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Business News/ Companies / News/  Wish WhiteHat had focused on ads: CEO

Wish WhiteHat had focused on ads: CEO

We celebrate building and creation and that is the original thesis, and the messaging has now returned to the original state, says WhiteHat Jr founder and chief executive Karan Bajaj

WhiteHat Jr founder and chief executive Karan Bajaj.Premium
WhiteHat Jr founder and chief executive Karan Bajaj.

Byju’s-owned coding startup WhiteHat Jr attracted a lot of unwanted attention in recent months for its digital marketing ads that claimed to train children, as young as seven, to become master programmers. Its marketing campaign claiming Wolf Gupta, a fictitious child who learnt to code and bagged a multi-crore salary package at a large technology firm, raised eyebrows. Many of the ads also drew the ire of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), which in October asked it to withdraw five ads that were in violation of the self-regulatory body’s code. In an interview, WhiteHat Jr founder and chief executive Karan Bajaj spoke about the messaging that went wrong, the firm’s 11,000 women teachers, building school partnerships in India, and global expansion. Edited excerpts:

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WhiteHat Jr’s advertising and social media promotions were severely criticized. What went wrong?

We are very consistent with the message that we want to put out, and that echoes our vision that children will be builders and creators, and that should be their natural destiny. We celebrate building and creation and that is the original thesis, and the messaging has now returned to the original state. Any advertising we did to the contrary, I would openly say we should not have done it. We started digital advertising in February-March, and it takes a while for a startup to set up a robust internal review process; so a lot of things were coming and things were happening on the fly. By June, when it came to my attention, most of these ads were gone. I wish I had focused on this earlier.

What led to WhiteHat Jr’s rapid growth since you launched in June 2019?

Two things really worked very well for us. First, coding as a product was unique. For the first time in edtech, there was a product that children loved. There was a creative curriculum in which children were building things in class, and parents saw the impact on how they concentrated and strengthened logic as they built animation and games. The second is the power of a live teacher. This is one of the first attempts at 1:1 teacher-student ratio, and it is the power of the highly qualified Indian women who were not represented fully in the workforce as they had given up on mainstream jobs. As WhiteHat teachers, they can choose any 24-hour window and teach children anywhere in the world. They are connected live, and this relationship has become so powerful and, as a result, the course went viral. In the past 18 months, we’ve had 11,000 women teachers conducting over 40,000 1:1 live online classes globally every day on our platform. About 150,000 children are part of the courses, and a million students have taken trial classes. We have a live teacher dashboard with student comments and rating that is unique to us.

Since its acquisition, what is the role Byju’s has played?

Byju’s has been very involved in a positive way—like he (Byju Raveendran) himself says 100% support and 0% interference. He is very passionate about the live learning model we have and thinks, internationally, that will work well. We have learnt a lot from them as they are experts in the education domain with their asynchronous content that can help us go from coding to multiple subjects. Both of us have a boundary-less view of the world that an Indian edtech firm can teach children from all over the world, and we are able to leverage that with our live teacher model. We will also learn from their international presence as we expand.

What are your overseas expansion plans?

For the first time, we are expanding into non-English markets and will pilot in Brazil and Mexico. In another first, we will also have to hire teachers locally in these geographies. We are already present in the US, UK, New Zealand and Australia, and both the coding curriculum and the live teachers model has been very well received in the English-speaking markets. We are now looking at deeper international expansion. We will also be launching mathematics courses by next month. The mathematics course is built on the same thesis that children will fall in love with the subject by building things, just like they do in coding, along with the personalized, individualized attention of the teacher. Byju’s expertise in mathematics content will help us.

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Published: 10 Dec 2020, 06:18 AM IST
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