In late July, when Karan Bajaj addressed a WhiteHat Jr town hall, employees didn’t realise it would be his final one. A successor chief executive office (CEO), Trupti Mukker, had been announced, but there was no indication that Bajaj was already on his way out of the coding-for-kids startup he had built from scratch.

“There was talk within the company, but his announcement to leave was a shock to all of us,” says an employee from the sales rank-and-file at WhiteHat Jr. Bajaj has since taken to professional social network LinkedIn to talk about his imminent departure to start a new “career in public service”.

Makkar inherits a fractured legacy from Bajaj. The startup has been dogged by allegations of mis-selling through its over-the-top, aggressive sales tactics. It has also been slammed slammed The Ken Rage against the machine: behind Byju’s swift silencing of dissent Read more for silencing online critics by taking down their posts from social media. On the other hand, WhiteHat Jr’s revenues zoomed during the pandemic, and its growing international footprint ultimately attracted the attention of edtech major Byju’s. In 2020, the decacorn scooped up WhiteHat Jr at an impressive valuation of US$300 million.

WhiteHat Jr has since emerged as the tip of Byju’s international expansion spear. Rechristened to Byju’s FutureSchool for its overseas operations, the business is growing rapidly. According to information sourced by The Ken, its total revenue is up 42% from the last quarter, with 10-20% growth in core India and US markets. A quick search on LinkedIn also reveals that the Brazilian market is next in focus, with Byju’s FutureSchool making a number of hires in the region.

Byju’s acquisition of WhiteHat Jr is much more than a bold bet gone right—it’s almost a lifeline. Three years ago, a different product was meant to lead Byju’s international expansion—the Disney-Byju’s Early Learn App. The app is an entry point to a whole new age group for Byju’s—from pre-kindergarten to grade 3—and is built around popular Disney characters from movies like Frozen, Toy Story, and Brave. 

The app was the culmination of a few agendas. Byju’s wanted to “Disney-fy” education for a younger age group, says a source familiar with the development of the app. They wished not to be identified as they are not authorised to speak with the media. The idea, says the source, was to create a YouTube-like loop of Disney videos, with interactive games and quizzes thrown into the mix. Since YouTube doesn’t chart out a specific learning trajectory, the app would track learning levels.

AUTHOR

Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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