It is clear that former investment banker Dhaval Mehta is involved in the education sector. He is garrulous, recreates moments of his life and transports you there, much like a good teacher. We are sitting in his small but cosy office in Mumbai. There is a world map on the wall behind Mehta which becomes a reference point as he talks of his journey from India to the US as a student and then back to India in 2006. His startup TeacherNi aims to streamline the process of studying by giving students an online one-stop solution for all their needs.
TeacherNi places emphasis on self study and provides affordable and quality textbooks and resources, such as simplified notes, multiple choice questions and predictive papers with solutions, to students of classes 9 and 10 who follow the ICSE syllabus. Video lectures and live doubt clearing sessions with expert faculty are new additions that students can opt for. More than 10,000 students and 200 schools have registered with TeacherNi. Mehta’s startup is targeting the 13 million students studying in schools across India following CBSE or ICSE syllabus.
Mehta’s years as an investment banker prepared him for a life of entrepreneurship. One of the first lessons he learned was that emotions have as big a role to play in business as logic or rationale. In 2003, he was working in a company run by a father-son duo who built vending machines. When an offer of a merger came their way, the father expressed reservations about letting someone else take over the reins. One of his concerns was that the employees would not be taken good care of. That’s when Mehta realised that bankers, too, were human and banking was not just about the numbers. It was a valuable lesson. At the age of 22, Mehta had completed 40 deals in a year and a half. These gave him an idea of how a business worked. “That was the point when I understood that running a business myself would make sense,” he says.
Next, he worked with the Bank of America in New York, where he did three to four deals. “During my time, 22 people brought in a billion dollars,” he says. “It was a rocking time.” He moved back to India and two years later, in 2008, joined the equity team at Kotak-Goldman’s investment venture. “We were a three-member team doing the IPO of DLF Ltd; it was the first time I got involved in real estate,” he says. “So I moved from doing valuation in California to working in the oil and gas industry and later, in real estate.”
By the end of 2008, Mehta had decided to quit and manage his family’s fund in order to understand the buyer’s perspective. His mother, Rita Mehta, however, wanted him to create something of his own. “My mother was adamant,” he says. “She said that if you want to do something, do something where you have decision-making power.” The seeds of his venture were sown when Mehta visited the school run by his family in his ancestral village at Mehsana in Gujarat and recognised how technology could aid education. He realised that while international boards like IGCSE and IB provided a resource system to students, local boards like ICSE and CBSE provided no digital resources. A cousin told him that she made do by compiling notes provided to her by her school and her tuition class. Teachers refer to multiple books and resources, so if a teacher leaves, she takes her resources with her. “How do you keep the legacy alive?” Mehta asks. His eureka moment came when he remembered his own history teacher who knew the history textbooks so well that it was almost like she stored a library in her head. Mehta knew what he had to do: take his history teacher online. TeacherNi would disperse the expertise of various teachers to students studying in schools across India following the ICSE board.
“In Michigan, where I used to work, entire textbooks were available online; it was so convenient,” he says. He contacted teachers and students across India to gain insight and expertise on the subject. Today, TeacherNi has content created by 12 teachers who have 300 years of combined teaching experience.
Kshitj Chaurasia from Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, scored 95.4 per cent in his ICSE board exams and dreams of doing his BTech from an Indian Institute of Technology. He was one of those rare students who didn’t rely on coaching classes. What helped him was the compendium of questions created by TeacherNi. “I saw there were good reviews of the booklet and decided to buy it,” he says. “I relied mostly on self study and the predictive question papers which, I found, were uniquely prepared in a way I couldn’t have found anywhere else. I could also clear doubts with the help of experts from TeacherNi.” Ardel Nainan, a Mumbai-based student who scored 94.8 per cent in his ICSE board exams, also found the resource extremely helpful: “It gave me good practice for the exams and also covered many subjects.”
TeacherNi is now looking at a second round of funding of approximately Rs12.7 crore in the next two months. A student can buy a module comprising textbooks and study notes on a subject for Rs3,000. The startup has a team of ten members whom Mehta likens to the US marines, saying each team member has the capability of ten people.
A goof up
In school, I once played a prank on a teacher by locking her in the washroom and then pretended to be nice by unlocking her
To be a successful entrepreneur
On speed dial
Office, mom, dad and brother
A basement storeroom with a common toilet
Top on to-do list
Help every student get access to TeacherNi and buy my own house in Mumbai