An interview with founders of NOTEBOOK - Ed-tech Startup from Kolkata
24th, January 2019 - Startup
Edutech start-ups are changing the face of education in India. There are good number of start-ups working on various models of business and it still growing. We are sharing the interview with the co-founders of NOTEBOOK, Edutech Startup from Kolkatta.
S J: Please introduce the profiles of Co-founders of Notebook
Subhayu and Achin are the co-founders of Notebook. Subhayu completed his engineering from RVCE, Bangalore and Management studies at TAPMI, Manipal. After starting his career as a GET with L&T, he moved to Kenya to manage Onmobile's Football content business in Africa and Middle East for four years. He came back to India in 2014 and headed the South Asia business for Perform - a UK based Sports content company that operates brands like Goal.com and Opta.
Achin is a Chartered Accountant from Calcutta University, and has served in Senior Management positions across consulting giants for about 15 years. He started his career with GE and spent considerable time in Europe. He then worked with KPMG, PwC and his last stint in consulting and was Director at Deloitte.
S J: Can you tell us your journey as a co-founder at Notebook ?
Around 2017, we started thinking of ways to improve the education ecosystem of India. With the international exposure, we both were sure that making quality education more widely available was a way to solve a lot of socio-economic problems. We started conceptualizing a digital delivery mechanism in 2017, meeting students, parents and teachers across India to understand and articulate the gaps that exist. In April 2018, we set up an office in Kolkata and started creating content. The one year at the drawing board before this was spent on exhaustive primary and secondary research - in developing an approach that ensured engagement of every student. By end of 2018, Notebook had a team of about 50 members, working on developing content for the CBSE English curriculum. Looking at the edtech space, we felt that while Science and Maths had seen some work, Arts subjects and particularly English and other languages were underserved. Both of us have known the importance of communication and being good with languages across our professional careers - hence we decided to approach these first.
S.J. Ed-tech area is booming in India with major players like BYJUs and others... What are the difficulties you have faced and how did you overcome out of it?
The recent developments in edtech have been encouraging. Mass proliferation of digital content was a known reality, but it showed that more and more parents and students were adopting digital video as a learning medium. Difficulty was always in ensuring high-quality functionally relevant content could be produced at scale. This was managed by first identifying a design sensibility that would ensure engagement and memorability, and then setting up an in-house team to create it.
S.J. Please tell us about your Notebook concept. How does it deliver the results and what are the value addition it provide
Notebook, as a concept, is designed to inspire curiosity and engagement. We believe that engagement is the key to holistic learning. If students feel sufficiently engaged, there is natural curiosity that drives learning of any subject. Notebook provides a digital platform that provides teaching videos with high quality aesthetics and animation along with instructor-led explanations. These are further augmented with text content in the form of Study Notes and Solved Questions. An artificial intelligence back-end keeps evaluating a student's learning ability to ensure that content and questions are served as per the student's individual learning needs.
S.J. In Ed-tech domain going local is very important. At present many players focus only on English and Hindi and some other language as a delivery outcome. How NoteBook is strategically positioned in this area?
As a strategy, Notebook is built to cater to vernacular languages. During the planning phase, we studied the syllabi across 16 State boards and mapped for commonalities. The plan is to offer a subject in a form that is relevant and comprehensible to the student. With Indian-language Internet users outnumbering English-language users almost 3:1, Notebook anticipates that it will be of greater help to students when a student in Maharashtra learns in Marathi, and a student in Tripura learns in Bengali. In its complete form, Notebook will offer content in English and 10 vernacular languages.
S.J. The most difficult task for any teacher is to hold the attentions of kid for a longer period. How Notebook is enabling these difficulties?
Key to getting anyone's attention is engagement. On one hand, there are complaints of shortening attention spans while on the other, "binge watching" is a growing trend. As long as the content is high quality, functionally relevant and makes the student curious, attention span would not be a challenge. I have spent the last few years operating content businesses in different geographies, and as clichéd as it may sound, content is indeed king.
S.J. How does the initial market reaction to the Notebook. How did you develop the tractions?
As team Notebook started creating content, we reached out to schools to try out our content. This was done either through direct interactions or through various forums of schools and principals. Notebook also entered into a partnership with the Indian Principals Network (IPN) who works with about 2000 schools across India. Through these partnerships and interactions, content was showcased to students and teachers. The initial reaction to our product offering has been very positive. With over 16 lakh students poised to take the CBSE examinations alone, the traction for our product is immense across all boards of education.
S.J. You achievements till date.
I have been extremely fortunate to have found myself in positions to set up businesses and develop markets. After moving to Kenya in 2011, I set up the Football content business for Onmobile in Africa and Middle East which catered to over 13 million users by the FIFA World Cup in 2014. Later in India, I developed the market for Perform single-handedly, growing the business ground-up. Today, Perform powers most large Sports media in India with content.
S.J. Did you raise any funds externally; if yes please share some details on how and where did you utilize the funds?
Starting out, we decided that they would fund ourselves for the initial phase. We were confident of our vision and approach and felt it would be better to fund ourselves rather than let fundraising affect our content development plans.
S.J. What do you think about future of Ed-tech Market in India?
India boasts of a population that is young, growingly connected and tech-savvy. Just as you don't say Colour television anymore, soon we won't be saying Ed-tech anymore. Technology is an enabler, helps distribution, makes us ubiquitous. Whether it's inside a classroom, or on your phone - education is education. We see more and more companies in this space investing in vernacular and going deeper into content development.
S.J. Your advice to the wannapreneur.
"Once you decide what you want to do, it helps to believe that you still don't know the best way to do it. Research as much as you can, scrap decent ideas keep looking for a better one and keep questioning yourself. Keep doing this until you are confident of your method, approach and believe. After this point, back yourself to the hilt. Believe in yourself and make sure that things are exactly what and how you want them to be"
S.J. Please share your favourite quote on Entrepreneurship.
My favourite quote on entrepreneurship and life in general comes from a Verghese Kurien adaptation of a Stuart Chase quote: "For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who don't, no explanation is possible."
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