Classle, a Social learning platform, is breaking all geographical and economical barriers as it brings students, teachers and professionals under one digital roof. Founder and CEO of Classle, Vaidya Nathan talks about overcoming challenges and future plans for Classle.
What was the idea behind starting Classle?
Classle Knowledge Inc. is an India based start-up which offers social learning with specific focus on empowerment and success through education and learning, regardless of urban or rural setting. Established in 2009, the objective behind the company is to bring productive personalized learning experience to students, customers, employees or general learners.
Today over 100 education institutions have signed up for Classle Cloud Campus, bringing courses and quality learning to empower students. More than 25 companies are using the Cloud Campus and Courses to empower their employees and members of their ecosystem. There are more than 1,800 courses authored by experts and professionals from around the world in diverse range of subjects such as engineering, science, arts, finance, electronics, energy and spirituality.
How has the journey been for you?
The journey was very intense and interesting. There were contradictory needs of very high level of sophistication to bring the impact along with simplicity and low-cost to make it accessible, both geographically and economically.
Tell us about how Classle works?
Classle, the Social Learning Network, is a ‘One Step’ education solution and employment opportunity provider; touching students, learners and educators from schools and colleges, institutions and companies across India. Classle brings quality, engagement and experience to learning and talent transformation through the social learning platform. Classle integrates the power of technology and the social network bringing learning to every individual, on a cost-free platform.
Classle has an online platform at its core through which students and learners interact with their peers, teachers, professors and professionals through different courses and modules created online. The modules, features, courses and contents are accessed and delivered both online and offline and other means through mobile technology. The ability to use mobile devices, even low-cost ones makes the entire learning ubiquitous and accessible. Once the students register online, they can access content, attend online classes, review audio and video recordings, ask questions and consult experts on topics they choose. The registration is absolutely free, so cost is no longer a deterrent in education. Rural students can also seek knowledge, learn and compete with students in metro cities.
What are some of the unique features of Classle?
Headquartered in Chennai, Classle currently empowers 100+ institutions that have private Classle Cloud Campuses. With 300,000+ student members having signed up for Classle Cloud Campuses, we are poised to empower every student and learner with quality learning.
Today Classle works with over 100 educational organization and individual educators who share the common goal of bringing quality and relevance into education and learning. Classle is growing rapidly and increasing the volume of usage for AWS (Amazon Web Services).
Classle is working on multimedia apps and aiming at a target of 5 million learners in next 12 to 18 months. Recently, Classle expanded the focus into schools targeting grades 6-12, again with unique innovations to take the distribution to hard-to-reach places and bringing quality education there. Classle also moved into recreational and customer education areas making the portfolio complete into a ‘Lifelong Learning’ environment. Our seamless ability to expand the scope and grow in depth is already causing ripple effect and getting enquiries from the developed world.
As we consider that, since we chose AWS Public Cloud as platform, we know that infrastructure will be there as an enabler. It is only the business model that Classle needs to think about. So if Classle thinks about the scale needed for this rapid growth, we will require the foundation and architecture to be sound to handle all the traffic in a highly scalable manner – this is where the robust global platform of AWS comes in with the proven track record.
In another 3-4 months, Classle will be launching academic analytics based employment services as well as domain learning services to continue the relationship with the students and help them in the journey towards life-long learning. The interconnections in social networking and the analysis of how our customers interact with one another is an important development area for Classle and we are already doing prototypes using Amazon Elastic MapReduce to serve this purpose in supporting our long-term goal.
What are the major challenges that you faced as a start-up?
One of the biggest challenges faced in the initial set-up of the company was securing start-up funding, especially given that this was a new idea and no entrepreneur in the past had proposed a business idea for rural India. Most people believed that it was far stretched and difficult to implement as a scalable and sustainable business.
Another challenge is the nature of our customer base, owing to which, our services have to be extremely cost-sensitive. All our infrastructure and software is delivered at an extremely low price point. There are a lot of variations in usage as we deliver to the edges. This makes it essential to have a high degree of experimentation with an on-demand provision. The usage is never constant and hence extremely unpredictable. Our user base is growing to be more and more heterogeneous which complicates the levels of predictability. This makes elasticity based on actual usage at run time a necessity.
Classle’s need for experimentation is satisfied by AWS. The various services that Amazon constantly builds on and puts on the offering such as transcoding, search and big data make it easy from a go to market perspective. Classle can concentrate on taking the features to the market while Amazon works on the infrastructure requirements for the feature. This unique combination enables running on a low cost while ensuring a short span of time to go to the market.
Start-ups often face cash liquidity problems during initial years of operation. How did you counter this problem?
Reducing the time to market, cost of infrastructure and cost of failure were three factors that made our cash lifeline substantially longer than otherwise. Also AWS nurtures a very active ecosystem from where we were able to learn rapidly. This freed up our energies to focus on management and execution.
What business and IT challenges compelled you to move to the cloud and what made you choose AWS? What is the scale of your deployment on the Cloud?
As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest challenges faced in the initial set-up of the company was securing start-up funding. One of the most important things for me was to find a technology solution that was very cost-effective and yet highly scalable. AWS met all our requirements.
The factors that led us to choosing AWS include:
- AWS’ robust global technology infrastructure and its years of experience in handling different scenarios across business sizes and industries. The AWS cloud platform is trusted by its customers across the world.
- The fast pace of innovative services that AWS rolls out worldwide is important for any company that works with a cloud provider.
- The way AWS works with its customers – AWS not only listen but is also able to innovate and execute quickly. The company has rolled out numerous services over the years including updates and new offerings that are useful for businesses across the board.
Which particular AWS solutions are you currently using?
Currently, we are using several solutions offered on the AWS cloud platform including Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Elastic Load Balancing (ELB), Auto Scaling, Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS), Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Reduced Redundancy Storage (RRS), Amazon CloudWatch, Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS) and Amazon Route 53.
We would especially like to talk about Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and Reduced Redundancy Storage (RRS). RRS is a new storage option within Amazon S3 that enables customers like us to reduce our costs by storing non-critical, reproducible data at lower levels of redundancy than Amazon S3’s standard storage. So, it’s beautiful how AWS enables customers to fine-tune their experience with different levels of service based on what the customers need, and pass the cost efficiency back to customers.
We are also looking to adopt AWS Mobile Services, including Amazon Cognito and Amazon Mobile Analytics, as we increase our footprint in that area.
Since the transition, what have been the specific performance indicators?
There is business sense in using the cloud because Classle is able to offer greater efficiency to customers. Customers can buy two years of cloud services and get one year free.
Cost savings: We have made significant cost savings by using cloud services. Classle saves on 30% – 35% of its costs by using the AWS cloud. The AWS services are available for us to use 24 X 7 X 365 days and we only pay by the hours that we actually use, which allows us to focus on our core business. This model is vastly different from the old world of maintaining your own on premise infrastructure whereby you have to worry about maintaining infrastructure, putting people and resources, spending time on all the undifferentiated heavy lifting that really does not contribute to the business. With the cloud, there’s no need for capital expenditure at all. Cloud computing is fast to deploy, with minimal start-up costs and predictable ongoing operating expenses.
Flexibility and availability: We also maintain seamless business continuity with the flexibility that the cloud offers. AWS ensures that servers are up all the time with negligible downtime, if any. The cloud enables us to be able to innovate and experiment a lot more, making our services more comprehensive, and accelerating our time to market, enabling us to reach more students with more innovative and relevant services.
Data security: The added business benefit is in the holding of personal data. Since Classle deals with a lot of personal data, protecting it and maintaining privacy was a concern. By choosing the AWS Cloud services, Classle was able to make it HIPAA compliant, ensuring the highest degree of privacy.
How are you reaching out to the students? What kind of partnerships have you done?
Classle currently empowers 100+ institutions that have private Classle Cloud Campuses. With 300,000+ student members having signed up for Classle Cloud Campuses, we are poised to empower every student and learner with quality learning.
Today Classle works with over thirty educational organizations including IIT, NPTEL, IUCEE, BITES, iCreate, Isha Vidhya and many other organizations that share the common goal to improve the quality of education. We also work with many companies which are committed to bring employment relevant education for the students.
What is your source of revenue?
We have three sources of revenue. First is Talent Analytics Services, second is through the paid courses and third is via subscriptions for Private Cloud Campus for companies.
Who are your direct competitors?
We don’t really have any direct competitors. We differentiate our services by developing our platform using AWS which has allowed us to innovate new features quickly and move much faster from concept to development.
What are your expansion plans in terms of geographies and product features?
We are growing rapidly and increasing the volume of usage for AWS services. Firstly, we are working on multimedia apps and are aiming at a target of 5 million students in 18 months. We expect the ripple effect to spread to the rest of the world. Also, we are growing rapidly as a Social Learning Network where we create a ‘Closed’ learning environment for many professionals and academic organizations. All these learning environments are based on Classle Cloud Campus, which runs on AWS services and plugs into the Classle Learning Bus. So if we think about the scale needed for this rapid growth, we will require a sound foundation and architecture that can handle the traffic in a highly scalable manner. This is where the robust global AWS cloud platform comes in, given its proven track record.
In another 3-4 months, Classle will be moving into ‘lifelong learning’ backed by robust academic analytics and domain learning services to acquire a learner at any point in their life and serve their learning needs at all their learning moments. This will be driven by a combination of predictive analytics and recommendation engine. The interconnections in social networking and the analysis of how our customers interact with one another is an important development area for Classle. To do this, we will leverage the cloud and are already doing prototypes using Amazon Elastic MapReduce (Amazon EMR) to serve this purpose in supporting our long term goal.
Geographically, over next 12-18 months, we are looking to rapidly expand across Pan-India, SAARC and APAC countries. Using AWS cloud platform enables us to go regional and eventually global. Feature wise, we will be adding access capabilities which will make it ubiquitous.