There’s not resting on one’s laurels, and then there’s Byju Raveendran.
The 40-year-old billionaire-entrepreneur is now one of India’s foremost success stories, leading Byju’s to become the biggest startup in the Indian education technology (edtech) space, by far. With a valuation of close to $17 billion, the company, and its founder don’t intend to slow down anytime soon.
Says Raveendran,“We don’t think today that we are successful. That mindset is important because the day you think you are successful the game is over.”
“People normally get complacent with success. But we had the conviction to stop something existing [offline model in the early days] which was fairly successful and move to something new [online platform]. Normally people think it is a huge risk..but we did,” he says. Byju’s moved from offline coaching classes in 2007-08 to a pure-play online model in 2015 with the launch of its learning app.
“That’s why people say that staying at the top is difficult. The moment you think you are at the top the game is over,” adds Raveendran.
This mindset has allowed Byju’s to grow leaps and bounds in all these years. So far, in 2021, the edtech major has made four key acquisitions spending over $2 billion.
Experts say, Raveendran’s aim to build a global edtech company is fuelling inorganic growth. His weapons: a war chest of acquisitions and tailored fast growth strategies.
“Byju’s has been on an acquisition spree with over 10 acquisitions over the last few years. With appropriate funding and mentoring by marquee investors, there is no reason that they can’t make it work and build a globally integrated edtech firm,” says industry expert Sandeep Das.
“They are targeting lucrative English speaking markets where the propensity to pay for edtech and other internet businesses is much higher. Particularly, the U.S., which is an extremely attractive market,” says Das, the author of Hacks for Life and Career: A Millennial’s Guide to Making it Big.
Byju’s major acquisitions this year include Blackstone-backed Aakash Educational Services, one of India’s foremost players in the brick-and-mortar test prep space for nearly $1 billion in April, its largest acquisition to date. Followed by U.S.-based Epic—an online library for kids aged 12 and under—for $500 million, Singapore-headquartered Great Learning for $600 million and Mumbai-based Toppr, an after-school learning platform for $150 million.
“This was a perfect series of moves by Byju’s. There are geographical reach considerations, newer market segments and total domination in the edtech category,” says Piyush Sharma, executive-in-residence, UCLA, and a C-suite+ and startup advisor. Sharma adds that for Byju’s, “Epic serves well along with WhiteHat Jr acquisition [made last year] for the global ambition, especially in the U.S. Besides the launch of Byju’s Future School.”
To ramp up its presence in the overseas markets, the launch of Byju’s Future School in June— an online interactive live learning platform for mathematics and coding—was a key move from the edtech major. The service was launched in the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, and Indonesia.
For the edtech major, Epic is its second deal in the U.S. post its acquisition of Osmo—a maker of educational games—for $120 million in 2019. Byju’s also plans to invest $1 billion in North America to expand its footprint in the region.
Mohan Lakhamraju, founder and CEO of edtech firm Great Learning— one of the companies acquired by Byju’s—points out that Raveendran’s acquisition strategy is “very different” from large established companies.
“Byju’s itself is a high-growth stage startup. The strategy that Byju [Raveendran] has adopted is to bring in entrepreneurs and run it as a federation of like-minded people who are deeply committed to their businesses. While Byju’s will provide all the support including funding, strategy…to grow each business further,” says Lakhamraju in an earlier interview to Fortune India.
“I think it is a brilliant strategy because it keeps the entrepreneurial spirit and startup environment alive while not putting constraints on how people operate,” adds Lakhamraju, who founded Great learning in 2013, which operates in the professional and higher-education space. The Singapore headquartered-company has delivered over 60 million hours of learning to 1.5 million learners from over 170 countries.
Over the last few years, Raveendran and his team have made some key deals to build strong capabilities across the education space. This includes Bengaluru-based LabInApp for an undisclosed amount and Mumbai-based WhiteHat Jr for $300 million last year. Prior to that it had acquired Bengaluru-based Math Adventures for an undisclosed amount in 2018 and TutorVista and Edurite from the U.K.-based Pearson for an undisclosed amount in 2017. In the same year, it acquired Bengaluru-based Vidyartha.
Armed with deep pockets and a well-planned strategy in place, Raveendran is ready to take on global expansion.