Like all children, Byju Raveendran preferred a window seat on trains whenever he travelled to Thiruvananthapuram for maths contests. However, he would not look far beyond the electricity poles racing past his window. He would try to calculate the time the train took to go from post to post and estimate its speed.
Raveendran took calculated risks to establish Byjus App and make the online education platform a Rs 28,000 crore company. At 38 years, the entrepreneur from Azhikode in Kerala’s Kannur district helms one of the most profitable startups in the country.
Raveendran fought his way up from a nondescript village near Azhikode. He relied on his passion for mathematics and his never-tiring spirit. The son of two high school teachers, Raveendran manoeuvred his extraordinary career with the same agility with which he played barefoot football on the post-harvest paddy fields near his house.
Raveendran’s role models say a lot about his personality: Roger Federer, who remains a tennis champion even in his late thirties, and Lionel Messi, who has little left to achieve in football. Like Federer and Messi, Raveendran sees himself as his greatest competitor.
In 2015, he wanted his endeavour to be the greatest edutech company in India. He achieved the goal a year later. Now he wants to make his startup the biggest edutech company in the world. He has set a timeline of four years.
Raveendran said that he always sets the bar high. As a batsman, Raveendran wants the ball to fly out of the stadium.
Raveendran went to the Azhikode high school up to the tenth standard. His father Raveendran and mother Shobhanavalli were teachers in the same school. Raveendran wants to acknowledge the part played by his parents in his success story.
“They never told me what to study. They just told me it was important to study well. I never misused that freedom and that may be key to my success,” he said.
Raveendran has lost count of his students. As many as 3.2 crore students have signed up to Byju’s Learning app. He has no means to tally the number of students he had in the 10 years to 2015 when he launched the app.
Raveendran has been teaching maths since he was in eighth standard. Older boys in the neighbourhood went to him to clear doubts.
Be a sport
Raveendran was always in the playground. He had a passion for cricket, football and table tennis. He has competed in the university level in all three sports. He carries the marks of his footballing past as surgical scars on his body.
The boy who bunked classes always came as class topper. He scored cent per cent in maths exams.
Raveendran knew that his father wanted him to be a doctor, but he chose to be an engineer. He thought that an engineering college was less tasking than a medical college.
Later, Raveendran became a mechanical engineer. He joined a leading ship management company in 2001. He went to around 40 countries in his stint of three and a half years.
The long holidays in the shipping work changed his career though.
During his vacation, Raveendran used to visit his friends in Bengaluru. Most of them were preparing to write the Common Admission Test for the country’s premier management schools and could do with a little help from the math wizard.
Raveendran helped them as he could. He even joined them to write the CAT, just for the heck of it. The results surprised everyone. The amateur finished as the topper. Four of his friends were chosen to various IIMs. Raveendran’s father was under pressure to convince the youngster to join an IIM. But he knew his son too well.
Next year in Bengaluru, Raveendran was greeted by more friends and their friends who wanted to write the CAT. They arranged lectures in a class room in the Jyothi Nivas College. Raveendran had 35 students in the first session. The number rose to 85 in the second session.
His students later proposed that they should rent the college auditorium. Raveendran had more than 200 students by now. The rent was close to Rs 1 lakh but the students were prepared to pay Rs 1,000 each for a session.
Within a few years, Raveendran was lecturing to about 25,000 students in an indoor stadium in Delhi.
Success was not presented to Raveendran in a platter. He had roamed through the country on buses, trains and airplanes to reach his students. He was wanted in almost all states and he obliged them all.
He had been continuously travelling to nine cities from Bengaluru between 2006 and 2009, when he started using video-conferences to teach. He formed a company, Think and Learn, in 2011. His eight partners were his former students. They set about preparing modules to help school students learn maths. Setting up an app was not even an idea then.
Later, they decided to turn their work into an app as smart phones and apps became popular. Byju’s app was launched in August 2015. About 60 per cent of the staff of the company were Raveendran’s former students.
In the limelight
Manipal Group head Ranjan Pai was leaving a hotel after dinner towards the end of 2013 when he noticed about 400 students glued to a video wall in the hotel auditorium. Pai could instantly feel that the teacher on the video wall, Raveendran, was destined to be bigger.
Soon, Think and Learn received its first investment, Rs 55 crore.
Raveendran begins his every speech by reminding the audience of his humble roots in a village in Kerala. His career is built on a realisation that he has nothing to lose. He could keep his cool even when he received his most famous investor, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Raveendran said that he learned English by listening to cricket commentary on radio. Don’t be surprised if you bump into Raveendran in a pavement tea shop in Bengaluru. The high-flying entrepreneur is a down-to-earth man.
Trust in family
Raveendran grew up in a joint family at Vankulathuvayal until he turned 22. The house had 18 members, including his paternal uncles and their families. Four of his cousins are working with Raveendran in Bengaluru. His brother Riju has also joined his company after completing computer science education.
Raveendran’s wife Divya Gokulnath is from Karnataka. Divya was Raveendran’s student before he proposed to her. Divya is a director of the company. The couple have a five-year-old boy, Nish.
Whenever he manages to go to his village, Raveendran makes it a point to go to the beach in the morning and catch up on the football games.
A day in Byju’s life
Wakes up at 4 am
Works out with colleagues between 5 am and 7 am
Reaches office at 7.30 am. Works for 12 hours.
Family time from 8.30 pm to 11 pm.
Hits the bed at midnight.
Story so far
Started Think and Learn Private Limited in 2011.
Launched Byju’s App in August 2015.
The company is worth Rs 28,000 crore now.
Investors include Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, founded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and wife.
Preparing to launch the app in Malayalam within six months.
A global product meant for children aged between three years and eight years to be launched this year.
A plan to make available a free app in the government school libraries of India.