Lessons for ed-tech in the time of layoffs

At a time when the ed-tech sector is rocked by crisis, adopting timely marketing and a hybrid model could be the way forward, say experts

by Team PITCH
Published - November 14, 2022
6 minutes To Read
Lessons for ed-tech in the time of layoffs

In a country obsessed with education, the concept of online learning in India has swiftly seen massive growth. In the pandemic-fueled years of 2020 and 2021, ed-tech start-ups across the country witnessed a boom in growth and engagement as more people relied on the internet for education. This gave a rise to an enormous number of startups that received valuable funding from investors as the sector reached new heights. But with 2022, things seem to be dwindling for the industry.

At a time when ed-tech companies are fighting layoffs, economic slowdown and a doubtful future, it is important for companies to make the right collaborations and put up the right image. Marketing and building brand image the right way across the country becomes a saving grace.

According to reports, ed-tech startups like Unacademy and Byju’s have been trying to collaborate with big sporting events for sponsorships like the FIFA World Cup and Indian Premier League. Besides sponsorships, Byju’s recently collaborated with football legend Lionel Messi for its social impact arm, Education For All. This move amidst large scale layoffs received massive criticism from industry leaders and netizens.

Hareesh Tibrewala, Joint CEO of Mirum India, puts into perspective this move from Byju’s and how it was a push towards marketing to generate revenue. “I think we need to look at this issue from two different perspectives (a) Optics: From a pure optics perspective, move is badly time. A few days ago, the company announced layoffs and now going to town announcing hiring of a big brand ambassador, just seems like very un-empathetic move and bad timing (b) The second issue is business necessity: perhaps it had hired very aggressively and thus needed to right size the organisation, and thus the layoffs. On the other hand it needs to push its marketing to generate more customers and more revenue…thus hiring of a brand ambassador. Both of these decisions seem to be driven by revenue growth and profitability…which what the founder seems to have in mind.”

Laj Salam, Founder of Plainspeak, thinks it wasn’t a bad marketing move, but the timing was wrong. “The layoff at Byju’s has been bringing lot of negativities to the brand which is already not doing well. But to me, signing of a global player like Lionel Messi is completely unrelated to this layoff and perhaps, the timing of the announcements could have been managed in a better way.

All along, Byjus had incorporated brand ambassadors as an integral part of their marketing strategy and are often successful in increasing their market share and brand equity. From Shah Rukh Khan to slalwarts in regional cinema to sports stars they have always used them effectively. Messi’s induction could be seen as a part of their long-term marketing strategy which coupled with the time of Football world cup.”

Marketing with changing times

Priyank Narain thinks the sector needs to become more fluid in its ways of marketing. “Ed tech platforms need to adapt to the fast-changing times, requirements and mindsets. Maybe a hybrid model would help. Engaging and informative content would definitely help. Features like 'Freemium', where consumers get to try out how good the course is may also help. A lot of their audience are on social media and that needs to be leveraged properly.”

Salam agrees and says content needs to be in line with emerging trends. “Building trust and brand credibility is the key to marketing for the edtech companies. Having a great product can’t translate to success. They need to find their differentiator and success definitely depends on this unique factor.  The companies need to continuously assess the impact of disruptions and emerging trends happening in the market and strategize their plan accordingly. And, the promise of a better career or future need to be built up with a great content strategy.”

Despite pressure to show top line growth, ed-tech companies should not lose track of their objective, according to Laeeq Ali, Co-founder, Bloombox Brand Engineers and Convenor, CII Karnataka Startup Panel. "Be more authentic. Be more meaningful. Be more purposeful. Not just in words, but In action too. Founders should not lose focus on the reason for their existence and why they started this business, first and foremost."

Ed-tech is here to stay

Not all seems to be over for the ed-tech sector. It is a growing industry, one with a lot of potential. Salam says, “There has been so much said about the edtech sector. A sector which had a huge boom during the pandemic is struggling now. With major edtech companies like Byjus, Unacademy etc are laying off employees in large, the sector doesn’t give a great picture to the public or the investors. Having said that, Edtech is a growing industry worldwide and Indian scenario is not different. The companies need to fine tune to the changing scenarios and find a balance between online and offline. They could engage on the courses more on demand and bring in global content and collaborations with foreign institutes.”

Tibrewala believes that the ed-tech sector will be able to come out of this shortcoming. “As an industry, ed-tech is here to stay and to grow. Ed tech is creating an immense value for consumers and for content owners.  We cannot lens the long-term success of the sector via short term hiccups,” he says.

"Any technology centric or deep tech startup business has good scope as long you are solving a key problem in the market. With digital penetration and the market opening up more and more in the Tier 2 & 3 towns, I believe we still have a lot of opportunities that can be tapped into. As the market & technology evolves, it is bound to open up even more opportunities," avers Ali.