, or in one day or something like that, right? It’s an experience that usually lasts over a period of time. And you need to develop a product or service that actually delivers across long period of time. Right. So, so getting it all right, there are many, many moving parts, and there are many touchpoints. So getting it all right is a hard problem. Right? I think so. So that is, of course, the you know, first thing one has to learn when you know, when you look at it from outside, you look at numbers, you look at metrics, you look at all of those things, and you know, things on a spreadsheet, look the same regardless of the nature of the business, but education is something you know, that is getting it right is pretty hard. And, you know, probably similar stakes, are there, even higher stakes in healthcare. So that’s definitely a realization that we had, you know, fairly early on. But the second most important thing that I learned, you know, this was through the first business school that I set up, it was a business school focused on the energy sector, we called the Institute of energy management and research. And that came by identifying the need that there had been reforms in the power industry, renewable energy was beginning to take off, but there wasn’t any school that was creating talent for that industry. Right. So, we saw that gap. So rather than, you know, start with something that is generic, we started with something niche, you know, but very quickly, we could become the best. And, and so, that was one thing. And the second thing I realized is that, you know, what matters in education is really people. Right? It’s the faculty, the passion that they have the expertise that they have. So at that Institute, I EMR you know, we were in just a rented building of 12,000 square feet, we did not have any accreditation, we did not have any name recognition. We did not have any campus or anything like that. We just had three classrooms. And yet in that small and in fact, when we started, we didn’t even have that building. We started in another building where there was just one classroom, and you know, two office rooms. That’s where we started for the first one year we were there. But then the outcomes that we had even with that first batch there, you know if you measure it by an average salary that they got it already put us in the top 20 schools in the country. Okay. So what that showed me is that outcomes are what matter. And the main thing that goes into those outcomes is intellectual property. It’s the faculty, it’s the content, it’s the curriculum, the pedagogy, and the experiences that the students have. And I, you know, kind of shamelessly borrowed from what I experienced at Stanford, in the, in the kind of experiences that the students had. Right. So. So for me, it was very clear at that point that, you know, the thing that matters is the software, the IP, okay, and not the hardware, I infrastructure. infrastructure is important. But that’s not the critical determining factor. So that also gave the confidence that okay, if that’s what that matters, then it actually lends itself to doing even larger scale through technology. Right, so, so that confidence came from there. So at Great Lakes, we were very innovative. You know, we get innovating. And the same thing translated into great learning as well, when we started Great Learning, we focused on analytics, right, this was a time when analytics was just beginning to take off, industry needed a lot of people, education system wasn’t producing them. So there was a gap. So we started in there. And we did a very good job with we built a reputation for ourselves. And we were basically running what became the best analytics program in the country, right then, you know, and great learnings analytics program, we were competing with ISBs, we’re competing with IIM Bangalore, right. And here it is a small edtech, startup, you know, running this program and competing with giants. And then it basically is the power of intellectual property. So I think those were some of the key lessons that happened. And then in between, I also got involved with the University in western UP called Mangalatayan and university, you know, so that was an experiment that we need to see how we take institutions that did not have quality and how we can transform it to have quality. So that’s something that, you know, the lot of experiments we did there in terms of what does it take for high quality learning to happen to learn a lot of things from there as well. So all of those experiences ultimately went into building the learning journey and the learning experience, at great learning


Siddhartha 22:31

some of the very key important traits you mentioned about building our education institute or education digital platform. The first is that you are providing an experience that stays with you forever, with the stage with the user, who is experiencing it forever, for example, still now you are able to recall very fondly, or memories, or Stanford or it. The second point is it has to be outcome-driven. What outcome does it provide to a user and the difference, this outcome, if it’s not life-changing, or as I call it, you know, shift into a higher orbit, or that user, it’s not transformational orders, it doesn’t build that kind of Institute, the word of mouth, which you want to build? And the other important factor is the IP, which you mentioned, is all about the people. Let’s say, as you mentioned, not the infrastructure that you know, who is the faculty you are bringing in what’s the course curriculum, you are able to design during that point of which is tailored to bring up a Delta positive change in outcome? So, Mohan Can you share some numbers around revenues of Great Learning as well as Great Lakes of Management?


Mohan 23:51

So, let’s talk about Great Learning. And you know, I can discuss that with you. So, we have been either doubling or more every year from the beginning of our journey in late 2013. Right, and so, in fact, we probably could have done more, if we wanted to, but our focus was always on ensuring quality. If we ever had to make a trade off between quality and growth, we made that trade off in the favor of quality. Because that’s very important. If you remember, you know, my reason for coming into education is to solve the quality problem, you know, make sure that everyone to the extent possible can experience quality education, so that so that we end up was the primary priority. So that’s how we took calls. So last year, we did about 43 million in revenue bookings, the year before that was about 19. So we had grown about 150 percent. I think, in million the currency plays into an effect, but you know, in terms, you know, we had done 135. And then we did 325. And, you know, we expect to have a similar performance again this year, as well. So, and in terms of students, you know, we, we have about 30,000 students. So, now our programs are transformational, like we talked about. So typically, these are fairly long duration. So, many of them are, you know, 11 months, 12 months long, some of them are six months long. And the idea is that, you come in not knowing much about a certain area, and then you go out, learning enough that you can actually do a job in that area. Right. So that’s what I call as transformational education, as opposed to incremental education, where you do a, you know, short course of like, three weeks, four weeks, and then you pick up some skill, or you learn some new tool, or you learn some, you know, a new language, which is basically helping you do your current job, right. So, so that’s the difference between incremental learning and transformational learning. So, we focus on transformational learning. So for the first five years of our journey, we were largely focused on professional learning, right, this is helping working professionals rescale themselves, or upskill themselves in the demand areas that are being demanded by the changing nature of work, right. So, people refer to it as digital digital economy, right. So all the things, so that’s what we focused on. After that, we also started focusing on higher education. Okay, as you know, our higher education doesn’t fully equip most of the learners to fit into the workplace seamlessly, right. So, and there are various reasons why that is the case, but that is the reality. So there is a gap there. So we have been working on addressing that gap, you know, by partnering with academic institutions to offer degree programs, and you know, to participating in the higher education space as well. So, so these are the two areas now that we are focused on. And of course, starting in the last year and a half, two years, we realize that the same things that we are doing for professionals in India, is actually also needed by professionals outside of India. So now, so we’ve started offering our programs, you know, outside of India, so we have learners from all over the world. In fact, today, we have learners from hundred and 40 countries from around the world. And yeah, and we also we have paid learners from 85 countries, and that number is growing as well. So broadly, three things professional learning in India, and globally, and higher education in India. So these are the areas that we are focused on right now. So our entire learner base today stands at about half a million, and, you know, growing fast, I think by December, we should cross a million or a million and a half, it’s, you know, the, that’s where there’s a lot of boost that we got no, because of the COVID pandemic and all of that. So, you know, so that is definitely accelerated our engagement with learners, too.


Siddhartha 28:27

So your average ticket size would roughly be around $100 per learner for a course of six to 12 months, or it will be higher than that?


Mohan 28:35

No, it’s higher than that. So I think the way to think about it, you know, we have several categories of programs, but, you know, the, what we have been doing for the longest what I call as, you know, this transformational professional learning programs, right, so, so these are closer to your master’s level programs. Right. So, in the past, you know, whenever you wanted to have big carrier shifts, or, you know, you wanted to shift your areas, how did you do that? some people went in, get an MBA. An MBA would be two years long, you would have to take a break from work, or you will do an executive MBA that took you even longer three years evening classes are the kind of stuff right, so there is no convenience. So what we are doing effectively is a reimagined Master’s education for the 21st century, right? One where it fits into your lifestyle while you are continuing to work. And it is, it is created in a manner that you know, you are learning what you need. Okay, so the traditional master’s programs were meant for you for your career for your entire career. Right, so you learn certain things that you would immediately use if you think in an MBA, right? All your kind of in the core courses that you would learn and all of those you are expected to use immediately. But then you also learn about, you know, change management and leadership and things like that, which you don’t really use in the first few years of your career. Right. So, what we are doing essentially is to have things that you need, and you will use for the next three, four years of your career. You know, so, so that’s kind of how our programs are thought of, right. And now typical MBA programs, you know, you know, are priced at, like anywhere from five lakhs to 20 lakhs in our country or some of them are like ISB is like 35 lacs. Yeah. So, our programs are typically priced at about two and a half lakhs.


Siddhartha 30:26

okay, for roughly around 2500 to $300.


Mohan 30:29

Yeah, $2500. And, you know, students/learners are doing this, because they actually get the ROI, you know, very quickly, transitions, they are able to get the career transitions either in their existing companies, or they’re able to move to other companies get promotions, all of that kind of stuff. And typically, they get the ROI, you know, whatever they’ve invested, they get it back within two to three years. So, so that is one aspect of it. The other aspect, you know, is you basically think about, okay, what is the cost of not learning? Right? You know, you’re in a job, and it’s not going anywhere, you can see the writing on the wall, things are changing, you know, see, there are at least four to 5 million people in India, that are engaged with technology, their job engages and involves technology that where things are changing a lot. Right? So what is the cost of not doing something, if you don’t learn something new? You know, you may actually, you know, hit a dead end. And we read these reports in other countries, right? So in China, if you’re 40 Plus, you know, it’s possible for you to find a job, why because your skills are antiquated, you’re too expensive. Okay, so, so that’s the, you know, cost of not doing something, you know, and the same thing is gonna happen in India as well as, as we adopt technology more and more, as the transformation happens as AI takes, you know, the deeper and deeper route across industries, people have to learn or, you know, they will find themselves out of the workplace.


Siddhartha 32:05

No, you’re absolutely right, the cost of not learning is not what most people figure out, you know, it’s just that people are calculating ROI on a $2500 course, but they are not calculating the minus ROI, if they’re not upgrading themselves continuously in a fast-changing world as is today. Yesterday, we were discussing analytics, today we are discussing AI ml, tomorrow, we would be discussing new transformative technology. And yes, somebody who was not on the curve of learning would completely miss out on where the world is moving towards. And Mohan, you mentioned that, you know, this year has been in terms of outcome for you, for Great Learning being the most transformational, you know, currently, you mentioned that last year, you had $43 million revenue, and I suppose this year, you might cross even hundred million dollar in revenue. So, what have been those forces because in different segments of education, there have been different or example in K 12 segment where let’s say a company like Byju’s or Toppr focuses on, there have been, you know, a huge vacuum, where parents are not able to send their kids to schools, and then there is this, you know, fear of missing out on the best tool available, which your child might miss out on next SharmaJi Ka Beta grab on to, right? So, that is one of them. The second part is you know, because online learning platforms are able to get the best resources, for example, one earlier if you had to go to Kota for IITcoaching, right, or, you know, for example, for your IAS preparation, you have to go to Chanakya in Delhi, that thing has been transformed by sitting at your home and platforms like Unacademy are able to bring that experience and when the time of COVID, physical movement is restricted. People are realizing the value that they do not need to miss out on the Best by subscribing to these platforms. But what’s there when I am trying to understand in higher education or masters level of education, which you are serving to that is accelerating your growth in terms of code.


Mohan 34:42

Yeah. So let’s talk about two different things. One is professional learning and one is higher education. Okay. If you think in terms of age, right, so higher education, this is how we think about it, like you know, between let’s say 17 years of age and 23 years of age, what you go through that is higher, right and then let’s say 24 years to 45 years, that’s professional learning. Right? So with professional learning, there are a couple of things that happened. One is that, you know, professionals had more time on their hands. Yeah. Okay, because of there being no commute working from home, you know, so whatever the latent interest that was there, you know, they had the opportunity to actually engage, right? So it’s not just us, right, all the professional learning platforms experienced substantially more engagement, continue to expand experience, come, you know, more engagement. So, at that point, we also made it easier for them to experience by introducing a lot of free courses, getting them to experience what it means, you know, so rather than it being a hypothetical thing, they can actually experience what we’re doing. Right, that’s when we started the great Learning Academy, you know, put out more than hundred courses for free. And these are all kind of foundational, introductory courses to help people start their learning journey. Right? Yeah. So we told them, you know, you start with this, you start with, they start learning, and there’s enough here for you to learn and benefit from similarly, other platforms also, you know, made a lot of things available for free. So, it helped a lot of people experienced, right. And experiencing, it also kind of removes the fear of the unknown, right? It’s like, you know, people may hesitate, you know, thinking what are we going to learn online, like, you know, who’s gonna sit in front of a computer and actually learn, I can’t do it, I won’t be able to do it. You know, like, that mindset that was there. This actually helped break that mindset. Okay, because people did this. And yes, some people did realize that, yes, you know, I can’t do this, I prefer to learn in person. But for a large number of people, this was like, Okay, this is actually not that bad. You know, I can actually learn, like, they said, Wow, this is super interesting. Actually, these guys are amazing. I’ve never had a teacher like this before, I’ve never inhibited this, you know, so many people had experiences like that as well. Okay. So that is, so just engaging and experiencing and getting over the fear of the unknown, that was one element that happened, okay. The second element is that for many companies, you know, this, this was also a time, you know, when either because their market conditions substantially deteriorate, or because, you know, they saw this as time to actually, you know, trim the fact that had accumulated, right, so, companies became very focused on, you know, you know, tightening the strings, right around, like, you know, people who are relevant, or the right people doing the right jobs, at big companies started focusing on those things, you know, which also led to a lot of layoffs. Right. And, you know, or people were told that, you know, you have to upskill you have to re skill, right, you know, otherwise your job is at risk. Yep. So, that kind of impetus also happened where, you know, either softly or through, you know, actions, companies sent a signal to the workforces that, you know, you have to basically, you know, the future proof yourself. So, that was a second driver. Right. So, I think, as far as professional learning is concerned, these are, you know, two drivers that happened, you know, because of which, you know, there is definitely heightened interest in and, you know, acceptance of learning online. In the higher education segment, it’s a different story. One is that most of our higher education is woefully underprepared to deal with online learning. Right? all colleges shut off and agree, you know, so basically, and this, there are most of them teachers have never done anything online. Yeah. And now suddenly, the directive goes saying that, hey, we need to conduct classes online. As you can imagine, in most cases, it’s a disaster. Okay. So, unfortunately, that is a state of affairs. And now in that some, some universities and progressive universities and top universities, you know, they have the wherewithal, they have the knowledge, they have the resourceful people, you know, who actually took action and who are able to do things properly. Okay, but that number within our country will be like less than 10%. Yeah. Right. So 90% of institutions were struggling. And so we are helping them as well, you know, so we have been giving a technology platform for, you know, colleges and universities to use to go online, right, because they’re all trying to do things with Zoom and Hangouts and things like that, which have nothing to do with education, right? These are basically conferencing products. And yes, you can do a live class, but what about the rest of the experience right here, whereas our platform, you know, is built from the ground up to capture the entire learning experience. So we are offering that and you know, now more than hundred institutions are actually using the platform. Right. And so to them, we are actually giving content we are giving best practices on how to teach online So we are going through an education process right now for our colleges and universities. And separately, like I said, we are also partnering with universities to actually create and offer entire programs, degree programs, which are very relevant, which are very market oriented. So, so basically bridging that gap between, you know, traditional programs and what the industry wants. So, our ability to innovate on curriculum and have the latest, whatever is required is far superior to most institutions. So, we are able to bring that, and so partner with universities and offer, you know, more, let’s say, cutting edge degree programs as well. So that’s what we are able to do in higher education. So that in higher education, by the way, not talking about professional learning, but in higher education itself, I think, by the end of this year, we’ll be engaged with more than a million students.


Siddhartha 41:02

That’s wonderful. And how much of, let’s say, if we have to measure by revenue would be coming from professional learning and by from higher education?


Mohan 41:12

Yeah, today, most of it will be professional learning, because this higher education is relatively new. So I would say maybe like 10% from higher education and 90% reduction.


Siddhartha 41:22

Okay, but you see a more impact going forward, in the higher education that you are able to have in terms of number of learners.


Mohan 41:29

Sure, right, because you know, that the sheer number of people who are in higher education is massive, there’s like 40 million students that are there in higher education today. And you know, most of them other than probably a million or 2 million are actually getting very poor quality education.


Siddhartha 41:43

Yeah. And I think if you have to compare by the number of Institutes except the few IITs, and a few private Institute’s, like yours and ISBs, none of them are equipped by themselves in terms of technology to deliver the same kind of experience which they were delivering offline.


Mohan 42:01

Correct. Absolutely. So I think that is another huge, you know, transformational trigger, you know, the, or rather, the pandemic is playing the role of right. So it’s forcing people to consider using technology. Okay. So, you know, those are the kind of conversations that we’re having, and the kind of people that we’re engaging with, these are people that have never really used technology. For them, ike using technology means using a laptop.


Siddhartha 42:27

Yeah. Suddenly from being an option, that, hey, we want to use a technology, it might be nice. Now, everybody, as you rightly said, there is no option to you have to use technology, or you shut your shop.


Mohan 42:40

Exactly. Exactly. So, you know, even now, the willingness to pay for technology is very poor. Right. So you know, so that is still a challenge. But I think people are realizing that, you know, you have to invest in technology, otherwise, you will just get left behind.


Siddhartha 42:58

Mohan, now touching on the final conclusion part of a podcast, you mentioned in an offline conversation that Edtech has always been the sibling of in terms of, you know, if we compare the startup landscape, or technology landscape in India, Tech has always been the sibling of the likes of e-commerce, the youngest sibling given the like, for food delivery, but today, it has emerged as clearly the elder brother of everything.


Mohan 43:27

So, I had mentioned it as a poor sibling. What’s to say, who’s better and who’s younger? See, I think, you know, every industry has a moment of, you know, kind of maturing or kind of crossing the Chasm, you know, in the classic, Crossing the Chasm terminology. So, I think, this might be the year where it went from being something that is niche and something that is early adopter driven market to something that is mainstream, okay. And it’s unfortunate that it took a global pandemic, you know, to make that happen. But even if it were not that they would have been other drivers, because that was definitely the path that we were on. Yeah. Right. You know, like, look at Byju’s, you know, how many people you would have thought five years back, you know, would actually have their kids like, learning on iPads or whatever tablets?


Siddhartha 44:26

Yes. Right.


Mohan 44:27

Byju’s had to spend a lot of money to market it and, you know, kind of educate people. And, you know, the pandemic, actually, you know, also did a job of educating people in a much more compressed amount of time at a much, much larger scale.


Siddhartha 44:44

Yep. And for where would you say, you know, the tech sector is going from now onwards, because, clearly there would be unicorns like, if I don’t talk in terms of valuations, I would think that Great Learning soon be a unicorn. Eruditus is already reaching there. It has 800 million valuation, Byju’s is a decocorn. Unacademy has reached $1.5 million. Where is Edtech sector going in the next, let’s say six months to 12 months?


Mohan 45:20

Yeah. See, there are two different things. One is basically what happens, you know, in the marketplace and the other is, you know, how do valuations reflect that? Right? So I think if we talk about what happens in the marketplace, it’s pretty clear that you know, the the digitization of education is now happening globally, okay. So, education is one of the last large sectors in the world that did not get digitized, okay, they have not gone life, right. You know, sector after sector over the last 20 years, 25 years, it has happened, right? You know, whether it is entertainment, or whether it is media, or whether it is logistics, or, you know, transportation, mobility, you know, travel, booking, like so many things have gone online. Right. Education is the one that was lagging behind. And I think because of whatever drivers we already spoke about that trend is firmly here now, it’s been happening for the last five years, and it’s now getting accelerated. So what that translates to is that if you take the global spend on education, certain percentage of that is going to keep going online every year. Yep. Okay. So last year, and the year before that in the US, if you look at the degree program enrollments, 30% happened in online programs. Yep. Okay, so today in India, that number is minuscule, it will be like, point something percent. Okay. So, you know, you can easily imagine that over the next five years, a certain percentage of all degree programming enrollments will be online. Yeah, that is, as far as degree programs, and similarly, lifelong learning we already talked about. Right. My personal belief is that when it comes to schools, you know, the physical is still important. I don’t think it can be substituted. You know, there are too many things beyond your just teaching and learning that happened in a school environment in terms of overall personality development and growth that happens where you still need schools, I don’t think schools are going away, and I don’t think schools are going on. Right, so all the supplementary things can go online. Okay. But I do believe in higher education, you know, they’ll be much more adoption of online professional learning, I think will largely be online. If I think even the kind of like all the training stuff that used to happen in companies. Okay. So there’s so much kind of offline training that used to happen in companies, and there’s so much resistance among them to actually go online. You know, they have to go online. Now, they didn’t have a choice. And they are recognizing, realizing that yes, this can be done. Maybe some of it for very senior leadership will go back offline, but for most of the others, it’s going to be a hundred percent online. Yep. Yep. Okay, so the entire corporate training market is going to go online. So, we’re talking about like global shifts of, you know, hundreds of billions of dollars of spends, that are going to move online, right. So naturally, that’s going to create companies that do well, in these areas, it will naturally create very valuable companies. So, it wouldn’t be surprising to see, you know, several, you know, unicorns are, and in many of these cases, you know, valuation, you know, comes in before even the market catches up.


Siddhartha 48:34

Yep, Mohan. And, you know, this perspective is very useful, I think, for listeners, who are directly or indirectly affected by Edtech sectors, I think the conversation has been very valuable. Thank you so much, Mohan, for taking your time out and sharing very candidly your thoughts, your insights on it.


Mohan 48:53

Siddhartha, my pleasure, thanks for giving me this opportunity. There’s just one thing that I want to share for anyone interested in Edtech. And, you know, looking at doing something here, and, you know, others who may, you know, who may already be in Edtech, you know, I think it’s very important to keep in mind that, you know, the learner has to be at the center. In the rush for growth, for scalability, all of those let’s not forget that, you know, ultimately learning outcomes are what matter and if you do not crack learning outcomes, and how those happen, what are the drivers of it, and if you’re not obsessed with, you know, the quality of learning outcomes, and you know, it just will not survive. And, you know, I’ve seen many companies that have had initial success, but when they take shortcuts, it will fall apart. Right? So that’s kind of your rite of passage that, you know, you have to have that obsession with learning outcomes, and what are all the things that cause those learning outcomes and making sure that those factors are all taken care of and not compromised in the race


Siddhartha 50:10

Thanks, Mohan, this is a very important factor because we have seen it happen again and again. And you mentioned it rightly on the podcast. When the higher education boom started in India, real estate developers started building colleges, and we know what effect it had on the education sector. Today when we are seeing you know, e-learning are taken by storm, we are seeing people coming with, you know, It’s like the gold rush people, when there is a gold rush, people come with shovels to dig gold. You see, the clones of Great Learning or the likes of whitehat Jr, which have been building the foundation, but then suddenly 20 clones coming up. And if the intention is to just mine gold, I don’t know where it will go.


Mohan 50:57

Well, you know, you can always get lucky and become successful. Right. But you know, let’s say, I prefer not to count on luck.


Siddhartha 51:06

Yeah. Thanks, Mohan. It’s been a pleasure.


Mohan 51:09

Thank you very much, Siddhartha. Thanks for having me.


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