This article has been written by Swetha Raman, pursuing a Diploma in M&A, Institutional Finance and Investment Laws (PE and VC transactions) from LawSikho.
The Union Cabinet in July 2020 approved the New Education Policy (NEP), replacing the 1986 policy. The NEP aims to universalize education from preschool to secondary level and provides for an inclusive framework focusing on the primary level of education to higher-level education in the country. The policy recognizes the importance of the integration between technology and education in the 21st century and aims for tech innovations to improve teaching-learning, evaluations, and tracking students progress, among other things for students in Classes 6-12.
With the increasing importance being created by the government on education, the education market has expanded exponentially over time. Covid-19 has changed the way the world is functioning and the “new normal” for conducting day-to-day business activities. Every sector has been majorly hit by the pandemic, including the education sector as the pandemic has caused a struggle in facilitating classes physically. This has led to open up new frontiers for edtech startups. The Indian online education market, presently worth $ 247 million and estimated to have rapid growth over the next 5 years to achieve a $ 2 billion benchmark by 2021.
Byju Raveendran is the founder and CEO of the edtech start-up Byju’s. An engineering graduate, who is the son of physics and mathematics teachers hailing from the Azhikode village in the Kannur district of Kerala. Raveendran after spending a couple years working for a company, in 2003, decided to appear for the CAT himself while helping his friends for the exam and scored a 100 percentile.
Two years later, he helped others crack the exam and then he considered this as a full-time job. The path to his becoming successful with his edtech empire started from him teaching his friends, to teaching hundreds of students in large auditoriums and later shifting to taking classes through satellite communications as he had to teach students in multiple cities in India.
Raveendran along with his wife Divya Gokulnath set up Think & Learn in 2011, the parent company of Byju’s, to offer online classes, before launching his main app in the year 2015. Byju’s, headquartered in Bangalore, has grown into the world’s most successful edtech start-ups with an estimated valuation of $ 11.1 billion and has over 250,000 subscribers using the app for an average of 40 minutes a day.
In 2013, Byju’s received its first series A funding from Aarin Capital, which is run by Ranjan Pai and Mohandas Pai. In the next round, in the year 2015, which also saw the launch of the Byju’s app, received funding of $25 million by Sequoia Capital. The startup received some of its major funding in 2016 from Sequoia, Innoven Capital, Sofina Group, Times Internet and the International Finance Corporation. Also, the edtech startup in the same year received $50 million funding from the Chan-Zuckerberg initiative and this boosted the startup’s value to $462 million.
In 2018, Byju’s turned into a unicorn – becoming the first edtech company to achieve this milestone in India. Further, in 2019, Byju’s also secured an investment of $150 million from Qatar Investment and Owl Ventures, reportedly valuing the company at $5.7 billion. The pandemic had increased the demand for the usage of the app, which saw Byju’s raise funds from General Atlantic, Tiger Global. Come 2020, the Chan-Zuckerberg initiative took home Rs. 167.7 crore through a partial exit and the same deal gave a handsome return to Sequoia, Times Internet and SCHF PV Mauritius.
Byju’s leveraging acquisitions to build an ed-tech empire
Byju’s began to acquire various edtech startups for creating a play field in the ed-tech market. The edu-tech industry had structured its funding in the way of private equity transactions, initial public offers, acquisition of various startups like:
Osmo, a brand founded in 2013 by Pramod Sharma and Jerome Scholler with an aim to inspire the younger generation, while addressing the concern of every parent about how to have their child interact with technology without losing the value of hands-on-play.Byju’s acquired the US-based learning platform Osmo for $120 million as part of its international expansion plans.
TutorVista, a pioneering online tutoring company, is part of the Pearson group, the world’s largest education and publication conglomerate. TutorVista has a diverse tutor base of over 2000 teachers spanning India, United States, Australia, China and Southeast Asia. The company aims to provide for quality online tutoring to students across the world at affordable prices.In 2017, Byju’s acquired the online tutoring app TutorVista and Edurite from Pearson.
Vidyartha, founded in 2011 by Priya Mohan and Navin Balan, started it as a career guidance platform for students and later started to develop it as an academic profiling platform for students by partnering with different schools. The platform has tied-up with over 2,000 schools and has been mandated by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to develop aptitude tests. In the same year in which Byju’s had acquired TutorVista, the company also acquired the student assessment platform Vidyartha. The 20-member team is believed to continue to work under a separate brand name post the acquisition.
Math Adventures was founded in February 2012 by Ashok Nair and Vidya Jayaraman, a husband-and-wife duo. The platform aimed to act as a facilitator to help children through a combination of short videos and an activity-based approach that uses workbooks and tablets. The model involves allocating weekly math classes and making students understand concepts that they had learnt in the conventional way by using the activity model of teaching. In 2018, Byju’s acquired Math Adventures to help its brand with its K-3 product development.
WhiteHat Jr was founded in 2018 by Karan Bajaj, the company offers AI courses for children aged 6 to 14 years and aims to empower children to view themselves as creators. The startup offers live one-on-one online teaching format in subjects ranging from data structure, app and game development to machine learning and space technology. Byju’s had announced the acquisition of WhiteHat Jr on August 5, 2020 for a whopping amount of $300 million. The acquisition is said to provide Byju’s to gain access to over 7 lakh registered users on the platform and would help Biju’s create a presence in the international market.
Impact of the deal under Competition Act
The increasing number of mergers and acquisitions taking place on a regular basis in various industries, surely creates an impact from preventing any sort of dominance being created in the market. Therefore, to keep a control over the market and prevent such dominance, the Competition Commission of India (“CCI”), being the antitrust authority in India as per the Competition Act, 2002 ensures that certain M & A transaction in India receive the required approval to prevent practices that have an adverse effect on competition or hinder abuse of dominant position. Hence, the continuous M & A in the ed-tech industry may pose a threat by creating control and dominance in the market.
The edtech industry has seen a ginormous rise during the past few months with change in the education trends due to the Covid-19 pandemic causing a lockdown in many countries around the globe. The trend in education over time has developed from the concept of rote learning to understanding and concept-based gain in knowledge to provide for practical knowledge and skill training for getting themselves ready for the job rather than focusing on the marks.
The development of technology with the usage of smartphones, internet and electronics has promoted the above change in education trend with various edtech platforms promoting the concept of practical based knowledge development and learning. The other major advantage that the edtech industry has is the interest of the students through online teaching methods from the comfort of home without requiring to travel long distances to acquire the same skills.
The other sectors have seen a significant decline during these turbulent times in the economy, however, the one sector that has seen a considerable growth is the edtech sector with the shift in conducting of the courses using online platforms at schools and colleges. During the month of March and April, 2020, Byju’s had seen over 13 million new students join its courses and this led to the app being ranked among the world’s top 10 most downloaded educational apps on Google Play store during the lockdown. The app is said to have measured its success along two verticals, i.e., engaging content with students being able to spend a substantial amount of time on productive videos for learning, motivating parents to opt for annual subscriptions and the second approach is when the company is able to retain these users over the years with annual renewals.
While initial public offerings (IPO) and merger and acquisitions (M &A) being two of the most prominent exit strategies in any startup ecosystem around the globe. It is a fact that very few edtech companies around the globe, even fewer from India have gone the IPO route. This has led to the sudden advent of the edtech industry having to secure the market by merger or acquisition.
Byju’s has also adapted to the similar trend to gain control and have a market advantage to expand its presence in various aspects of the edtech industry. With the usage of the M & A strategy, Byju’s would not require an exit to early investors, as the company is making profitability and generating cash flow, instead the company is able to acquire various growing edtech startups that are its competitors. The acquisition of such competitors by Byju’s provides for them to act on their niche capabilities, and provides the company to gain a market advantage.
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