Chapter 7, The Portfolio Chronicles
Sometimes organisms grow slowly year after year and wait patiently for a dramatic change in environmental conditions to morph into a more powerful and stronger creature. One doesn’t expect this phenomenon to occur at a startup but we’d decided against conventional wisdom to back such organisms in the past and while the verdicts are always delivered after a long gestation period in our business, we are clearly not shying away from such risk.
When I was told in late 2015 that I should meet Allwin Agnel of Pagalguy, the reaction was knee-jerk: “Hasn’t he been around for a long time? And we’ve been rather disappointed with the ideas around transforming education in this country. Is this really for us?”
And though I had indeed met him about 8-9 years (between his semesters at Wharton) and though he went to same b-school that I did and though every Indian b-school aspirant post-2005 seems to know of Pagalguy, what could he possibly want from Blume? He’s clearly found himself a niche educational media company that’s profitable and independent of venture funding. So, what gives?
Its rare for a small early stage fund like ours to advance an investment decision into a company that’s over a decade old. When we spoke first, I had no idea that there was something afoot – Allwin and Sandeep had found that there was a mobile first approach to solving more problems for college and professional courses / entrance exam aspirants.
We had the debates that every founder and investor have – is the idea mature enough that someone will back it with a few million $? Will a small Blume cheque even matter for this goal? And then eventually, I think I convinced Allwin that we are the partner to guide him there with a small cheque and a large dose of enthusiasm. We knew that the market is ripe for a take-off.
We’ve been invested in Prepathon since middle of 2016. A gradual build-out of an assembly of bots that simplify communication and clusters of partners for each of the key prep test areas from the offline world now position Prepathon for what can be a staggering 2017!
A marketplace for connecting students with top experts and courses in the country, aided by various guidance mechanisms built by Prepathon.
In the interim, I must admit that we didn’t anticipate Byju’s success in fundraising and selling its proprietary content through its own distribution channels. However, it only showed that what Byju’s exploited was the inability of the traditional offline coaching and tutorials businesses to morph into a winning product offering for students and learners in the online world.
This intuition of Allwin’s – to convince the offline partner that he can never create a better platform than Prepathon for their own content – is the winning strategy. Prepathon will, both, a) deliver their high quality offline content online now and b) evolve the process of learning, that is being constantly made more and more intuitive and powered by their “let the bot guide thy learning process” approach.
Prepathon’s focus is the Student, as was always, since the inception of Pagalguy. By taking the best brands in the country and making their courses available to students, the best teachers are being made available. And Prepathon has become the only way to directly access star teachers at these brands. We’ve already onboarded Bansal Classes, Khan Study Group, GATE Forum and several others.
Bots are not the product but they keep evolving to assist the student through the learning process and is important to keep engagement high without human-assisted intervention.
2017 will mark the first full year of the Prepathon’s marketplace, one that will shape and guide the future of millions of competitive exam aspirants.
While I’ve not blogged about the other related portfolio additions as yet, we quietly built out a thesis of education and edu-towards-employment through late 2015 to mid 2016. They’ve all been announced – Unacademy, Mockbank (sarkari.jobs), and Flipclass, in addition to Prepathon. We are very bullish that rich content marketplaces aided by mobile-first learning tools finally deliver the promise of widespread quality education to millions more in India. Ergo, this portfolio. We’re very happy with it and are unlikely to add much to it though in 2017, other than follow-on cheques.
Investment announced: 2016 (Blume Fund II)