Vaidya Nathan, CEO and Founder, Classle Knowledge Private Ltd has over 25 years of work experience in diverse areas such as project management, pre-sales, technical consulting, innovation consulting, organization building, and senior leadership. Vaidya Nathan is a member of Accreditation Evaluation Committee for Distance Education Programmes (MBA/MCA) of National Board of Accreditation. Prior to this venture, he was the Global Innovation Leader at Cognizant Technology Solutions where he had played many global roles like Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Learning Officer, Chief Architect, eBusiness delivery Director, Project Officer, etc. Vaidya Nathan is an alumnus of PSG College of Technology, IIT-Madras, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Indiana University with an Under-Graduate degree in Electrical Engineering and Post- Graduate and Advanced degrees in Computer Science.
Classle Knowledge Private Ltd is a company with a mission to increase the quality and relevance of education among students and learners. Classle accomplishes this through its innovative platform and the learning community created around this platform. The innovative model makes participation and enjoying the benefits at minimum cost to learners. Through its platform and services, Classle unleashes the creative and intellectual potential of the students, simultaneously overcoming any social, economic, demographic and other such barriers which most of the students have. NPTEL, Pan IIT, I Create, BITES, Isha Vidya, IUCEE, and many more organisations along with 100+ colleges have partnered with Classle to further this cause. Classle today is positively impacting the education quality of over 2 lac students across India.
Replying to Anil Mascarenhas of IIFL, Vaidya Nathan says, “Classle would do for Education and Learning what Google did to organize information and Facebook did for relationships and communication.”
How do you propose to increase the quality and relevance of education among students and learners?
We propose to increase the relevance in the following manner:
Bring experts, professional, students and learners around a Net-accessible platform targeting different learning situations.
By having the concepts taught by expert teachers brought to the students as videos.
By encouraging students and learners to freely ask questions and doubts, including in vernacular. Having expert volunteers answer those questions.
Having professionals come online and directly help the students by giving the relevance of the concepts at work.
By having every activity done by the student counted for their goals like Job, Internships, etc.
By making not just learning, but also career guidance, project mentoring, etc be done by experts and professionals.
What is your view on entrepreneurship?
There is too much paperwork and government regulations. The support system is very opaque and needs more professionalism. Getting good human resources remains a challenge.
You’ve regretted outsourcing the entire development of the technology platform. What are some of the lessons you learnt and would like to caution entrepreneurs?
Only small outfits are affordable for a startup and most of the time the staff learning at your expense. So, it is almost like you are investing in development talent. During the project duration, since the staff are learning we get lower quality. Around the time they have gained expertise, there is cost and quality overruns.
Do the development yourself if your organization's value proposition rides on technology.
If it needs to be outsourced, be very involved and have frequent milestones with incremental deliverables so that you can walk away with some work done.
What are the opportunities in the education field and what would you imagine are you major challenges?
We are simultaneously in a *Bermuda triangle* situation around education driven by Quality, Aspiration and Scale (growth). This problem itself is an opportunity if there is a credible solution.
There are many challenges though. Some of them are Social, Economic, Language, Awareness, Exposure, Infrastructure, Attitude, lack of role models, lack of understanding of the demography, etc..
What is your business model?
We have a two-sided business model. The learners and students are users and they are in one side. We service them free of cost and help them become talented and successful. There are companies who are on the other side who are interested in both engaging and getting insight into such talent. We offer a set of services to them and earn service revenue from them.
Do you offer placements? What is the salary range one can expect in India and abroad after successfully completing your course?
Offering placement through insights is an important service we offer. At this time the salaries are modest entry-level salaries. But we have requirements coming in which offer very high salaries for people who have demonstrated consistent ability over our platform.
What we are finding is that the salaries are actually matching the potential and demonstrated ability of the individual and not any other artificial factors.
What is the infrastructure you have in place for the same? To what extent does it contribute to the costs of running operations?
We have a very robust and reliable technology infrastructure in place. It runs entirely on a Public cloud environment.
We have our Social Learning software platform along with many technology-based innovative services underlying to make learning easily accessible even in rural and infrastructure-weak areas in an ubiquitous way.
Technology infrastructure and development staff contribute about 40% of our operating cost.
What would be the growth drivers for your company?
Our ability to bring success to all stakeholders in the knowing-learning process is our key driver. In the near term the fact that we are solving the supply side problems at fantastic economics and making it very easy is going to be the driver.
In the medium to long term, it will switch to the demand side with our solutions bringing in more reliability and insight into their talent and learning centered decisions.
What are your capex plans? How would you fund the same?
We will be capex light in the near to medium term and mostly use public cloud like Amazon to meet the technology infrastructure needs. We wouldn't want to make a prognosis for long term since this space is changing very fast.
Most of the capex funding will come from a combination of investment as well as earnings.
What kind of partnerships are you seeking?
The partnerships we seek fall into two categories. First are those which would take us closer to the edges. Our partnerships with academic institutes, personal device vendors, etc. Fall under this category.
The other one are those who leverage our platform and add value to their education-related goals. We call them education activist organizations. Some of the education projects like NPTEL, Nor-for-profit organizations like I-Create and BITES, education activist groups like GUVI are examples of this.
Comment on your geographical spread? What are your plans for pan-India expansion?
Though we are highly concentrated in South India at this moment, we do have adoption spread throughout the country. In the eastern side, we have in Assam, in the West Gujarat and Mathura in North.
We are on a major campaign as we speak to reach about 3,000 institutes all over the country within next 5 months and increase the spread.
Of course, our open learning platform Classle.net has membership from all over the world spreading from Phillipines, to Malaysia, Pakistan, Sweden, USA and South-American countries.
Chennai Angels a few months ago invested Rs 2.75 crore in your company? What was the same utilized for? What is the shareholding pattern of the company? Any plans to sell further stake?
The investment was predominantly being used to increase our footprint and spread. While a small portion went towards developing access services, most of the money is being used to build a strong community and customer organization.
How many students does Classle host?
Currently we have a little over 2,00,000 students. We have a target to take it to 25,00,000 in about 12 months.
What is your vision for your company? What are your financial goals?
The vision for the company is to be the Talent Platform for the World. What Google did to organize information, Facebook did for relationships and communication, Classle would do it for Education and Learning.
The mission of the company is to democratize learning and realize not just Right to Education, but Right to Quality Education for the entire World.
We are building a very strong, high-growth and very profitable company with tremendous financial strength. While we do not want to talk about the specifics of our financial goals, the kind of companies we compare with will give some indication of the benchmarks we are setting for ourselves.
Almost all the enterprises start with either the self expression of the entrepreneur or being in the business of doing business as the goal. It mostly ends up serving the crest-of-the-pyramid. Classle falls in new breed of enterprises where Social Transformation is the core focus, vision and mission and build a successful, profitable high-growth enterprise around that. That way, we design for the rest-of-the-pyramid.