The PIE: What is AdmitKard and what do you do?
Piyush Bhartiya: We are a digital platform that is helping Indian students currently looking for opportunities in universities around the world via our recommendation engine which connects them with the right schools and the right mentors.
Our mentors are international students who are already studying abroad and give a 360 degree view of the options. Our research driven view uses data from the platform while students get a more personalised view through one-on-one interaction with mentors.
And once the student has finalised which courses are the best fit, we help with the application and visa process, and get them to the universities. We are a one-stop shop where the student can get help for education loan, accommodation and all of these things.
The PIE: What do mentors get out of the process?
PB: A lot of our mentors work pro bono, because they want to do community service and they want to add that to their profile. Some of our mentors work for internship certificates to show they have more experience around communication and leadership. There are some who work on a paid basis as well like any other part-time job.
“AI can give you the right recommendation, but you need help to understand”
Over the last three years, we have received more than 25,000 applications for mentors from various countries, not just India. We have a very selective process in who gets to interact with our students. Right now, we have 1,000+ active mentors who provide one-on-one guidance.
The PIE: And they’re in six destination countries at the moment?
PB: When we started, we were focused on Australia because a lot of Indian students were going there. The number of universities are much fewer so it was much easier to understand that market. With a fewer set of mentors, we were able to meet the requirements of our students.
Now we have expanded to many more countries – Canada, US, Australia, UK, Singapore and New Zealand – but we have now mentors from more than 23 countries, including Hong Kong, China, Brazil, France, Spain, Japan.
It’s not a simple decision to choose your university. The mentors [allow students] to connect with somebody just like them, a few years older, who can actually share secrets, personal journeys and tell them how to be successful.
That human touch is required in something so important. AI can give you the right recommendation, but you need help to understand. We are digital but we have been able to create a social layer, which really helps the student take the decision and more forward.
In 2020, we launched a new version of AdmitKard with a much more powerful mentorship program, and most of the decision making and recommendation engines were made live for students.
The PIE: How do you make money?
PB: Motivated students can go through the entire journey free of charge but we have a prime membership where students get better service and more university applications. Students can also avail services like profile building, test prep on the platform and they can pay for that.
“Whatever information is available is so scattered and unvalidated”
Then also we have 2,500 universities that we work with who pay us also for student recruitment. And thirdly, when we are providing some services like education loans, accommodation options and those things, it is done through a series of partners.
When we were working on this business model we realised it is very easy to find information, but students were making their decisions about careers in a completely black zone, because whatever information is available is so scattered and unvalidated.
This problem just should not exist in today’s era. When information is so easily available, then why are people still making uninformed decisions? The mentors give verified information, and share actually what is happening on ground.
The PIE: Then in terms of funding, I think you got a $1 million funding that in 2019.
PB: We raised slightly less than a million previously and we’ve raised another million recently. Some unicorn founders in India are investing like Vedantu, upGrad, Unacademy and DoubtNut – a lot of the entrepreneurs from the Indian edtech ecosystem as well as the global diaspora of Indian entrepreneurs.
The PIE: And how has the balance of meeting investors’ expectations and also keeping in mind student and customer expectations been for you?
PB: I would say the expectations of a student and an investor are actually completely aligned in our case. Meeting one would mean that you are actually meeting the other. This is not a typical B2C business space where you have millions of users every day that you need to service. It’s about creating relationships with customers. It’s a long-term association.
“The last six to seven months has been a real growth spurt for us”
As long as we are building that trust with customers, the investors will see a return. Already our first set of investors have seen a 4x return on their investment. And I think if we continue doing what we are doing well, I think not just our investors, but our students will benefit.
The PIE: What’s the ratio of students that continue to apply through your platform?
PB: If you look at students who are applying through the platform, that has grown almost 10x over the last one year and 6x over the last six months. The last six to seven months has been a real growth spurt for us when we launched the new product. We’ve been growing 40-50% month-on-month and we see that continuing for over the next year.
More than 50% of our students come from Tier 2/3 towns in India where there is actually no formal guidance even available. But there are very high quality students present in smaller towns, especially university towns. Thereby, we are actually creating a new market where students are now getting awareness who could actually never dream to explore the opportunities outside of India.
The PIE: Who are your competitors?
PB: Right now the market is largely being served by offline players, who are fragmented, small and spread across the country. About 20,000 agents represent few universities out there, and are trying to push sales, give those schools to anybody who comes to them.
We provide a very futuristic as well as a comprehensive solution, with a very broad based choice, very personal data driven recommendations based on the objective of study, their profile and their preferences.
We are already getting students from Indonesia, Nigeria, Nepal and multiple other countries.
The PIE: Is the final goal to become this global player helping students from every country find their perfect study options?
PB: Amazon has user reviews, which you always read before you buy. What we are trying to do is provide those user reviews, but now you can click on the name of that reviewer, and actually have a chat to understand why they gave a good or bad review, and get that personalised information.
We’re already up to almost 50,000 students generating their recommendations on a monthly basis on the platform. Our goal is to reach about five million students interacting with our product on a monthly basis in the next 12-15 months.
One target definitely is to reach out to a much larger global population with relevant information. We are already serving more than 1,000 students per month – we would want to increase that ideally to be somewhere around 100,000 in the next 2-3 years.