How edtech startup Uolo expanded across India
As a direct result of the pandemic-related lockdown, many schools and educational institutions quickly switched to online learning methods and adopted digital tools.
While many edtech startups were adjusting to the new normal, Uolo had an advantage up its sleeve – it had already partnered with schools across India.
Founded in 2013 by Pallav Pandey, Ankur Pandey and Siddharth Singh, Uolo Technology started as a school communication platform by partnering with 150 schools.
The startup grew its network of schools to 700 and expanded its partnerships by 700 percent to 5,600 schools in 2022 in the wake of the edtech boom during the pandemic.
To achieve this growth, in 2020 Uolo Technology was acquired by a new company, Uolo Edtech based in Delhi. As part of this acquisition, Pallav joined the company as co-founder and CEO, and his first assignment was to change the startup’s strategy.
“Uolo Technology provided school management software for schools as their customers. Uolo Edtech had bigger plans to transform the edtech landscape through partnerships with schools. Acquiring Uolo Tech was the perfect first step on this journey as we were able to take over many school relationships from day one,” Pallav told Your story.
After taking on Pallav, Uolo raised Rs 20 crore in a pre-Series A funding round led by Omidyar Network India and Blume Ventures in 2020.
Uolo — short for “You Only Live Once” — used those funds to expand its engineering and operations teams and expand its offering “to build a thriving community of parents, schools and students.”
“Uolo has helped bring hundreds of schools online and they have benefited from Uolo’s communication and learning platforms,” said Sajith Pai, director of Blume Venture, at the time of the funding.
change of strategy
From 2013 to 2020, the edtech startup reached out to schools through a local team that visited schools, met principals, showed them the product and convinced them to work with Uolo.
“It was a time-consuming process. In 2020 we changed the strategy. First of all, we decided not to leave our office and only acquire these schools through the TeleFace app. This allows us to acquire schools very quickly,” says Pallav.
The team is now contacting the school by phone and then scheduling a demo via Zoom.
Another change Uolo made was to lower the cost of his primary offerings to zero. Before the acquisition, the startup operated as a SaaS (software-as-a-service) company, charging each school Rs. 25 per child per year.
“This caused the schools to look at us as a cost factor. When we changed strategy in 2020, we decided to no longer be a provider to the school. We would instead be a partner; Instead of being a cost center, we would be a profit center for the school,” he adds.
Since 2020, Uolo has made its software available to schools free of charge. Once a school onboards Uolo, the two partners will work together to offer students compulsory K-12 programs in spoken English, advanced math and programming, among others. These courses are paid for and are the startup’s main source of income.
In May 2022, a total of 2,09,571 students attended Uolo’s workshops and recommended courses. These programs come in batch sizes of 15-20 students. The cost per class for Edtech programs is Rs 600 while for Uolo it is Rs 60.
The partner schools also encourage their students to take “recommended courses” such as calligraphy, crafts, painting and chess, including on the Uolo platform.
Before the pandemic, Uolo Technologies reported revenue of Rs 88.12 lakh for FY 2019. In FY 2020, the startup reported revenue of Rs 1.02 crore – up 15.7 per cent.
Following its renaming, Uolo Edtech reported sales of Rs.56,000 in FY21. The startup attributed the drop to the platform being made free after its acquisition in 2020.
“We have to decide what promotion is and what is paid for. Our promotion is our free SaaS software, but there are many ways to make money. Essentially, our service to the school is a way to build deep relationships so that learning programs can be introduced to students whose parents are willing to pay,” says Pallav.
With Uolo Teach, the startup’s first offering, launched in 2013, the company replaced the traditional diary system and panic calls with a smartphone application that reports a child’s location, attendance and progress in class. Since then it has been developed to also share videos, pictures, notes and homework through the platform.
“In the past, this communication was done through school diaries. This moved on to sending SMS and then WhatsApp. Parents now expect schools to have communication channels through which to share the information in mixed media formats,” he explains.
The startup has added two new services to its offering since 2020 – Uolo Manage and Uolo Learn.
Uolo Manage is a modular cloud-based ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) solution for schools that helps schools with student fee management, online fee collection, student attendance, student grade evaluation, staff and student benefits, and more .
Sr. Silvia Christie, Principal of Holy Angels School in Bengaluru, says Uolo has helped manage school finances better. “Managing accounts receivable in Excel and paper receipts was a nightmare. In contrast, Uolo gives me a complete overview of the expected cash flow with a single click.”
Uolo Learn allows students to take courses and submit their homework through the platform. It also allows the school to track classes and attendance, assignments and grades, and take online tests, among other things.
The startup works with a team of 250 employees.
The way ahead
India’s edtech industry, valued at US$750 million in 2020, is expected to reach US$4 billion by 2025, at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 39.77 percent. The sector raised US$4.7 billion in 2021 becoming the 3rd largest funded sector in India.
As part of its expansion plans, Uolo aims to reach 25,000 schools and enroll 10 million students by September 2023. The company is not currently seeking further financing.
Uolo faces competition from companies like Lead School, Teachmint, Eupheus Learning, and Questt.
“All schools in India have gone from being offline before the pandemic and online during the pandemic to a hybrid. Schools will have digital programs that follow students at home on smartphones as part of their curriculum. These programs aim to complement learning at school.
“Uolo provides both the platform and the digital programs that support hybrid education in schools,” says Pallav.