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Six-year-old English learning platform Enguru has an enviable advantage over many other edtechs. In 2018, less than a year after securing a modest $2.5 million equity investment from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, it found a home on the JioPhone, Reliance Jio’s sub-$16 feature phone. It was a match made in heaven—JioPhone’s target demographic is low-income, first-time internet users, the exact audience for whom learning English is aspirational. 

With the JioPhone outselling outselling The New Indian Express Jio feature phones sold more than smartphones in 2018 Read more  smartphones in 2018, Enguru rapidly grew to a solid base of 35 million users. Monetising these users, though, was difficult. This meant that a majority of Enguru’s content, pre-recorded videos and online exercises, had to remain free, says Arshan Vakil, founder and CEO of Enguru.

Until India went into a nationwide lockdown. 

The Covid-19 tidal wave crashed over most other businesses but, for the edtech industry, it was a massive shot in the arm. Now, Enguru’s paid offerings have found an unprecedented uptake in users.

It took Enguru less than two months to register a 200% spike in attendance for its recently-launched Rs 5-a-day live classes. The company had to, in a matter of weeks, repackage content, launch new subscription plans, and push forward the launch of its “kid-friendly” learning content. The company’s only sources of revenue before this, says Vakil, were its business-to-business clients like hotels and retail stores, which bought English-learning packages to train employees.

“Attitudes towards online learning, especially for younger students, might have only shifted in two to three years. But now, without any other option, most parents are going to give it a shot,” says Vikas Verma, director at Mumbai-based venture capital firm Avaana. Verma predicts that the customer acquisition cost for edtechs will drop drastically, from a pre-Covid high of Rs 25,000 ($329). 

“There is an immense pull factor right now,” says Verma. And edtech companies are doing their best to take advantage. 

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Bigger companies like Byju’s, Vedantu, and Unacademy responded to the crisis by offering their content and live classes for free. While this will grab eyeballs and potentially drive sign-ups, says Verma, the business models—of self-learning tools and one-to-many broadcast classes—are unlikely to fill the school-sized hole school-sized hole The Ken Locked down for Covid-19; Zoom, WhatsApp help online school India Read more  in the lives of younger students.


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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