Even if you’re paying scant attention to India’s burgeoning and ever evolving startup ecosystem, you simply cannot miss the buzz around Edtech sector. Today widely dubbed as one of the brightest spots in India’s growth story, Edtech sector over the years has churned out zealous startups that are tirelessly working to revolutionize India’s sluggish education sector.
These startups are engaged in the continuous exercise of creating digital products that can add all the fun in the mundane world of education. One such notable player is Notebook – a digital content portal that is helping school students to ease through their studies with engaging videos and texts.
Notebook has a wide pool of content developers and senior instructors who diligently converts each and every topic into highly engaging audio-visual form. These audio-visual formats are then delivered through cloud-based architecture that can be streamed on any personal devices – smartphones, tablets, laptops & desktop computers.
Achin Bhattacharyya, founder & CEO of Notebook, claims that his company has always maintained unwavering focus on the ‘quality aspect’ to ensure that it doesn’t get lost into the ever-increasing crowd of Edtech startups. But, more importantly, this healthy obsession with quality has significantly helped in nurturing love for studies among students.
In an exclusive interview with Techpluto, Achin Bhattacharyya talks broadly about his company and the challenges posing India’s nascent yet dynamic edtech sector.
Q) Today with so much intense competition in the Edtech sector, what makes Notebook stand out among all its competitors?
Achin Bhattacharyya: Edtech as a sector is very much in its infancy as far as India is concerned, there are a few success stories but in spite of all past efforts by so many existing players not even one percent of the Indian students are under the edtech umbrella. We have carefully analysed the reasons and have tried to build a brand which will be far more acceptable and all inclusive.
The DNA of the brand has come from fresh blue sky thinking in all parameters and the objective has never been to build a “ me too” brand as that’s the worst thing that you can do to yourself.
So whether that be engaging augmented storytelling or putting the student first in terms of developing the design grammar and taking feedback from each stakeholder and duly incorporating them, Notebook has been one of its kind.
Today when we look at our repository of 5000 videos and repository of 25000 pages of crisp written content ( more than 50 percent of which is already in public domain in our portal ) and the fantastic response that we are getting from different parts of the country we feel overwhelmed and humbled.
Apart from CBSE and ICSE, notebook also caters to major state boards with easy bilingual content. The soul of the brand is very much Indian as we honestly believe in delivering quality uniform education at the doorstep of every Indian. Something that is not possible in the existing brick and mortar structure or with the existing offering of some of our peers which are very urban in its essence and are delivered in English only and need to be mostly subscribed with high one time annual packages with all subjects bundled up.
We believe in our product and has thus come up with easy monthly packages per subject so that a student subscribes only what he or she needs. This may defy business logic in the short run as a student gets access to the entire content by paying for only a month but then we believe in a stakeholders (i.e.parents and students) “ right to choose” and we are confident that this will be a game changer in the edtech world and may set a trend where many students will be benefitted.
Q) Can you please enlighten the process of how does Notebook go about in converting mundane topics into engaging videos?
Achin Bhattacharyya: Content building is always a “bottom up process”, our team first does a literature survey of a particular topic and then we develop a script and a storyboard around it keeping in mind that it has to be engaging without losing its essence.
At this stage we do a topic specific dipstick with our pilot group of students and teachers to find out the challenges they face while studying / teaching this particular topic and those solutions are then built into the script and storyboard by our reviewers; post which our team of artists work on the beautiful hand-drawn illustrations ( The genre of which in most cases are inspired by various art forms in our country and would also help in inspiring creativity apart from the topic engaging ).
we also work on background music and other aesthetic aspects and then the videos are created following a particular design grammar in which each lesson video ( average duration 6 minute ) is also backed up by a recap video ( average duration 2 minutes ) and a Q&A video ( average duration 3 minutes ). These are also complimented with written notes and Q&A to give a single window 360 degree perspective .
Post this we show the videos to a select group of reviewers (comprising of teachers, parents and senior students). This group has complete freedom of suggesting changes in the video and only post their approval the video is finalized. Creating a 6-minute video takes several man days of painstaking hard work but it is also very satisfying when we bring smiles into the faces of our students by giving them the confidence of grasping a topic.
Q) Over the years what has been Notebook’s impact on student’s academic performance. Do you see any measurable improvement in their performance?
Achin Bhattacharyya: We see substantial improvement in almost all of our students in the pilot group who had used notebook to study any particular topic, few of them have also wished that we are able to do the same for every topic in every subject.
We get regular feedback from parents and students from various parts of the country that improvement has been remarkable and that’s not only confined to scoring well in exams but also developing liking for a particular topic which I guess is equally important in the larger canvas of life.
It’s basic human nature to develop competence in any subject that we develop a liking for and our role is to evoke the passion for excellence and the rest will be history.
Q) Apart from CBSE, what are other important boards covered by Notebook?
Achin Bhattacharyya: Apart from CBSE & ICSE, Notebook also has customized and curated topic wise content for Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal state board, also there is a lot of content creation work in the pipeline and by March, next year we expect to cater to most of the important state boards in India.
Q) Was it really a big challenge to bring so many content developers and instructors on the board?
Achin Bhattacharyya: Getting a capable and like-minded team with the right set of values is most important, and hiring is only a part of it. Blending a group of capable individuals who come from different backgrounds into one team is the key to success.
However, I have been very lucky in terms of team building throughout my career and within a very short time we have been able to build a very capable and dedicated team with the right set of values.
Q) While no doubt that the edtech sector is still one of the sunrise sectors but do you think that poor digital infrastructure prevailing across the country still poses a major hindrance?
Achin Bhattacharyya: Students can access Notebook from their Mobile phones, desktop, laptop, or tablets etc, all you need is an internet connection. According to a popular survey, India is estimated to have over 800 million mobile phone users in 2019.
India’s internet users are registering a double-digit growth to reach 627 million by 2019. In 2018, the user base has registered a 18 percent growth to achieve a overall 40 percent internet penetration. The most interesting thing is that the main growth engine has been rural India where the internet subscriber base has grown at 35 percent compared to a 7 percent growth in urban areas.
Internet has made the flow of information seamless and democratic and the next generation of Indians deserve to be the biggest beneficiaries by getting access to best in class education through technology.
Q) Is Notebook in talks with investors for raising equity funds or venture debt?
Achin Bhattacharyya: We have always believed in putting our head down and doing good work and the rest will follow, so far this has been the story, however some investors have expressed initial interest and we will take things forward at an appropriate time.
Q) Major predictions with regards to foreseeable challenge and Notebook’s future growth?
Achin Bhattacharyya: As of now we are focussed on the K12 space, Considering the low penetration, the challenge at present is more on the supply side (to deliver quality, value adding and engaging content consistently), opportunity of doing good socially impactful work is huge.
Q) Taking cue from your highly successful entrepreneurial journey, what are some of the valuable advices that you’d like to offer to all the budding entrepreneurs?
Achin Bhattacharyya: I would like to highlight three key areas.
1) Self-belief and Team
Believe in yourself and always invest time on your team, mentor them, make them feel secure and responsible. Whenever you assign any task to any of your team member, please ensure to take them on board in terms of vision alignment and make them understand why this particular work is important. Being able to inculcate a sense of purpose really work wonders.
The captain is only as good as his team. Entrepreneurs are visionaries and dreamers and dreams can turn into reality only when your colleagues also believe in them and they put their soul into it.
Also personal life is very important, entrepreneurship requires round the clock mental involvement and that’s not possible unless there is an environment of peace and happiness in your personal space, so spend quality time with your family and friends whenever you get an opportunity.
3) Invest in yourself
Also invest in yourself, read a lot, travel, speak to people etc. An entrepreneur is like the captain of a ship who needs to set the direction and the pace, unless you are aware of the ever-changing socio economic and cultural landscape around you it may be difficult to navigate the ship in high seas. Others can discuss but you need to decide and hence need a greater degree of conviction and clarity of thought.
Q) Who are some of the entrepreneurs that you personally look upto for seeking inspiration?
Achin Bhattacharyya: Henry Ford, Lary Page, Ariana Huffington, Coco Chanel, Dhirubhai Ambani and Mr. Karsanbhai Patel.
You can also contact Achin Bhattacharyya on his official e-mail Id: [email protected]