15 March 2018 05:08:58 IST

The Toppr’s guide to success

Edutech start-up provides a platformfor students to crack competitive exams

As one who hails from the ‘Powai Valley’ ecosystem – start-ups founded by and funded and mentored by those who have passed out of IIT-Bombay – Zishaan Hayath is understandably upset about the bad press that two start-ups from the area recently got.

He himself is an alumnus of IIT-Bombay, whose campus is in Powai, and the venture he has founded, Toppr.com, an online subject learning platform, is located out of there.

Ask him about the impact on the ecosystem because of the bad press that the two start-ups – Housing.com and TinyOwl – got recently, Zishaan says there has been an impact. The aim, he says, should be to build sustainable companies and the path to building great companies is not fast; it is slow, tough and there is a lot of hard work involved.

Good press & bad press

“You can’t build billion dollar companies in one or two years. Value creation is not going to come easily,” he says and adds emphatically, “Whenever you find that there is a short way to get there, be sure that there is going to be a fall.” He adds that if something gets too much of good press, there is bound to be a reasonable amount of bad coverage too. This is what happened in the case of Housing. “Housing shouldn’t have got that much good press and then shouldn’t have got the bad press it got.” In some ways, he says, the press unnecessarily hyped it up and brought it down.

He argues further that there are a lot of companies doing great work, they are close to profitability and have free cash flows. Yet nobody knows about them. Then there are companies that raise lot of funding and they are in the press, he points out.

But, according to him, India needs a lot more tech start-ups to solve the kind of problems it has.

Zishaan is not just an entrepreneur. Toppr is his second venture; the first was Chaupati Bazaar, an early entrant in the phone commerce space, which he sold within two years to the Future group. He is also an angel investor, having founded Powai Lake Ventures, which makes angel investments in start-ups that come up in the Powai Valley. He is also an active mentor to start-ups that come out of IIT-Bombay.

Powai Lake Ventures, according to him, is an angel group. It is more like friends from college who have come together to write initial cheques for start-ups. “It is mostly companies started by juniors from college that we fund; we write the first cheque,” he says. The typical cheque size will be $100,000-300,000 ( ₹65 lakh to ₹2 crore). Whenever a start-up comes up for funding, a group of 20 of them get together and write small individual cheques. They invest mostly in tech start-ups, especially in consumer internet and B2B SaaS, which together make up about 80 per cent of their angel investment. Through the umbrella of Powai Lake Ventures, Zishaan and others have invested in 34 start-ups and at least a dozen of them have gone on to raise follow-on funding, the most notable of which is Ola.

Toppr, a subject learning platform for middle- and high-school students, has about a million registered students and helps them prepare for their school board examinations and competitive exams in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology.

Toppr, according to Zishaan, has built a learning app that the users can access on their own whenever they want, to supplement their classroom learning. It has a total of 59 courses built by an academic team. While signing up, users will have to mention which stream they are studying in and which competitive exam they want to prepare for and the lessons will be tailored for them accordingly.

According to him, nearly 55 per cent of the million registered users are in non-metros. About 60-65 per cent of the platform is open and free for use for everybody. To unlock the entire platform, users will have to pay. “About 5-6 per cent of our users upgrade to paid users. For each subscriber, it is about ₹6,000 a year,” he says.

Next challenge

Toppr raised $10 million from venture capital firms in April 2015, which is being used for improving technology and content. This money will keep it going for a couple of more years, according to Zishaan. The next challenge, he says, is to reach the five-million users figure, for which Toppr will have to strengthen its marketing and distribution. He is confident that Toppr will stay ahead of competition.

“The model can be copied but to get where we are, it will take some time, maybe two years. But if you get there in two years, we will be ahead by another two years,” he asserts and adds, “it is not easy to copy innovation.” As long as you keep innovating, as long as you keep building new stuff.