Started in 2011, Silicon Valley-based edu-tech company Udacity has come a long way from offering free online courses to high-in-demand paid nanodegrees in subjects such as artificial intelligence (AI), self-driving cars, and machine learning. It hopes to become the key driver in India’s mission to increase the employability of its graduates as well as its labour force. Fortune India spoke to Udacity’s CEO, Vish Makhijani, and Ishan Gupta, managing director, Udacity India. Edited excerpts:
How has Udacity’s journey been so far?
Vish: Our mission is to democratise education, and if we do it right, we can double the world’s GDP. It’s a crazy and audacious mission, but it’s rooted in our foundation.
In 2014, we launched nanodegrees, which are short online courses on subjects like AI, machine learning, self-driving cars, etc. to fit in with today’s industry demands. Gone are the days when you could just go to college once in your life, and that degree would sustain your entire career. Lifelong learning is the new normal, and it has really taken off. Last year we quadrupled the number of students opting for a nanodegree, with active paid students going from 12,000 in the beginning of 2017, to 50,000 by the end of the year.
Our markets include India, China, Dubai, Brazil, and Germany, apart from the U.S., where we started seven years ago. We will look to expand to other locations in South America and Asia.
What kind of courses do you offer?
Vish: When we founded the company, we were just offering free online courses, but nanodegrees drove our growth. We launched with two options—front-end web development, and data science and analytics. Now we offer 26 nanodegrees in five broad categories—mobile and web development, AI, data science, cutting-edge tech like self-driving cars, and autonomous flight and digital marketing. Our top programmes are machine learning, self-driving cars, and digital marketing.
What does a typical nanodegree course look like for a student?
Vish: It’s around six months of work, averaging at 10 hours a week. A student will do around five to eight projects, for which reviews will be given within hours.
Ishan: The good thing is that students can complete it at their pace and convenience. Some finish courses in three months, while some take up to nine.
How are these nanodegree courses priced?
Ishan: The prices vary depending on the complexity and duration of the programmes. But the range is about Rs 15,000 to Rs 60,000. Demand and supply factors affect the pricing too. There are certain programs where it is indeed difficult to find industry experts for curriculum and mentorship. Hence, the difference.
In developing nations like India, we have reduced prices to stay in line with our goal of democratising education. Prices here are 35-40% lower than in the U.S.
Can nanodegrees compete with traditional college degrees?
Ishan: Our intention is not to compete with colleges. We are just focussed on working very hard on providing the best education in these cutting-edge tech subjects and boosting students’ employability. We have over 100 hiring partners in India, including names like Ola, Paytm, and MapmyIndia. The benefits of the courses are clearly visible; one of our students is working on automated cars in Ola, another took the self-driving car degree after an IIM MBA and now manages a team, plus has an engineering-related role at a robotics company. One of our own team members in Delhi holds a nanodegree and did not go to college. We hired him because his code was good.
Any collaboration with the government or industry players?
Ishan: Infosys recently set up a programme wherein they pick a number of students from college campuses in India and encourage them to take courses on Udacity. Upon completion of the courses, students will have to take a test, after clearing which they can join the company and be reimbursed for the course fee.
We recently joined hands with some private colleges in north India, like Chitkara University, wherein the college encourages students to take up our courses for extra credits s a part of their degree.
We have also collaborated with the Andhra Pradesh Skill Development Corporation, wherein the state will sponsor 1,000 engineering students from government colleges to take nanodegrees. Myntra’s employees are taking some of our courses for machine learning. Google has funded training via a basic course for 30,000 people here in web development and the top 1,000 of them will get to compelete nanodegree programmes.
What’s next for Udacity?
Vish: We have a cyber security programme in the works. Our partners will be announced shortly.
Ishan: Discussions with central and state governments are on for some collaboration on the skilling front. Conversations with some large Indian companies are also underway to upskill their employees.
How much funding have you raised? Who are your investors?
Vish: We have raised $163 million so far. Our investors include Andreessen Horowitz, Charles River Ventures, Drive Capital, Bertelsmann, Recruit, Valor Capital and Google Ventures.
How has the company grown in terms of revenue?
Vish: In 2016, globally, we clocked a revenue of $29 million. That shot up to nearly $71 million in 2017. We’re hoping to do much better this year.
Is there an IPO around the corner?
Vish: An IPO is very likely to be a part of our future. But we can’t comment on the timeline.