Revealed
The Secret Sauce Behind India’s Most Promising EdTech Start-Ups

If you’re familiar with the Indian EdTech space, chances are that you’ve heard of Growth School, The Product Folks, GrowthX, Stoa and Invact. These are arguably 5 of India’s most promising educational companies.

But what makes them so promising? What are they doing differently that most other EdTech start-ups are not?

All 5 companies cater to widely different audiences. They have very different product offerings and demographics. Yet, there is one thread that binds them together and enables them to stand apart from their competitions.

The common thread that makes a world of difference is Community.

Co-Founder, GrowthX

This one factor is known to enable EdTech start-ups to achieve 85%+ course completion and retention rates.

15%

Completion Rates for LMS based Courses

85%

Completion Rates for Community based Courses

It also enabled some of them to raise serious venture capital.

Growth School: Community-led live learning platform, Growth School announced that is has raised $5 million in funding round led by Sequoia Capital India and Owl Ventures.

GrowthX: GrowthX raises $1.5 Million the largest ever community-led seed round with 212 investors. This includes founders & leaders across companies like Razorpay, Airbnb, Meesho etc.

Not making much sense? Let me explain.

I approached this in the form of a mini-case study and formed a hypothesis and then later on, interviewed core-members of these start-ups to validate my hypothesis.

Hypothesis : Content is no longer king. Communities are!

The Problem :

In 2022 you'll be able to find an online course on just about any subject ranging from digital marketing to something as niche as quantum electro-dynamics.

Not only will you learn from world class universities and expert instructors, this information is completely accessible for free!

Despite content being freely available, completion rates for content-based courses are not seeing more than a 15% completion rate. The onus of completion relies solely on the learner and their personal motivations.

The (Hypothetical) Solution :

A student community alongside your course-content engages the learner in a social experience that gives rise to accountability. Moreover, when the course is not self-paced, the learner is time-boxed to complete the course in a certain duration and completion rates naturally go up leading to higher retention.

Hence, the hypothesis : Community >> Content

Let’s now take a look at how these 5 promising start-ups are running their courses and what roles content and community play in their ‘big-pictures’.

But before that, some useful definitions :

LMS : Stands from Learning Management System. It’s basically a content library for your course content - you can upload videos, documents, assignments, blogs, all sorts of content.

Community : In the context of this case study, a community refers to the social aspect of an online course. It’s that online space where students interact with each other to simulate a real-classroom like experience. After all, learning is social.

Is Community Really King? : A Mini-Case Study

Let’s begin with a quick one-line intro to what each of these e-learning start-ups offer.

Company

Taglines

Growth School

Learn from the top 1%. Educational programs to help you start, transition or level-up your career.

The Product Folks

Join the world’s most passionate product community. A volunteer-driven community of Product Managers and enthusiasts.

GrowthX

Become the top 1% growth leader. GrowthX members are founders, growth, product & marketing leaders, from the top product companies in the world.

Invact

The future of education is here. Learn from top industry experts and get placed in high-growth startups in growth marketing and product roles.

Stoa

Earn your Stoa Level, be in demand. Get all the benefits of a traditional MBA, at a fraction of the time and cost.

Swipe to view the full table
Swipe to view the full table

Now, I want you to think of what a college experience comprises; to put simply, it’s a combination of an academic + social life.

On one hand you have your lectures, assignments and course books and on the other, you have your friends, college clubs and social events. Let’s be honest, the social life made all the difference in how you experienced college. Chances are that it made the experience all the more fun and enjoyable alongside the tedious academic life.

If one translates both these aspects into the online world, an LMS takes care of the ‘academic’ part and a community takes care of the ‘social/interactive’ part.

All of these 5 start-ups use the LMS + Community model.

Let’s start out with how these companies use an LMS.

Company

LMS Used

Purpose of LMS

Growth School

Custom-built

Deliver Course Content

The Product Folks

Thinkific

Resources Archive

GrowthX

Circle

Deliver Course Content + Growth Encyclopedia

Invact

Custom-built

Resources + Student Work Display

Stoa

Circle

Resources Archive

Swipe to view the full table

Common observation: We can infer that LMS is used as a content library - a place to host their course materials, resources and a place for students to share their work.

Let’s now take a look at how they integrate a community within their courses and the infrastructure they use.

Company

Community Platform Used

Purpose of Community

Growth School

Discord + Scenes

Simulate a classroom-like experience. Peer engagement.

The Product Folks

Slack

Enables PMs, founders and engineers to connect. Heart of the business.

GrowthX

Slack

Community is the core product of the business.

Invact

Custom 3D Metaverse Platform: Metaversity

Simulate a classroom-like experience in an online learning world.

Stoa

Discord

Simulate a classroom-like experience in an online learning world.

Swipe to view the full table

Common observation: Community is seen to be at the centre of everything they do. It’s either the core product or it is the retention layer that makes students stick to the course.

What These 5 Promising Start-Ups Are Doing Right

The questions asked above were fairly simple. What purpose does your LMS and Community solve for your business?

From the answer given by the representatives at each of the start-ups, we can draw the following statement.

Observational Statement - Community is critical to the core-experience whereas LMS is a nice-to-have functional component.

Here’s what the representatives at these companies had to say about the role of LMS and community in their course-models.

“Community is at the heart of what we do. LMS helps us build an archive of resources with lifetime accessibility to our participants.”

- Suhas Motwani, The Product Folks

"Community is no more something that you do outside the product. It IS the product. The two basic tenets of Invact are craft and community. Ask yourself, have you ever learned something without a community supporting you?"

- Tanay Pratap, Invact

“Community is the product. LMS solves for having all the content in one place.”

- Abhishek Patil, GrowthX

“People come for content and stay for the community. NPS has a direct correlation with the community experience they have in the cohorts.”

- Vaibhav Sisinty, Growth School

The college-like model is actually working for these start-ups and using online tools, they’re able to simulate a virtual campus so to say. A trend I’ve been noticing is how the founders use college-related terms to represent parts of their product.

“The community-led courses not only have classrooms but also simulate hostels. Discord for us is the hostel.”

- Aditya Kulkarni, Stoa

These tweets and news articles from the founders of some of these companies goes on to further validate the hypothesis.

Looking at such compelling statements and evidences of how being community-first has enabled these companies to :

  • Raise venture capital
  • Raise community-led capital
  • Increased course-completion rates
  • Increased word-of-mouth
  • Create strong network effects
  • Create a strong user-retention layer
  • Always own some distribution
  • Build a solid moat for the business

I can confidently validate the hypothesis I started out with.

Hence, the hypothesis : Community >> Content

I’ve made a matrix to help visualize this better :

Becoming Community-Led

Going all in on community-led growth may seem like a risky strategy to place your bets on. The main reason behind this is because building a community takes time - anywhere between 8-12 months. But what you’re not seeing are the compounding benefits that come.

Stellar Course Completion Rates: A social-layer in your courses makes your students more accountable with the help of grouping and pairing systems. In addition to this, time-boxing each cohort makes most of the students complete the course.

Strong Word-of-Mouth: A community experience during an online course always feels more fun and intimate for the student taking it. When closing up, it feels like the end of a long journey that a group took together. Students talk about these experiences to others and generate a stronger word-of-mouth than self-paced courses.

Alumni Networks : Students who have completed a cohort are always happy to continue being active members of the course community. Through them, new students get opportunities for placements and jobs.

A Place to Belong : Beyond all other reasons, one of the biggest reasons why course communities live way beyond their course end-dates are because they bring a group of like-minded people together. It becomes a space where these students can connect and bond with one another.

It’s only a matter of time before EdTech businesses adapt and make themselves future-proof by switching to the community-led model. When you have a strong community, whether the market is in a bull-run or a recession, your business is here to stay.

Authored by Sid Ramesh
About the Author

Sid is a master community builder with 10 years of experience. Having started his journey working with Harvard University’s CS50x at age 17, Sid has catalysed growth for communities across domains - Travel and Hospitality, Coding, Finance, Marketing, Music, and Entrepreneurship to name a few. Currently, he leads Community at Build on Scenes.

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