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Indian e-learning startup Byju's eyes US deals after raising $540m

World's most valuable education tech unicorn has global expansion plans, CEO says

A screenshot of a Byju's video teaching geometry, part of the e-learning company's math curriculum. (Courtesy of company website).

MUMBAI -- Indian online tutorial startup Byju's, which recently received $540 million in investment from South African fund Naspers and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, has begun talks with four or five U.S. peers toward an acquisition to speed its global expansion.

The world's top education technology unicorn, valued at $3.8 billion, seeks to finalize a deal within six months, using part of the money from its recent fundraising round, founder and CEO Byju Raveendran told the Nikkei Asian Review in an interview.

Byju's wants to make an acquisition "that will eventually help us launch in a new market," Raveendran said. "We are also looking for products that will have a global offering because we don't know today which country we want to launch in."

The company also is considering tie-ups with, as well as acquisitions of, content distribution companies for its platform.

"If both can come together, nothing like it, but there are not many options where you get a good product offering and a significant amount of reach," the CEO said.

Byju's, formally known as Think & Learn, has seen rapid growth in India, where it has reached 2 million paid subscribers and over 30 million general users.

The company, which began as a provider of preparation for competitive exams such as the GMAT and GRE, also enjoys backing from investors such as Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's multibillion-dollar philanthropy venture and the World Bank Group's International Finance Corp. Together, they have invested around $800 million in several rounds of funding.

Byju's doubled its revenue over the past three years and expects to triple the amount to 15 billion rupees ($209 million) during the fiscal year that ends in March.

Byju's founder and CEO Byju Raveendran is eager for a U.S. deal that would mark the startup's fourth acquisiton since it began in 2015. (Photo by Rosemary Marandi)

By the July-September quarter, Byju's will make its app available in the U.S. and some Commonwealth countries such as the U.K., Australia and New Zealand to test its traction in these markets.

The startup will introduce its signature high-production-value videos and content -- which simplify subjects such as math and science for Indian students as young as kindergarten age -- for 5- to 8-year-olds in these countries.

Byju's has brought in teachers from across English-speaking countries to record videos in its studios in Bangalore. These teachers are chosen from popular educators on YouTube, and Byju's is hoping their fans will follow them to its learning app.

Byju's "has aggressive plans for international market expansion and will make bold investments in technology that will help to further personalize learning for students," according to the company.

A U.S. deal would mark Byju's fourth acquisition since its launch in 2015. In July, the unicorn acquired Bangalore-based education startup Math Adventures for an undisclosed amount. The team of Math Adventures now forms a part of Byju's content and research and development team.

In 2017, it acquired two companies, TutorVista and Edurite, from London-based education group Pearson, the former owner of the Financial Times. It also bought student assessment platform Vidyartha that year.

Other Indian e-learning startups are moving beyond the country's borders to boost their revenue.

Education technology startup Mindler, for instance, is already present in five countries, including Russia and Singapore. Fellow startup Aspiring Minds has entered countries such as China and the U.S., while Xseed Education is present in the Philippines, Singapore and the Middle East.

These startups believe in the fitness of their products to attract markets abroad.

According to a study by Google and accounting group KPMG, India's online education industry is expected to grow eightfold to $1.96 billion by 2021, with the number of paid users rising sixfold to 9.6 million from 1.6 million now.

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