Expert opinion: Analyst Ashvin Vellody, Partner, Deloitte India says, “COVID-19 pandemic has provided a disproportionate focus to the ‘tech” in any industry such as education, disrupting it to define a segment called EdTech. Given the lack of digital technologies in the Indian education sector thus far, it is excellent to see start-ups and established players focussed on building innovative Ed-Tech apps in India. 2020 was the year of survival, and digital technologies proved to be an invaluable ally to enable the learning chain. The magnitude of the actual impact, however, will unfold over the next 24 months. The sector needs to think about how best to use digital tech to provide value in the long term. It would be good to get away from replicating the physical world online and focus on creating amazing experiences that provide value to all the stakeholders in this space. The companies that will thrive are the ones who are agile enough to repivot, innovate and create experiences that replace pre-pandemic systems and infrastructure, and teaching methodology.”
We spoke to CEO and Founder of Cuemath, Manan Khurma to know a bit more about the company’s success story, how it survived the pandemic and its future plans.
1. What were you doing before Cuemath?
Mathematics has been a big part of my life since I was a child. While doing my BTech in IIT Delhi, I began teaching math as a side project. What started as a way to make extra pocket money ended up becoming a full-time coaching class. This was the beginning of Locus Education, where we prepared students to take the IIT entrance. Besides this, I wrote textbooks and consulted for the Haryana government.
2. What was the initial conceptualisation process behind Cuemath? When did you first start talking about beginning this startup?
My love for math and teaching were the two main catalysts for Cuemath. While lecturing senior grade students at Locus, I realised that most students struggled with math despite my best teaching efforts. The reason for this was a weak foundation. Even though test-prep is very lucrative, I felt it was too little too late to make an impact.
3. When was it that you finally decided you wanted to start Cuemath? Please elaborate on probably that one scenario that cemented your intention to work towards making Cuemath a reality.
To have a fundamental impact in teaching math, it had to be done at lower rather than higher grades. After teaching 10000+ students, I realised that if a student struggles with Calculus in 11th-grade, the odds are that they did not master Algebra in 8th grade. To address this, I decided to build a math learning system based on mastery. No other learning system at that point was addressing this problem.
Cuemath offers online after-school math and coding classes around the world. These are live classes facilitated by our trained teachers. Further, our AI-powered platform enables each child to learn at their own pace. Amongst other things, our unique methodology focuses on making students work through math logically rather than rote learning. We have been backed by investors such as and have seen our current bookings shoot up to more than 3X of FY19 figures.
5. How is Cuemath different from the other ed-tech startups in India?
I firmly believe that Mathematics and Coding is a core life skill that can empower children to future problem solvers and thinkers. Cuemath focuses on mastery over completion. For instance, most children learn multiplication by memorisation. But at Cuemath, we teach our students that multiplication is nothing but repeated addition. Math is the language of thinking and problem-solving.
6. What is your hiring process for teachers? What is Cuemath’s unique selling point?
Our training is very rigorous, only three percent of the teachers qualify. Applicants are shortlisted based on their qualifications, passion for teaching and entrepreneurial drive. Cuemath teachers are tested not only on subject expertise and communication on camera but also their ability to personalise and empathise with parents and children.
7. Were there any operational challenges (or any other challenges) that you faced when starting Cuemath? Please offer our readers details on what those challenges were and how you overcame them.
Cuemath’s idea of mastery was ahead of its time and hence needed a lot of convincing at the start. Naturally, parents were more concerned with immediate results through marks. As parents saw improvement in their child’s math ability, we had more and more believers.
8. Did you have to put in any money to start the business? When did you decide that funding was required?
My father and I put in our savings in the beginning. When we ran out, we had to hustle on all fronts without losing our focus on building an impactful product.
9. Could you share some interesting stories about your initial days? What learnings have you picked up from those hustle days?
In the first 100 days, I was doing everything from curriculum design to onboarding teachers. I still remember the first teacher I met. It was in Gurugram. We chatted over a cup of tea. And 80 percent of that conversation was about convincing her that Cuemath’s offering was not a scam. Those early days were challenging and exciting at the same time. It is essential to be resilient in such times.
10. Is there any particular incident that is monumental in Cuemath’s journey? Please share that incident with our readers. Also, outline all of the big milestones that Cuemath has crossed since its inception.
I recall a 5th-grade child who was struggling with math. But after enrolling at Cuemath, he had shown phenomenal improvement. His mother was beaming with pride when she told me about her son’s latest performance. This was the first time our method was validated and provided measurable outcomes.
11. Could you help give a sense of how far Cuemath has come? From when it began to where it is now
We have come a long way since the beginning of our journey in December 2013. Cuemath is STEM certified and has been awarded as the best math program by ETR. We have taught more than 200,000+ students and taught for more than 25 million hours across 20+ countries. Coincidentally, the pandemic resulted in phenomenal growth. We tripled our 2019 numbers. With remarkable growth coming from foreign markets like the USA.
International students now constitute more than a quarter of our total learners on the platform. Not just that, we have recently closed a successful Series C funding ($40 million). We are now backed by Lightstone Aspada and Alpha Wave Incubation and Sequoia Capital India, CapitalG (formerly Google Capital) and Manta Ray.
12. Has there ever been any failure or challenges? Please offer details about this and how you overcame that.
When Covid struck, we were primarily working offline. We had the arduous task to retrain our 4000+ teachers within a few days to adapt to our online platform. But we were agile enough to make a smooth transition. This shift has held us in good stead and has taken the brand global.
13. What was it like sailing through the COVID-19 crisis? Did you see a fall in business or an unexpected surge? How did you deal with it?
Our first concern in these testing times was our employee safety. COVID not only forced us to move online but also opened up new geographies. We adapted to this development. Cuemath not only survived but thrived. The biggest realisation for me has been that an organisation can not only run but thrive on remote working!
14. Do you have any management mantra/ advice that you’d like to share with future entrepreneurs?
“While you have your head in the sky and aim high, have your feet firmly planted on ground realities.” Three things come to mind: understanding business fundamentals, focusing on the consumer, and building a great team.
15. What are the big plans for the future?
We strongly aspire to be a definitive global math brand of this generation. We want to build millions of future problem solvers. Math and allied education skills like coding and data sciences are the future – that’s the space we want to be global leaders.
16. What is the employee strength? Is Cuemath hiring currently?
M: We currently have 8,000+ teachers and 1000 team members on our rolls. And yes, we are hiring! We at Cuemath are always on the lookout for exceptional talent.