When Rajasthan's Chitraang Murdia topped the 2014 Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for admission to Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), it wasn't a proud moment for him and his parents alone; online test preparation platform Embibe.com, too, was overjoyed. The platform had helped Murdia with specialised modules and assistance for engineering and medical examinations.
Among many others who made it to the IITs, Embibe also helped Govind Lahoti, who stood third in the exam.
In November 2012, Aditi Avasthi, an alumnus of the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, launched a platform through which engineering and medical institute aspirants could prepare for entrance examinations. Avasthi, once an IIT aspirant, realised students needed more personalised solutions than those offered by coaching institutes.
How it works
Students, as well as coaching institutes, can buy Embibe; institutes are offered discounts. While the JEE/CET practice package for 2015 is priced at Rs 11,999, the JEE package for 2016 is priced at Rs 15,999. The package includes exam questions, a chapter-wise test series, video solutions, content and tips from faculty at India's 20 best institutes, apart from a mobile application for revision and tips on question-wise and subject-wise time management. It also includes tracking accuracy, speed and performance, as well as a pan-India performance comparison.
For students, Embibe offers test series packages (subject-wise or test-wise) at Rs 999-6,000.
Avasthi says her company tries to complement the efforts of coaching institutes and empower teachers, students and parents. "It is utility-driven and helps reduce wasted attempts. The platform goes deep into performance improvement," she adds.
Many say since the platform has a mix of tests, it is attractive for students. "A student may be very strong in maths, but weak in physics. Since he/she cannot choose special packages at large coaching institutes, platforms such as Embibe provide him/her specialised attention," says the chief marketing officer of a large coaching institute.
Prashant Mehta, partner at Lightbox, says the platform has a 75:25 mix - while 75 per cent of its business comes from coaching institutes that buy its solutions, the rest is from individual students. About 100 institutes avail of the platform's services.
"There is a strong surge of mid- and small-sized institutes in Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad and Bangalore. These institutes are interested in availing of Embibe's expertise," he says, adding through the next 12 months, the goal is to remain focused on engineering and medical courses.
Experts, however, say the sooner Embibe diversifies, the better. "They have been too focused on engineering, which is already very crowded by dozens of institutes. While funding is not an issue, they need to enter other areas such as chartered accountancy and civil services, where the competition is more intense," says an angel investor.
Students say the platform has been a complementary coach. "At a coaching institute, you might never know the time spent per question in an exam. Embibe helped me understand how to manage my time in the test and pin-point conceptual mistakes," says Murdia, who topped the IIT JEE this year. Another student says reducing the number of wasted attempts enabled him to improve his rank, because of which he could join an IIT of his choice. A Kota-based IIT aspirant says, "While we already spend Rs 1-2 lakh on coaching institutes, the Embibe package could be a little lighter on the pocket."
India's online education market size is estimated to grow from the current $20 billion to $35-40 billion by 2017. This will be boosted by the test preparation space, which is seeing annual growth of 20 per cent.
Mehta said Embibe's would be higher, as it had started with a lower base. Through the next couple of years, Embibe plans to serve a million students.
"Using our expertise, we are ready to expand into other massively competitive examinations spaces such as UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) and bank PO (exams for the post of probationary officers at bans). We are working on a road map for expansion," says Avasthi.
Mehta adds the platform will seek to expand into international markets. Officials of private equity funds, however, are cautious. "The engineering space has very large potential due to the sheer numbers involved. They have to constantly upgrade their platform, as many coaching institutes have already begun investing heavily on technology," says a senior official at a Mumbai-based private equity firm.
With about 500,000 test takers for engineering and another 600,000 for medical courses, experts feel Embibe can sit tight and enjoy tremendous business growth. But it has to expand to other areas, says an investor in the education space.
EXPERT TAKE: Sushanto Mitra
The website, however, asks for a sign-up and a profile for tests, unlike competitor toppr.com. This impacts traffic.
The platform has been successful, compared to peers, as it has been an early player in the market. This has helped it garner a reasonable market share. So far, around 20,000 test papers have been solved on the platform.
There is sufficient space for two-three players to make it big in the next three-four years. Online test platforms help students increase speed and offer a chapter-wise assessment. It also prompts virtual classrooms through video conferencing; once students are used to online tests, they will be more comfortable with such a medium. Therefore, there is a large market for the company to address. How far it will be able to achieve this will depend on multiple factors, including its brand-building exercises and ease of use of the platform.
Sushanto Mitra is co-founder and chief executive of Lead Angels