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How this Gurugram-based English learning platform is getting children to read for pleasure

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In a country like India, learning to speak in English is still aspirational for many. Although, compared to other non-English speaking countries, India is still way ahead, with English being the second most spoken language in the country. However, the fact of the matter remains that beyond its metros and Tier II towns, the language is still not widely understood. 

 

Gurugram-based Freadom aims to change that. 

“Freadom equips children to learn to read in English in any country where English is an aspirational second language, via its state of the art recommendation engine; built in collaboration with Stanford University to drive English language learning,” says Nikhil Saraf, Co-founder of Freadom.  

Launched in 2016 after eight years of intensive grassroots level research in learning and reading science, the app is available on both Android and iOS for people to start their learning journey, which is personalised from the very first interaction.

It caters to children in the age group of three to 12 years and has content including stories, quizzes, live classes, storytelling sessions, news, activities, and speech games. The app keeps assessing the level of the child as they use the app, and guides them towards improvement, all of which can be tracked. 

“The app has spent years innovating on speech AI, and can now help children track their oral fluency using their inbuilt advanced speech assessment in association with Carnegie Mellon Speech,” Nikhil says.

Children who require a more involved engagement and specific guidance can sign up for paid live virtual classes by teachers trained on the Freadom pedagogy. 

The USP

According to Nikhil, Freadom is a data science first edtech organisation with a proprietary state of the art recommendation engine built in collaboration with Stanford University, which helps extreme personalisation at the app level. It is the first app to assess oral fluency using speech AI – “like Microsoft OS to computers, we are the Operating System for the world learning English as a second language,” he claims. 

“The organisation spent over a decade to marry the above with its own pedagogy based on both primary and secondary research,” says Nikhil.

In terms of English content, Freadom believes it competes with YouTube and in the reading space, Freadom counts digital library EPIC! as competition. 

The team

Founders Kavish Gadia and Nikhil met each other through a common connection in Kavish’s previous venture, Resurgent India, and spent a year understanding the space.

Both were avid readers and wanted to build something that had a lasting impact at scale. After going through many problem statements in the education space, they realised the need for a bottoms-up approach to changing the landscape by fixing something fundamental in the early years  ​– early literacy and more specifically reading in English.

Freadom is an expression of their passion and love for reading and stories and its launch was backed by years of research-based pedagogy, world-class content and an adaptive learning journey for a child with careful consideration to AI-empowered learning outcomes.

While Kavish is an alumnus of IIM-Lucknow, Nikhil is an alumnus of VIT, MICA and Stanford.

Freadom is an initiative of Stones2milestones Edu Services Pvt Ltd which was founded in the year 2008. It has an employee base of 150 members including full-time equivalents — FTEs (including Payroll + Contractual + Intern). Outside of this, the firm has 275 facilitators on retainer contracts.

Funding and monetisation

Since its inception, Freadom has raised a total of $6 million, of which $5 million has come in post-pandemic. Its leading investors are Unreasonable Capital and Capital A, over various rounds and stages. Some of its other marquee investors include co-founders of BharatPe, InMobi, Quantiphi, Fisdom, Near, VMart; professional leaders like Aakash Moondhra (Global CFO, PayU) and Bollywood star Tiger Shroff.

“We also have institutional debt lines from Northern Arc and Caspian. Our co-founders and KMPs have chipped in $1 million over the years,” Nikhil says.

Freadom is focused on India first. “We only launched a pilot operation in Korea to establish PMF (product-market fit) and growth levers for international expansion – this pilot has been successful and generates organic revenue,” says Nikhil.

“With the current raise, we would hit our immediate milestones with cash break-even operations — 10 million app users and $7.5 million revenue in FY-2023 and by end of 2023 targeting a total user base of 50 million users,” he adds.

Freedom app has a total of 465,000 registered users. Of these, 12,000 users have already moved towards a paid subscription generating a total Rs 9.50 crore revenue in the first nine months of the year.

The company’s current business model has three segments from a customer journey standpoint:

  1. A reading community for schools – “Club 1 Billion Readers” with over 3,000 registered schools. Through this community, schools are able to offer the Freadom app free of cost for children for six months.
  2. Through the above first step and some digital marketing spends in a few quarters in the past, the company has got to 465,000 registered users on the App. In the current month, the company is attracting 2,500 plus daily new users without any marketing spends through this channel.
  3. During the pandemic, the company has kept all premium features of the app free (expecting to push some of these behind paywall in the near future). Currently, all the revenue comes from app users who wish to come for group live classes ~ these classes are targeted towards providing experiential learning and practice communication skills in a group AOV (average order value) is around Rs 15,000 with 8-10 percent trial conversion rates). The programme is running on 60+ NPS, with 95 percent attendance and less than 2 percent refund rate.

“We had clocked B2C revenue of $4,000 and $675,000 in FY20 and FY21 respectively. We do get Rs 1-2 crore annual revenue from schools who choose to integrate our programme in-school curriculum (we don’t have any sales or support team for this),” Nikhil says.

The way ahead

Venture capital investments for early childhood edtech startups have been steadily increasing over the past decade. Over the past four years, US-based early childhood edtech startups have raised about $372 million in venture capital and the trend is rapidly picking up in India as well. One report even suggests that we could see up to $150 billion of investments in edtech deployed this decade given the current migration to online platforms for learning.

“In India, we are category creators and leaders in the reading space. However, post-pandemic, there is a literal red ocean for live class revenue where our largest competitor is Vedantu,” says Nikhil.

“We do have real competitors in the international market on both self-learning app and live class learning. However, at the moment, we wouldn’t be looking at international growth. We will continue to grow organically in Korea,” he adds.

One of the core moats for the company is its flywheel around reading and the ability to serve all its stakeholders from dedicated teachers, engaged parents, schools, publishers, content creators to children. 

“We are on the path to become two large outcomes. The first is the setting up of a global gold standard for learning English as a second language. Second, mapping the reading genome (our partnership with Stanford University’s human-centered AI division is a significant contributor in this direction),” says Nikhil.

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Experts deliberate on technologies leading to the rise of gaming and content in India

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Technology is seeping into every aspect of the world and online gaming is no stranger to it. Over the years, online gaming and esports have been through a lot of changes and today this industry is more advanced and progressive. Technology has enabled a variety of changes which is why online gaming continues to grow in popularity.

To discuss these new-age technologies in depth and how they are changing the gaming landscape, a panel discussion was held on Playing to the fantasy: Rise of gaming & content in India at TechSparks 2022 featuring Gaurav Barman, Senior Business Development Manager, AWS; Vinayak Shrivastav Co-founder and CEO, VideoVerse; Ranga Jagannath, Senior Director – Growth, Agora; and Ratheesh Mallaya, Director of Products, Zynga.

Here are some of the key highlights from the discussion:

Tech enabling the growth of esports in India

The panel discussion started with understanding the rise of esports gaming in India. Despite being around for more than a decade, it’s only recently seen a boom in popularity. The current size of the Indian esports industry is Rs 250 crore and the forecast for the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is expected to be 46 percent in the next four years. The esports industry is expected to see a growth of four-folds estimated to be Rs 1,100 crore by 2025.

Technology is a major propelling force that’s driving this rise. Gaurav of AWS shed more light by discussing a few of the technologies that AWS provides that help in building more interactive engagement for esports and gaming platforms.

Esports companies in India can build engagement, which is much more interactive by offering players the ability to communicate with each other beyond linguistic or geographical boundaries. This can be done by providing multilingual, real-time, translation across geographies. Companies can also build real-time recommendation systems in terms of feed that the user sees, said Gaurav.

Vinayak of VideoVerse spoke about how technology that aids in the production of short-form content is going to play a key role in driving the popularity of esports.I think what’s important for all of us to see is that e-gaming as an entire market is just continuously changing. It’s going to continuously keep evolving over the next couple of years, he said. In such a scenario, Vinayak believes that the services that VideoVerse provides with their flagship product Magnifi will play an important role in amplifying the entire ecosystem.

Magnifi uses state-of-the-art AI and ML technology to auto-produce key moments and highlights from live matches within seconds. Such kind of short-form content is what Vinayak feels is the need of the hour and will drive the growth of the esports market as well.

Hits and misses in the industry

The panelists further deliberated what has been working well for the gaming industry and what has tanked completely. Ranga of Agora spoke in detail about real-time engagement and how greatly it has benefited the gaming landscape.

What we’ve seen is that apps and games which have embedded technologies that are truly real-time tend to be able to monetise much better and significantly more, as compared to games that either don’t have real-time engagement, or they have laggy real-time engagement. Games that have real-time engagement also tend to be more active with better user retention, he remarked.

He further explained that it doesn’t just stop at real-time engagement, but the ability for gaming companies to analyse what’s happening in that real-time engagement is what is working in their favour.

While it’s important to know what is working for the esports landscape, it’s even more important to understand what’s not. Ratheesh shared some pearls of wisdom from some of the failures that Zynga has faced.

When you’re looking to build local, there is definitely a big opportunity out there. But that has to be on top of a really strong core that is fun and engaging for the users. We launched a game around the time of Independence Day in India based on a match game, but it did not turn out the way we wanted it to because of this reason,he said.

Ratheesh highlighted that there is a great scope for games with Indian IP and in fact, according to a recent report, about 60 percent of the audience that doesn’t play games have said they will play if there is an Indian IP. But just building a game on something vernacular or Indian IP will not work out. He also pointed out how games that are currently top-grossing like Garena Free Fire, Coinmaster, and Candy Crush all have great visuals and quality and that’s what is enticing users to stay hooked on the game.

Talking about other hits, Gaurav emphasised how Web3 technologies and blockchain will hugely benefit the industry. Gaming companies are now looking at making digital assets interoperable and with the advent of the Metaverse, an entire make-believe world is possible where players can socialise, connect, and share content beyond the scope of gaming.

From my perspective, technology is going to play a pivotal role in the evolution of this industry. Be it blockchain, NFT, or metaverse, all of that will come together as a platform where interoperability is enabled through underlying technology and used to build these solutions at this point in time, he said.

Along with Web3 technologies, Vinayak shared how cloud-based video editing and streaming solutions will become pivotal for the overall growth of the ecosystem as they’ll make broadcasting, editing, and collaborating with peers in the industry much easier.

Microtransactions in the gaming industry

The panel ended by discussing microtransactions in the gaming industry where Ratheesh shared some useful insights on how transactions and in-app purchases have to be tailored according to the genre of the game. There are different monetisation strategies like subscription-based model, battle pass kind of monetisation strategy or an impulse buy. Those are all options available to you. But what strategy you deploy depends completely on the genre of the game, he shared. He also suggested that microtransactions on gaming apps must be personalised to the users’ needs and that they must be pivotal in framing up the monetisation strategy for any gaming app.

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Here’s how technology and innovation are driving the growth of Arista Vault, India’s first smart luggage brand

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It was a crisp winter evening in October 2017 when Purvi Roy, an ace designer who studied at Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti in Milan, presented her high fashion fall winter collection – Warriors Alley- at India Runway Week. The collection was powerful and the show was a great success. At the after-party, she crossed paths with Colonel Krishan Kumar Singh and finance expert Atul Gupta.

After a brief conversation with Purvi, the Colonel suggested that maybe it was time for her to do something for the regular masses which would serve a larger purpose. They began brainstorming and after much deliberation, hard work, and perseverance Arista Vault was born.

Arista Vault is an innovative tech company creating concept-based products to make human life easy, simple, and safe. The company is headquartered in Delhi with offices in Gurugram, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Goa. One of their first offerings was a smart wallet with inbuilt anti-theft and anti-loss features, that would keep your most valuable belongings safe and protected while travelling.

“Arista is a Sanskrit word that means ‘unhurt’ or safest, and vault is a safe. We particularly chose a Sanskrit word for the name because while we go global it will always depict the roots which are Indian; so Arista Vault is a proud Made in India brand,” reveals Purvi.

As a D2C brand, it is also India’s first smart luggage company having filed six patents with one of them being an internationally published patent. The company is the perfect amalgamation of indigenous technology and in-house design that attempts to make customers feel the luxury as well as the safety of carrying a smart wallet.

Backed by Purvi’s years of knowledge and experience as a designer, the wallet while being the best at technology also has the slimmest silhouette which gives it a very luxurious look, making it a great gifting product. Purvi always wanted to make sure that the aesthetics of the product felt opulent, hence it has a jewel packaging with a matte-finished box.

The logo which is a power button inside a hexagon has a touch of gold to it, symbolic of a sense of pride and luxury. So you have a plush feeling when you own an Arista Vault smart wallet along with complete security of your wallet and its belongings.

Making traveller’s life hassle-free

If you had a penny for every time your heart skipped a beat while you frantically searched your pockets thinking you had lost your wallet, you’d probably beat Elon Musk’s wealth!

While that is a far-fetched reality, safeguarding your wallet is not. Arista’s Smart Wallet, with its many features, offers customers the relief to travel hassle-free even in crowded areas like trains and buses. The wallet has a power button which when pressed activates its features.

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Its main USP is the anti-loss and anti-theft features. It comes with an abundance of technologies such as an anti-theft alarm, built-in power bank, two-way tracker, remote selfie feature, RFID protection. The wallet also has a 20-meter separation alarm with two-way connectivity to your mobile phone. This way the phone can ring the wallet and vice versa. This feature especially comes in handy if your phone is either lost or stolen.

To enable such a high level of technology in a product as simple as a wallet would mean a dedicated amount of research and development.

“We are backed by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and were incubated at the Electropreneur park and IIITD. We work in two world-class labs – Power lab and Fab Lab, which have state-of-the-art technology where the design, research, and technology integration are done. We also have a dedicated tannery and product design manufacturing unit where the integration of technology is done into the product after three layers of quality control,” Purvi says.

Along with technology and design, the co-founders were clear on maintaining the highest level of safety for the smart wallets. Hence all wallets are ISO certified with their privacy policy in compliance with the IT Act of the Government. As of the last quarter of this year, 6,000 smart wallets were sold amounting to Rs 2.6 crore.

Challenges along the way

It’s the trailblazing technology that makes the smart wallets of Arista Vault stand out. But this technology was not easy to develop. Purvi says that it took over a year of R&D to develop a prototype finally, but by this time all the seed fund had been exhausted.

“We knew we had a great product but for further research, innovation and product marketing more capital was needed. So all the three founders decided to put their savings and I supported the company with the earnings of my fashion venture that had initially incubated Arista Vault,” Purvi adds.

The company ran a pilot of their wallets on Amazon Launchpad and those were all sold out within three days. They used all the feedback received to further improve the product. The turning point in their entrepreneurial journey came in 2019 when the company got funding and support from the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology under Electronics System Design & Manufacturing (ESDM), with Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) & Electropreneur Park.

Using this support, Arista Vault was able to scale their venture sustainably to build world-class smart wallets that eventually got them recognition from Amazon with the Viewer’s Choice award as an Emerging Brand in 2019. In 2021, the company received the prestigious Star award for Most Innovative Brand Year. They were also able to enter the international market by exporting their products to Germany, Chile, Dubai, and other gulf countries and finally to the USA.

This year the company achieved a major milestone in its journey when it became one of the few smart luggage brands in India to raise funding from Germany-based MainStage Angel Network and UK-based Pontaq VC.

Establishing itself in a new segment

Purvi says that while the funding was a great boost both financially and morally, the true journey of the company has begun now. The capital raised is being used to scale the business and establish itself as a market leader in a fairly new segment of smart luggage.

To do this, the company has grown its distribution model and channel partners to cover various cities across the country where Arista Vault products are being sold in a brick-and-mortar model. They have forged partnerships with relevant stakeholders like the Goa government to enter the travel and tourism sector as well, with their smart products.

In October when Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched 5G services in India, Arista Vault was one of the few tech companies to exhibit their smart products. They are also coming up with a series of 5G-implemented products.

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Going ahead, the company wishes to build a strong presence in the smart luggage market in a B2B model. For that, they recently launched their Switch2Smart range which has a variety of smart business bags, business trolleys, laptop bags and file holders. These bags have features like GPS live and lost location which makes it almost impossible for them to be lost or stolen. They also have other features like smart charging for mobile phones, geofencing and anti-skimming.

“Nowadays from our homes to watches, everything is smart. So why should our bags be left behind? The Switch2Smart range of Arista Vault will give travellers the luxury to be free and not worry about their luggage,” Purvi says. The company has already started generating sales with B2B orders displayed in DIW 2022 Gift Expo.

In FY 2020-2021, the company generated revenue of Rs 3.59 crore and now they are well on their way to achieving Rs 12-15 crore in this financial year showing more than 4X growth in business.

Along with the sales generated on Amazon, Flipkart and their own website, this festive season Arista Vault also got into corporate gifting for occasions like Diwali and has completed bulk orders from companies such as Bharati Cement, Mitsubishi, etc. They also recently started with Amazon.com in the US and UAE.

“Going forward, both B2B and B2C have their specific areas to serve. Our products are innovative and new and require consumer awareness which is possible primarily through B2C. However at a certain level to reach a wider audience, B2B is a preferred mode of business,” Purvi adds.

Arista Vault aims to establish itself as a market leader in the smart luggage category by bringing revolutionary technology to wallets, business bags, travel backpacks and much more. In the coming year, they wish to strengthen their brand presence in India as well as abroad by launching another 15 product categories worldwide.


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Elon Musk Reveals Twitter Will Soon Release a New Feature

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Elon Musk continues to reach out directly to Twitter users to get feedback on his newly acquired platform.

In a tweet earlier today, the billionaire/Chief Twit turned his focus on lurkers who consume the content but don’t contribute. He politely encouraged these so-called ‘doom scrollers’ to get involved.

“I meet so many people who read twitter every day but almost never tweet,” he wrote. “If I may beg your indulgence, please add your voice to the public dialogue!”

Musk has reason to be concerned. According to a study done in 2021, around 25% of Twitter users in the U.S. produce around 97% of all tweets.

His plea to be more active on the platform received nearly 85,000 responses, but he honed in on one in particular from a Twitter user named Rocket_Medic who, perhaps channeling hundreds of thousands of others in the Twitterverse, wrote:

“I reply a lot…no one reads my tweets.”

Musk then asked Rocket_Medic if he was aware of Twitter Analytics, which can be surfaced by clicking on the graph icon at the bottom right of all users’ tweets. The feature lets you know how many times people have seen, Retweeted, liked, and replied to each tweet.

Musk told Medic that he shouldn’t be bothered by the low reply rate since that’s not the metric that really matters. “Those who read tweets outnumber those who reply/retweet/like tweets by over 1000%,” Musk wrote.

At this point, Musk revealed an upcoming feature that had not yet been discussed publicly.

Twitter will soon start displaying tweet reach metrics up-front on all tweets, just like they do for video views.

The reaction to Musk’s announcement seemed mostly positive, with over 15,000 likes. But one user was not convinced.

@JamieHutchens4 replied:

“My Tweets get zero reactions. I think that’s the case with most people. No reactions give a feeling of being unimportant. Avoiding that feeling is likely why lots do not tweet. Most probably don’t even realize that is why they aren’t Tweeting.”

To which Musk replied: “How many views do your tweets get?”

At press time, @JamieHutchens4 still had yet to respond to Musk’s question.

Ironically, his tweet has been liked over 10,000 times, with nearly 800 replies.

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