May 28, 2021
In India, a country rife with economic disparities, education is the equivalent of a lottery ticket. A college degree here has the potential to open up a window of opportunities: financial stability and even a high-paying job abroad, the epitome of the Great Indian Dream. To guarantee admission into elite Indian colleges, the average Indian student is thrust into a rigorous, never-ending cycle of tuition classes and test prep early on. Between 2017 and 2018, Indian families spent around $3.4 billion on tuition for their school-going kids. The average Indian parent aspires for their children to become more educated than they are — even if that aspiration comes at a great cost.
Byju Raveendran, 40, India’s youngest self-made billionaire, recognized the potential for turning this Indian aspiration into a profitable business over a decade ago. He co-founded what would eventually become BYJU’s, the country’s most valuable start-up at $16.5 billion, in 2011. Today, the BYJU’s learning app offers math and science learning modules to the country’s 330 million-strong K-12 population in multiple languages, as well as test prep modules for engineering, medicine, and other competitive exams. The company, headquartered in Bengaluru, has raised $2.3 billion to date from some of the world’s biggest and most notable investors: Silver Lake, General Atlantic, Tencent, Sequoia India, Tiger Global, the Times Internet group, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, DST Global, and Bond (led by Mary Meeker, known for betting on Airbnb, Facebook, and Spotify). Within three months of launch in 2015, the BYJU’s app saw more than 2 million downloads. Today, it reaches 57 million students across 1,700 Indian cities and has 80 million registered users, 6 million paid subscribers, and an 86% annual renewal rate.
Simply put, BYJU’s has become a force to reckon with — a one-stop ecosystem that aims to meet every educational demand of India’s students. But the company’s journey, from coaching classes to becoming a $16.5 billion ed-tech giant, has also attracted a number of well-funded competitors and controversy.