Mehul, a Mumbai-based chartered accountancy student, used to commute for almost four hours daily to attend various coaching classes for different subjects, besides going to college and taking up an articleship.
The hectic schedule left him with little time to concentrate on any of his pursuits.
A friend introduced him to SuperProfs.com. Mehul enrolled, and is now happy with his decision.
He is one of the 25,000 students registered with the online education platform, developed by Bengaluru-based Aurus Network. The website helps students prepare for the Graduate Aptitude Test in engineering (GATE), chartered accountant (CA) and company secretary (CS) exams.
After graduating from school in Bhopal, Piyush Agarwal, founder and chief executive officer, SuperProfs.com, began preparing for the entrance examination of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). It gave him an idea of how coaching centres function.
"I realised that by giving the choice to the students to choose the professor they want to study from, will be the first step towards quality training," he said.
He rejected a lucrative offer from Microsoft India and chose to apply his technical expertise to help millions of students across the country with quality training for the exams that determine their future. Along with Sujeet Kumar, a B-Tech in computer sciences from IIT Kanpur, he co-founded Aurus Network and created SuperProfs.com.
Initially, set up in Bhopal in 2010, the company later moved to Bengaluru.
Though students in metro cities are able to get access to experienced coaching teachers for exams like IIT-JEE, IAS, CA, GATE and NEET (Medical), a majority in smaller cities are not able to prepare for the exams, due to lack of quality teachers, said Agarwal.
"For instance, students from across the country preparing for IIT-JEE relocate to Kota (in Rajasthan) due to the lack of experienced teachers in their own home towns. A large number of students preparing for CA go to Delhi since the national capital has some of the best CA teachers," he said, adding that relocating to a new city is a cause of immense mental and physical stress.
The alternative would be to study with local teachers in their hometown. And that often results in poor performance.
SuperProfs.com identifies and partners with the good professors for such competitive exams from major education hubs such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru and bring their classes online so that students from across the country can access them.
"With SuperProfs.com, students not only get access to same classroom sessions, they also get printed study material delivered to their home within three to four working days of subscribing to a class online. It also facilitates interaction sessions between students and teachers so that students can get their queries answered," Agarwal said.
SuperProfs.com works on a revenue sharing model with professors, has developed a proprietary technology that livestreams high-definition quality videos at extremely low bandwidths. This enables students with poor internet connectivity to attend the online classes.
In addition to the video lectures, students get access to moderated discussion forums where they can ask questions and interact with other students. The platform also provides an all-India assessment series to its students, to see where they stand at the national level.
South Korea is one of the biggest test preparation market in the world and has companies like Mega Study, offering online lectures by expert teachers, while other countries like Brazil and Indonesia are also seeing the rise of test preparation companies. In India, companies such as Merit Nation and iProf provide packaged educational content in the format of compact discs, DVDs and tablets. Players like Embibe and Topper are helping students with mock assessments.
Aurus Network, which had earlier raised an angel round of funding from Indian Angels Network, had in December 2014, secured Rs 18 crore (about $3 million) in a Series-A round of funding from Kalaari Capital and IDG Ventures India.
"With the new round of funds, we will invest in research and development, mobile technology and expand our product offerings to include more exams. There are no immediate plans to raise further funds," Agarwal said. "Our current focus is to make our solution more compelling for students and helping them in cracking the respective exams. We are also focusing on increasing our user base so that we can truly make quality education accessible to masses. The current focus is not on profitability," he added.
With the Series-A funding, SuperProfs.com is planning to introduce other exam verticals like Indian Administrative Service, Union Public Service Commission, Common Admission Test, bank probationary officers, Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) and even very specialised fields like actuarial sciences by next year. The company currently works with around 100 professors from cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. As it expands to other exam verticals and more cities like Kota, Pune, Kolkata and Chennai, it is looking forward to working with more than 500 professors in the next couple of years.
"At present, we are a 50-people strong company. Over the next two years, the team will be growing to about 100," Agarwal says, adding that considering the fact the student community today is more tech-savvy than the generation a decade ago, they are planning to launch an easy-to-use mobile app in two months from now, so that students can actually carry their study material in their pockets.
EXPERT TAKE: Poonam Madaan
SuperProfs.com is a new-age concept. People want everything at their doorstep and the website does so in the field of education.
Similar concepts have been initiated before, at a small level, by various institutes but they could not prosper for more than a year because of lack in the control and coverage. They targeted only one course. SuperProfs.com is a well-planned model and covers various courses. What differentiates SuperProfs.com from others is that instead of depending on any one professor for a particular subject it provides option to the students to select professors of their choice.
As of now, there are few competitors in the market for online test preps with such a model.
So, with various promotional offers from time to time, the students can be made aware of the website.
Also, surveys can be conducted to take the feedback from the students who are already using the services of SuperProfs.com.
SuperProfs.com can take its online test preparation business to the next level by making its presence in various other courses and tying up with schools, colleges and universities. A big percentage of the target audience can be made aware of SuperProfs.com.
They can also have tie-ups with big companies to provide trainees, articles or interns. This way, students can be benefitted in two ways, academically and professionally.