Alakh Pandey minces no words when he says he wanted to be a viral sensation on YouTube. “I started my channel in 2014. There weren’t many tutors online. Unacademy and Vedantu were also new to YouTube. I was confident that I could at least teach as well as the tutors online.” Pandey says he tried something new in every video—a different accent, a different voice, humour. Every night, he went to sleep hoping to wake up as a YouTube star. 

“The videos flopped. Nothing happened,” says Pandey.

In 2022, it’s almost impossible to believe Pandey’s initial struggle. In the intervening eight years, Pandey’s channel Physics Wallah—now rebranded to PW—acquired over six million subscribers on YouTube. The company began with just one subject, Physics, but now offers end-to-end preparation courses for the tough-to-crack JEE and NEET JEE and NEET Joint Entrance Exam and National Eligibility cum Entrance Test JEE is an all-India entrance exam for entry to the prestigious IIT engineering colleges in India. NEET is an all-India competitive exam for admission into medical colleges  exams.

Currently, PW has around 50 lecturers and 250 associate faculty members and subject matter experts. Its app, launched in 2020, already has over a million paying subscribers. Now, PW is setting up physical coaching centres in nine cities across the country. Most importantly, though, PW is in the process of raising its first-ever venture round—$100 million at a billion-dollar valuation. 

In the cut-throat and chaotic world of online test prep, where heavyweights like Unacademy, Vedantu, and Byju’s spend millions of dollars on marketing, PW’s largely organic growth is a breakout story. Its business model is a perfect trifecta—it has low customer acquisition costs (CAC), it’s profitable, and most crucially, it’s affordable.

Following suit

Physics Wallah’s new “paathshaalas”, or classrooms, will follow a two-teacher model—an online class will be beamed to the tuition centre, with a tutor present to solve doubts in person

For the best part of eight years, while the bigger test prep brands were peddling discounts through their aggressive sales tactics, PW offered its courses for free. Even now, the student traffic that gets funnelled to the paid app pays a fraction of what Unacademy or Vedantu charge for their courses. PW appeals especially to students from tier-2 and -3 cities, for whom accessibility and affordability are major roadblocks to learning. This is the demographic that has eluded PW’s bigger rivals, despite constant attempts to lower prices, hand out discounts, and launch courses in more regional languages. 

According to investors close to the company’s advisors, PW earned close to Rs 300-400 crore ($39.2 million-$52.3 million) in revenue for the year ended March 2021, almost neck and neck with Unacademy’s revenue of Rs 380.80 crore ($49.6 million) in the same period.

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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