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Meritnation to add assessment tools for teachers, scale up offline centres: Pavan Chauhan

Delhi-based Applect Learning, which runs online education venture Meritnation, has been expanding the scope of the content captured on its portal. The firm, which is now majority owned by Naukri.com owner Info Edge (India), has gone beyond CBSE and ICSE board content and introduced test preparation for medical and engineering entrance examinations while adding state boards' content to its offering. It claims to have reached a user-base of 5.6 million and is aiming to cross 7 million by the end of current academic year. The firm follows a freemium model with basic membership being free; although the firm does not share the proportion of its paid members, it was estimated at around 20,000-25,000 last year, given the average revenue per user. In a chat with Techcircle.in, Pavan Chauhan, co-founder and MD, Meritnation, talks about the firm's strategy going forward, new revenue streams in the works, expansion plans and more. Edited excerpts:

How has growth been since you started operations?

We launched our website in January 2009 and currently have a user-base of around 5.6 million subscribers. This was around 3.4 million in the beginning of 2012 and we are looking at crossing 7 million by the end of the current academic year. We have come a long way and are growing at a healthy rate.

How many of these are paid subscribers?

We won't be able to share that number as of now but to give you a perspective we have been seeing a 3x growth year on year in the number of paid subscribers. Our

average revenue per user is around Rs 4,000-5,000.

Meritnation's revenue doubled but loss rose four times last financial year—loss was two times revenue. How do you sustain the business?

It is important to understand what kind of business we are in. Creating good quality content takes time, has a gestation period and takes a lot of expenditure. To launch any product we need to have fresh, relevant content and that is an investment. We have been making several such investments in the product and content by adding verticals like state boards, test prep, etc. We have also been investing in marketing. These investments will start showing in numbers as we move ahead. This is the only explanation for the mismatch in sales and revenues.

When will Meritnation reach breakeven?

The question is at what level we want to break even. For example, last April we reached breakeven, but then we wanted to go after growth and invested more into the business. Going by our growth currently, we will reach breakeven in a few months. But, there are significant opportunities in this segment and we would like to invest more.

What are the new features you have launched lately?

In the first couple of years of operations we were majorly focused on CBSE and ICSE syllabi. But over the last year, we have added a few more offerings, including test prep for pre-medical and engineering entrance exams. Since we already have higher secondary students (11th and 12th classes) as subscribers, it made sense to extend our offerings in this direction. Besides, we have started offering state board content as well—we have already launched content for Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra boards and are launching the same for Tamil Nadu board. We are looking at adding more state boards to the list.

Are you planning to add new revenue streams? What is your near-term expansion plan?

We are working on a couple of exciting products, mostly in the space of assessment. We have built assessment tools aimed at teachers which we want to offer to schools. These tools will enable teachers to create good quality assessments within minutes. They can create online tests and students can just log in to take those assessment tests. We are looking at this as a standalone product for educators. Also, our existing product can be integrated with the assessment tool that we are planning to offer.

We will continue to focus on test prep and state boards. We are revamping our product for junior grades; there is a huge opportunity there as well. The next in line for us would be international markets. We already have some experience in that market and know that though there is competition, there are gaps too. We would like to foray deeper into those markets.

We are also looking at creating an offline presence. As a pilot, we had launched a learning centre in Gurgaon a year ago which elicited  good response. We are looking at scaling that up. The idea is to set up a customised learning solution offline too.

We are also working on an assessment tool for private tutors which will be similar to the one for teachers and schools.

What are the challenges in the market?

It is not difficult to bring students to your site. But to engage with them regularly and make them stick to the site is surely a challenge. The market is highly underserved and we are just scratching the tip as of now. A lot of players are coming up but the market is huge.

(Edited by Joby Puthuparampil Johnson)

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