In the ever-evolving landscape of education technology (EdTech) in India, two influential figures stand at the forefront of innovation and investment—GV Ravishankar and Rajan Anandan. As managing directors of Sequoia India, they have played pivotal roles in transforming the EdTech sector, identifying opportunities, and nurturing start-ups that have become major players in the industry. GV Ravishankar, the managing director of Sequoia India, embarked on a journey to reshape the narrative around the venture capital firm’s involvement in education-focused start-ups. The turning point was a pivotal moment in a Christ College auditorium, where he witnessed Byju Raveendran, the charismatic founder of Byju’s, captivate a diverse audience ranging from schoolchildren to parents.
Despite a historical reluctance at Sequoia to invest significantly in the education sector, Ravishankar recognized the transformative potential in Byju’s approach. The visionaries at Sequoia understood that the market was ripe for disruption. By December 2015, Sequoia had invested $26 million in Byju’s, marking the beginning of a successful partnership. Ravishankar’s strategic patience and readiness to wait for the right opportunity paid off handsomely. In 2020, Sequoia India made a lucrative partial exit from Byju’s, reportedly making 21x returns on its initial investment. Today, Sequoia remains a key investor in Byju’s, holding an 8 to 9 percent stake, solidifying its position as the largest EdTech investor in India over the last decade.
Complementing Ravishankar’s foresight is Rajan Anandan, another managing director at Sequoia India, whose strategic insights have propelled the firm’s EdTech portfolio into diverse and promising territories. Anandan’s unique perspective on expansion and upskilling has been instrumental in identifying start-ups that cater to a wide range of learners. One standout example is Unacademy, where Gaurav Munjal, the co-founder and CEO, was initially dismissive of Anandan’s suggestion to bundle everything and offer a comprehensive learning package. Anandan’s vision for ‘Unacademy Plus Subscription’ proved transformative, with 15,000 paid subscribers within two months of its launch in January 2019. The platform quickly achieved a $100 million annual revenue run rate, showcasing the power of strategic collaboration.
Anandan’s influence extends to start-ups like Doubtnut, which Sequoia backed in 2019. Doubtnut evolved from a math-focused platform to a comprehensive learning solution, aiming to reach students who cannot afford traditional education costs. Anandan’s emphasis on finding hacky ways to acquire customers aligns with Doubtnut’s innovative model of using doubt clearance as a tool for engagement. Additionally, Anandan has championed Scaler, formerly known as InterviewBit, in its mission to up skill India’s technical graduates. By focusing on the 800,000 annual engineering graduates, Scaler aims to create world-class engineers at scale, addressing a critical need in the job market.
Sequoia’s success in the EdTech sector is not solely attributed to luck or serendipity; it stems from a carefully crafted strategy that spans various segments of education. From K12 education to test preparation, employment, and continuous learning, Sequoia has strategically chosen bets that align with the evolving needs of learners. The firm’s willingness to partner with visionary entrepreneurs, learn from each investment, and adapt its thesis over time has set it apart in the EdTech investment landscape. As Radha Kizhanattam, partner at Unitus Ventures, notes, Sequoia has carefully chosen bets across the EdTech spectrum, constantly evolving its investment thesis.
Despite the remarkable success, Sequoia faces challenges as its portfolio companies begin to overlap and enter each other’s territories. The rise of giants like Byju’s and Unacademy, both backed by Sequoia, has led to increased competition within the portfolio. However, Ravishankar remains optimistic, emphasizing the vastness of the education market and the possibility of multiple winners.
As Sequoia India navigates the complexities of a maturing EdTech landscape, the firm remains committed to fostering innovation, maintaining discipline among portfolio companies, and ensuring that the essence of education takes precedence amid technological advancements. GV Ravishankar and Rajan Anandan‘s leadership continues to shape the future of EdTech in India, where the pursuit of knowledge and quality learning experiences remain at the forefront of their endeavours.
Shaping the Future of Healthcare: Practo’s Visionary Duo – Shashank ND and Abhinav Lal
In the realm of digital health innovation, Shashank ND and Abhinav Lal, the dynamic duo behind Bengaluru-based Practo, have emerged as pioneers, revolutionizing how individuals approach their healthcare needs. Their journey, marked by foresight, technological prowess, and a commitment to holistic healthcare, has propelled Practo to the forefront of the Indian healthtech landscape.
One of Practo’s standout moments came during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis acted as a catalyst, accelerating the adoption of digital health solutions. Shashank ND, the co-founder and CEO, recalls how the growth they anticipated over several years unfolded in a matter of months. The pandemic not only heightened the demand for online consultations but also unveiled a significant shift in people seeking mental health support more willingly.
Abhinav Lal, the co-founder and CTO, emphasizes that India is experiencing a revival in understanding the interconnected nature of health issues. Practo seized this opportunity to position itself as the go-to online platform for a holistic approach to healthcare, going beyond episodic consultations.
Practo’s journey into the digital health space has been multifaceted. The platform, which initially focused on aiding users in finding and consulting with doctors, witnessed a seismic shift during the pandemic. Online consultations saw a massive surge, with tele-consultations spiking by three times over the previous year in 2020. The company’s strategic investments in technology paved the way for seamless real-time appointment bookings, with over 25,000 doctors now providing online consultations. Practo’s commitment to training these doctors through its ‘academy’ underscores its dedication to maintaining high standards in online healthcare delivery.
Beyond consultations, Practo diversified into at-home diagnostics and medicine delivery, complementing its core offerings. The comprehensive software stack developed by Practo, fueled by investments and strategic acquisitions, stands as the largest in India, setting it apart from competitors.
Practo’s vision extends beyond merely facilitating doctor-patient interactions. Shashank ND envisions a shift from episodic healthcare to a more continuous and holistic model. The platform encourages users to view their healthcare needs comprehensively, storing historical information about illnesses and medications. This approach aligns with the changing landscape of healthcare in India.
Government initiatives, such as the National Digital Health Mission and plans for a unified health ID, bolster Practo’s mission. These initiatives, likened to the impact of the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) on digital payments, create a conducive environment for a paradigm shift in managing health data.
As Practo looks to the future, Abhinav Lal emphasizes the role of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in augmenting the capacity and capabilities of doctors. While acknowledging the human-centric nature of healthcare, Lal envisions technology bridging the gap in India’s doctor-patient ratio, especially beyond metropolitan areas. Practo’s recent product, ‘Practo Plus,’ a subscription offering various services, has garnered traction among both individuals and corporate businesses. Lal sees AI and ML as tools to address India’s healthcare challenges, intervening early in lifestyle diseases and enhancing the overall health infrastructure.
While Practo isn’t profitable yet, the trajectory suggests a promising future. Gross margins have increased from 10 percent in FY18 to 35 percent in FY20. An IPO, potentially three to four years away, looms on the horizon, as Practo continues to scale its operations. Shashank ND and Abhinav Lal’s venture, born out of a need to streamline healthcare access, has evolved into a comprehensive ecosystem. As Practo pioneers innovations in digital health, their commitment to doing good while building a sustainable business positions them as trailblazers in India’s healthtech landscape.
Empowering Minds: Richa Singh’s YourDost App Redefining Mental Well-being in Corporate India
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only reshaped our understanding of physical health but has also brought to the forefront the importance of mental well-being. In the wake of financial uncertainties, shifting relationship dynamics, and reduced human interactions, a surge in mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression has prompted the development of apps dedicated to supporting mental well-being.
One such impactful app is YourDost, founded by Richa Singh in 2014. Unlike many mental health apps available to individuals, YourDost operates on a subscription-based model exclusive to companies. With clients including esteemed organizations like the CK Birla Group, Capillary Technologies, upGrad, and educational institutes such as IIT Delhi and IIT Madras, YourDost is making significant strides in addressing the mental health needs of the corporate sector.
In the past year, YourDost has witnessed a substantial increase in sessions related to issues such as anxiety, anger, frustration, and loneliness. Richa Singh, the founder, notes a 120 percent rise in the number of sessions taken by working professionals as lockdowns were initiated. The platform, catering to more than 100 corporates in the past year, has proven to be a crucial resource for employees dealing with the psychological impact of the pandemic.
YourDost stands out with its subscription-based model, providing companies access to over 900 experts available round the clock. The platform addresses a myriad of issues triggered by COVID-19, emphasizing anxiety management, relationship challenges, and burnout prevention. The app’s success is underscored by its ability to engage more than 100 corporates and secure $1.6 million in two rounds of funding.
Aneesh Reddy, co-founder and CEO of Capillary Technologies, one of YourDost’s earliest angel investors and clients, highlights the growing acknowledgment of mental health issues in the corporate sector. He sees a substantial opportunity for platforms like YourDost in the post-pandemic era, as corporations seek a scientific approach to emotion wellness programs as a long-term investment.
In a country where mental health resources are limited, with only 30 psychiatrists for every 10 million people, YourDost plays a pivotal role in bridging the gap. The app provides an avenue for individuals to seek professional help conveniently and confidentially. It is a welcome addition to the growing ecosystem of mental health apps, which includes platforms like Mindhouse, Evergreen Club, and ThinkRight.me, addressing the mental well-being of individuals.
Mindhouse, launched in April 2020, focuses on making meditation and yoga-based mental wellness solutions accessible and affordable. Pooja Khanna, co-founder of Mindhouse, notes the tremendous uptake of live interactive classes, offering content on guided meditation, yoga, natural soundscapes, music, podcasts, and sleep stories. With over 2 lakh downloads since its launch, Mindhouse has become a valuable resource for users combating stress and anxiety.
As the mental health app landscape evolves, it’s essential to recognize their role as complementary tools rather than substitutes for professional mental health care. Tanuja Babre, program coordinator at iCALL, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), emphasizes that while these apps are resourceful, they cannot replace professional mental health care. However, they serve as valuable supplements for symptom management and self-awareness.
Apps like YourDost are crucial contributors to breaking the stigma associated with mental health in India. With its corporate-focused approach, the platform not only addresses immediate concerns but also lays the groundwork for a broader mental health movement. Richa Singh’s vision has positioned YourDost as a catalyst for change, creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for mental well-being in corporate India.
ShopKirana’s Sprint to Success: The Ready, Steady, Heady Journey of Founder Sumit Ghorawat
Sumit Ghorawat‘s fascination with the phrase “ready, steady, go” from his school days took a profound turn into the world of entrepreneurship, leading to the creation of ShopKirana. In a captivating journey marked by resilience and strategic expansion, Sumit Ghorawat, along with co-founders Deepak Dhanotiya and Tanutejas Saraswat, transformed ShopKirana from a local player to a thriving B2B supply chain platform for mom-and-pop stores.
Steady Beginnings in Indore:
Founded in Indore in 2015, ShopKirana started modestly, working with a handful of kirana (mom-and-pop) stores. The team’s decision to stay rooted in Indore for four years allowed them to refine their business model, understand the intricacies of the market, and establish a robust foundation for future growth. Closing FY18 with a revenue of Rs8.92 crore, ShopKirana was poised for the next phase of expansion. In December 2018, Info Edge, known for backing Zomato, recognized ShopKirana’s potential and invested $2 million in the startup. This capital injection paved the way for ShopKirana’s entry into Bhopal and Jaipur, resulting in a remarkable spike in revenue. The FY19 revenue soared to Rs24.4 crore, setting the stage for a Series B round of $10 million in August 2019.
Exponential Growth and Pandemic Resilience:
The subsequent expansion into five more cities, coupled with a Series B funding, fuelled ShopKirana’s revenue to skyrocket, reaching over Rs200 crore by March-end FY20. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, ShopKirana’s focus on technology adoption and streamlined operations doubled its revenue to over Rs400 crore a year after the lockdown.
Unlocking Kirana Potential with Technology:
ShopKirana’s success aligns with a broader trend of technology-led modernization in India’s kirana segment. With approximately 13 million kirana stores, accounting for 88% of FMCG sales, the sector presented an untapped opportunity for startups. ShopKirana addressed various pain points for kiranas, including inventory management, cost reduction, pricing transparency, and support for credit, GST, and digital payments.
Private Labels and X Factor:
ShopKirana’s foray into private labels emerged as a strategic masterstroke. Introducing in-house brands like ‘Kisan Kirana,’ ‘Safoya,’ and ‘Clean and Bold’ proved highly successful, contributing Rs100 crore to the FY21 sales. Leveraging insights from kiranas, ShopKirana filled gaps in the market, offering high-quality, affordable products directly sourced from farmers.
While ShopKirana’s private labels have flourished, challenges lie ahead. Maintaining product quality and transitioning from push to pull marketing are crucial aspects for sustained success. Additionally, potential competition from industry giants like ITC and HUL could pose threats. However, ShopKirana’s nimbleness, close kirana connections, and cost-effective distribution give it a competitive edge.
Sumit Ghorawat’s leadership, coupled with ShopKirana’s innovative approach, has positioned the company as a frontrunner in the kirana-tech segment. With plans for a heady expansion into 30 Tier II cities, ShopKirana is poised to unlock new frontiers, empowered by the lessons of readiness, steadiness, and a heady growth trajectory. As ShopKirana propels forward, it epitomizes the spirit of agility and resilience in India’s rapidly evolving start-up landscape.
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