When he quit in March, Sharma said he did not know what he was going to do next. The idea of the start-up came to him when he was on a 10-day-break, he said on Thursday.
“Right now you have schools, which have a great environment but where learning doesn’t happen well, and you have platforms like Coursera, which have good content but there’s no learning environment. We are taking the hybrid approach,” said Sharma.
Genius, run by Genius Learning Labs Pvt. Ltd, will offer neighbourhood tutors content and software that adapt to each child’s learning abilities. It plans to reach 800 teachers and 8,000 students in five metros in the next six months.
Genius competes with Vidyanext (run by Pengala Learning Pvt. Ltd), flipClass (run by Gyankosh Solutions Pvt. Ltd), and Tiger Global-backed Vedantu Innovations Pvt. Ltd, which all try to serve the needs of home tutors with some technology.
The target group for Genius is schoolchildren from kindergarten to Class VIII, but it is launching with Classes III-V, and will offer lesson plans in mathematics, science and English.
It plans to make money by taking a cut from the teachers’ income.
“Scale won’t be a problem because when we acquire a teacher, we also acquire their real estate. This is a very asset-light model. We’ve also done affordability analysis and are targeting neighbourhoods where teachers are likely to have tablet devices,” said Sharma.
It calls each centre where a teacher takes classes a “micro school,” (and not a tuition class)—terminology inspired by AltSchool, a Silicon Valley-based non-traditional school chain that raised $100 million last year.
Investments in education start-ups in India have picked up this year, with Byju’s, which offers learning programmes for Class VI to XII students and preparation programmes for competitive exams, alone raising $75 million in March, compared to the $70 million that all the education start-ups raised last year, according to data from start-up tracker Tracxn.
Despite the favourable market for education start-ups, Sharma said that he would bootstrap the company for a while before looking for external venture funding.
The founding team of Genius includes Sharma, along with four others who he said he cannot name right now as they are still in the process of quitting their companies.
“What I’ve learned from experience is that you cannot take a problem, and throw people at it, and expect to solve it. We are going to be a small team,” said Sharma.
Housing.com had 12 co-founders when it started out. Sharma is among four co-founders, who left the firm within a year of chief executive officer Rahul Yadav being asked to leave by the board in July 2015.
It now has only three of its original co-founders—Snehil Buxy, chief product officer; Jaspreet Saluja, head, data operations; and Amrit Raj, head of digital marketing.
Experts believe Sharma’s hybrid model may pose challenges for scale in the long run.
“I believe that for something of massive scale to be built in ed-tech, having an online-only offering is of paramount importance. The minute you get tempted by offline offerings, what you’re doing is limiting your possibility of scale in the long run,” said Kunal Walia, managing partner, Khetal Advisors, a Bengaluru-based investment bank that has worked with multiple education start-ups.
“The offline temptation in ed-tech often comes from the promise of ‘easy customer wins’ that an offline model holds—after all, you are simply riding on existing user behaviour. However, when your offering has a meaningful impact for consumers, such that it causes a shift in consumption patterns, that’s when truly large businesses can be built,” Walia added.