There are certain things that happen in life which take you on a direction that makes you stand out from the rest. That seems to have happened with Arun Prakash Murugesan, who founded GUVI , or Grab Your Vernacular Identity. This is a website that explains technological concepts in Tamil. But its promoters plan to soon increase the number of languages in which concepts are taught.
“I hail from Madurai and, when I joined engineering college, I faced two main problems there — one, there was no guidance; and two, understanding English. Not all of us there had studied in English-medium schools, so understanding concepts was quite a struggle,” says the founder.
But he got placed in Honeywell, and began his MNC journey — he has worked in Kalido, Paypal, SCS and Symantec. “I graduated in 2003, so I assumed that the problem of language barrier would have been overcome — that the internet and movies would have reduced the gap that we had faced. But clearly that isn’t the case.”
One day, his friend, who was a project manager in another company, wanted to brush up his knowledge of technology concepts and requested Arun if he could make him a video, explaining the concept. “I uploaded the video on YouTube and was surprised that it got a lot of views. I was quite taken aback by the fact that most views came from the UK, the US and Singapore.”
Arun decided to investigate a bit and found that these viewers were, in fact, graduates from Tamil Nadu. “When I contacted them, I got to know that they did their graduation here and then moved on to different places. So, for them, the attraction was the content quality and language. When an explanation is delivered in a native language, the thought process is simplified,” explains Arun.
How GUVI began
The idea came about when Arun was in PayPal. “When I began making and putting up videos, a few others from my office were interested in being part of this project, so we started a volunteer group. At that time, we would upload videos on one topic in five languages — Telugu, Hindi, Bengali, Kannada and Tamil. And it was quite popular,” he said.
But the drudgery of work took over their lives and the project remained dormant for almost two months. “I felt so bad that I would literally drag people to make them record videos. Even when the videos weren’t being put up frequently, it was clear that people were interested in learning. One of the mails I received had a sender saying he wanted to learn C programming.” And this is how the idea of teaching coding in native languages came about, Arun says.
As of today, GUVI’s YouTube channel has around 214,198 views. Arun also maintains that GUVI wasn’t born to be a profit-making company. When they officially started, his colleagues from the previous firm, SP Balamurugan (the CEO) and Sridevi Marimuthu (Operations and finance; and Arun’s wife) left their companies to join him in the venture. GUVI got incubated in IIT Madras. Today, they work with Anna University, IIT- Madras, Sastra University, VIT and 52 other colleges in Tamil Nadu.
“In the videos, we basically code the program in the computer and have a voice-over. We usually have external people doing it. For example, the Android course is done by an app developer who has around eight years of experience. Similarly, iOS voice-over is done by another expert. While the script is written by them, we verify, cross-check and review them with other experts in the field. And ensure that the person writing the script has at least four years experience in his field.”
Students who learn from video courses pay for them, and the fee ranges from ₹750 to ₹3,000, depending on the course.
The second business model is recruitment. All the knowledge a user accumulates in course of his learning is made into a profile, which is then sent to certain companies. “There are a lot of companies looking for graduates with some sort of work experience. The achievement profile that we send to companies is based on activities. This activity-based profile is something that users build through activities on our platform. And this acts as a resumè for companies that recruit through us.” Arun clarifies that the placement isn’t a guarantee.
There are a few companies that also do project-based recruitment, he says. Companies put up their projects on GUVI and, if users are able to solve them, they are eligible for a second round of discussion. They also have an online code compiler, which helps one test any programming language from the Web browser, eliminating the need for installation.
There is also a mentorship programme, where an industry person guides the learner. But this is a premium solution, where the user has to pay for the mentor’s time.
When Arun was working in Symantec, he would put in his salary towards GUVI. “We’re still bootstrapping, with a few friends and family pitching in. But now we’re planning to expand and, hence, have approached a few investors. Talks are in the final stage,” says an excited Arun.
Today, GUVI has 18,000 users, of whom 3,000 are paying customers. “Since we started this company with the main purpose of teaching, we kept certain courses free. We have a few other things, such as evaluation and project board, which are free for any user.” GUVI is planning to build an app for this soon.