[Interview] Indians Read, Write & Do Exams In English, But They Don’t Speak Well – Meet The Man Who Is Trying To Change That

Indians Read, Write, and Do Exams in English, but They Don’t Speak Well – Meet the Man Who is Trying to Change That

How students learn, teachers teach, institutions deliver or manage, and the workplace demands have changed dramatically with the arrival of technology. To meet these 21st century needs and demands, several edtech startups/companies are coming up with unique solutions and innovations.

However, while making efforts to bring change in the education system at scale, edtech companies often face various challenges ranging from limited resources, disjointed communities, and difficulty in effort to go global. Recognizing these challenges, Amazon Web Services under the program EdStart facilitates a global platform to give edtech startups a head start, to build, grow and scale their solutions through its products and services, resources, community, financial and technical assistance, publicity, etc.

Recently, AWS brought its first-ever AWS Public Sector Summit to India in New Delhi. A day before the summit, AWS held a press briefing where Vincent Quah, APAC & Japan Regional Head – Education, Research, Healthcare, and Not-for-Profit Amazon Web Services (AWS), addressed the press briefing on its EdStart program, products and services, and its global customers.

It was on this occasion I got the opportunity to interact and interview one of AWS EdStart customers and a key edtech player in India – Arshan Vakil, Founder and CEO of Kings Learning. Here’s what he shared about his company, journey and how partners like AWS have helped in success.

What’s the briefest way to define Enguru?

The shortest way to define Enguru is, it is an English learning app.

Enguru is English+Guru put together. To make it short and sweet, we call it Enguru. That’s the idea behind the name.

What problems are you solving and for whom?

Lots of people in India want to learn English, because English is quite an aspirational language in the country, and is also the most global language. We target specifically young adults who need to improve the English to enter the workforce or continue doing well in the work flows, because the idea is that English is deeply tied to the knowledge economy in India. Whether you are working in a hotel, retail store, or as a software engineer, English has become a prerequisite for all these jobs.

Most Indians study in their local languages, but they have some exposure to English. They read and write in English, do exams in English, but they don’t speak well. So our app is going to solve that problem.

Our research found three key users, we called them user personas.

Persona one was early 20s working professionals who speak decent English, who know and understand the importance of English to improve in their jobs.

Second persona was students who don’t speak such good English but understand that the language is important for jobs.

And third was self-employed from tier 2 and tier 3 who run small businesses and realized that they correlate English with the business doing better.

So those are the three segments/personas we are focusing on. Our audience comprised of 35% working professionals, 35% students, and 30% self-employed individuals.

How many people currently use Enguru and how do you keep track of satisfaction and impact for users?

If you look at the number of people who have used Enguru since we launched, 2015, 31 million people have used the app. From that, we have one million monthly active users, who are using Enguru every month, and about 75,000 daily active users using it every day. So that’s in terms of how many people are using Enguru.

In terms of how we track them, it varies. The app is a free app so we track everyone’s progression in terms of how many levels they have completed and certain drop points. When you finish one level and you don’t go to level two, you will get a push notificationor an SMS. But if you finished level 3 and don’t go to level 4, that’s a more engaged user, here you may get a phone call, offering help if they face any issues, etc. So we continuously nudge people along either through SMSs, and for certain engaged user, through calls. And most recently, we have launched live classes, which allow users to interact with other students and teachers through the app itself. That’s been our most recent feature launched at the start of August, 2019. It’s only been three weeks but so far we’ve done over 1000 students and about 2500 sessions.

We’ve got our own teachers; right now we have nine teachers. We run classes from 3 PM – 9 PM, six classes with three running at a time, so 18 classes in total running every day on the hour, every hour at fifty minute classes. All our teachers are Cambridge qualified teachers, who have done a degree, called CELTA, a certificate to teach English to adults. It’s conducted by the British Council in India but is a University of Cambridge degree. That’s the best qualification we have. These teachers have written our content and they have been with us for so long and now they are doing live classes as well. Since the content is ready for live classes and the PowerPoint is ready, now we are going to open it up to freelancers. Any teacher can sign up and be a teacher, after going through a short training with us. So whether you use X or Y teacher, the experience should be very similar because the content and the activities are the same.

So the live classes are free or come with certain price?

No, for live class you need to use coins. One day plan is 25 coins. A coin is got by playing levels. You can buy coins if you want. If you go for say 20-day plan, it requires 350 coins. You have to buy coins or if you have enough coins, then you don’t need to pay. You can just collect coins, and to collect coins just play the level. Each level, you get about 10-15 coins. So if you play two levels, you will have enough to try one class, as one class is only 25. And if you want to pay rupees, at the moment we’ve kept quite cheap, each coin is 50 paise. Supposed, if you want to buy 340 coins, you need to pay Rs. 170 (50 paise per coin). Either you buy coins or on-coins by playing. Live classes are not free. So basically, you either pay by your time and engagement on the app and spending time on levels or you pay to buy coins. If you want 5-day plan and choose to pay in rupees, you will need to pay Rs. 55 (110 coins), and if you want one-day plan and choose to pay, you will need to pay Rs.12.5 (25 coins for one-day plan).

Could you tell us a little bit about your background, your team and how did you start?

I was born and brought up in Mumbai, went to University of Pennsylvania, USA. I did Engineering and Business there. Post that, I joined an e-commerce company called Hopscotch, where I worked in the product management role, developing the tool, lot of analytics, etc. for two years. Post that, I moved to Bengaluru to start Kings Learning, Enguru.

We are about 40 people now. About 18 in tech, 10 people in the content team and we have also got a small sales, marketing & operations team; about 6 in marketing, operations and 3 in sales.

What are some of the achievements in your edtech startup and what are your plans for the future?

At the moment, we have managed to reach a decent scale. In terms of shared number of users, we are one of the largest and I think even the highly-funded startups have 30 million users. So I think 30+ million users is our biggest feat.

In terms of future plans, we are going to focus on the live classes. The live class is surely a big plan for the future.

How has AWS and their products and services impacted Enguru’s success?

AWS as a cloud service provider is a very scalable offering. It has helped us specifically in four areas:

  • Security being one,
  • Second was that they helped us create a scalable product with capabilities to adjust capacities,
  • Third, AWS has lot of monitoring and analytics on it, and
  • Finally, Amazon Polly, which is the voice that enables us to offer voice support in Indian accents on non-Android devices.

So those are few examples; those are very scalable infrastructure that worked really well for us.

What’s your take on opportunities in the Indian online education market?

Well, I’m of course very bullish on it; otherwise I won’t be in this field. There’s a massive scope on leveraging online/mobile to solve for employment, English being one of the needs.

Lot of the questions that have come about is how you will monetize certain fields, specifically English learning, where many want to learn English. My take is that if you tell people they are going to pay for an English class online, they may not pay for it. But if you create the value that learning English will help them get a job or help them get a better salary, and if you are able to make that tangible, whether it’s doing a few case studies, whether it’s making the content very job focused so that they feel the benefit immediately, I think if we can crack that, the value is created for them to pay. So that’s what we are trying to do! Most of our courses are focused around helping to speak so that you see the direct impact and users are then willing to pay for it.

Arshan Vakil further added that they maintain location data and that most Enguru users are from Tier 2 & 3 cities and in fact places like Indore and Mysore are very big for them. Within the metros, he said NCR is the most popular among all. He also said that its top five languages are Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu, and they contribute to about 95% of their audience.

On funding, the CEO said that the company has raised a seed round of 2.5 million led by Michael & Susan Dell Foundation in 2017 and said that is the only fund raised so far. He said that the company is now looking at Series A and has started the funding process.

About the Author
Author: Stephen Soulunii
Stephen Soulunii No more a student, but love to learn. Not a teacher, but care about how students are taught. Not an educator, but want everyone to be educated. Not a social worker, but desire to see change. Not a reformer, but always want to see a better world. The author believes that only sound education can bring a better future, better world and technology can help achieve a lot in this field.

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