EdTech Startup Q&A with Zaya Learning Labs
EdTech Times spoke with Neil D’Souza at Zaya Learning Labs, a venture-backed, innovative social enterprise based in Mumbai, India. Thanks to D’Souza, we were able to get some interesting insight on Zaya’s history, product, and future.
Edtech Startup at a Glance
Company: Zaya Learning Labs
Company website: www.zaya.in
Founder: Neil D’Souza and & Soma Vajpayee
Founded: April 2012
Company Twitter: @zayalabs
What market segment is your company in?
What does your company do? Who are your core customers?
Zaya implements scalable, affordable technology to increase access to high quality education and to bridge the achievement gap for students in low- or medium-income schools. The core of our product is the Class Cloud—a small, battery-powered device that creates a powerful local hotspot in offline learning centers or schools.
Up to 40 concurrent students can connect to the Class Cloud through any Wi-Fi enabled device, or it can be networked to an existing computer lab. Each Class Cloud is pre-loaded with educational content and assessments mapped to the center’s curriculum as well as extra learning resources like question banks and maps. When a student takes an assessment, a report is generated in real time on a student-level and class-level report for teachers and parents. The Class Cloud is layered with apps for each type of user and syncs new content and reports when brought online with 2G/3G. We also train teachers on how to integrate our product into their classrooms.
Our solution has been designed with these low- to mid-income learners in mind. Zaya’s Class Cloud products and services enable blended learning without the need for connectivity, opening up this type of learning to a mass market of students that are otherwise being left out of education technology altogether.
How did you come across the problem you are addressing? What was your process of arriving at a solution?
During Zaya’s initial days as a sabbatical project and then an NGO, founder Neil D’Souza visited a lot of offline schools and saw a real need for connectivity. A lot of great educational content exists online, but these kids did not have access to it due to lack of internet, intermittent electricity, unmotivated instructors, or some combination thereof. The Class Cloud was designed to overcome these infrastructure challenges and give teachers and students better tools for teaching and learning.
Since then, we have continued to spend a lot of time with our customers to understand their problems with regards to access and content. This has helped us continue to improve our product.
What are you doing differently from your competitors? Do you expect to develop other differentiators in the future?
Our product is unique because it can function with little or no internet connectivity. Many edtech products only function online or have very little personalization when used offline. The Class Cloud, on the other hand, gives the same user experience of a personalized online platform at a much lower cost, making it accessible to the last mile of users. The product also provides significant cost savings to even high-income schools by providing this learning experience at under $2 per student per month.
Zaya also prides itself on supporting schools in designing their implementation models and academic plans, unlike many other service providers who are very hands-off. This experience is guiding us to build products that are easy to use. We plan to continue to make things easier and easier to use, with more features for increasing personalized learning.
What are you working on currently? What should we expect to see from your company in the next 12 months (E.g. product milestones, team size, potential growth/revenue target)
We are working to add more and more layers of personalized learning, moving toward adaptive learning. With this, we are adding more content and tying up with more content partners.
We are also working on adding apps for students to study away from their centers and schools. Finally, we are working improvements to the Class Cloud in order to make it completely plug-and-play.
How are you changing the face of education?
Zaya is making world-class learning materials accessible to any child anywhere today. While a lot of companies believe that by putting up content is enough, we know that access to this content is limited in many parts of the world. So the first and the biggest thing Zaya is trying to do is create access. We have been providing this access for the past three years, working to make it more affordable and still create a better experience for teachers and learners.
Through this access, we are empowering teachers—including those with skill or content gaps—to teach well in large classrooms. India needs to train 3 million teachers in the next 15 years, and not every one of them will come with all the skills and knowledge they need. However, technology can help provide these teachers with the content and tools they need. It can also help them deliver personalized learning to children and understand what each one has really learned.
We have experience doing this with almost 100 centers, and we know it can be a game changer.
What other startups or product builds have you been a part of, and what was your role? How has your past career prepared you for your current role?
I spent several years at Cisco building mobile and video technology products, so I have a lot of familiarity with how to build mobile routers that bring access to large scale. That experience prepared me to understand what challenges consumers and businesses face while making information seamlessly accessible in a cost effective way. The experience is also crucial to the education space, where devices are increasingly present in classroom and students are learning online.
During my days in Mongolia, I also helped a lot of smaller startups launch products and solutions. One example is Dubjoy, which allows you to transfer any video into multiple local languages.
Where do you think the education technology market is going in the next five years, especially in your market segment?
I think the edtech market is going to grow over the next five years because broadband connectivity is going to reach more places, and devices will become more stable. Currently, applications are designed with the supply side in mind and not the teachers. You will see a huge shift in efficacy of the applications. There will be a certain maturity required, and I think the players that will last that long are constantly iterating with those factors in mind. You will see a lot more products and companies coming up in the B2C space since devices will be easily accessible at home.
At least in the K-12 segment, schools are not going to go away, but their role might change. School will start adopting technology as a core delivery mechanism and as that happens, school solutions are going to jump. No one wants to bet on schools today as it’s a very difficult sales cycle and it takes a long time to convince them. However, the reality is going to be that schools today are more like consumers when it comes to their adoption level of technology. Over the next 5 years, however, they could be treated as enterprise customers. That opens up the market for many start ups. There is a huge opportunity in the next 5 years.
What advice, if any, do you have for someone thinking about launching a company in the education technology market?
Be patient. Results come in two forms, efficacy of the product and revenue. Both of them take time. Also listen to your consumer or student. Build a product that they will enjoy learning on.
Suchita is a student at Emerson College, where she is pursuing a BFA in Writing, Literature, & Publishing for poetry with a Global & Post-Colonial Studies minor. She has been published in Verge Magazine (Canada) and Affairs Today (UK).