WhiteHat Jr could scale rapidly because people were talking about us: Karan Bajaj
Speaking at the dentsu-e4m Digital Advertising Report 2021, Bajaj, CEO & Founder of WhiteHat Jr, discussed how word of mouth helped the edtech brand scale up its offerings in non-metros
At the dentsu e4m Digital Advertising Report 2021, Karan Bajaj, CEO & Founder, WhiteHat Jr. spoke at length about the company’s journey through the pandemic, scaling up and the next step for the brand in a fireside chat with Nawal Ahuja, Co-Founder, e4m.
When asked about learnings from failure he said, “I think good entrepreneurs just show up every day, because there'll be lots of ups and tremendous downs. I think most people give up in the middle somewhere because it gets so relentless, and so hard, but if you just show up every day, eventually every ball breaks, and you keep moving forward. Anybody who's going into any creative field needs to accept that the odds in a creative field of success are very hard. I've experienced it myself, I've written three novels, launched a TV channel with Discovery, started my own company and the ratio of success has been probably one or two out of these five, right? You have to accept that as the nature of building anything from scratch. More often than not, the world doesn't need a new thing and it will be rejected.
"But, when it works, it works well. So I think my mantra is to show up, focus on the input; don't think about the output too much and eventually, if your input is good, then the output will come your way, if not in the first year, then maybe the 10th year, but you just keep showing up.”
Being part of the entrepreneurial bubble, Karan has had the opportunity to watch his fellow entrepreneurs closely. Impressed by how entrepreneurs adapted to the pandemic he spoke of his experiences of handling a brand that flourished in the wake of the pandemic.
“As soon as the pandemic hit in March, we were all offline but some sectors like ed tech, for example, benefited from that. Those of us in the ed-tech sector, leveraged that opportunity because we knew this is the first time that a lot of people can sample ed tech and I think almost everybody, right, from BYJU’s to us to Unacademy and the others, was trying to figure out how in that exceptional period, could we get more users to sample our very high-quality product and people did various things to do that,” he said.
Typically when a teacher gets on board at WhiteHat Jr their internet services are upgraded and there is a call centre to handle all connectivity issues and other aspects of a teacher-student training experience but the pandemic brought new aspects to the business Bajaj said. “As we scaled and added teachers we created a lot of hacks around how we could get internet upgraded in different call centres, running entire online infrastructure support from home set up as well to keep exceeding the growth. The company grew very significantly during that period because they were very guided by that sense of mission that companies like us should be creating jobs and employment at a time like this,” Bajaj said.
When asked if his job to lead the brand had any elements added which wouldn't have been there pre 2020 Bajaj said, “I think the number one change that could happen is we've all been forced to think much more deeply about culture, articulating culture, articulating values especially in a young company like ours. I think in the pandemic, all of us learned and we scaled from 300 to 5000 plus people in eight months. During the pandemic, we were scaling very rapidly from 1000 to almost 11,000 teachers. So we went from an organization, which was almost on a first name basis to like a very large disparate organization and I think we all learned during this period, the incredible importance of being able to create mechanisms, where you are doing cultural osmosis in a very deep way.”
Soon after, a very interesting question was thrown at Bajaj.
“When you start a new company a year or two is spent just managing survival and there is a very strong temptation to scale up versus get money in place quickly, versus how quickly do you go to go to the market? So how do you find the right balance between these three seemingly contradictory approaches,” Ahuja asked him.
“I think there are two things that I've learned overall now, after reflecting on the last couple of years. The first is that this whole idea that your product should be 10 times better than the alternative in the market. It is very critical for it to be like that. Until you hit that point where the product is 10 times better than the alternative, you should not press the scaling button. The first product we launched was coding. Since there was no physical alternative and no reference set, what we provided was a very big bow for the parents and the kids, because they had a live one-on-one teacher. They had a very creative curriculum. All of our tech before that was focused on test preparation, mathematics, science.
"And here, there was something in which kids were building and creating things, enjoying the delight of being a creator, or teacher who was very specially connected to them one-on-one. So that was a very good 10X experience. So we were able to scale very rapidly with very little acquisition because people were talking about the product, everybody was talking about WhiteHat Jr at that time, and it was growing very fast. When I look at Maths, for example, which we've just launched, it was a very different approach. We spent almost nine months researching the product before launching it, because maths was a very busy category and we wanted to make sure that whatever we launched in maths was 10 times superior than anything in the, in the market,” he explained.
Bajaj also spoke of how BYJU’s happened and how they helped WhiteHat Jr scale to new heights.
“Six months or seven months into the company, there was a nine-year-old in Assam, who created an anti-bullying app. She didn't know coding, she took membership with us, then she saw bullying in her school and she created an anti-bullying app, which actually worked to a large degree and I remember then, that I had this very clear moment that we had created something which was a bit bigger than ourselves,” he said.
“Earlier we had wanted WhiteHat Jr to be a coding platform but then I realized that only an Indian company could have put together this model of creative curriculum supplemented with all the advantages of one on one teaching and others. We were also rapidly looking at hiring the numerous talented women out there who needed an opportunity to be back at work. So I realized then that this very unique model of a teacher, who's allowing individually to help a kid express his whole creative potential, which can never be done in a one to many school setting. We also wanted to take this whole model abroad and with our own workforce from India. I found that everything I wanted to accomplish would be much faster with BYJU’s. They were already global in their presence, they were subject matter experts in education, which my team was slowly building the skillset for. With BYJU’s our dream could be fulfilled much faster,” he said.
He also spoke of taking the art of coding curriculum that his brand offers beyond metros. Interestingly according to Bajaj currently 60% to 65% of the users are coming from outside the top 15 cities. Word of mouth has helped the brand scale its offerings in the non-metro cities. What also helped the brand grow in no metros was their vernacular offerings.
Explaining with an example he said, “So if a student from Tamil Nadu signs our tech reads it, that they are coming from Tamil Nadu and they connect them to a Tamil teacher so that she can switch between English and vernacular very quickly. Now, today, almost 25% to 30% of our classes daily, are happening in the vernacular language.”
But there is still a long way for Bajaj ahead he said with a lot more to be accomplished. “I have always thought of work as a bit of a tool for self-transformation. Right after the acquisition again, I learned so much about what I could have done better and right, that I feel again that there is like a whole new mountain to climb and in this mountain, I'm transforming myself to take this very powerful mission around the world,” he signed off.
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