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Home / Companies / Start-ups /  I’m a teacher at heart and will always be one: Invact Metaversity’s Pratap

I’m a teacher at heart and will always be one: Invact Metaversity’s Pratap

Tanay Pratap, founder and chief executive officer of Bengaluru-based edtech startup Invact Metaversity.

  • Trouble at edtech startup Invact Metaversity had been brewing internally for some time

NEW DELHI :Tanay Pratap, founder and chief executive officer of Bengaluru-based edtech startup Invact Metaversity, dismisses conjecture that his startup is in the shutdown mode after the exit of co-founder Manish Maheswari last month. He insists that he is planning to resume operations by introducing an “upgraded" course in 6-8 weeks for 35-odd students and scale the business over the next 18-24 months with the funds the startup has at its disposal.

Tanay Pratap, founder and chief executive officer of Bengaluru-based edtech startup Invact Metaversity, dismisses conjecture that his startup is in the shutdown mode after the exit of co-founder Manish Maheswari last month. He insists that he is planning to resume operations by introducing an “upgraded" course in 6-8 weeks for 35-odd students and scale the business over the next 18-24 months with the funds the startup has at its disposal.

Maheshwari, who headed Twitter in India for nearly three years, co-founded Invact Metaversity with Microsoft alumnus Tanay Pratap in October 2021. Trouble at the startup, operated by Invact School Pvt. Ltd, had been brewing internally for some time between the two co-founders over how it should be run.

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Maheshwari, who headed Twitter in India for nearly three years, co-founded Invact Metaversity with Microsoft alumnus Tanay Pratap in October 2021. Trouble at the startup, operated by Invact School Pvt. Ltd, had been brewing internally for some time between the two co-founders over how it should be run.

However, the spat becam public when Maheshwari tweeted on 25 May that “we (he and Pratap) are now standing at crossroads. We are exploring several options such as (a) cutting the burn rate and pivoting to another idea, (b) letting one of the founders take full charge, or (c) returning the excess capital to investors". Two days later, Maheshwari exercised the second option as he stepped down as CEO and director of Invact Metaversity and Pratap took charge as CEO.

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“I wish the differences were handled in a better manner. It was surely not the best way to do things," acknowledged Pratap in an interview. “The metaverse is definitely a superior medium as compared to Zoom and Google Meet just as these technologies are better than a plain vanilla phone call. But I had a clear vision when I left Microsoft (he was senior software engineer at Microsoft) that I wanted to impart education with technology being a tool and not an end in itself. My idea was not to build metaverses for others but using it to impart education," he explained, adding, “I’m a teacher at heart and will always be one."

Pratap also pointed out that to begin with, the name “we had in mind was Invact Verse and not Invact Metaversity". Invact Metaversity began by offering a 16-week metaMBA programme, costing 2 lakh, to be delivered in the metaversity where students could learn from industry experts and peers using Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies. The startup’s first batch of 60 students, who were “chosen from 1,200 applicants", was to begin on 12 May but the course was cancelled due to the internal spat, and the students had to be refunded their money.

Pratap claims he has since personally reached out to these students and “35 of them have come back". But how does he plan to regain their trust? “This time around, the course is free since those students already have jobs and they will have to learn in the part time," says Pratap, insisting that “I’m dedicated to the cause." He added that given the erratic bandwidth in a country like India, an educational metaverse campus should be operational even when the signal strength is poor. In cases where the bandwidth is poor, Invact now plans to use the “MetaLite version that will have a 2D (instead of 3D) experience of audio and video".

Till May, Invact Metaversity had about 40 employees but some were asked to leave, which also was a source of dispute between Maheshwari and Pratap. Invact, according to Pratap, “now has 18 employees including me".

To be sure, Invact Metaversity does have funds at its disposal. It had raised an undisclosed amount at a valuation of $33 million from Future Group’s Biyani, T.V. Mohandas Pai of Manipal Global Education, and former Facebook India head Kirthiga Reddy and others, in February. The same month, it had raised a seed capital of $5 million (around 37 crore) from global venture capital firms, including Arkam Ventures, Antler India, Picus Capital, M Venture Partners, BECO Capital and 2am VC.

“We still have to receive $2.5 million from one of the investors but we do have a little over $2 million with us which will provide us with a runway for 18-24 months," says Pratap. That said, VC funds have been drying up across sectors. Moreover, in the past few months, multiple startups across sectors have let go off their employees, potentially in a bid to conserve capital in a difficult funding environment. Layoffs at edtech startups, too, have become more common.

Earlier this year, for instance, edtech startup Lido Learning asked 1,200 of its employees to resign, saying that it was looking to wind down its operations amid a funding crunch. In March and April, Unacademy, operated by Sorting Hat Technologies Pvt. Ltd, laid off nearly 800 employees. In May, Vedantu laid off 424 employees and learning platform for non-academic skills FrontRow laid off around 30% of its workforce primarily in sales. In early June, executive education platform Eruditus laid off a section of its employees, joining other edtech unicorns such as Vedantu and Unacademy who did likewise. Outside the edtech space, Social commerce startup Meesho, fintech startup OkCredit and business-to-business (B2B) marketplace Yojak have let go off staff.

When asked for his perspective on this trend, Pratap acknowledged the “situation is bad" but added that “throwing money at the problem is not going to solve the issue". “I know how to build and scale. Things did not go our way but Invact 2.0 will come out stronger," he insisted.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Leslie D'Monte

Leslie D'Monte has been a journalist for almost three decades. He specialises in technology and science writing, having worked with leading media groups--both as a reporter and an editor. He is passionate about digital transformation and deep-tech topics including artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, crypto, metaverses, quantum computing, genetics, fintech, electric vehicles, solar power and autonomous vehicles. Leslie is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Knight Science Journalism Fellow (2010-11). In his other avatar, he curates tech events and moderates panels.
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