AWS Imagine conference

Cloud and Voice are the next big things that are already here. The tech giants are betting big on this. Amazon, through AWS and Alexa, has bet big not only in these two technologies but in education / professional reskilling as a segment.

Here at seattle at “AWS Imagine” conference that has leaders from education – corporate leaders K12/Higher Ed, EdTech and policy makers.

Andrew Ko, MD-AWS and Teresa Carlson, VP-Public Sector lead the conference.

Cloud degrees and Voicetech transformation are beginning to see traction. Are you cued into this shift in education?

What is Voicetech ?
Voice will replace typing are keyboard led interaction between man and machine that is the core hypothesis of voiceTech Revolution. Google, Apple, Amazon, Alibaba are leading the multibillion-dollar investments into this future innovation.

Every day mgmt of customer / student life :
Information about products/servuces/ programs, info on all aspects of consumer engagement are some of the interfaces that are moving into an Alexa or Siri or OK Google interaction.
This is called the Voice enabling of everyday management of a customer’s life.

Every company, brand, university have to enable these information using voice technology or chatbot on their websites.

Help me learn:
The next stage of voice Tech is in the area of ‘help me learn’. How do you perform better with a product, – are the next level of applications that are being researched and developed by this technology Giants.

You can join these movements and innovate along with the world. Or stay cued in, at least.

The world is transforming infinitesimally every moment 🙂

Fascinating, to say the least 🙂

What are Cloud degrees ?
Students or professionals enroll for courses on cloud from a variety of universities, collect credits, aggregate that into a degree with certificates in various areas.
Internships/real world experience will be on cloud with touch points on the ground.

Industry accepts these degrees and participate in a placement process that is tech-enabled with f2f touches where needed.

This movement is gathering momentum. Amazon web services is working on building this cloud university with courses from top universities or professors.

Are you wanting to host/offer a course or two from your company / campus or dept or a biz leader ?

Are you wanting to recruit from this cloud univ world shortly ?

An interesting question !


Industry-Academia Link: a chasm, a broken link or a great opportunity?

The link between academia & industry is a broken one, not just in India but across the world. In fact, it never was built consciously in the first place, not even in the developed nations over the past many decades. Hugely inter-dependent and evolved sub-systems can surely be seen as in Boston/Massachusetts, California, Tel Aviv, Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing, Bengaluru, etc. However, those are mostly specific to an activity or two, such as innovation or start-up funding etc. These, in addition, have been cases of gradual evolution than an outcome-by-design.

Revisiting the academia-industry strengths:
Supply of young talent, nex-gen start-ups, cost-effective infra for research, development & training and high quality researchers are some of the riches that are available inside the academic institutions while the funds, demand for talent and innovation, cutting-edge knowledge relevant for new courses and an ability to commercialize knowledge are in abundance on the industry side.

Given these strong inter-dependencies, one would expect that a slew of collaborative activities such as student placements, industry internships, new course updation or launches, innovation collaboration, research funding, start-up conversations in a seamless and abundant manner, etc. However it does surprise why no one has been able to build a platform play for such a strong and potent opportunity. A bit of deeper thinking, conversations with stakeholders and on-ground observations throw up some interesting cause-effect debate.

The US reality and a chance for India:
Unlike in India, there is no real concept of campus placements in the US in that formal a way. Most of the heavy lifting is done by the students themselves with facilities and pointers available institutionally in various forms. Such a strong need or activity could have given birth to a start-up that could have gone on to scale it using technology over the past decades, much like other tech-giants of today.

Let me read the tea leaves and think aloud on what is likely to shape up in our own future!

Test-Prep & Training Modules:
In the current form, most assessment companies focus only on assessments. Only 5-15 percent of the aspirants get placed as they are seen as good enough by the recruiters. The rest of the aspirants are left to their fate even as the recruiters return empty handed and perpetuate the truth that there is no hire-worthy talent.

In such a context, adding booster training modules to help aspirants prepare for the tests is as critical as aspirants preparing for GATE, CAT, GMAT kind of programs. Training partnerships are beginning to emerge between assessments and training companies to make this happen.

The new world order in academia-industry collaboration will be aided by three other critical shifts over the next few years.

University on the Cloud:
The time has come. This is one place where the world is truly and undeniably flat. Indian, Chinese, Korean and American markets are all discovering this compelling need at the same time. Some others are well underway in their journey of discovery. Most will follow suit. The success of AWS and the waking up of all the tech-giants including Microsoft, IBM, Apple, Google etc. will make this a hotly pursued sector. During the process, Ux-SAAS becoming a reality is something I would punt on. Some exciting pilots are underway across the globe. Coursera, Udacity, Udemy, 361DM, ed-Cast, etc. are having a go at it in their own ways. A couple of them or who knows, even someone else, as yet unknown, will emerge a winner here.

Open innovation platform:
Democratised open innovation platforms that help students, researchers, founders, corporates etc. to collaborate seamlessly by staying in their respective places across the globe is the third disruptive movement whose time has come. WAIN-Connect, arguably, is the only platform doing this in a scaleable way with over 80,000 innovators, corporates, funders and mentors live today. Some parts of this effrt is being aided by initiatives such as start-up bootcamp (9 global locations), Y-combinator, TIE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) etc. But the end-to-end seamless tech-driven open collaboration is missing.

Campus Placements:
If one contrasts that with India, every higher education institution is measured hugely by her ability to deliver jobs as a part of her “campus placement” outcomes. The IITs, IIMs, NITs and other leading tech-institutes and b-schools lead this massive effort. Hence you also find some start-ups and other linked services such as e-litmus, co-cubes, aspiring minds, formistry, Tata-ion have taken birth over the past decade. Tata-ion is emerging as a compelling leader with the resources of TCS available to invest and scale. Ion NQT test has had over 280,000 test takers in 2018. That was about 150 percent higher than in 2017. Upon aggregation, if this number scales a million, it should surprise none of us.

If played right and across industry verticals, the branded NQT might become ubiquitous, not just in India but across countries around the globe. It could disrupt many micro-testing exercises that are sub-scale for many years now.

With a million jobs and more on offer in the IT and related sector alone and an equally large need from the other sectors such as auto, finance, consumer, infrastructure etc., India is likely to build out a world beating solution that will be a global highway between the institutions and the industry.

In sum, an integrated solution:
U-on-Cloud, Student skills training, placements and research/innovation collaboration are the four legs upon which the nex-gen higher education universities will be built over the coming decade. Over a hundred nations where the GER and university systems are fledgling will partner with a scaled-up movement such as this and leapfrog into the 21st century higher education architecture. This story will play out similar to the landline-mobile or bank-mBank generational change which played over the past decade at a blink-you-miss speed. Africa, Central Asia, Asia and Lat-Am will be the greatest beneficiaries from the game-changing innovation that is underway.

Stay cued in and watch the play.

A Public Start-Up

The year 2017-18 started with our getting listed on March 31, 2017. Needless to say, this was—and will remain—one of the most cherished milestones for all of us at CL Educate. The team had toiled long and hard to cross this milestone that is a fantasy for any entrepreneur or founding group.
A new phase of entrepreneurship: ‘A public start-up’, referring to CL being listed while having the enthusiasm and energy of a start-up, is how I see the year gone by.
The end of life as a private-company entrepreneur also marked the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. As they say, you need to die to go to heaven. In a similar way, if we need to get to the nirvana of a large and respected listed company, we needed to go through the journey of the past one year.
During that period, the attributes, parameters, way to view the business have changed significantly in my mind. In many ways, we are getting healthier and stronger by the day. The focus on asset-lightness, ROCE, growth, etc., is of a different order now. Yet, we also are very mindful of the fact that in education, it is a medium- to long-term business. India continues to present a very significant opportunity for an education-services player, who has some of the above-mentioned attributes. I sincerely look forward to this challenging journey as a listed entity to make it a rewarding one for all, including the shareholders.
Some of the big rocks of 2017-18 were:
Consumer business
Big test prep segments added:
Together, GATE, CA, and Civil services add up to a market size of almost 2.0-2.5 million aspirants. The current mainstays of CL test-prep (MBA and Law), in comparison, add up to a market size of 250,000 (or 0.25 million). That’s one big rock we have moved in the past year.
Post IPO, we added three significantly large segments of test-prep, including GATE (ICEGATE), CA, and IAS (ETEN). These acquisitions occurred at various points during the past year. The business and culture integrations on the ground, optimization of costs, including that of manpower, technology, and Go to Market, etc., have taken longer than what we had planned for.
The ETEN business has now been consolidated under the common Network Business Head; and all redundancies removed. We are also moving towards adoption of newer technologies, thus reducing bandwidth requirements and costs. With operations and network attrition having stabilized, and a rationalized operating structure in place by integrating the existing network and ETEN network under a common Business Head, we are looking towards cost rationalization, too.
On an annualized basis, these acquired businesses have aggregated to about INR 20 crore of revenues in 2017-18, of which only about INR 10 crore has accrued to CL (timing of the deal and minority adjusted). On the other hand, all the investments have happened as envisaged, whose benefits are likely to be visible over FY2019. In short, the above-mentioned test-prep acquisitions were in investment phase in three significantly large market segments. If executed well, these could turn into net cash-generating products in a year. At worst, two.
Over a three-year perspective, these three have the potential to overtake the revenue contribution by MBA and Law. More interesting ways of bulking of revenues and profits are a distinct possibility in the super-fragmented market that test-prep is.
Focus on tech-led, scalable products
We increased our stake in Accendere from 51% to 100%, invested in tech backbone, and taken this research collaboration platform to about 35,000 innovators now sourced from over 100 universities and a dozen corporates. The version2.0 of wainconnect platform was launched. This platform has already begun to contribute to margins. The growth of wainconnect will add a significant business size, as well as not-easy-to-replicate moat around our business. The implementation of National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) by the Government in 2016 has added a compelling factor into the behavior of colleges and universities. This business adds to our reach into the universities even for the core business.
Corporate business
The institutional and corporate business is looking more and more robust with continuous expansion of the client/customer base, and addition of many 1st time large & strategic customers. Our continuous endeavor for the past few years, of making investments in creating new technology products and owned IP property, has now started paying off. During the last year, we created two new properties: (i) Inquizitive Minds — one of the largest quiz shows in the country, with a reach to over 1000 schools and colleges; and (ii) Melting Pot. We continuously work towards enhancing our customer base and product offering to enable a robust and profitable growth over the next couple of years. For corporate business, we have expanded to 2 more international geographies, with opening of offices in Dubai and the US.
How does the future look?
Three factors that continue to augur well for a company like CL are:
1. Rising disposable incomes and focus on education
India’s GDP is expected to double from US$ 2.5 trillion in 2018 to US$ 5 trillion in 2025; and per capita income would move from about US$ 1900 per person to about US$ 3600 per person. With such a dramatic increase in income, the disposable income for a large segment of the population would rise even more significantly; resulting in far greater spend on education and education-related services.
Consumption of educational, or test-prep, services will continue to rise in the light of more disposable incomes across various strata of the socio-economic pyramid. This spans both urban and rural geographies. The fact that education is culturally valued is an added sweetener for a consumer-driven company like CL.
2. Broadband and internet penetration
In June 2018, India had an internet penetration of about 500 million people, out of which about 60% was claimed to be broadband with 3G or 4G connectivity. The number is expected to rise to about 830 million people with internet access by 2021; with a larger proportion of population being on 4G by 2021, and some selected population even on 5G.
In such a scenario, the ability to launch a program and take it to the consumers in different formats (at CL centers and into homes and mobile devices) becomes an easier proposition. These two segments (@center and @home/devices) are independent customer segments; and CL will stay focused on catering to both these groups with equal vigor and customization.
3. Rapidly evolving career landscape
Newer courses, newer careers, newer exams, emerging professional certifications which may be termed continuous education/skill upgradation are all white spaces that will see sustained action over the next few years; as India grapples with challenges, such as, employability for the youth and continued employability of professionals. This is an opportunity for CL Educate by staying close to her knitting or strengths namely (i) understanding of subjects/exam patterns, (ii) pedagogy, (iii) delivery (physical and digital), and (iv) data analytics for better outcomes.
In sum, I would urge you to look at China as an economy, and the emergence of giants in education, such as New Oriental, TAL Education, VIPKID, etc., over the past decade. My belief is that India will also see the rise of such successful listed education-services companies over the coming 5-7 years. That might be a long perspective for a short-term investor. However, for a company like CL, that’s the perspective that weighs heavily on my mind, when I am taking decisions on a day-to-day basis. At the same time, we are absolutely mindful that we need to win the battle every year to be able to see our progress to such heights.

With appreciation
Satya Narayanan. R

Education Is India’s Secret Weapon

Education is India's secret weapon

2018 promises to make entrepreneurship a more central theme

India juggernaut pushes forward: 2018 is the year India’s GDP overtakes France and UK in dollar terms. These are just the early tidings. Over the next decade, it would be a true juggernaut. The focus on education by every mother in India has been its secret weapon.

In 2018, I expect policy leaders to invest more in education. Currently, we are struggling at a poor 3 percent with an even poorer ability to implement in an incorruptible way. Yet, the Indian juggernaut moves on.

Startup, youth and innovation take centre stage: The shift in the youth mindset is tectonic. There was an era when going to a top university or getting a US green card was the biggest dream. This was as recently as 20 years ago. Today, the youth aspires to do its own thing. Many will succeed. Most will fail. But, as a nation and a society, we will be in a much better place where endeavour is celebrated more than entitlement.

2018 promises to make entrepreneurship a more central theme. NITI Aayog and the babus there are not the old era babus anymore. Everyone understands the importance of innovation and the power they hold to offer momentum to it.

NIRF-fired university action: 2018 promises to be a watershed year in the history of research and innovation by universities. One of the most under-celebrated successes of this nation is the implementation of NIRF (National Institutional Ranking Framework) that attaches weightage to the outcomes (rather than inputs) while ranking any university. Research outcomes and graduate outcomes make almost 60 percent of the ranking weightage.

Government policies linking attractive incentives to outcome-driven performance by universities is propelling the IITs, IIMs, central and state universities to wake up and run. This is going to be a huge enabler for India.

Politics will heat up: As we enter the second half of 2018, I expect significant realignments in alliances as well as policies. After the massive mandate, the inevitable pressure of “not done enough” will mount. The proverbial sacrificial lambs will happen. Token or real new heroes will get erected through reshuffles at the Centre. A bold move or two will be taken and projected in a big way. The opponents will, needless to say, latch on to every move with uber-critical view. We need to preserve our democracy and put the fear of performance in the minds of every politician regardless of his or her hue.

Sports and Bollywood more global: Will Julia Roberts and Richard Gere star in the next Baghbaan? Will Kohli & Co stay on top in the next 18 months of overseas tours? How will India’s Olympic preparations progress? Where will IPL’s market cap be? All of these, again, are manifestations of the coming of age of India. 2018 will push lots of these pieces forward with excitement and also bring in ample doses of disappointments. But the India narrative will gather more mass.

Conclusion: Lots of orbit changing successes are expected to come our way in diverse fields as we move forward. But, I expect you to build a healthy appetite for failures just as a sportsperson does.

While I hope, I don’t expect disruptive entrepreneurship policy to happen in 2018 or any big-bang policy changes. Will India abolish income tax? Will the Budget 2018 announce 6 percent on education spend? I dearly wish, though unlikely. It might be a continued case of incremental innovation than disruption in 2018. Let’s see.

Please note: The above article has been published on Business World, 4th January 2018.

Our second innings starts here. Welcome to CL Educate

Dear CL-ite,

Welcome home to CL Educate! Thank you for joining forces to further build CL as the most trusted and innovation-driven education services company over the next decade. This is my first ‘satyaspeak’ as a listed entity. Hence, it might be a slightly longer one for which I seek your indulgence. You are welcome to read my earlier pieces on my blog –

Our Core Purpose
Very early on in our entrepreneurship journey, about 15-16 years back, we sat down to define our raison d’être – aka – to outline our core purpose. After many years of being on the ground and post a few weeks of reflective sessions, our core purpose was clear: “Enabling youth to realise their potential and help their dreams come true”. I am glad to see that this has not changed in the last decade and a half. Every single action by 1000s of CL-ites every day is aligned to this purpose.

Along with the sacrosanct core purpose, our core values – ROOHI – Risk Taking, Openness, Ownership, Honesty & Commitment and Innovation continue to hold us in good stead.

The only unchanging aspect of our business is our purpose and our core values. This has remained a magical potion of entrepreneurship for me.

Our role models
Even as we wish to become a role model company for entrepreneurs, we have focused on learning valuable lessons by tracking some of our role model companies including HDFC, Infy, Google and GE, to name a few. As you know, GE has entered-exited-bought-sold over a 100 businesses since inception, to be good enough to celebrate 125 years of entrepreneurial journey this year. HDFC and Infy are closer-to-home role models that have attained leadership, high governance and high stakeholder returns. As a consumer brand, we would love to emulate FMCG companies in 3-5 years’ time on the ROE parameter.

In short, we would like to emerge a winner as we move into the next phase of our journey.

Our business: CL101 for you
I wish to share with you some of our understandings that have come about from managing a premium education services company in the last two decades. These are:

1. Seasonality –
We cater to the career and life dreams of young adults and youth in every family – from the bottom of the pyramid to the top high net worth families. Each product has its own seasonality. At an aggregate level, we have smoothened this out through product diversification.

2. Different markets move at different speed –
Many new opportunities arise when the admissions or recruitment criteria change or when new careers take birth or gather mass and momentum. For example: MBA in early 2000s, Law for the last 5 years, Banking and PSU in the last couple of years and so on.

3. Our performance cycles:
There is a term in CL called ‘exam year’ as a parallel to ‘calendar-year’ or ‘financial-year’. We track our business on exam-year basis not just on a monthly basis or a quarterly basis. That is, CAT 2017 and CAT 2018 can be sold in a month and they move at different rhythms. In that sense, this is not strictly a Q-on-Q driven business.

4. Immediate and Direct linkage to events:
Examinations, festivals, elections, etc. affect our business calendar more often than not. For instance, even as I write this note, the class XII board exams are underway. The CBSE exams finish this year (due to Elections in UP, Punjab, Goa etc.) only by the third week of April (unlike March every year). All the crash programs admissions for entrance examinations like Law, HM, BBA, IPM(IIM-Indore) move into April as parents like their children to focus on XII Board exams before shifting their attention to the entrance exam crash courses. Similarly, new batch launches for various exams are linked to the announcements of exams, PSU / Bank vacancy exams, and so on. Shifts of revenues by 30-60 days is quite normal.

5. Managing Headwinds and tailwinds:
Headwinds and tailwinds are integral to every flight. We believe we have learnt the art of making the tailwinds count even as we have withstood and beaten the industry performance during headwinds. For instance, our MBA tailwinds led growth was a 25X (2002-7), Law has grown a 100X (2004-2015) and enterprise business has grown 10X since 2009. On the other hand, when MBA headwinds played havoc (2008-2013) with most players, we managed to still grow 5X as a company due to our proactive diversification strategy.

6. Entrepreneurs driven:
In a curious way, CL Educate is an entrepreneurial eco-system that thrives on the energy, creativity and ownership of young entrepreneurs. The core business is built on the franchisee model (biz partner, in our parlance) which drives CL in over 100 locations. The core team focuses on R&D, technology, academics, brand, biz planning and reviews. The entrepreneurs drive their business to the best of their judgement with full focus on customer acquisition and deliver delightful fulfillment.

At the same time, CL Educate also has looked at new verticals by acquiring new start-ups by young, dynamic and creative entrepreneurs. Our entry into newer businesses through acquisitions of hidden pearls is now an acknowledged part of testprep industry in India.

I would like to move from CL Business101 to sharing some perspectives on how we plan to bring growth at CL.

Our growth mantra: Asset-light & Technology-led
The singular growth mantra will be to focus on knowledge/career services that have these attributes. We think there is a terrific future for these services. Organic, as well as inorganic, occur to us equally well for their own specific and compelling reasons. We will continue to pick the option that has superior chances of success in shorter time and that enhances growth and ROE.

1. Knowledge products growth engine: special focus
Segments such as IAS, GATE, Engineering, and CA are Knowledge Product (KP) segments. Growing these organically and with select inorganic integrations will be one of the key initiatives as we move forward. The delivery mechanism for KPs has to be tech-backboned, driven and scalable. The ETEN acquisition, once complete, will provide this backbone for CA and IAS. We will add more over the coming quarters as this gathers volume.

2. Research services:
The second year NIRF rankings of universities and colleges have been released. This movement of focus on research in India had triggered our majority stake acquisition in Accendere, the research incubating and services company. We have also launched the academia-industry research collaboration platform in Sep 2016 ( We believe that this could be our significant growth driver. Arguably, Wainconnect has a potential to work with universities and corporations far beyond Indian shores at the next stage of growth.

3. Ed-Tech, ML, NLP, MOOC: our ‘MOAT’
Technology-pedagogy-learner outcomes (TePeLo) are the three dimensions of any effective innovation in education services. All three have to be blended appropriately to effect business growth in a sustainable way without losing sight of unit-economics and profitability. We believe that CL has this secret sauce. Our supported and curated start-up, 361degree minds, will be our vehicle for Ed-Tech led disruption over the next few years. 361DM is a nexgen curated-MOOC that understands the TePeLo equation very well along with a no-compromise attitude to unit economics.

Our internal research and tech-work led by Sujit is focused on AI, NLP, RPA, etc., and we will make it work in our industry at the same speed at which it is being discovered in other industries and other Geographies globally. From a business perspective, this will broaden and deepen the ‘moat’ and will improve profitability steadily.

4. Capital reallocation: Exit from Asset Heavy businesses
This is just a reiteration rather than a new resolve. Our exit from asset heavy K12 and the release of funds will enhance two things favourably – additional capital available for growth in our core business and also enhance the management bandwidth. We look forward to these affecting CL Educate’s performance measurables noticeably. The release from K12 would be about Rs 50 crores this year. We hold about 44 percent in the new K12 services company into which CLEIS has folded in. This is a profitable entity already and will not seek any more capital from CLEducate. We see our complete exit from this over the next two years when the capital is raised by this entity for its own growth. The sale of our Greater Noida campus should release about Rs 45 Crores in the coming 12 months.

In sum, we see a decisive exit from all asset heavy businesses and focus on asset-light services part making a visible impact on CL. As I wrap this blog, I wish to share one thought that has been my North Star for long.

Risk Taking:
Jack Welch, the celebrated GE leader, has said that an effective entrepreneurial leader works between 33% and 66% of data sufficiency. He has opined – “You are a clerk if you want more than 66% relevant data and you are a gambler if you are decisive with less than 33% of data”. We, at CL, action this. An entrepreneur, similar to a sportsperson, plays by staying anchored in the future and yet totally focused on the ‘here and now’ (present). Yet, analysis and reflections serve as valuable inputs to improve oneself and to not repeat a mistake again. We have always owned our decisions regardless of their successes or failures. We have had our fair share of errors in the last 2 decades. Looking back, a small percentage of our decisions hit the bull’s-eye but they have hit big time. But to minimize the impact of the rest of the decisions, we move in short but decisive steps and we quickly call it off when we see the need for course corrections. We constantly work to make that percentage better by staying rooted and staying open to feedback. We intend continuing in this spirit.

At the same time, we would like to build our reputation for our uncompromising ethical business practices and corporate governance standards as that alone is the saviour at all times – good as well as bad. Business outcomes may not always be in our control, however, a strong foundation based on intellectual honesty is. As I mentioned at the start, we are influencing the next generation, we are educators, knowledge disseminators and guides to those that are the future so a commitment to good governance in paramount.

As I conclude this version of ‘satyaspeak’, I would like to reiterate our welcome message. I would also leave you with an invitation to contribute proactively by contributing anything that you may have to offer. Remember, ours is a simple business and you, in your own way, are a CL Educate in your own world – i.e., enabling the career of a youngster to the best of your abilities.

Welcome to CL Educate.
With appreciation

Satya Narayanan R