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KLAY- India's Largest Preschools and Daycare Chain: Creating the Harvard of Early Childhood Education in India


The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act passed by the Indian government in 2017 made childcare mandatory in organisations. As per the bill, it has become mandatory for firms with 50 employees or more to have creches, either set up individually or in collaboration with a few firms like setting up a common facility within a prescribed distance. Many organisations have tied up with preschools and daycare chains to support their parent workforce, and one such preschool and daycare that has grown tremendously by providing state of the art facilities is KLAY. The Week interacted with Mr. AK Srikanth, CEO at KLAY, India’s largest daycare and preschool chain to understand the growth milestones, the journey so far and the challenges faced by the chain.

1.  Please tell us about KLAY,  what are the different business modules that KLAY follows other than Pre-Schools?

KLAY is India’s largest Company Owned-Company Operated Daycare chain. It was founded in 2011 by Priya Krishnan, with the objective of helping women get back to work, guilt-free post their maternity. Today, KLAY operates over 150 Daycare Centers across India, with over 10,000 children attending it, between the age groups of 6 months to 10 years. Over 3000 people work at KLAY – 95% of them women. KLAY has been rated amongst the Top 100 Great Places to Work in India for 2 successive years.

KLAY operates three types of centers – (a) On sites: these are daycares built on the premises of large companies, meant for children of employees that work on that campus (b) Near Work – Daycares that are operated in Tech Park Zones, close to where the parent may have her office, and (c) Near Home – Daycares that are in residential areas meant for children residing in that area. KLAY also believes in inclusion, and has facilities at some of its centers that welcome children with atypical needs.

Apart from running centers, KLAY also offers online learning and development through their program Learn@Home, and a unique offering called Kare@Home where teachers and caregivers provide service at the homes of children.

2.  What were the initial challenges and opportunities that you faced when you entered the organisation?

I joined KLAY in 2017 as the COO, and worked closely with the Founder and CEO Priya Krishnan in helping scale up the business, and bringing an operational rigor to it. Professionally, the challenge was to ensure that the experience of the child across centers be as similar as possible, which meant standardization of operations procedures through centers across the country. On a personal note, this was the first time I was entering a start-up culture – all my previous experiences had been with large conglomerates. It took a bit of time to re-adjust to a fast paced environment where everybody did everything!

In 2020, I took over as the CEO, and almost immediately faced amongst the greatest challenges of my professional life – the closure of our business because of the pandemic. It took every ounce of determination and team-work to keep the system alive through two years of closures – but I am happy we came out with heads held high, and an intact business.

3.  Please highlight some milestones in the journey so far and what are some prominent collaborations that you have in the marquee?

There have been many significant milestones in the journey. Our business has tripled in size since the time I joined, and the centers have grown at the same pace. The company turned the corner in 2018-19, when it became profitable. We have built over 350 plus corporate partnerships with major clients to whom we offer our services to help with their diversity and compliance goals. We also are seen as thought leaders in the domain of Early Childhood – an aspect that gets highlighted through our annual event titled ISEY where world experts on Early Childhood come together on our platform.

Corporate partners have been a very significant part of our growth story. The Maternity Act Amendment in 2017, which mandated all companies with over 50 employees to provide creche services to their employees, has helped us reach out with our offerings. Many of the Fortune 500 companies are our clients in India, where they have partnered with us for compliance to this Act. On a brand front, Actor Soha Ali Khan is our Brand Ambassador – and we are proud to be associated with her as she represents the face of the modern, intelligent woman of India.

4.  The education domain has evolved at unreal speed in recent years mostly owing to the pandemic. How have the business dynamics changed for you and what are some key changes in early education?

During the pandemic and the school closures, a host of EdTech players appeared on the scene in what was heralded as a ‘New Normal’. The shakeup in this sector has been widely reported, with EdTech facing hard times after the reopening of schools. We stood firm in our belief that development for a child needs to have social and emotional bearings, and therefore while technology can augment the efficacy of a physical classroom, it can never replace the physical classroom.

The dynamics have not changed for us in any way post pandemic – except that the use of technology inside the classroom has evolved quite a bit which we are utilizing to the hilt.

5.  Share a brief about your growth plans pertaining to the financial, geographical - National & International, and operational growth?

The plan is to quadruple the revenues in the next 4 years, reach profitability of 10X over the current rate in the same period, and double our capacity. We expect that most of our growth shall come from cities that we are already present in, though we have started looking at Tier 2 towns like Coimbatore and Jaipur for fuelling growth. There is no plan of international operations at the moment for the time period I have specified – though if there is an interesting proposition we shall certainly look closely at it.

6.  Your thoughts on the market analysis for 2023 and what the Industry looks like in the future in your opinion?

2023-24 and beyond shall see some consolidation in this industry. Many smaller players may become a part of larger chains. The growth rates for this sector shall be very bullish considering the growth in numbers of working parents with no family support for children. Early Childhood Education and Care shall become an extremely visible and important highlight, for parents, educators and the government alike.

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