Edkasa: the startup using TikTok to spark students' love for learning
- Founder says startup is ‘opposite of Airlift’ when it comes to making a little funding go a long way
Edtech startup Edkasa recently partnered with TikTok to offer educational content on the popular social media app, known less for its learning material and more for its viral dance videos.
But with high popularity among the youth, Edkasa thought it could be used to get students to find a new appreciation for concepts that they until now have only begrudgingly learnt about in textbooks.
The short videos, mostly under 30 seconds, are meant to “make students fall in love with learning” and explain concepts like friction and hydration in a fun way.
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Tik Tok is a “homogenizer, something that democratizes content access more than any other app,” Edkasa co-founder Fahad Tanveer told Business Recorder.
“The first weekend we had about a million views on our first five or six videos, which is crazy. And one of them on hydration hit about half a million views. It got TikTok very excited. It got us very excited, that we're resonating with the Pakistani community.”
“If you look at learning content on TikTok, it's not something that does well compared to entertainment. But suddenly we're competing with top TikTokers for the ‘For You’ page” (feed of content personalised for each user).
The goal is for kids to think about learning “from a different perspective than just exams and something that's forced down their throat.” The hope is to hit 5 million views and Tanveer thinks “we're going to knock that out of the park.”
The idea is to spark interest in education but there is only so much short videos can achieve. To actually prepare for exams, students will have to head over to Edkasa’s app, already downloaded some 400,000 times, which offers all the content one needs to prepare for their Matric and FSc exams. Help to prepare for entrance tests to medical and engineering schools, as well as SAT exams, is also available.
As part of the agreement, TikTok will give ‘scholarships’ to as many as 18,000 ‘power users’ of Edkasa’s app in the form of free access to the app for two months.
“Those who have been strong users of our app will get rewarded for their efforts, and they're going to get free access right before their exams,” said Tanveer.
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Normally, students can get an annual package for Rs3,600 for a year that will cover five subjects. “You can prepare the whole year on the app and you can do as many mock tests as you want to prepare yourself and get full features.”
Edkasa also has a programme for teachers to “augment their livelihoods, their lifestyle and their skill set.”
Edkasa is ‘the opposite of Airlift’
The journey for Edkasa began in 2016 when Tanveer and his wife Anam Sadiq moved back to Pakistan from the US. In the beginning, they convinced schools to put up projectors in classrooms so teachers could address students via Facebook Live, charging each school $100 a month for five subjects. They also started putting up tutorials on YouTube and paid-for Facebook Groups, the latter ultimately transitioning into the app.
Looking back, Tanveer says it’s not easy being a startup. When asked what makes Edkasa stand out in the space, Tanveer says “we're extremely capital efficient.”
“Where we're good at managing our company. And that has allowed us to make very little go very far. That's very, very advantageous. We're the opposite of what Airlift is in some senses.”
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For startups, one of the biggest hurdles is building quality teams in Pakistan, he adds.
“Teams that can take products from zero to global successes - that's a difficult thing to do because the skill set that's available isn't there yet.”
“And it's not just a matter of paying the right salaries, I think it's a matter of convincing high quality people to rally behind a mission”
Another challenge is funding.
“It’s a challenge for all startups to convince investors that we're a viable company. In Pakistan, there was a lot of focus on other verticals, but we were one of the first startups to raise capital for edtech and I think right after that there was a series of investments in the space.”
“A lot of regional players started looking at Pakistan as a flagship market and they entered this space soon after. So that competition is welcome because we feel that we'll thrive in that competitive space.”
Last year, Edkasa raised $320,000 in pre-seed funding led by i2i Ventures.
Looking to its next fundraising round, Tanveer says given “global economic circumstances, the domestic circumstances in Pakistan as well as where our business is right now, we will time it for sometime next year to go back in the market and based on our learning and our success, raise a significant round to take it to the next level.”
When it comes to competition, Tanveer believes Edkasa has early-mover advantage compared to other edtechs like OutClass, which raised $500,000 in June.
“Coming out in 2016, there was nobody envisioning a company that would do this in Pakistan and that allowed us to hit the ground running in terms of consumer understanding.”
“Plus, we work very closely with very large stakeholders to build deep insight.”
He believes in terms of products and features, Edkasa is “at least six to eight months ahead of them, in some cases even a year ahead of them in terms of their understanding of the market.”
Tanveer also believes his team benefits from deep insights and relationships with teachers and students across the country, in part thanks to UK Aid approving funding for them to conduct primary research into the space back when they were starting out.
“We can pick up the phone and ask someone, hey, what's going on in your part of the country and how can we be helpful?”
One of the biggest challenges was simply convincing people they meant business.
“It took us at least a year and a half to convince people that we are really seriously going to do this. Initially we'd hear things like this is a phase, you guys will go back to Wall Street or you'll go back to the States or this is something that government will solve.”
But Tanveer strongly believes “we're the citizens of Pakistan, we need to build our own country.”
“This is not a governmental problem or NGOs problem. This is also our problem”
On Pakistan's startup space
When asked about whether a startup ecosystem now exists in Pakistan, Tanveer said: “Over the last five years, we've seen things become more formalized and structured with regional and global investors taking very serious interest in putting money down in Pakistan. So I think it's only getting better year on year.”
He admits there is a global economic slowdown. “But like every slowdown, whenever it happens, there is a rise in the market to follow. So you just have to survive. That's the number one thing for you to thrive.”
“There's no denying the opportunity that is in Pakistan. There are 220 million people, 140 million of whom are under the age of 30, and they need products and services and learning opportunities made available to them. It's a really huge, huge population to serve. So I think the opportunity is there.”