May 9, 2009

Either you start off or sit on the shore - Tarun Bhalla,CEO SimplyLearnt

In this article, we speak to Tarun Bhalla,Founder & CEO of SimplyLearnt.SimplyLearnt is Learning marketplace having excellent salient, let's start-off with our Q&A

In brief, tell us something about SimplyLearnt

SimplyLearnt is a Learning Marketplace where students can buy courses, tests, test Series and even lectures from any of their favorite educational institutes or educators. You can think of SimplyLearnt as the Makemytrip of Educational world – with higher margins and a bigger market.

With so many services already into e-learning, what was your driving force to start SimplyLearnt ?
e-Learning is a very broad term and is used very casually. The only e-Learning that has been happening has been in the world of Corporate training. There’s no significant usage of e-Learning in the world of school/college education. So, on the whole there’s no credible supply happening as far as school/college education is concerned whereas if you look at the demand, its astronomical may be not realized but still astronomical.

So, what we see is that there’s a huge potential in e-Learning in the School/College education market that can be captured via a product like SimplyLearnt with its unique proposition and business model.

Is SimplyLearnt only restricted to the courses that are available online ?
Currently, yes! We are offering our partner’s courses only online either on our platform or on their website. However, very soon we will be launching a desktop version where students can consume these courses/tests offline as well.

If SimplyLearnt is also powered by UGC, how does a person become a tutor with SimplyLearnt ?
It’s fairly simple, the user can register here as a normal member. Further, the user needs to register as a tutor by populating their expertise information and their hourly rates as well.

How do you manage the revenue sharing with the tutor who provides premium service ?
First, let me clarify we work both with individual tutors/teachers and educational institutes. In the former case, the revenue share is very simple and flat 80% [tutor] and 20% [SimplyLearnt]. However, our partnerships, with coaching institutes or content companies, are always on a case-by-case basis. For instance, if we market a product for our partner, we seek a higher revenue share.

Can you let us know about some of the recent tie-ups of SimplyLearnt with the content providers especially coaching classes ?
We have done fairly well in the Engineering and Medical domain with strong partnerships with Sahil Study Circle, Narayana Institute and Quest Tutorials. We are in advanced stage of talks with couple of top nation wide coaching institutes in the domain of MBA test preparation [We will let you know when that deal is closed smile]

We have also tied with few star teachers of different domains to launch their content online. For instance, we are launching NTSE preparation courses by Vineesh Kumar [who is a NTSE top ranker].

Do you plan to go into the offline mode where you provide your copyrighted online material through CD's/DVD's
Very soon, but the material/content would be not ours – again of our partners.

With low broadband internet penetration in India, how has been the acceptance of SimplyLearnt ?
Well, it has been very promising, our registrations already span more than five thousand users !!!

Can you guide us through a simple process on how a student can use SimplyLearnt for exams like GRE,GMAT etc.
Very Simple – just go to SimplyLearnt homepage and depending on which domain you are interested in – enter into the respective domain [MBA, GMAT/GRE, Engineering, Medical] and buy courses/tests from the respective coaching institutes. If you have a credit card then you can make the purchase online, else, you can buy a coupon code from the respective coaching institute.

According to you, which are some of the outstanding features of SimplyLearnt in comparison to the other services ?
Actually, I do not think a comparable product exists in the market currently. However, since you ask, I would mention some of the salient points of SimplyLearnt -
  • It is an aggregation platform for educational institutes–none exist in the market so far.
  • It has features like composite courses and test series–nothing like this exists so far.
  • All the content [paid/unpaid] on SimplyLearnt can be embedded in any other website– essentially creating a very powerful affiliate experience – again this does not exist in the market.
How are currently marketing SimplyLearnt ?
We would like to believe that we are smart about marketing. As a die-hard Web 2.0 believer, we do not spend a single penny on marketing until we have a clear ROI model. We do get a lot of promotional space via our content partners. For instance, check out this link at SahilStudyCircle - these solutions are present on Sahil’s website using our embeddable document player. This page has been hugely marketed in the print media.You can check out this as well, we get additional users when someone gives the above test on UptuPlus.

So, in a nutshell, we believe that the Web 2.0 treatment of our content, indirect promotion from our existing partners in addition to some social network apps that we intend to build would power the usage of SimplyLearnt. However, we will definitely do paid marketing for courses/test series that would have a clear ROI.

How can a content provider of SimplyLearnt share his/her content with the readers of his blog/website ?
SimplyLearnt has been designed keeping embeddability of all our content in mind. For instance, the courses, tests, test series and even lectures are embeddable. Again, check out the experience here, here and here.

After the drop in economy,the number of students applying for GRE has reduced quite drastically, how are you guys fighting these changing market dynamics ?
Actually, SimplyLearnt is insured in that sense because of our aggregator approach. If GRE goes down, we always have a good scope with GATE or CAT for that matter.

You started your career with Wipro and then studied & worked in US. What made you return back to India ?
Well it was a combination of personal priorities and economic opportunism that brought me back to India.

How is SimplyLearnt currently funded and are you looking out for more funding ?
Well, SimplyLearnt is personally funded currently, I was involved with another venture Building Blocks which has started to yield some results – so that helps. Our goal is to make the business cash flow positive before we look for outside funding – we may be close to that.

What are the key barriers you faced while starting off with SimplyLearnt ?
I do not think that we faced any barriers on starting off SimplyLearnt – I have personally run this kind of business in United States – Rhapsody and Yogita, our development head has an incredible User Interface background from Microsoft, Seattle and Adobe, India. So from a strategy and development standpoint – we have been very sound from the beginning.

Of course, There have been challenges with the partners not forthcoming initially, however, with a clear value proposition for them they have also joined hands.

Recession has come as a blessing in disguise for startups, how has SimplyLearnt capitalized on this ?
Indeed, our hiring has been much smoother and the quality of people joining in has been good.

Your word of advice for people who sitting on the shore and want to start-off ?
Honestly, I do not believe in the idea of sitting on shore – either you are an entrepreneur or you are just doing it to please the gallery. So if you are an entrepreneur, you may not need a push to start and in case if you are not – please do not come, the pressure would be difficult to handle.

In case you have any questions for Tarun Bhalla, kindly leave them in the comments and we would include them in our interview.

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At May 11, 2009, 8:01:00 PM , Blogger Nikhil Kulkarni said...

I want to ask Tarun whether working with Wipro for some time helped him or made it difficult to jump.
If it helped, would he recommend wannabe entrepreneurs to jump in without having a reasonable experience? And why?

At May 12, 2009, 1:20:00 PM , Blogger Tarun said...


This is a slightly layered question - coz experience working in a startup and with a large enterprise are two different animals.

Since you ask Wipro, I will just talk about experience in LARGE enterprises and its relevance - it is both good and bad.

Good coz, it helps one to comprehend different processes that one would require when scaling up.

Bad coz, it really does not give you any ground level experience of running companies.

Further, answering to your reasonable experience question. I believe no one can ever be fully prepared - there's always a learning that will happen when you are executing a business. However, having some all round experience in sales, marketing and execution always helps before you start something of your own.

Hope this helps!



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