Our user base grew to 6.7M last year, looking at break-even by early 2016: Meritnation's Pavan Chauhan

Info Edge-backed Meritnation, run by Delhi-based Applect Learning Pvt ltd, is one the leading K-12 focused e-learning companies in India. Started in 2009 by IIM Bangalore alumnus Pavan Chauhan and Ritesh Hemrajani, the firm has so far raised Rs 71.5 crore in multiple rounds from Info Edge. The company claims to have added more than 2 million students to its platform last year to take the total user base to over 6.7 million and has recently opened a few offline centres to provide customised learning to students, and is now looking to expand to more cities. caught up with co-founder and chief Chauhan to know more about Mertination's business, expansion plans and fundraising.

There are multiple players in online learning space in India including many local startups and few global firms like Pearson. How do you look at the competition?

Competition is there and it is good for the market. There are quite a few players which can be divided into two broad categories. One, companies who create content and take it online. Two, companies who build a good engaging platform and either create their content or get content from their users. However, as the oldest player, we have an edge over our peers.

The Indian market is extremely different and unorganised. It is not easy to crack it since there are different education boards, and the disparities in curricula are huge. Irrespective of whether a company is big or small, or whether they put large money or small money into this space, it is extremely hard to understand the complexities and then figure out students' requirements. I feel that Meritnation is fairly well-positioned here to understand the nuances and provide services accordingly.

What is the current traction? How is the user base growing?

We added two million students to our platform last year and netting out the 0.7 million who left us we now have a total of 6.7 million users. Our user base grew approximately 50 per cent from the previous year.

How big is your presence in the mobile space?

Mobile has now become a key for us. We are seeing a very healthy uptake for our mobile products, and are seeing a significant change in the user base who are using mobile. As of now, close to 30 per cent of our user base are through mobile, and it continues to grow.

You have a fair presence in the domestic market. How do you look at the opportunity to expand overseas?

In addition to India, we have a strong presence in the gulf region. We are now looking at Bangladesh, Nepal and Singapore markets, where we will not only target the Indian diaspora but will also look at providing international curriculum.

Last December, you had said that you would be opening 100 offline centres? Is it because that margin from the online segment is shrinking?

As we know, margins from online segment will gradually come down as the market and business mature. That said our objective with the offline centres is a little different. Unlike our online platform, the offline centres give a class room kind of an experience to students. However, unlike a teacher-led tuition class, the offline centre adopts a smart self-study-led approach.

Last month, we opened a few centres in Jaipur, and now are expanding to more cities including in the tier II regions.

How do these offline centre work?

The value that an offline centre provides to students is very different. If you look at a typical class room, a teacher handles around 20-30 students and each and every student goes through the same content. It is basically a one-size-fits-all kind of an approach, whereas an offline centre will have multiple facilitators to handle multiple students. Our system is smart enough to figure out where a student gets stuck and what content has to be shown to him/her. The student then gets a customised learning experience where he/she gets the tuition only in the subjects he/she is not good at.

As of now, you are exclusively focusing on the B2C segment. Are you planning to foray into the B2B space?

We ourselves have kept away from the enterprise segment for now, because we are looking to build a strong consumer brand with our existing offerings. Indeed, we have a few interesting products in the pipeline for schools and other educational institutions. However, we are not actively looking to move into that space. In future, we may look at it.

That said, we will be looking to expand to other segments in the B2C space. But it is too early to talk about it.

You raised multiple rounds from Info Edge with around $1.6 million coming in December last year. What have you been doing with the capital?

If you want to build a strong consumer brand, you need to invest in the product. We have been using the capital for that. We also used a portion of the funding for expansion and content creation to build the scale. We are not looking for fresh money in the near future. We will start looking at it only after this year.

By when do you expect to become profitable?

We are not profitable yet as we have been investing money for growth. We are looking to achieve breakeven by early 2016.

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