Indian edtech startup WhiteHatJr not only sold for 300 Cr all-cash deal to Byjus but also sold its soul by issuing defamation to contain its criticism in the market. This article was supposed to appear a month ago, but the decision was not to rush over and make a hurried conclusion because reputation is sweet to all parties, and we intend not to bitter it for anyone.
Unfortunately, time is rife that we discuss how WhiteHatJr has been targeting gullible Indian families across languages to enroll their children into coding the future in less than 50 mins. They are using the fear of losing to elicit parents to subscribe to morbidly priced coding classes taught by non-coders reading from scripts.
It began with a Haryana based ex-CISCO IIT BHU Varanasi alumnus, Pradeep Poonia, the whistleblower. He identified that WhiteHatJr, under the leadership of writer and ex-Discovery CEO Karan Bajaj, was looping parents in false aspiration of seeing their kids as the next Ratan Tata, Elon Musk, Sundar Pichai, and the likes.
According to Poonia, in India, children already suffer from immense inferior complexity due to various social pressures and peer competition. For an edtech startup to cheat young parents by creating fictitious characters indistinguishable to many, such as Wolf Gupta (a 13-year-old earning 12 Cr from Google on learning to code from WhiteHatJr), is undue pressure on children to succumb to something potentially harmful to their wellbeing.
Needless to say that Poonia was underlined as the black sheep for creating a ruckus and disrupting WhiteHatJr from masquerading as a coding evangelist in the garb of pure monetary pursuit. On every platform that Poonia sought to express his dissent, WhiteHatJr exercised its influence to shut down on his face until respective platform authorities realized that matter will potentially lead to legal recourse and might end up in a costly affair, they reinstated.
No media reported the concerns that Poonia felt was urgent except The Ken, The Forbes India, & The Morning Context until last Friday, November 20, 2020, when Poonia broke the news of a 20 Cr defamation suit, an 800-page legal notice, against him by WhiteHatJr. Since then, Poonia got lucky and heard by every user on Twitter and global media about the #WhiteHatJrScam that trended all Saturday and Sunday through Monday 24, 2020.
According to the CEO of WhiteHatJr, Karan Bajaj, Poonia has been a nuisance, deliberately disrupting his business reputation and of the people involved and employed. In no time, he moved to the court and summoned Poonia’s presence without any prior written notice, challenging Poonia to find a prosecutor to represent his side.
Mr. Bajaj ensured the best lawyer represented him, and he also took to TV channels to air his grievance and justification for the 20 Cr defamation suit against Poonia. On the other hand, advocate Sukumar Swathi of Roots Resources voluntarily presented Poonia, who denied any crowdfunding offered by Twitteratis supporting him in the cause. At Delhi High Court, Judge Mukta Ghosh has passed a temporary injunction on both parties to restrain until the next hearing slated for early January 2021.
The air is tense. On LinkedIn, post-hearing, Mr. Bajaj furnished an explanation of the situation admitting how he retired poor marketing campaigns to better WhiteHatJr’s impression on children’s growth toward a prosperous future. While he leveraged the sentiment of women-empowerment, citing his intent to create “jobs for housewives,” he dodged explaining how his employees ridiculed a teaching candidate from North East India, calling racial slurs revealed in screenshots of their official communication.
Mr. Bajaj did admit that Wolf Gupta was an imaginary child drawn to communicate their marketing, which they withdrew when criticized by everyone led by Poonia’s dissent on the matter. However, in the lawsuit, he has accused Poonia of calling the withdrawal of the character a “murder” expressed in pure zest. The lawsuit majorly focuses on how Pradeep Poonia breached their security and acquired access to their official SLACK channel, revealing business-sensitive information. Here, you know what’s business-sensitive, refer to the previous paragraph. We didn’t come across data about their client accounts or any financial information during our due diligence.
If you are of the impression that the story finally ends here, you might as well have some energy to learn how WhiteHatJr issued second defamation of 14 Crores against their angel investor and renowned IVF specialist from India, Dr. Aniruddha Malpani. Oh, why? Well, because not only Poonia, even Malpani is critical of their business practices that resort to using fear to sell their services. He was also vocal about his support for Poonia when he disclosed the 20 Cr defamation suit on Twitter.
If you still doubt if Dr. Malpani’s rightly assessed WhiteHatJr’s marketing practices as deceptive, should an investor not limit his speculation, read this article by veteran communications consultant Karthik Srinivasan for nuanced analysis. Goes without saying that WhiteHatJr wanted Dr. Malpani unprepared at the court and thus repeated the same summoning strategy. Dr. Malpani did proceed with fair representation. Judge Mukta Ghosh overseeing the case is potentially under the impression of WhiteHatJr exercising undue rights to offense for a handful of everyday slangs.
There’s no news from the new stakeholder. i.e., Byju Raveendran of BYJUS. Speculation suggests that Raveendran wasn’t ready for this WhiteHatJr calamity to take down his market reputation when on the way to file for an IPO in 2021. Coming to think of the entire ordeal, it is evident that the startups are highly intolerant of criticism, and they can go any mile to suppress dissent that tarnishes their image. Funny side up for grabs if you check how WhiteHatJr creates multiple fake accounts on Twitter to troll dissenters and report every concern by consumer or ex-employees for immediate removal.
At this point, Pradeep Poonia has gone downhill, followed by Dr. Malpani. However, Twitter is on fire along with LinkedIn; people are now coming out of their comfort zone to question WhiteHatJr on their arbitrary move against the whistleblowers instead of rectifying their gameplan. On the side of WhiteHatJr, sentiments around employee safety and business security are observed and empathized by a few. It’s hard to conclude without informing how WhiteHatJr’s aggressive ORM team, pre-court, implied death threats to Pradeep Poonia stay without an address for a long time.