PhysicsWallah, an ed-tech startup founded by Alakh Pandey, is the latest company to become part of India’s fast-growing stable of unicorns (a company that has a valuation of over $1 billion).
Having raised $100 million (approximately Rs 777 crore) in Series A Funding, PhysicsWallah and its CEO have had quite a journey from when the company was merely a channel on YouTube in 2014. Students are trained to appear for board examinations, Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) to get into IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) and the NEET examination as well.
With his signature style of welcoming students (Hello Bacho) on his channel, Alakh has over the years garnered the support of over 6.94 million subscribers on YouTube.
However, growing up things were different.
Born in Allahabad, Alakh faced several hardships while growing up. Their financial condition was so bad that his father was forced to sell their house when he was in Class 6. To support the family, he started conducting tuition classes for children younger than him from when he was in Class 8. This passion to teach continued all through school and college.
In an interview with NewsTalk, he said, “I started teaching because of a financial necessity but soon started enjoying it enough to make a career out of it.”
In the same interview, Alakh shared that he was able to combine his love for acting while teaching the students. Taking from real-life instances and explaining difficult concepts to the students became something he enjoyed doing. He recalled having written in one of his Class 12 notebooks that by 2016 he would become one of India’s biggest physics teachers.
He chose to drop out of college and return to Allahabad where he joined a training institute for a monthly salary of Rs 5,000. While pursuing this, Alakh also, from time to time, updated his YouTube channel. In 2017, he gave up coaching to concentrate on making content for the channel full time.
With a steady increase in his popularity, his YouTube channel went from 4,000 subscribers in 2017 to 2 million in 2019. In June 2020, when the country was going through a surge in COVID-19 cases, Alakh launched the PhysicsWallah app.
According to a news report in Forbes, the PhysicsWallah app could not handle the load as there were close to 2 lakh hits and the app crashed. In four days over 35,000 had enrolled in the course and the app was still not working. “I was shattered,” he recalled in the interview. “I thought they would feel cheated.” The tutor started refunding the money, his dream came crashing down and live classes were being replaced with recorded sessions.
Things, however, went back to normal after a few weeks as the technical glitch got fixed. Students started coming back to the app, and PhysicsWallah was back in action.
In a video posted on one of the many YouTube channels created by fans of Alakh, he comments on why he chose to reject the many offers he gets to join other edtech platforms. He said, “Through PhysicsWallah, even a rickshawala or a newspaper vendor or a washer man can dream of educating their child to become a doctor.”
According to various reports, he was offered Rs 75 crore by a competitor but he refused.
With a workforce of 19,000, which includes 500 teachers, 200 associate professors, 200 subject matter experts and around 100 techies, the company is poised to grow further.
Interview with Alakh Pandey on YouTube
Work, Force, Energy & PhysicsWallah: Meet ‘Robinhood’ Pandey, and his freshly minted edtech unicorn by Rajiv Singh; published by Forbes India
Video on YouTube
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)