Test preparation major Aakash Educational Services (AESL), owned by Byju’s, is confident of growing at 60-70 per cent this year, with its business momentum driven by market demand, hirings, addition of new centres, and increase in student count, a top official said.
AESL’s positive commentary assumes significance given that reopening of schools and colleges in the offline mode has hit the business models of many new-age edtech startups.
In fact, the market is rife with reports of layoffs, and some edtech startups — that had announced ambitious plans and fundraising at the peak of the pandemic — have shut down operations over the last few months.
Abhishek Maheshwari, CEO of Aakash Educational Services told PTI that AESL continues to log “robust” growth in volume of students, number of centres and other key metrics, and expects to hire 2,000-3,000 people in the next 12 months.
Aakash Educational Services Ltd — which provides test preparatory services to students gearing up for medical and engineering entrance exams, school and board exams, as well as other foundation-level examinations — was acquired by Byju’s in a mega deal valued at almost USD 1 billion, last year.
Maheshwari observed that the students’ return to classrooms (as pandemic moderates) has strengthened AESL’s proposition, thanks to the hybrid model it has built with digital layers, which continues to give added flexibility.
“Our digital business is growing too, and overall, we are growing at an unprecedented rate. This is due to our value proposition, track record based on results, mix of technology, delivery and content, as well as geographical reach,” Maheshwari observed.
Aakash plans to add 50-60 new centres by next academic year, to meet market demand. It has nearly 300 centres now, and is also looking to expand space in 100 of those, in coming months.
Aakash Educational Services Limited added 4,000 employees in the last nine months taking its overall headcount to over 8,000, and is looking to hire 2,000-3,000 people in the next 12 months, to meet the requirements of growing student count.
“This shows our appetite for people and talent is still very high, given the growth and expansion we are looking at. And the advantage is our fairly stable business model, which has stood the test of time… the biggest test being the pandemic itself,” Maheshwari said.
He emphasised that Aakash’s business model is “robust” and “not driven by any hype”. Aakash is a cashflow positive business where growth is self-funded by revenue generated from operations.
“We feel reasonably good about where we are, where we are heading, in terms of growth, and therefore, in terms of people we need,” Maheshwari said.
The active student tally is expected to be more than four lakh this year, double the pre-pandemic levels. To a question on the edtech sector sheen wearing off after a golden run by startups, Maheshwari noted that there has been a “bit of a reality check” in the market but asserted that edtech opportunity is real as people have experienced the power of online learning.
“I think it was sort of oversold, and now I think there is going to be some sanity. More robust business models within edtech will not only survive, but thrive,” as per his forecast.
The market did see some overcapacity, “over-exuberance”, tendency to pay a lot for customer acquisition, and there were a lot of `me-too players’ with less differentiation. “Education, in a country like India, is about outcomes. So ultimately, you can acquire as many customers, but you have to be able to produce outcomes in some meaningful manner at every stage,” he said.
Players need to focus on students, and around delivery, for a long-term play. “I am quite optimistic that all of that will happen, because the need is very much there. In these two years, people were able to learn, and it happened because there was technology involved. There was this option of online education,” Maheshwari explained.
The concept of online education is here to stay, and it is up to players to prioritise the right metrics to gauge performance.
“In our system, we track results and success rates of students. Obviously, we are also a business, so we track sales. But one of the key monitorable for us is results,” he said.
Measurements on parameters such as what percentage of students qualify, are marks improving month-over-month, is syllabus being completed on time, are key “and because we measure that, people are focused on delivering that,” he pointed out.
He attributed the 33-year strong track record of Aakash Educational Services to its razor-sharp focus on student performance and results.
“The reason we are here 33 years later is because of that. We may have a good or bad year in sales…But the fact that we deliver results with single-minded focus, is the reason why we will be here 10 years later too,” Maheshwari added.