AttainU claims to have achieved a 90-percent completion rate in its first batch, a fairly rare feat in the e-learning industry. The edtech company provides college-alternative, career-oriented online software education programs to learners without any prior knowledge of coding under an income sharing agreement, which defers the fee payment until learners get placed.
In talk with Mr. Divyam Goel, CEO & Co-founder, AttainU.
Courseware World: To start with, what was your vision when you founded AttainU in 2018? What different were you planning to offer?
Divyam Goel: India has the world’s largest population of youth in working age. Given the current state of Indian education system, instead of adding to the productivity, this youth population will add immense burden to the already stretched-out resources of the country. This is a problem that needs to be solved expeditiously.
At AttainU, our vision is to provide a high-quality, outcome-oriented, scalable college alternative software education programs for deserving students. Here, by college alternative, we mean the post-12th, skill-focused education needed before entering into an earning career. Moreover, deserving students are those who are willing to put in the effort.
The courses we have created are pedagogically and career-wise more relevant. We first deconstructed the traditional college system and identified major pitfalls in it. Then, we kind of put it back together by purging all the problems we so found. As the result, we have now a flawless system with relevant courses using latest technology and pedagogy and ensuring easy access for students across diverse socio-economic and geographic spectrum.
CWW: What skills do you think are desired in today’s emerging start-up ecosystem and how do you impart those skills through your live online software education programs?
DG: We today live in a world where new technologies are emerging at a rate swifter than before, more so in the field of software technology. What was unsolved a day before may not be so today. Along with this accelerated rate of technology appearance, and also obsolescence, the learning curve for workforce and professionals too has become steeper. The workforce of today is required to have a solid understanding of fundamentals and aptitude to fast learn new concepts.
A typical coding boot camp however just focuses on few very specific technologies. Learners of such boot camps suffer at a time when they are required to upgrade their skills. This is where AttainU’s philosophy of building a college alternative differs. AttainU, instead of teaching only particular technologies, focuses on how learners can have a firm and holistic grasp of fundamental concepts.
Pursuant to this philosophy, we don’t need our students to have any background in software engineering before starting the course. All they need to have is a high growth potential including the will and wherewithal to put in the required effort. Over 40 percent of AttainU students come from a non-coding background. As proof of our value proposition, we have had people without any degree go through our courses and get placed into fast-growing software engineering careers.
Given the tools at our disposal in the current times, we have re-imagined a college from the ground up to create a high-engagement online model. The counseling, instructors, curriculum, pedagogy, placement preparation, payment model are 10 times more industry aligned. Our model has removed the barriers related to money, location and educational background.
CWW: You speak of making graduates employable by providing a high quality college alternative to students. How much have you succeeded in creating such an alternative channel through your online software education programs?
DG: As I have said, around 40 percent of AttainU students come from a non-coding background and their placement so far hasn’t been a problem. We have built a vertically integrated solution covering four vital pieces, viz. enrolment, skill building, placements, and income sharing agreement.
In enrolment, we help students figure out their best fit course, based on their aptitude, inclination, and most importantly ability to put in the required effort.
Skill building is the central piece which allows us to deliver high-quality learning outcomes at scale. The crux here is maintaining the high student engagement during the course. This is achieved through facilitating highly immersive interactions with instructors, mentors, and peers. These interactions are focused around a centrally defined course path built in line with industry partners and delivered by industry-expert faculty. Delivery and measurement of granular learning outcomes are built in to make sure each student is on the expected learning trajectory.
Next, we prepare the students for placements, do the match-making and facilitate the interactions between our industry partners and students. It’s unfair to talk about higher education without providing career support.
Income share agreement is the final piece in the structure. The agreement adopts a deferred fee payment model conditional to employment. This makes sure that we have our skin in the game and aspiring students can afford this high-quality education irrespective of their financial background. We are one of the very few companies working on a deferred payment model.
We are operationally profitable. Currently, we have over 550 students enrolled in our courses. Last month, we received over 20,000 student applications.
CWW: For a venture like yours which works on income sharing model and charges zero upfront fees from the students, from where do you get funding and revenue for the investment required in providing high quality online software education programs or courses?
DG: We have been grateful to get early support from prominent angels and founder including Shailesh Rao, Nikhil Rungta, Manish Kumar (KredX), Anil Gelra (HolaChef), and Samyakth Capital.
We are operationally profitable. Currently, we have over 550 students enrolled in our courses. Last month, we received over 20,000 student applications. Our first batch completed at a 90 percent completion rate. About 70 percent students from the first batch have already received pre-placement offers.
CWW: For a first batch, both completion rate and placement rate are pretty good! How do you rate this as success and what improvements would you desire going forward?
DG: Yeah, for beginning, these figures are encouraging. The 70 percent of first batch students who received pre-placement offers were placed within a week of graduation. The rest managed to get paid internships.
All the students did their best to complete the courses they were enrolled in. For example, in the first batch, two students were college dropouts and not only they completed the course but were successfully placed with a package of more than INR 500,000. Majority of our students either do not have jobs or have very low paying jobs before they enter the course. This has been a significant step up for all our students.
We are constantly improving the curriculum and pedagogy based on feedback from our industry partners, graduates, and current students to achieve higher enrolment and engagement. We are building in platform intelligence to identify off track students early on to help them course correct in time.
CWW: Don’t you think it’s a tremendous responsibility when you say you will charge course fee only when the students gets placed and starts earning at least INR 5,00,000/annum? In which case, placement becomes very crucial. What extra measures do you take to ensure good placement opportunities to your students?
DG: As stated earlier, it’s not fair to talk about higher education without talking about placements. In every country, especially in young and developing India, people go for higher education with the goal of getting into financially stable careers. Placements are always a byproduct of learning and skills. There are plenty of jobs in the industry for capable software engineers. At this point, we have more companies looking to hire than the students graduating.
From the very beginning, along with practical skills, we also ensure that our students become placement ready. We have a dedicated team which onboards placement partners and does the match-making and setting up of interviews. So far, we have partnered with more than 200 credible startups and corporates.
…all our programs are zero-to-one, i.e. we don’t look for prior skills in the course domain, ensuring that all students with the right growth potential and zeal for learning, irrespective of their educational backgrounds, can benefit from our courses.
CWW: How are the curriculum designed and instructions imparted? Are the course completion certificates accredited by any statutory body? Does the course has industry recognition?
DG: To begin with, we interacted with potential industry partners and professors from IIT Bombay and IIM Bangalore regarding how to incorporate both the hard skills and professionally required life skills in the curriculum. We also contemplated deeply how to put in place the best pedagogic practices to ensure high student engagement.
Further, all our programs are zero-to-one, i.e. we don’t look for prior skills in the course domain, ensuring that all students with the right growth potential and zeal for learning, irrespective of their educational backgrounds, can benefit from our courses.
We use a centrally defined and monitored online platform. This facilitates high-engagement interactions between learners and domain experts while ensuring consistent high quality learning outcomes at scale. Our high human-touch, pedagogy-based approach makes us the only edtech company in the world to be able to get a 90 percent completion rate in an online space. This takes away the location barrier from learning and makes it possible for anyone to learn from their home without having to move cities and spend money on living costs.
We prioritize on skills over degrees. In India, we already have 9,000,000 students graduating colleges with degrees every year and only 15 percent of those degrees translate to white collar jobs. Being free to iterate on our processes allows us to effectively optimize towards the desired outcomes.
Over the next year, we want to cater to more than 8000 students, expand into more software related tracks, enhance our tech platform and optimize our completion and placement rates further.
CWW: Mr Goel, please tell us about the developments on product (courses) and market fronts? Any plans to introduce new courses, to reach new markets? Are you planning any fresh investments? If yes, please elaborate.
DG: Over the next year, we want to cater to more than 8000 students, expand into more software related tracks, enhance our tech platform and optimize our completion and placement rates further. In the long term, we see AttainU as a horizontally diversified college for life platform.
CWW: How do you think the Indian e-learning, especially upskilling/reskilling, market is shaping up in terms of overall growth, i.e. revenue, market expansion, learners’ preferences, etc?
DG: There are three forces at play here: 1) fast increasing gross enrollment numbers in education, 2) failure of traditional educational models to keep up with the demands, 3) increasing adoption of digital as a more effective medium of learning.
Online models are more scalable and market adaptable, for example, AttainU’s online software education programs. Besides, e-learning provide easier access to the learner and use data intelligence to make learning more effective. These are healthy indicators for the future of e-learning in India.
CWW: Finally, tell us what sets you apart from already established, big names in reskilling/upskilling learning segment.
DG: If we try enumerating our USP, they would be: 1) 90 percent completion rate in an online medium, 2) zero-to-one course, i.e. from no coding background to high-quality entry-level software engineering, 3) tech-first platform approach, allowing us to deliver consistent learning outcomes at scale, and 4) placement-related payment model (income share agreement).
In the past, edtech platforms like Coursera and Udacity have struggled with completion rates. Through our high-engaging, managed-marketplace approach, we have been able to achieve 90 percent completion rate in an online education model. This makes it possible for everyone to benefit from our courses without the need to move cities and take on additional living expenses.