E-learning has been gaining momentum with educational institutions shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Seeing the opportunity the market has presented in an unprecedented time like now, Gaurav launched Sikable, a marketplace for educators, educational institutions and learners. But it wasn’t just the lockdown that pushed him to start Sikable, he had always wanted to bridge the digital divide that prevailed in Nepal.
Read the conversation we had him to know more about Gaurav and Sikable which is offering a complete online solution for learners and educators.
Please introduce yourself and your journey as the founder of Sikable to our readers.
I am Gaurav Singh Basnyat, born and brought up in Kathmandu. As a child I used to visit my grandfather’s orphanage,meet kids there and hear their stories which has inspired me a lot. And as I grew up, following my interest I did my undergraduate in computer networking and security and found a job in that area. But I was laid off due to the earthquake. During that course, I started volunteering in Teaching Hospital which gave me some amazing opportunities. I worked in NGOs traveling across Nepal and abroad deploying technologies and supporting other people to understand and use technology. When travelling, part of me always wanted to do something in Nepal which was both impactful and sustainable. Initially I came up with the idea of building a notes sharing platform but that did not work. I was a bit discouraged but then the country went through a lockdown and having spent all of my time home, navigating around social media I found out that multiple schools were teaching online. I have worked in the digital sector for a long time now and it didn’t take me long to see an opportunity. A new market was being created and people now in person saw that learning was possible virtually via the internet. But despite all the changes taking place there was still a gap. The courses were not easily accessible, there was no one stop solution for all the course materials. And seeing that I dived in and launched Sikable.
Apart from the rise in e-learning, what other factors inspired you to start Sikable?
Students, especially from rural areas, have to migrate to Kathmandu to attain quality education and get a job to survive in the city where prices skyrocket every month. What happens after this is that this new place becomes their home, they don’t see opportunities in the villages and permanently migrate to Kathmandu leaving behind villages. And this is why the villages remain underdeveloped. To avoid this, quality education needs to be accessible in those places and an e-learning platform is the best possible solution. This is another thing that inspired me to start Sikable.
What exactly is Sikable?
Sikable is simply a marketplace where multiple experts and educators can come in and host their course for free. Along with this, Sikable allows the collaborators (institutions and individuals) to create a calendar and a proper schedule so that students/ learners can find a suitable timing, enroll and pay via Khalti. Along with the courses, collaborators can also host events like comedy shows, talk shows, webinar via Sikable. Till date we have hosted in total 11 events. We have 25 different courses running and we have around 783 learners and 72 different collaborators signed up in Sikable.
What benefits does Sikable provide to the collaborators and students?
With Sikable, the collaborators will not have to worry about building their own e-learning system and receiving payment from students for the courses. They can simply host their courses in Sikable and we look after all the payment system, technology aspects and other administrative works. In addition to this, they will not need to spend extra bucks on running a brick and mortar institution which will surely bring down their expenses. With this they can focus on providing quality education.
For the students/ learners, Sikable offers a one stop platform for all their courses. They will not need to travel to get to their educational institution which is more risky in the present time when the world is facing a pandemic. Also the learners and collaborators don’t have to download any third party apps. Sikable autonomously works with the browser and the video conferencing is integrated within the site. So, no fancy software and applications are required to run Sikable.
Who are the people behind Sikable? Tell us about your team.
When I came up with the idea of Sikable, I started off on my own. Gradually I met some amazing people and now we have a team of 4 people running the venture. Lokesh handles IT and operations and onboards collaborators. Sakshi is an intern who handles business development and events. Then we have Nistha who looks at operations and finally I look after all the activities. These are the internal team members of Sikable.
We have outsourced our product development to a Nepali IT firm. We are also outsourcing the digital marketing aspect of our venture. We are looking to onboard more capacities to Sikable in the near future.
What motivated you to launch Sikable during the lockdown when most of the businesses were shutting down?
The biggest benefit of an IT system is that it has no physical restriction. So, the lockdown period saw a huge capacity and awareness on e-learning. I did not want to miss the opportunity the market was presenting. Hence we jumped in and launched Sikable. But along with launching Sikable we are also constantly upgrading and adding on new features to meet the customers(learners and collaborators) needs. In a way lockdown gave us a big push to launch as well as add new features to our platform to make our system more robust and holistic.
How much estimated investment will be required for Sikable?
We will need an investment of Rs.20,00,000 for developing the system, for marketing, for administrative and HR purposes.We are planning to raise the estimated investment amount by the end of December.
What is your revenue model like?
Sikable will have Three revenue generation sources. The first revenue model for the Sikable is the service charge received for events and courses. We charge 20% service charge to experts hosting paid events and coursess. The second source of revenue will be the commission fees from Sikable notes, which is yet to be launched. The Third model is already active where 2 corporate houses has signed with Sikable to conduct internal trainings and events with Sikable, where they get access to the experts.
Do you have mentors guiding you?
Yes, Sikable didn’t happen instantly. I talked to hundreds of people for hours on a daily basis before launching Sikable. I have 2 mentors, one guiding me strategically and the other guiding me in the area of implementation. They have been a great support system. Also, since Sikable is in an incubation phase and since I am new to business, I have been reaching out to multiple people.
What are your visions and goals for Sikable?
I was planning to apply for a Masters’ degree but due to time limitations it was not possible for me to attend a physical institution and Nepal does not have online learning platforms and the courses from international institutions were too expensive. So, I had to drop the idea. Hence I want to ensure that other learners and people like me can have the option of easy affordable online learning here in Nepal. That is my vision for Sikable.
Talking about the goal, I want to have at least 100 running courses by at least 50 different collaborators both institutions and individuals by the end of September. Currently we are at 20 so need all the exposure to build awareness about what Sikable is. In addition, we are also planning to introduce scholarships for the needy students. We are approaching a number of institutions for this. Also, Sikable always shall encourage the experts to provide free events and courses intending education accessible for all.
How did you onboard the first collaborators for the courses and trainers/speakers for the events?
I knew some IT institutions and I was also in talks with some people. So,I had sort of identified the market. In addition to this, my family and friends, mostly my friends, helped me in creating and developing the courses.
For our event named Startups Secret Series, I talked to some renowned entrepreneurs in Nepalese startup ecosystem.I talked to Sagar dai from Mero Kirana, Nidan dai from T&A, Satosh from Offering Happiness and Utsav dai who is working in the area of business strategy. They were really welcoming and listened to the motive of inspiring the aspiring entrepreneurs and startups. They instantly agreed to be the part of the event.
What are the major challenges?
Since we are an e-learning startup,technology is an important aspect. Sikable is built in Nepal by a Nepali firm. We built everything from scratch and it was a rigorous process. Also the developers were based on multiple locations due to the lockdown. So, building a quality technology in a short span of time was one of the very first challenges. The next challenge is always around awareness, it is difficult to disrupt the market with limited and small funds. Likewise, finding like minded people who share your vision is also a challenge. Since we are a startup, I cannot afford large number and paying high salaries to the employees, all I can promise is a career growth and a beautiful yet challenging experience. Yet, we have been lucky to find and onboard very good team. And finally, there is the challenge of digital divide as well. We are bound to rely on government and multi million dollar ISPs to expand the internet reach to multiple locations. Because of this we have been limited to big cities and a lot of people who could have benefited from the Sikable and Nepali startup ecosystem have been left behind.
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Interviewed by Thryza Dow
Transcribed and Edited by Trishna Shakya