Dronstudy.com is an e-learning platform designed to further education in India. Educating in the traditional brick-and-mortar fashion is challenging with the growing population of young people. The Surat-based ed-tech startup Dronstudy went on to built a foundation to create a repository of online and offline audio-visual educational content enriching the learning endeavors of city and rural students.
The founder, Neetin Agrawal, is an alumnus of B.Tech from IIT Madras. He began his profession at Texas Instruments in Bengaluru in 2008, where he flourished — publishing papers and licenses, and receiving a 70 percent increase in salary even through the recession. However, he dreamt big and wanted to make a change in society. However, there was no startup ecosystem in Bengaluru during that time.
Witnessing the growing disruptions in the education system, Neetin was anxious to make the change he dreamed of. His father advised him to gather experience in the education sector first. He moved to Kota and took a role as an IIT-JEE physics educator at the test preparation company. Bansal Classes, at a third of his previous income.
“Several people — including the founders of Bansal Classes, believed I was a fool. But for me, the choice was quick and simple,” says Neetin.
A dream and a job
The challenges for Neetin hit only when he started training there and was required to instruct 300-400 students in a class. With those class sizes, teachers cannot allow students to ask questions. Instead, they must teach in a manner that incorporates what they assume to be students’ questions.
“For six months, I remained alone, even after getting married so that I could work harder to teach correctly,” says Neetin. “Teaching physics for JEE at Kota is another level when compared to schools in the country.”
The hard work paid off and, in a few years, his yearly pay reached approximately Rs 1 crore. “But I spend my nights and weekends restlessly. The money was not providing me happiness, and I wanted to do something bigger. It was at that time I left my job again — but this time for good.”
The idea of combining education and technology had been with him ever since he was in Bengaluru. “While education, I noticed how Indian parents and students are not always able to contact quality teachers. Either there are no good teachers nearby, or they are too costly. What we needed to was to bring class teachers to the doorstep of pupils at an affordable cost. We tried several business models to unite teachers and students, and had to pivot a few times,” he reveals.
Knowing the market has been of chief concern for Dronstudy (a play on the words ‘Dronacharya,’ one of the most famous teachers in Hindu mythology, and study). In fact, at one time, they were conducting the online tutoring similar to Vedantu’s model but introduced additional features, and offered up their assistance at one-fourth the cost of heavily funded competitors. However, when they witnessed the success with audio and video, they decided to migrate entirely to that model.
“That migration and it included a number of layoffs and restructuring,” Neetin recollects. Rebuilding the company and setting the rates in a highly price-sensitive market were some of the other challenges he grappled with.
Dronstudy then incorporated into choosing a marketplace model. It began with collaborating with top teachers, assisting them in recording their classes in audio and video, and then marketing those courses on dronstudy.com for offline and online use by students.
“In some cases, we also combined standardized test-series, booklets, and so on to the area if needed to provide comprehensive solutions to the student. The money received from businesses was split between the teacher and Dronstudy,” Neetin describes.
For offline use, the student must obtain the courses, which are stored on a pen drive or SD card and shipped to their home. For online applications, the format is similar to udemy.com, where videos and learning materials are streamed within the website.
The company is presently targeting students from class 8 to class 12, and students of the IIT-JEE, AIPMT, Bank-PO, CA/CS/CMA, and SSC examinations. But the idea is to go both higher and lower with their team of 15 people.
People from both city and rural India are taking advantage of the company’s study material. One such individual is Om Pandey, a student residing in an extremely remote part of Chhattisgarh, where there are no schoolhouses or railway stations within a 50 km range, and no roads heading to his home. Using Dronstudy’s education, Om exceeded the International Science Olympiad.
Another advantage of their audio-enabled course is that they are immensely useful to the visually impaired who historically have lacked access to excellent teachers and educators. One such example is that of half-blind Ramandeep, who uses the courses to qualify for his IIT-JEE, and a young woman named Bihar, who is prohibited from going out after dark for classes owing to security reasons.
Dronstudy has collaborated with 60 teachers to produce over 15,000 hours of video tutorials and above one lakh topics and answers, which are being used by higher than four lakh students per period. As of presently, Dronstudy is available to 1,500 towns and communities from across India and the Middle East. Since the startup is bootstrapped, they are putting their efforts on development and eventual expansion. They are, therefore, not reporting profits per se at this stage. “I was happy that my salaries allowed me to do this. Soon, we will be approaching the VCs,” Neetin says.
At present, the company can accommodate 60 crore applicants under the age of 25. “Our market target is students approximately 10 years to 25 years of age. With a ticket capacity of, say, Rs 10,000 per student, it’s more than a USD100-billion market. We believe that at least 30 percent of it can be accomplished,” he says.
While their model has some resemblance to the learning app, Byju, Neetin expects to take on competitors through differentiation. They also plan to connect with even more teachers and expand to other geographies.