On September 26, 2020, Naresh Gupta, co-founder of Bang in the Middle, made a post on his LinkedIn profile that garnered a massive response from the LinkedIn community. By being a professional with over three decades of experience in market research, advertising, and marketing across multiple geographies, the post conveyed an impending concern with the Indian ed-tech startup scenario.
Byju’s as a brand confounds me. they have raised a staggering USD 1bn to fund what can be called as ‘tuition’. No, they aren’t setting up schools, they aren’t getting more students into school, they aren’t improving school infra. they are making parent spend more money on education by playing on their fear of bad marks and schools not being good in teaching. We are twisted as a nation. We dont want to improve the education infra, but are willing to fund the business that makes use of this very gap. It’s like the parasite getting a boost, but the host body is left to die and rot. Imagine if Byjus actually opened schools and changed the entire teaching system. But then the entire chase for coveted IIT seat will have no meaning.
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Evidently, the post goes viral with 3,498+ reactions and 430+ comments.
On this, a senior security consultant at Infosys underlines the value system of India’s ed-tech C-suite executives-
This post has been seen by more than 2.5k people and commented by all big people who has successful startup, CEO’s and successful in their fields, but has anyone thought or atleast tried to fix this gap, I think none. Is there anyone whose kids are studying in govt schools? I think none. Now people will say the govt infra is bad blah….blah! Has anyone ever visited govt school and tried to understand the problem and took initiative to fix this gap? I think None. People will say its govt responsibility. How many of us have tried not to opt for tution for our kids and instead asked schools to provide quality education? I think None. Speaking on social media and giving suggestions doesn’t correct any system or fix the gap. By starting the school, doesn’t fix the gap, the gap will remain open and it will widen unless we come up with a solution to fix it. There are many schools opened by Ambanis, galgotias etc, tell me how much teaching system has changed, if it is changed then this post has no meaning.
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To understand more about the premise of this post from an expert’s point-of-view, we decide to get in touch with the Co-founder of Bang in the Middle, Naresh Gupta (NG), who brings in a candid conversation with the Founding Editor of StartuptoEnterprise, Linda Ashok (LA).
LA: The premise of your post on BYJU’s in the Indian ed-tech startup scene is the disconcerting misappropriation of funds they raise in the name of pressing social issues. Could you elaborate on your concern?
NG: My take is slightly different, its not about misappropriation of funds, its about strategic intent. When you have a billion-dollar in the kitty and the ability to sell that to market, then as a business you can fundamentally alter the category. And if it is done with responsibility, then there is monetary profit and social profit to be had. Maybe its too idealistic as a view, but then a “Billion Dollars” is not a small sum.
LA: BYJU’s and Bang in the Middle (BITM) operate in two different industries. What if BYJU’s offers you a billion-dollar cut from their latest fund? Would BITM refuse the contract?
NG: No, we won’t, and that’s the honest answer. However, we will fight very hard with the client team on the content of advertising, of the portrayal of the protagonist, of the tonality of communication. We would want it to be a lot more sensitive. And we would debate with the brand to look at the market lot more holistically than what they have looked at. Yes, we did speak with a few edtech ventures in the market, but we didn’t win any. Maybe we were diametrically opposite to what they were wanting to do.
LA: BYJU’s acquired Whitehat Jr. that teaches coding and offers a teach-from-home model for teachers, which began way before the COVID10 WFH norm. That’s enablement for returning women professionals. While this is true, Whitehat Jr is not known to village kids who can learn to code. Whitehat Jr’s focus resonated with the urban audience from where they catapulted to this merging. Their ambition was clear.
What do you make of this aberration in the Indian ed-tech startup scene that has its defined audience?
NG: Every brand has a core audience and every brand has a promise that works for that audience. I also believe that advertising has to be clear in the benefit it has to convey. Every child can code and have a line of venture capitalists willing to invest in an app, as a narrative is blatantly false, misleading, and does the brand harm. Imagine if they could say that the world can be made a better place with the power of code. Now that changes perspective and the promise for the brand.
“The whole ed-tech industry is about more marks in science and maths. They don’t even concentrate on liberal arts. There is nothing they will teach you about human rights, about painting or sculpting, about the migration of animals, nothing.” Naresh Gupta, Co-Founder, BITM
LA: Is BYJU the only black sheep, or do you have names you can’t name or choose not to or don’t mind naming them at all? If you call the names, could you elevator pitch your concern for each of the edtech factories?
NG: The whole ed-tech industry is about more marks in science and maths. They don’t even concentrate on liberal arts. There is nothing they will teach you about human rights, about painting or sculpting, about the migration of animals, nothing. They all feed the frenzy, they all want every child to become data-scientists or specialist doctors. And while BYJU’s doesn’t have it in their name, but there are names like extra marks, Toppr even more blatant about what they are offering
LA: You are an award-winning and very experienced influencer in the Indian advertisement sector. You have rich opinions on advertisements we watch every day. What is your take on the promotions run in the Indian ed-tech startup scene that influence so many people? Do you think it is all good, not good, or how can they better?
NG: It’s not fair to call me an influencer; I work in this industry, and like many of us, I have a point-of-view on the ads we see. Across the edtech industry, I don’t remember seeing any ad that stands out, breaks the clutter, tells a tale that no one has done. What we see are usually ads that are more a demonstration of what the product is. I find the upGrad ‘ass’ ad to be really cringeworthy, the Whitehat Jr. ad to be grossly over-promising. The category needs deeper thinking and maybe that’s the only way it will have a better connection with consumers.
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