India’s newest billionaire is a former classroom teacher who developed an education app that’s grown to a valuation of almost $6 billion in about seven years.
Byju Raveendran joined the rarefied club after his Think & Learn Pvt scored $150 million in funding earlier this month. That deal conferred a value of $5.7 billion on the company in which the founder owns more than 21%, people familiar with the matter said. Its closing coincided with the announcement that the company’s Byju’s app — named after the founder — will team up with Walt Disney Co. and taking its service to American shores by early 2020.
Those big-name backers buy Raveendran’s vision. The Byju’s founder grew up in a village on India’s southern coast where his parents were school-teachers. He was a reluctant pupil, playing hooky to frequent the football field, then learning on his own at home. He became an engineer and then began helping friends crack entry exams to top Indian engineering and management schools. The classes swelled till he finally began teaching thousands in sports stadiums, becoming a celebrity tutor who commuted between multiple cities during weekends.
He set up Think & Learn in 2011, offering online lessons before launching his main app in 2015. The business has signed up more than 35 million of whom about 2.4 million pay an annual fee of 10,000 to 12,000 rupees, helping it became profitable in the year ending March 2019. That’s when Raveendran began courting long-term investors such as pension funds and sovereign wealth funds — his latest backer is the Qatar Investment Authority. In Byju’s latest funding round, the entrepreneur bought shares to maintain his equity level. Along with his wife and brother, the Raveendran clan now holds a total stake of about 35%, said the people familiar, asking not to be quoted as the matter is private.