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Friends May Dodge Your Calls & Messages But Teachers On This App Never Will At a time when the quickest delivery period for groceries in India is 10 minutes, Gurugram-based edtech Filo promises to connect a student with a tutor in less than 60 seconds!

By Soumya Duggal

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Filo Founders: Rohit Kumar (Top), Imbesat Ahmad (middle), Shadman Anwer (sitting)

As grownups, we look back at many childhood memories with fond nostalgia: enjoying ice lollies during summer holidays, attending sleepovers and birthday parties, sharing lunch with friends at school, etc. Frustration-filled late-night self-study sessions, though, are not part of those memories. Try as we might to erase it from our mind, we all remember feeling a certain alienation as we sat wrestling with our text books to resolve doubts and confusions by ourselves while our families, neighbours and the rest of the world seemed to be soundly asleep.

Gurugram-based edtech Filo is seeking to remedy this situation by ensuring that students today are not left alone to grapple with individual difficulties and questions while studying on their own, especially at odd hours of the day when school and tuition teachers and parents may be unavailable to provide assistance.

The app was founded by Imbesat Ahmad—an alumnus of Super 30 and IIT Kharagpur—who previously also established the RiSE Institute in Kashmir, enabling its students to enrol at top global universities, including the IITs, Princeton, NYU, UPenn, etc.

At a time when the quickest delivery period for groceries in India is 10 minutes, Ahmad's latest venture, Filo, promises to connect a student with a tutor in less than 60 seconds! What led him to conceive the idea for it, you ask? "The traditional linear structure of education in the one-to-many format unfortunately is designed to serve only the top 3-5 per cent of the class," says Ahmad, adding, "It assumes every student is operating in an ideal learning state which is not the case at all. Students deal with multiple problems daily: proficiency, socio-economic background, lack of resources, weak foundation, ill health, inability to comprehend teachers' language, confidence issues—the list is endless."

According to him, the feeling of being trapped while being put up for evaluation periodically through exams with infinite self-doubt and no one to help is the biggest challenge faced by Indian students today. "Our core offering is tailor-made one-on-one tutoring from the best teachers that are best suited to the needs of an individual student," says Ahmad.

The bulk of Filo's students are presently enrolled between VIII and XII standards. The majority is preparing for competitive exams such as JEE, NEET, SAT, ACT, IELTS, CUET, and CAT. Recruiting tutors for these advanced and specific learning needs relies on the fulfilment of some 37 parameters that make up three broad categories: competence, presentation skills, and linguistic prowess. An aspiring tutor simply needs to download the Filo app and undergo the screening tests before being selected and verified to start teaching on the app. There are regular quality check exercises on the sessions delivered, based on the results of which tutors are trained to improve their pedagogy. "The most important skill required for a tutor is the drive to help a child, we bring everything else!" says Ahmad.

When he first started Filo in 2020, digital learning had already taken centre stage in the country in imparting school education because of the sudden outbreak of the COVID-19. During the period, students, parents and teachers accepted virtual learning as the go-to method of knowledge acquisition, resulting in many an edtech startup springing up.

Looking back at the time, Ahmad recounts, "The first challenge was to build a highly credible model of learning in the already cluttered edtech space with high marketing expenses. And we have been able to build that successfully over the last 18 months. In the midst of a glaring pandemic, we're witnessing 30 per cent growth every week in new users on the platform. There is a 25 per cent uptick in the queries students are asking on the app."

Another challenge the company faced was the constant comparison with similar doubt-solving apps. "Filo plays a vital role by offering instant live solutions to students' problems, not just restricted to a few subjects or exams but rather taking the whole learning journey of students to a different level where students can connect to a subject expert as and when they want to access query resolution, concept clarification, and career counselling," claims Ahmad, outlining the USP of his company that sets it apart from rival players.

Of late, however, the steam built by the pandemic-induced boom in the edtech space over the last two years has started to somewhat dissipate, as evidenced by the dip in funding and the spike in layoffs, among other concerning trends. "While I agree that currently it is indeed a hard time for many EdTech companies, Filo nevertheless continues to be resilient in the circumstances and registering growth by the day," insists Ahmad, adding that even at present the company is hiring more people. "No matter how the industry evolves— online, offline or hybrid—we will be an integral part of a student's learning experience." And what, pray, is the reason for that? 24x7 accessibility, exclusive access to live 1-1 sessions, and personalized video learning sessions made available within seconds at the click of a button, enlists Ahmad. "Every other edtech is push-based. Filo is the only pull-based platform," he claims.

He seeks to render his argument stronger by highlighting that the company recently raised $23 million in a Series A round—the largest ever in the Indian edtech space. Targeting expansion both nationally and internationally, Filo aims to be fully operational in the MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) region in the immediate future.

Try to seek out advice from Ahmad for aspiring educators looking to break into the sector and you will be offered a rather nuanced response: "It's a space where one needs to have had some prior intelligence of the intricacies so that the lacunae and the opportunities are known to you. For a business to thrive in this sector, it should serve millions of people. In terms of scalability, the core business idea should be customisable for different markets. It's all about the depth, even inside a particular market."

But, most importantly, Ahmad states from his personal experience, one needs to feel strongly about education and the problem they intend to solve.

Soumya Duggal

Former Feature Writer

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