Sudheer CS

Interview: CS Sudheer, founder and CEO, ffreedom.com

June 27, 2022

Bangalore-based edtech company ffreedom.com which claims to be the country’s largest adult education and livelihood education promoter with 7.6 million people actively using its mobile-based education app is ready to foray into the South East Asian market. The company will launch its livelihood education app in Bangladesh this October hoping to attract five million new users within the first 12 months of launch. The mobile education app offers 800 plus courses on farming, small businesses and personal finance with an objective to empower learners with the right skills. Speaking to EducationWorld’s Dipta Joshi, ffreedom app’s founder and CEO, CS Sudheer spells out why his company is an edtech company with a difference and why he expects the number of ffreedom app users to continue growing.

Q) How is the ffreedom app different from the scores of skill-based learning apps or learning platforms?

A) Unlike other educational platforms that cover all courses including tech-based courses like block chain, artificial intelligence etc., the ffreedom app focuses on skilling in just three segments-small business, personal finance and farming. We have 800 courses that promote scope for independent localised livelihoods for both men and women in these segments. The courses include learning about ‘cloud kitchens, terracotta jewellery making, baking, makeup tutorials, real estate, niche farming and even animal rearing courses like honey bee breeding, etc.

Our basic credo while introducing a course is to see if the course is a skill-based course anyone can learn (rather than being a talent-based course where the person’s talent is important) and if the course can be replicated by at least a million people. We also stand apart from our competitors because our courses are short courses of maximum 20-25 hours of learning and we have a community marketplace where our members can sell the products that they have learned about. This is the driving force behind the app’s current 7.6 million users.    

Our easy to understand video courses are currently available in six languages – English, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi. However, we are looking to expand our reach by introducing courses in more languages and newer geographies.

Q) Why are you foraying into Bangladesh right now?

A) We are growing aggressively in the Indian market and we have not even scratched the surface yet in India. However, our expansion into Bangladesh will actually serve a dual purpose – create a presence in a new market as well as increase our footprint within the country since our content catering to the Bangladesh market will be in Bengali language and can serve our users from West Bengal too. The language advantage apart, since we are catering to entrepreneurial aspirants who can gain access to knowledge and opportunities through the ffreedom app, Bangladesh is a good market to foray into.

Currently, Bangladesh enjoys a much higher per capita income than India and the number of women participating in the workforce is also high. In comparison, only 67 percent of men and only nine percent of the women in India who are eligible to work are working, says a recent report by the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). Thus we are targeting the 20 crore women, 6.3 crore small businesses and the 15 crore farmers in India to promote higher participation in the Indian workforce.

Q) Why did ffreedom.com transform from being a financial advisory company to a skill-based livelihood education company?

A) ffreedom.com (estb. 2008) which I founded at the age of 22 provided on-call financial advice to people interested in purchasing financial products. We serviced over 9 million customers and had a 600 strong employee base but as internet penetration improved, we moved on to creating finance related YouTube training content and added in-person ‘Financial Freedom Workshops’ too. However, my takeaway from these sessions was that people were keen to know how to earn money rather than learn how to save or spend money. This nudged me into upgrading the company into a livelihood education company. The huge growth in mobile usage in the country in 2016-17 fuelled the idea to launch a mobile application making learning convenient.

Q) Who are your competitors and how competitive are you in terms of course fees?

A) In the women’s segment, our competitor is Hunar courses that offer courses similar to what we are offering – fashion designing, jewellery making, bag making etc. In the farming segment our competitor is Rocket Skills who like us offer short online agricultural training and management courses. However, neither of these platforms have price points comparable to us. Priced at Rs 10,000, our yearly subscription of which allows full access to all our courses is an attractive proposition. Our low pricing strategy offers value for money and is our unique selling proposition (USP).

Q) Post pandemic several edtech players’ performance has taken a hit as there is higher preference for physical learning rather than online learning. Your comment.

A) The core reason for the downturn of most of the edtech companies is that they tried to compete with the education system instead of complimenting the education system. Moreover, the whole idea of leveraging the power of technology to make education affordable is defeated by the high pricing policies of most edtechs. Surprisingly, some of the edtechs that raised billions of dollars earlier, have now realised that their “product market fit (the degree to which the product satisfies a strong market demand) is not viable for scale”. These are the edtechs that have had performance issues.

Q) Post pandemic, there is growing preference for in-person learning rather than online learning. How will this trend impact your future plans?

A) We won’t be affected by this trend as we serve a very different segment and our core motto is to make high quality livelihood education affordable to everyone. We have been adding 40-45 new courses currently and we hope to continue doing that. We have already raised Rs 58 Cr in venture funding from an US based VC fund and some Indian angel investors. We are currently profitable and have enough money to fund our capex (capital expenditure) for the next 12 months. We will also be raising around USD 30 million towards the end of this calendar year. 

Also read: Top 5 online courses to invest in while at home

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