CEO and Co-Founder at PepStudy
My name is Saket Kumar. I hail from Bihar. I did my M.Tech from IIT Bombay in Computer Science and Engineering. Then I joined a US based company and worked for 3 years as a ML research engineer. I left the job in 2018 and registered my startup. For the last 2 years, I have been working as the CEO at PepStudy.
1. What provided the motivation for the start-up idea? What problem did you want to solve?
During my grad college, there was a boy in my neighbourhood who always scored more than 98% in his school exams. But in his 10th board exam he only managed to score 82% – when everybody including his parents, teachers and the school was expecting that he would be among the toppers. Then I realised that the same thing had happened to me and some of my friends as well.
At IIT Bombay, I got a chance to do some research on our education system and found that the difference between rural and urban education quality is huge. Most of the toppers from the urban schools get similar output in board and public exams – but it is not the same with rural schools.
So to solve this issue, I found that a common assessment platform with deep learning analytics would empower all the students, teachers and principals to identify the learning gaps and would help to achieve the same education quality across the country.
PepStudy is an ed-tech startup, standardising the classroom tests across our country with A.I based learning analytics for K12. With in-depth test analysis, identifying gaps and an adaptive learning approach we provide an experience that empowers students, teachers, and school management.
2. Given the multitude of opportunities present on campus like placement, higher studies etc., what motivated you to go for a start-up?
I did go into a job for the first three years of my career, but it was only to have some savings for early investment in my company. I had this idea (or say- a challenge to take up) of our education system which I wanted to implement. And I also believed that I could do much bigger things than just doing a regular job and earning money as an employee.
3. Briefly describe the journey so far, like finding co-founders, seed funding, challenges, success in deploying your product.
During the last year of my job, I met many school principals and educationists to discuss my idea and got positive feedback.
Now for work, it was almost impossible to do everything on my own, so I started looking for some partners. I discussed my idea with a colleague, Runit Raushan (who was also my flatmate) and Indeevar Varma (Head of HR in the company) and they showed great interest. Due to heavy tech work we asked another person to join the co-founder team as a tech lead along with Runit. He worked for some time with us but later due to personal issues he left our startup.
First we created a prototype website and conducted a pilot test – a subjective paper pen exam – in a school in Ahmedabad. The school was impressed with our work, but we realised that it would be impossible to scale this model at the country level as it required intensive effort. So we pivoted our business model and shifted to MCQ based classroom tests which worked much better – as we were conducting periodic tests (in a school) which are usually just an hour-long and cover multiple chapters.
Seeing the model work, we registered our startup and left our jobs. We started marketing in schools in Rajasthan and got five schools on board for free trials. Impressed with our work, two of these schools referred us to other schools in nearby areas. We asked these new schools to pay because we had run out of money to conduct tests for free. They agreed, and thus we got our first paying customers. We have been continuously growing after that, with no looking back.
4. Do factors like precious PoRs, CPI etc make it easier to get funding or these factors are not important in the start-up world?
Based on my experience, no. Fundraising mostly depends on the founders i.e. the diversity in the founding team. Then it depends on your idea, but the most important factor is having a compelling story to tell about your idea or work.
5. What are your expansion plans? Or do you plan to exit the company ( to join MBA etc.)?
No, I haven’t thought about going for further education, as I think the practical knowledge which you get by running a startup is more valuable than an MBA degree.
We have started with private schools (only CBSE for now), but in the coming years we will bring other boards as well. Also planning to provide our services in government schools, where a large population of our target students are. Along with this we are planning to bring more products and services for the students on our platform.
6. What advice do you have for a guy who is at same crossroads as were you back at the time of starting-up?
When it comes to being an entrepreneur and starting your first business, you need to have a very strong motivation and a lot of patience. This journey is a roller-coaster of emotions. You will get many rejections in the beginning – from your clients, investors or even your team-mates. But in between these just one ‘YES’ gives you a lot of confidence. So keep learning from those ‘NOs’ and keep fighting for those ‘YESs’.
7. What do you think can be done to improve the start-up culture in the institute?
At present, almost every institute is focusing on building a startup culture. Many annual events like the E-summit and pitchfests are happening in institutes which provide a platform for startups and also encourage the students to be entrepreneurs.
Along with these, I think if the professors also encourage students to go beyond report submissions and actually implement their academic projects it will boost the start-up culture in colleges by a great degree.