Why did you decide to start your own EdTech company Avalon Meta?
My father comes from a small village called Bantwal, and there was a time when he used to sell candy to pay for his college fees. So you could say that entrepreneurship is somewhat in my DNA, regardless of how small the roots. In college, I started freelancing and writing code and building web products for businesses across the world.
Eventually, I took a bigger risk and ran a recruitment startup called Jobspire that we sold in early 2017. With Jobspire, I got a deeper view into the kind of job seekers in India. Avalon Meta was born from my frustration with the kind of talent that college was producing — my team and I believed that India has potential and should be producing much better talent. So we decided to take the problem head-on and thus was born Avalon meta.
What problems are you trying to solve with Avalon Meta?
I know this sounds silly, but we’re trying to replicate as much of the experience of University as possible. There are parts of the social experience of college that you can’t bring online, but for most of the other bits, we have strong evidence that we have succeeded.
So in essence, we’re trying to build a Digital University to produce great talent that is capable of utilizing the digital skills we teach them in a way that will benefit the world and create real impact. So we’re talking excellence in code, design, sales, marketing, and more!
But it’s not just that — we’ve brought together an experience that allows people to work in teams, make friends, build projects and a portfolio, and truly enjoy the act of learning. It’s our moral responsibility to try and take as many people across the finish line as possible.
The edtech sector is currently booming and digital learning solutions have risen due to the COVID pandemic. What differentiates Avalon Meta from other online learning platforms?
The live aspect of learning, the problem solving in teams, and the social experience of making friends and working on projects truly differentiates us. We’re not a platform that sells a course for a price and then disappears. We hand hold people across the finish line and make learning enjoyable, social, and fun again.
Where do you think the education ecosystem in India currently stands?
The traditional college education system in India is beyond broken. I once said that Tier 2 and 3 colleges in India are just real estate companies trying to creatively charge rent via fees and unfortunately, that’s the truth. MOOCs kickstarted the online learning revolution but most people forget that the problem isn’t content, it’s trying to help a student finish his or her learning in a subject. There’s no point doing a design theory course if you can’t utilize Photoshop or Figma to make an app screen! So the current wave will be more live learning platforms that have their north star metric at truly helping students do well.
And there will constantly be a battle of online vs offline, and we feel online will win this one in the short term.
Brand positioning and challenges faced by Ed-Tech startups in India?
Indian Ed-tech has been scarred by a few companies that have utilized unethical methods to acquire more users in a shorter period of time. The lashback from this has affected even the better platforms and Ed-Tech in general has picked up a bad name.
We’re a community based platform and we let our users try our app for free before making any purchase decision. I think this is going to be more and more important in the future — try before you buy will become the norm and we’ll soon see Education startups covering each niche. It’ll be fun and exciting to watch the next wave of players come about.
What things can be done better in an online and offline education environment?
With offline education, we’ll need to see more transparency and a 10-20% reduction in costs. Or, a sharp uptick in teaching and outcomes.
Even today, there are institutes teaching decade old technology when the industry has raced past. Imagine the changes you have seen in the world in the last 4 years — and add on top of that the fact that in college, you are learning something that is at the very least 10 years old. That’s a 14 year gap between what you’ve learned and what the industry needs. How offline college will keep up is a big question mark for me.
With online education, it’s not about content, it’s about keeping the student motivated and adding the social experience of offline college into the mix. We’ve cracked a model that works and that cannot be replicated easily, but I assume there’s more ways to do “social college” in the works. That’s going to be the biggest differentiator!
Your plan for the next 12 months?
Our plan for the next year is to continuously evolve our product, improve outcomes, and solidify the community learning aspect of what we do. We don’t look at the outputs and neither do we have sales targets. We focus on the inputs and try to help as many students we can. That’s the winning formula for us. It doesn’t sound scalable, but we want to help students 1 by 1 until they all win.
Last, but not least, how do you see the future of edtech?
It’s going to eventually go offline, and the content is going to find a way to keep up. The social aspect of meeting your friends in college or school is too important to lose. I assume Virtual Reality is going to enter the mix too, where you will be taught by the best teachers in a virtual classrooms. Imagine being able to high-five your friends after a class. That’s soon going to be a possibility. Can’t wait to see how the future pans out!