Practically is a young insurgent brand from a team of energetic people who passionately believe in reshaping the way the world learns.
We are publishing an interview with Ms. Charu Noheria, Co-Founder and COO at Practically:
Q.: Please tell us about the founders
Ans: I grew up in the beautiful city of Chandigarh. I did my schooling from Sacred Heart, Chandigarh and then later graduated from RV College of Engineering, Bangalore.
I moved to the US in 2010 to pursue an MBA from the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign after which I moved to St. Louis, Missouri to work for Lumeris Inc., where I met my co-founders.
Subbarao Siddabattula, Founder & CEO, Ilangovel Thulasimani, Co-Founder & CTO and I founded Practically in 2018. The three of us worked together and met at Lumeris Inc., a leading healthcare IT company based in the US. Subba is a serial entrepreneur with more than 20+ years of industry experience in technology, operations, and management. He was the CTO of Lumeris before starting Practically. A product guy at heart, he is a visionary with tremendous zeal and passion for problem solving using technology.
Ilango is a hardcore techie and was VP, Enterprise Architecture at Lumeris prior to starting Practically. He loves to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty with code. He has worked with some big names in the industry such as eBay, Quikr, etc. Ilango leads product development and technology at Practically.
Q.: Tell us about the Product / Solution. How did you get your first customer? Explain how you went about the Product-Market Fit Process.
Ans: Practically is India’s first experiential app designed for students in classes 6th-12th with a focus on STEM learning. We have a very comprehensive content of 3000+ world-class 3D videos, 1000+ Simulations/ AR experiences and are constantly working to further expand our library, which is the world’s largest compilation of educational experiential content. Over 1 Million students, 18,000 teachers, 350 schools across India and Middle East are already using Practically.
Practically is a unique product that combines reality technologies, gaming techniques, immersive learning assets, and AI-assisted features all in one compact cross-platform app. Recently, we launched the revolutionary #ScanAnything feature. This technology transforms the mobile camera into an educational tool allowing learners to interact with surrounding elements. It not only recognizes pictures, questions, exercises, proofs etc. from textbooks, magazines, newspapers but also captures images of any surrounding objects and presents linked curriculum learning information on the app for the learners to pick their learning journey and resolve doubts instantly. We are the world’s first EdTech company to launch this #ScanAnything feature and it is a key differentiator for us.
In addition to the above Practically provides Live classes, Test Prep & Analysis, Coding ++ course and a 24×7 Seek Help feature for doubt resolution all in one platform, making us a one-stop solution for a child’s academic needs. We also have a dedicated program for students who need mentorship and guidance for their academic and overall improvement. Our mentors are highly qualified individuals with decades of teaching experience and are experts in their respective fields. Our pricing is hugely competitive and stands apart for the value it provides to our customers.
We also offer a cutting-edge product ‘Practically School Solution’ that provides FREE access to Practically teacher app. This solution offers 3,000+ videos and 1,000+ Simulations & Augmented Reality (AR) to teachers making the teaching process more convenient and engaging. It also enables teachers to conduct their own virtual classes and empowers them with AI-based insights to enhance the teaching process and helps them make learning fun, interactive and distraction-free for students. We also have stellar after-sales support that ensures every student and teacher is getting the best out of Practically to suit their unique needs.
Practically is an outcome of deep-rooted insights based on several man-years of study around children’s learning & retention modes leading to the innovative use of new-age tech tools such as AR, Gamification etc. to provide an immersive learning experience for children. With the first beta version of Practically app that was launched in January 2020, we did a pilot study with two groups. Group I was given only reading material and group II was given access to immersive videos and simulations on the app.
After two weeks, we gave both groups a series of questions for testing the retention of concepts studied as part of this study. The results demonstrated that Group II was able to recollect 50% more concepts than Group I, and Group II students on average spent three times less time learning than Group I students. This further encouraged our efforts at Practically in making learning experiential and sticky. We are catering to a generation that has grown up with the internet and is eager to be more participative going beyond the rote learning methods. As we continue to evolve, we are constantly adding features that will ensure that young learners feel inspired to stay curious and understand ‘practical’ applications of the concepts they are learning.
Our first students were from Dr. KKR Gowtham Educational Institutions based in Andhra Pradesh. The institution had shown keen interest in collaborating with Practically for all their academic needs early on. Once we onboarded them, many students signed up for our learning solutions, they loved the idea and we had them converting opting from free to a paid version within days of the program kicking off.
Q.: What is your USP? * What is the insight that you have about this market, which no one else has? Uniqueness about your Startup.
(A unique selling proposition (USP) is a factor that differentiates a product from its competitors, such as the lowest cost, the highest quality or the first-ever product of its kind.)
Ans: Catering to the needs of education, Practically is built on Edgar Dale’s ‘Cone of Learning’; we retain 10% of what we read, 50% of what we see and hear and increasingly more to 90% when we learn by doing. The more dramatic the experience, the more lasting is the recall and some of the very dry subjects like math and science can be made very interesting and engaging when taught experientially.
We saw a lot of apps in the Indian market including some incumbents having only pinpoint solutions.Basis our findings, we arrived at the insight that a customer prefers to have all their requirements fulfilled through one platform. Basis the above, we went about developing Practically as an immersive and experiential one-stop solution that offers everything from study material to live classes to coding all in one place.
Q.: What were your assumptions when you entered the market, learning that you have? Who in your mind is your ideal customer? Do you have at least one of them signed up?
Ans: As mentioned above, our basic assumption was that Edgar Dale’s theory of learning by doing had the highest rate of retention (90%), which we validated later with our pilot launch. We concluded that rather than 5-7 pinpoint solutions in a school, it would make sense to have one platform approach for all teaching needs where study material can be brought to life with Artificial Intelligence to empower teachers and students. We also sensed the need to bridge the gap in the e-learning format that went beyond replicating the offline teaching format in online classes. Hence, we created a company with cutting-edge tech as its DNA. As we progress, Practically will strive to remain ahead of the curve and make dynamic leaps with technology, revolutionizing the education space.
Consumers and customers are different for us, consumers are kids in the grades of 6th to 12th and customers are parents of those kids. Over 350 schools across India and Middle East with 18000 teachers have benefitted from the Practically School Solution. We had close to 3 Lac active students last month which is an indication of the stickiness of the platform.
Q.: What has been your biggest failure as an entrepreneur and what did you learn from it??
Ans: Practically is a new age start-up and our experiences have served as learnings over mistakes or failures. It is too early in our growth journey with Practically to talk about mistakes rather than learnings from our experiences so far.
I think we should have raised more capital early on. As I often say, the best time to raise capital is when you don’t need it, so capital availability does not hinder your growth plans. Some capital should be kept aside early on for marketing as it is a crucial function and critical for the growth of business. This is why it needs to be viewed as an investment for the long run. We took rather too long to start investing in the marketing function.
Another lesson from hiring is to hire a team that has the right combination of passion and hunger just like you. If you hire a team that gets very comfortable, they lose the agility you need, to grow fast.
Q.: Please tell us about the investors (if any)
Ans: As a startup, we have received tremendous support and are already witnessing a high growth trajectory. In September 2019, we raised $5M as Series A funding with Exfinity Ventures, YourNest Ventures and IDFC Parampara. In January 2021, we further raised $4 million as Pre-Series B funding. This funding round was led by Siana Capital, a deep tech investor, with participation from our existing investors YourNest Venture Capital and Exfinity Ventures. So far, we have received a total of $9M and are gearing up for our Series B by early next year. At present, many high-net-worth investors are showing interest and we will be soon announcing key strategic developments in this space.
Q.: Is there any interesting success story of your startup? If yes, please write about it. ?
Ans: Getting a Million downloads is a dream for any app and is usually the first key milestone and we are delighted at the pace with which we have achieved it, especially the last mile. As of October 2021, we have been featured in the top ten education apps in India on Google Playstore.
This growth trajectory is a testament to product acceptance, likeability of our innovative features, strategic planning, and marketing efforts to dial up the brand equity. This shows the readiness of our customers to explore blended learning even after the schools reopen.
Q.: Since inception, give us a sense of the value of business done by your venture? Please explain in detail. (e.g., What is the current turnover? From Launching till date total no. of visitors on website/persons registered/enquiries and enrollment etc.)
Ans: We are currently focused on bringing in more and more users into the world of experiential learning. The company is targeting 5 Mn installs by early next year which will take the company to a revenue potential of more than $10M. In addition, we also have a booming business in Middle East which adds to our topline.
Q.: What is the big picture of your startup? Is this Product/service leading to something bigger? If so, how?
Ans: We aim is to be the ‘Most trusted and preferred’ EdTech brand globally. We have recently expanded nationwide in India and Middle East region and plan to launch in two more international markets next year. Our target is to have a collective reach of 20M users by 2023. Although the near-term plan is to expand into other English-speaking countries globally, we are also exploring with partners in countries where there is a need for content in other languages as Practically’s immersive animated video content can be easily localized.
By 2023, the company would have comfortably surpassed a unicorn status and will be well on its path to become a decacorn. Our product lineup will also see several additions to keep up with our growth plans. Starting with the K-5 segment next year, we plan to enter segments such as engineering and medical labs, corporate training needs, etc. which is in line with our growth strategy. We will become a name synonymous with experiential learning across the continuum of learning.
Q.: Who do You Perceive as Your Competition? How do you differentiate yourself with them?
Ans: For the journalist to refer – We have already spoken on our points of differentiation on this one
Practically has a distinct identity and we are more focused on delivering a premium tech-led learning experience for our young learners. We are in an industry that has a promising future and some known names already that could be termed as competitors though our model is built very differently.
Q.: What would be your goal to accomplish in the next six months? Any other information you would like to share?
Ans: While the initial focus was on Andhra Pradesh and Telangana states in India, Practically has now expanded pan-India and is adding over 300 employees to cater to national sales. We plan to enter the K-5 segment in the next six months. We believe that technology adoption in the education sector is yet to see its peak and what started as a mad rush to adopt technology during the pandemic is likely to continue and sustain well beyond the pandemic years making products such as Practically a household name among students and teachers alike.
Outside India, the Middle East is our focus market as we have received very positive responses to our product and are partnering with reputed brands to further expand our reach. We are also looking to move to a couple of international markets by the end of the next financial year.
Practically is extremely capital efficient. What we have been able to accomplish with raising only $9M always astonishes both Indian and international investors. We are now gearing up for our Series-B round early next year which will enable us to get to the next leg of growth and reach 20M users globally.
Q.: What message do you want to convey to fellow entrepreneurs?
Ans: Entrepreneurship is a balanced mix of passion and labour. I believe entrepreneurs must work smart and hard, being more resilient than anyone else.
India is a land of opportunities where we have ample use cases to introduce new concepts and new ways of doing things differently. Our telecom infrastructure, connectivity and internet accessibility are showing a growth trajectory, and this is the right time for entrepreneurs to bring their idea to fruition.
For women, who usually shy away from living their dreams, I’d like to advise them to recognize their unique talents and find out how to share them with other women who may need guidance and inspiration.
Thanks Charu. All the best!