We raised $5 million (Rs. 36.2 crores) in Series A funding, led by Omidyar Network India, and participated by AngelList India, Unitus Ventures, and India Quotient.
24-year-old Ashish Raj is an Electrical Engineering Diploma holder from a small town in Bihar. While studying for the course, he walked for 12 km every day to and from college. To meet his own personal expenses, he drove an Uber cab as a driver. 9AM to 6PM was college, and 9PM to 4AM was driving for Uber. His experience with computers was all from a dingy cyber cafe, owned by his uncle.
When an article about Masai School appeared on his Google feed, in his own words, it was his golden opportunity to become a Software Developer. Ashish cracked the admission test, personal interview and enrolled in Masai School for 30 weeks. Today, he lives in Bengaluru, working as an Implementation Engineer at WebEngage.
For our CEO Prateek, Ashish’s determination was a personal revelation to have identified the magnitude of untapped potential in the country. Ashish was someone who could not speak very well, struggled with financial constraints, and drove a cab. But today, he is at a place he could not have imagined he would be. There were similar encounters. Sumanta Malik was a Cashify delivery executive but went on to be the first engineer at an early-stage tech startup who built about 60 pages on the company’s website all by himself. Mohammad Hassan who was working at a mechanical workshop, graduated from Masai School to earn 10x as a Software Developer.
If Prateek had to look back to 2 years ago and reflect upon the problem statement he was signing up for, with Masai, the complexity of it came off as a pleasant surprise. The initial idea was just that there was plenty of unemployed youth who were unaware of their potential and available opportunities, and lacked any guidance to build their path. With Masai School, Prateek only wanted to build a system that would guide these young people on the right path.
But almost 2 years later, and with over 200 graduates, we are still ‘figuring it out at Masai School. A simple idea to solve the unemployment problem became a complex problem statement intertwined with multiple variables and micro-layers of problems attached to it. Student psychology, behavior, discipline, the amount of hard work they are willing to put in, family background, financial strength, are only a few to name.
“The more we dug into the problem we were trying to solve, the more it amplified. It was not just a simple radical idea to solve unemployment but the vision has become much larger than what I had initially imagined. As we dug deeper, we only realized that this is a billion-dollar problem and an opportunity if somebody diligently attempted to solve it with his or her heart at the right place.” ~ Prateek.
Where does Masai School stand?
A simple metaphor to represent how big the problem statement is in the country is that we at Masai, now have more hiring partners approaching than the total number of graduates they would hire.
Here’s a tweet by an early-stage tech CEO that sums up the level of competition that runs around in the Indian startup ecosystem, to hire the best possible engineering talent.
This tweet only explains a very tiny part of the much larger problem in the market. While that’s another subject entirely, hiring partners that include early-stage startups, Series A-B-C funded startups, and even unicorns, all of them face their own plethora of challenges while hiring tech talent in India. The country is estimated to produce about 2.5 million engineers per year, for the next 5 years. The mainstream institutions, at best, might be able to convert half of them into employable engineers while the other half remain unemployable.
But Prateek believes the Edtech sector in India is not a winner-takes-all market. In context, the COVID-19 pandemic has just brought to the fore the urgent need for skilling, and many believe that job tech-focussed platforms like Masai School will be the alternatives to universities. If anything, the pandemic has only made online learning and educational mainstream.
Masai School’s team size grew by 2x over the last 3 months alone and currently houses about 60 employees. A total of 8 batches have graduated, with a cumulative placement rate of 90.3 percent. Since its inception in June 2019, Masai School has received and processed more than 55,000 students’ applications to date.
Prateek adds that about 30 to 40 percent of student intake comes from referrals from alumni or current students. It goes to show that the student experience with the graduated batches comes out to be really high, and so does the Net Promoter Score (NPS). Right now, the NPS is somewhere between 75 to 80.
The Masai Tribe
Prateek says he has evolved and matured a lot as a leader, and so is the case with the other co-founders Yogesh Bhat and Nrupul Dev. An unforeseen challenge was that the team had to suddenly optimize for a remote-working environment after the pandemic. Teaching tech online, in a military-style environment is certainly not as easy as it might look from the outside. Besides, it was the first time Yogesh and Nrupul were working with numbers as large as the ones at Masai School now. Or the Masai Tribe, as we like to call it.
But looking at the level of impact we are trying to create in the market, a lot rides on the kind of team culture we also should have. The empathy with which the team operates, when it comes to other team members, cross-functional synergies, and even students, is something that is not easy to come by in a remote-first world. When you are solving a problem that over 10,000 institutes in the country are trying to solve, one can do the math about building a strong culture.
There are a lot of positions at Masai School which don’t ideally have a reference or benchmark anywhere else in the job market. There are plenty of professional and experienced software developers who have fully made a switch to teaching. Those who wanted to build a strong career in tech and software, are now working as teaching instructors with us. There are also multiple career coaches in our team, who are there to offer guidance and mentorship to the students while they graduate.
“What we are doing at Masai is nothing short of impossible. The problem statements we are tapping into, cannot be solved with a profit-first approach but only an impact-first attitude..” ~ Prateek.
The Series A Stage
Unlike most funded startups with diverse business models, Masai’s unique model makes it a revenue-making company and has even been a cash-flow positive month on month. At this point, it is naturally very easy and convenient to ride multiple horses at a time and tempt into performing multiple actions together. But Prateek keeps his crazy ideas to himself and doesn’t bring them up to the team too often. He believes it all trickles down to focus and execution when there’s a lot of money in the bank account.
In the next year, the team aims to make sure that 2,500 young people are graduated and placed in reputed tech companies. This number equates to doing multiple things at the same time, and at the same time not getting distracted by the capital top-up.
Three non-overlapping courses like UI/UX Design, Product Management, and Data Analytics are going to be the key focus areas, while it is also about continuing to build a strong market reputation in Full-Stack Web Development. Besides, the objective is to fully transition into a career-oriented higher education institute from being merely a coding school for young people.
The Roadmap Ahead
So far, the team has taken an entirely different route to solve the problem of employability of young graduates in the country. What we have now is a direct result of all the things we have observed, working closely with students over the last 2 years.
The Masai School Admission Test (MSAT) is all about what the student has learned from middle school to high school. Computer Literacy, Typing Speed, Logical Reasoning, and some middle School-level Arithmetic is what the test entails. The idea is to make Masai School available for anyone and everyone who has a high motivation to learn and earn. We do not ask for a formal degree to get into Masai, but just that he or she should have passed the 12th standard.
The Glide Program is introduced for dedicated learners who perform well across all parameters of the program; who want to learn and make a career, but are lacking some access to the right infrastructure or need a source of income to keep their household running. As part of it, they will be given a monthly allowance of Rs 15,000 to help with living expenses, which would later be adjusted for, in their ISA.
The Thrive Program is another initiative that is a continuous evaluation, feedback, and support mechanism that fixes the loose ends in a student’s learning curve. The program is for those Masai graduates who are yet to crack a tech job interview and are trying to keep up with soft skills, incomplete technical expertise, or confidence issues. The students are trained in all forms of communication and soft skills like Attitude, Behaviour, Critical thinking, Negotiation, and also remote-working. The objective is to make students highly competent and industry-ready for tech companies.
One more example is Pair Programming, a coding culture adopted from big tech companies in the 80s and 90s, where students work with other peers in a collaborative environment and are guided by each other.
The more the team went on to work towards tackling the problem statements and realizing their magnitude, the more innovative solutions we have been able to come up with.
Going forward, we at Masai are looking forward to inculcating an agile and pod methodology in the upcoming courses like UI/UX Design, Data Science, and Product Management. The proposition of being able to offer a holistic pod of tech resources makes Masai School more desirable for its hiring partners. Besides, the philosophy also contributes to our team’s vision of transforming into an overall career-oriented institute.