Want to see WhiteHat Jr as a loved brand in a year: Karan Bajaj, Founder & CEO

Bajaj, Founder & CEO of WhiteHat Jr, an edtech firm that teaches children coding, talks about his new venture & why coding is a must for every child 

by Simran Sabherwal
Published - Jun 26, 2019 8:50 AM Updated: Jun 26, 2019 8:50 AM
Karan Bajaj

Former Discovery Networks India Head Karan Bajaj has embarked on a new journey as Founder & CEO of WhiteHat Jr, an edtech firm that provides coding lessons to children.


In a chat with exchange4media, Bajaj talks about why the focus on coding, creating an eco-system, funding and other challenges. He also shared the response received so far and what he plans to do to connect with children and parents.

Excerpts: 
 

What was the insight behind starting WhiteHat Jr? Why did you decide to focus on coding?

There were two kind of forces that converged together. I had read that before the industrial revolution, mathematics was taught in less than 5 per cent of schools. Post the revolution, it became imperative to teach mathematics in all grades. I believe that something similar should happen to computation or coding in the tech revolution as this is the centre of our existence now. Coding — sequence, structure, logic, commands and algorithmic thinking — should be taught in every grade and school but less than 5 per cent of schools have computational thinking or coding. I saw this as a good opportunity. 


At the same time, I was looking at research done at MIT on early childhood coding. The research said children who went through coding in early childhood saw transformative results in their logic, thinking and reasoning. More importantly, these kids were becoming creators rather than just consumers of technology because they can now put the coding in use and create a game, an animation or even an app. Fundamentally, this changed the way they viewed the world.  These two forces prompted me to do something in this space. I felt that globally there was a need and could also see a sense of mission here that children going through coding could have a transformative effect on their psychological state because of them being a creator. 
 

What were the initial challenges? 

Setting up a start-up is a hard challenge because you have to create the right ecosystem, you have to be able to raise the right amount of funding at the right type, set up the business and then be able to demonstrate success in the business quickly that allows you to continue to fund the business. So the typical challenges that every entrepreneur faces were there. Also, I am not a tech person. I have never been a programmer or a coder and have started a tech start-up, so I have had to go back to learning.


You went live in mid-April, how has the response been so far? 

We have been live for quite some time now and the response has been overwhelming. 50,000+ students have registered and WhiteHat jr has been running fully booked since the first day of the launch.


Can you tell us about the partners and investors on board?

Our investors are two leading venture capitalists - Nexus Venture Partners and Omidyar Network India. Omdiyar has excellent investment in education while Nexus is a significant part of the Indian start-up ecosystem. We have received a total combined funding of Rs 9 crore from both. We are scaling up and the charge as per the package chosen will be around Rs 575 per class.


Byju’s is probably the most well-known company in the e-learning space. Do you see them as competition?
We are in a different space altogether and there are multiple differences. First, is the target audience - we look at children aged from 6 to 14 years. While most others look at children from 8th grade and above, we look at those from the 1st to 8th grade. The model of teaching is also different because we do a live online class and the subject we talk about is coding and not Mathematics and Science. There’s a different audience and need state altogether. I think start-ups should focus less on the competition and more on themselves. The biggest challenge for a start-up should be the ability to create their market and service. Competition should be a remote concern for start-ups in my opinion.

Would you be looking to expand to other educational topics?

We have a coding product in India, the next logical question then is, if the product does well should we launch a new product or take the existing one to a new market like South East Asia or the US because globally there is nobody who is doing this. The options are endless. There are millions of students in India in this age group who have a laptop and a broadband connection and are able to pay for tuition. There is a large market for the existing product. 


Where is the interest coming from, Metros or smaller towns?

Quite surprisingly, the interest is wide spread. We have students from places such as Jammu and Gangtok. We have barely marketed the product and the word of mouth for us has been strong.  For example, if we had one kid in Jammu, we see 10-15 more in Jammu in a few days.
 

What are the marketing initiatives to connect with children and parents?

We are doing performance marketing on digital and we will continue to do so. The marketing cycle typically is performance marketing than digital marketing, then you do partnerships and then mass media, that’s the progression. We are in that progression. There is a lot of fruit on the digital marketing side before we initiate partnerships.


But how long will it take to come on mass media?

We should be in mass media in the next 3 to 6 months.


Where do you see WhiteHat Jr one year down the line?

The early signs have been excellent. We have seen a huge demand for the product and have been able to satisfy consumers as well. In a year, what would satisfy me is that WhiteHat Jr becomes a loved brand. And when that happens, growth and revenue will follow, but if it’s the opposite then you are chasing growth by spending money.


By when do you anticipate to break even?

Start-ups at this stage should focus more on user acquisition, growth and delivering a great customer experience. If you break even early, say in 6 months to 1 year, you are not experimenting enough and that is not my goal. What we should be really focused on should be unit economics which is already a positive for us. 

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