Testbook: An online resource for small-town job aspirants

Testbook prepares students for various examinations; over one crore students have registered with it

March 16, 2020 02:27 am | Updated 10:00 am IST - Mumbai

Navi Mumbai, 27/02/2020: TestBook start up office at Navi Mumbai on Thursday. Photo: Yogesh Mhatre

Navi Mumbai, 27/02/2020: TestBook start up office at Navi Mumbai on Thursday. Photo: Yogesh Mhatre

There is not much craze for a government job in a city like Mumbai, but in non-metro towns and villages, it is a different story: a Central or State government job brings along with it financial and social security.

Testbook, a Mumbai-based start-up, realised this opportunity and built a platform wherein students can prepare for more than 3,000 tests by various State and Central government agencies.

The platform, which went live in 2014, has more than one crore registered students with over 60 lakh students coming on board in the past one year.

Creating awareness was one of the biggest challenges as students are usually reluctant to move from a brick-and-mortar coaching institute to a completely online platform. “Getting the first one lakh students took us 15 months,” said Ashutosh Kumar, co-founder and chief executive officer, Testbook.

The hard way up

Mr. Kumar knows what the aspirations of students in India’s towns and villages are, having gone to school in Madhubani, Bihar. His own educational journey was chequered: till Class VII, he was among the backbenchers.

Ashutosh Kumar, co-founder and chief executive officer, Testbook

Ashutosh Kumar, co-founder and chief executive officer, Testbook

What turned it around for him was the push his grandfather, a professor, gave him: not only did he arrange for home tuitions for a young Mr. Kumar, but he also dangled a carrot before him: if he would study well, he could get into the premier IIT, land himself a good job as well as get a good bride.

“The aspirations of a small-town boy are limited. All he wants is a stable job and a good girl to marry,” said Mr. Kumar. “From Class VIII, I was among the toppers of the class. I used to study so much that my parents thought I had gone mad,” said Mr. Kumar, who left for Kota in 2004 to prepare for the IIT entrance.

He cleared the entrance exam in 2005 but did not get into IIT Mumbai. Undeterred, he appeared for the exam again the next year and got into IIT Mumbai.

On his first day at IIT Mumbai, he met Narendra Agrawal, who was to become his roommate for the next three years, and later a co-founder of Testbook.

“Narendra was the technology guy while I was into teaching. I taught physics for around seven years while he used to build websites and those advertising products where one earns if a user clicks on it,” said Mr. Kumar.

By the time the two friends got into their third year at IIT, the start-up bug had bitten them. After a few failed ventures, they finally decided to do something in the education sector.

“I was already teaching but was not satisfied with the impact. At an institute, you can at best help a few hundred students, but we wanted to have a larger impact,” said Mr. Kumar. He first unveiled a platform for mentoring students but scrapped it due to limited reach.

In mid-2013, he unveiled Testbook. Itwent live in January 2014. From day one, the founders were clear that they wanted only graduates on their platform who were looking for a government job.

“If you are able to help a person get a stable job, you are helping his entire family grow. That was the impact we wanted to create. And in smaller towns and villages, all they want is a government job,” said Mr. Kumar.

Testbook has a lot of test papers on its platform for various exams like banking, insurance, Railways, staff selection, teaching, and constabulary. Apart from the test papers, it has learning modules for each of the exams.

Initially, the platform kept its content free so it could collect user data, which in turn would help with the design of course materials. “We used artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics, and almost all the available tools to know our users better. Only then could we know the strength and weakness of each of them,” said Mr. Kumar.

The venture started with test papers for exams like bank probationary officers and clerks, Life Insurance Corporation, and Institute of Banking Personal Selection.

Navi Mumbai, 27/02/2020: TestBook start up office at Navi Mumbai on Thursday. Photo: Yogesh Mhatre

Navi Mumbai, 27/02/2020: TestBook start up office at Navi Mumbai on Thursday. Photo: Yogesh Mhatre

Online challenge

The turning point for the venture came in 2016, when many government exams went online.

“We realised that the opportunity was huge, especially since most of the smaller towns did not have good teachers,” said Mr. Kumar.

But it also presented a unique challenge.

“Being a completely technology-driven platform, we couldn’t take cash payments from students. And a majority of our target users were such that they would not be comfortable using cards, especially for small transactions,” said Mr. Kumar.

The founders then hit upon then idea of giving out vouchers — like telecom companies’ pre-paid cards — and tied up with cyber cafes, bookstores and coaching institutes to reach out to their potential user base.

According to Mr. Kumar, the idea of vouchers created a huge traction as students could just go to a retail outlet and buy a voucher for as low as ₹100 and come on board Testbook. While a one-month subscription costs ₹100, the six-month and annual subscription costs have been pegged at ₹400 and ₹600, respectively.

Interestingly, more than 75% of the subscriptions on the platform are for the 12-month period that costs as low as ₹50 per month.

Free test papers

The platform has free content and test papers as well that a student can try before deciding if a subscription is worth taking.

“When you go to a mithai store, you want to taste and be assured that it’s fresh before buying, right? Similarly, we need to show our students what will they gain if they join us,” said Mr. Kumar. Around 20% content on their portal is free along with a few test papers for each exam.

More importantly, the huge back-end data analytics of the users help the start-up identify the weaknesses and strengths of each of its registered users.

“Many a time, the selection does not happen due to inefficiencies in the teaching methodology. The tutor is not able to track and guide the student properly. If you are able to solve this inefficiency with technology, improvement takes place,” said Mr. Kumar.

Simply put, based on the results of the students’ mock tests and practice sessions, Testbook is able to identify the weak points and accordingly suggests the subjects or topics in which one needs to work harder.

While the first four years of the venture focused on providing as many test papers as possible for various government exams, the coaching component was unveiled in 2018 in the form of video lectures, courses and modules that have been integrated with the test papers.

In terms of geographical reach, the venture has subscribers predominantly from the northern and eastern States like Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi. It now intends to enhance its reach in the central and southern States and has recently raised around ₹60 crore in funding.

The start-up, which claims a strike rate of nearly 35,000 selections across exams, also wants to go multilingual from the current bilingual mode as it eyes newer geographies.

Incidentally, data analytics has shown that while the all-time favourite exams continue to be the Staff Selection Commission, banking, and Railways, the past few years have seen the popularity of teaching, constabulary, and defence going up.

“Recently, there was an exam conducted by the Railways for recruitment of loco pilots (train drivers). While 1.2 lakh were selected for the final stage, around 60,000 of them had prepared on our platform,” said Mr. Kumar.

“We want it to be the number one platform that comes to mind when anyone wants a job. We want to be on the top of all Central and State government exams and after that, based on the huge data that we have, we can look at the private sector too,” he said.


Founders: Ashutosh Kumar, Narendra Agrawal, Praveen Agrawal and Manoj Munna

Funding: Series B: Iron Pillar, Matrix Partners and AngelList India Series A: Matrix Partners, Seed Round, S.Chand Group

Employees: 322+

Founded: Jan 2014

Web: https://testbook.com

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