Zishaan Hayath, the co-founder of ed-tech company Toppr, is also a prolific angel investor. He has invested in at least 25 startups, including ride-hailing app Ola. But he has now slowed the pace of his angel investments. His informal angel investment group, Powai Lake Ventures, hasn’t backed any startup in recent months. He says his aim now is to prepare Toppr for an initial public offering in five years’ time. Hayath, an IIT- Bombay alumnus, spoke with VCCircle on plans for Toppr, competition from heavily funded rival Byju’s and other issues. Excerpts:
What next for Toppr?
We are a learning app that complements the school programme. We are now live for 8th to 12th standard students. We are launching programmes for 5th, 6th and 7th standard students in the next academic year. It has four modules: a lectures module where you can see videos; a practice module; a test module; and a doubts module, where you can chat with experts to clear your doubts.
We have been growing strongly over the past two years. Our quarter-on-quarter revenue growth is 40-45% for the past nine quarters. We grew three times in 2015 and six times in 2016. Students spend about 100 minutes a day on our app.
Are you profitable?
We are operationally profitable. We break even on all our variable expenses.
When do you expect to break even?
I think we should definitely break even by the middle or end of 2018.
At what stage of growth is the company right now?
We have 1.6 million registered users on the platform. About 4-5% of these users upgrade to our paid version. All users can use the platform for free. If you want to unlock the entire platform, you pay a fee. So, once you subscribe, you can study for any class that you like. We cater to most syllabus combinations in India. We cater to almost 15 boards. We also cater to many competitive exams—including almost all engineering and medical entrances.
The ed-tech sector is full of potential. How do you see its future?
It is a very large market. There are 400 million school-age students in India. Of these, I think almost 250 million are enrolled in schools. Toppr has 1.6 million students on it, which is not even 1% of the total available. I think we are still a very long way away from this market getting saturated.
How tough is competition from players like Byju’s?
The market is so large that even Byju’s must have got around 2-3% of the market. So, 95% market is still up for grabs.
What is the biggest challenge for you?
The biggest challenge is awareness. People should be aware of platforms like Byju’s and Toppr. The second challenge is to make them spend time on the platform. They will only spend time if they find some improvement in themselves.
You raised funding almost two years ago. So, how comfortable are you from the funds perspective?
We have been lean and we have been spending judiciously. Since we last raised funding, our revenue has grown 20 times and we still have a long runway to go with the same amount of money.
What is your long-term vision for Toppr?
Toppr will be a profitable company soon and it will continue to grow because the market is large and deep. I think of Toppr as a profitable company which can be a strong candidate for an IPO.
Are you in talks with investors to raise more funds?
Yes, we are. We will raise another round this calendar year.
Why is angel investing so dear to you?
I haven’t invested in anything in the past one-and-a-half years. All these investments were old investments. I really didn’t have time for anything else, other than Toppr. A bunch of these investments are in [companies started by] my college juniors, who I know personally. The group’s name is Powai Lake Ventures.
Has the group slowed down?
Yes, we haven’t made any investments in the recent past. Mostly, I was busy with Toppr. Investments have taken a back seat. I have exited four startups and 2016 was a hard year in terms of external investments.
You have also invested in Ola. How do you see Ola’s growth?
Ola has been doing well and steadily growing. They have been innovating a lot for the local market. A bunch of innovations they did has been replicated by Uber also.
Which were your bad investments?
I had to write off a bunch of companies—Biteclub, Eatlo, Pickingo and Orobind. They shut down. Losing capital on shutdowns is tough.
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