This Bangalore Based Startup is Reinventing Learning Through Gamification

We are publishing an interview of Mr. Dheeraj Sharma, CEO, PlayAblo – A Bangalore based startup which is reinventing learning through gamification.

Dheeraj Sharma, CEO, PlayAblo
Dheeraj Sharma, CEO, PlayAblo

About the founders

  • Dheeraj Sharma – CEO, Founder, PlayAblo. He graduated from NIT Kozhikode. He has 18 Years experience in IT, emids Technologies. He has worked with Headstrong, iGate, Cognizant, Aditi. Dheeraj approaches PlayAblo the way he approaches parenting – with a fine mix of patience, assertiveness and unwavering support. After all, PlayAblo is his brain child!
  • Ananthakrishnan G, CTO, Co-Founder, PlayAblo. He graduated from IIM Kozhikode. He has 19 Years experience in Product Development, IT Consulting for Financial Services & Capital Markets Industry.
    He has worked with Headstrong, Oracle Financial Services Software, Mahindra Satyam. Diligent, methodical, tech-savvy, energetic & fun-loving – these are just some of the adjectives colleagues use to describe PlayAblo’s Chief Technology Officer, Ananth!
  • Suchithra Prem Kumar, Co-Founder, PlayAblo. She graduated from BITS Pilani. She has 11 Years experience in IT & she is a Seasoned Project Manager. She has worked with Headstrong, Steria & Kanbay.

They say there is only one degree of commitment – total. Our Program Manager Suchitra Premkumar best exemplifies this. Unreserved commitment, fierce dedication and a laser sharp focus make her the go-to person of choice for problem-solving, firefighting or simply some good advice.

What is the problem you are trying to solve? Can you share with us any insights that led you to believe that this is a big enough problem? 
The idea for PlayAblo sprouted in a chance conversation with a close friend about the Indian Education system and the experience our children go through. My oversimplified understanding is that the current education model in India has its genesis in the British Raj. The system was setup to help the British rulers create army of clerks to better manage & administer the governance of the colony.

When India became independent, the education system continued as is. But this model starts to fall apart when the students are expected to think independently/innovatively to solve problems as opposed to the follow the directions in the text books.

This is obviously an uncomfortable situation out there. But, it turns out, there is a big problem hidden in it, that needs to be redressed. And I dare do another oversimplification of that problem description:

  1. Children are born very creative & curious (Do you know any child under the age of 7 or 8 who is not forever asking ‘Why this?’ or ‘Why that?’ and each ‘Why’ followed by a few more?)
  2. This natural disposition of children to extend their thinking conflicts directly with our education system that focuses on a well-defined model & structure, also fondly referred to as ‘rote learning’.
  3. As a result, the curiosity quotient of children goes down rapidly as they move from grade 1 through 5.
  4. However, by the time they are in middle school they’ve cracked the problem. Our children now understand how the system works and move through it efficiently by following the set methodologies and scoring ranks.
  5. Unfortunately, this is the wrong problem that they have solved. They’ve let go of their curiosity & creativity in exchange for cultivating rank chasing instincts.

To me, this is a massive problem. More like an epidemic. And 200 million students (just in India) are exposed to it every year. Lest this is controlled, we will not be able to move away from the clerk churning assembly lines across the nation.

PlayAblo LogoWhat is the uniqueness about your Startup? 
We are unique due to these two things:

  • Strongly integrated Gamification experience with the core intent being on skill development. This was not done as an afterthought but firmly weaved in even as the product was being conceptualised.
  • Our content: Building our content in-house as opposed to buying and fitting content from existing sources. We were also successful in avoiding the lure of crowd-sourcing the content. We are in an industry where the importance of bespoke curated content is very big and tolerance for erroneous content is rather low. As a result, the quality of our content has been so good that a number of players in the ed-tech space have reached out to buy our content or help them build it for them.

What is the revenue model? Explain your thought process. 
Over the last two years of our existence we have evolved into 3 product lines with their own revenue models.

  • PlayAblo at Home: Our flagship B2C product for parents & children who want to supplement the school lessons with fun filled practice games. More importantly they get real time actionable insights into the child’s strengths and relatively weaker areas. The insights are very specific that can help parents take corrective actions as they go and not having to wait for a PTM from the school (which is typically very late)
    The revenue model here is a Freemium backed subscription pricing. The premium subscriptions starts from as low as Rs. 39/-
  • PlayAblo for Schools: We also provide schools an extension of our flagship product where each student gets an individual access. Other than the benefits for the students, teachers now get lots of real-time aggregated data about their classes and school management about the school at large. All these insights are real-time and specifically actionable. This propels the school into a different zone compared to what they have been used to in the past (getting the aggregated data once a year via Asset or Olympiads)
    This is a B2B model and the pricing is customized for every customer based upon the specifics of the customizations we do.
  •  PlayAblo for Skill Development: This line of business is focussed on a very different category of users. We work with organisations focused on skill development, particularly in the space of Spoken English skill and Life skills development. The users are young adults in the age band of 18-25. PlayAblo works in the blended model where the organisation focusses on in-person classes and PlayAblo completes the loop in terms of practicing, reinforcement and assessment.

This is a B2B model and the pricing is customized for every customer based upon the specifics of the customizations we do.

Who are the consumers that you are targeting? How is this going to affect them? 
PlayAblo for Schools, Playablo for young adults in the age group of 18-25.

What is the big picture of your startup? Will it lead to something bigger? If so, how? 
Playablo is currently positioned in a niche market. Gamification is still catching up in India, because of which many do not know how much it can positively impact learning outcomes.

The big picture that we have in mind is to revolutionize the way our nation approaches education. As I said earlier, our education system must move to a model that encourages curiosity and problem-solving skills. I firmly believe that Playablo is uniquely positioned to make this powerful change.

At the same time, I would like to reiterate that we are not replacing traditional education here. Just supplementing it to make it fun, engaging and effective.

This Bangalore Based Startup is Reinventing Learning Through Gamification

What is the success story of your startup in your own words? 
I would say that we have had solid success in our journey thus far. Sure we have changed our course from the direction we took on initially but our ability and willingness to change has allowed us to discover a real opportunity where a customer has liked to product enough to actually pay for it, refer us to other potential customers in the space and helps us build the product too.

We have also learnt of a few follies in our initial plans and we look at those as key learnings as well. Our next 12-24 months will be a real test for the sustainability of our initial successes.

Any other information about your startup that you would like to share with us.
I’ll end this longer than expected interview by reiterating that the right mix of the solution will come when we work along with institutions as well as our peers in the Ed-Tech start-up space. Only collectively will we be able to help move our young learners out of the mind-set of the process abiding clerk. That mind-set should ideally have left along with the British Raj. It is now well past its utility. Today it is time to not just think out of the box but to remove the box.

Thanks Mr. Dheeraj. Best of luck!

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