PlayAblo: Making conventional studies interesting through games

When we think of studies, we usually go back to the school days of reading through heavy textbooks and aching at the thought of remembering the concepts. But imagine if there was a game that could help you visualize the essence of a concept and would help you remember what you read. PlayAblo does precisely that. With our conversation with the Founder, Dheeraj Sharma, we found some interesting details that we are sure will enjoy reading.

Around the time Dheeraj’s daughter had completed her Grade 1, he started noticing that young children just entering Primary School education do not particularly enjoy studying alone, unlike playing games where they not only happily go play but also get friends to join them. However, as parents, most of us see studies and play as two completely distinct activities with little if any commonality. These realizations were key in giving shape to what was soon to become PlayAblo.

So the core of the idea is to be able to combine mobile game play with the curriculum that children are taught in school. PlayAblo ensures that the children stay highly engaged as the game play experience does not stray outside of what they are learning in school as well as keep them supremely motivated to keep practicing under the interface of a typical mobile phone game. This model is not limited to young children alone. Seeing a number of young adults also getting hooked onto PlayAblo has been able to extend the scope of our product to Skill Development for young adults, starting with Spoken English Skills. It has just deployed this solution at SGBS Unnati Foundation where over 5000 youths will use PlayAblo for this purpose.

PlayAblo offers three solutions:

  1. PlayAblo at Home: The flagship product for parents and children who want to supplement the school lessons with fun filled practice games. More importantly they get real time actionable insights into the child’s strengths and relatively weaker areas. The insights are very specific that can help parents take corrective actions as they go and not having to wait for a PTM from the school (which is typically very late)
  2. PlayAblo for Schools: It also provide schools an extension of the flagship product where each student gets an individual access. Other than the benefits for the students, teachers now get lots of real-time aggregated data about their classes and school management about the school at large. All these insights are real-time and specifically actionable. This propels the school into a different zone compared to what they have been used to in the past (getting the aggregated data once a year via Asset or Olympiads)
  3. PlayAblo for Skill Development: This line of business is focussed on a very different category of users. It works with organisations focused on skill development, particularly in the space of Spoken English skill and Life skills development. The users are young adults in the age band of 18-25. PlayAblo works in the blended model where the organisation focusses on in-person classes and PlayAblo completes the loop in terms of practicing, reinforcement and assessment.

PlayAblo is a two year old organisation. The first product went live about a year back. It now has over 20,000 users across 180+ cities across India.

When we asked what makes the business unique and how you define your marketing strategies, he says,

“Two things: Strongly integrated Gamification experience with the core intent being on skill development. This was not done as an afterthought but firmly weaved in even as the product was being conceptualised and Our content: Building our content in-house as opposed to buying and fitting content from existing sources. We were also successful in avoiding the lure of crowdsourcing the content. We are in an industry where the importance of bespoke curated content is very big and tolerance for erroneous content is rather low. As a result, the quality of our content has been so good that a number of players in the ed-tech space have reached out to buy our content or help them build it for them.

As far as marketing goes we are still evolving our strategies and frankly learnings as well. Our marketing so far has focussed only on digital medium with core of the focus on Google ads, FaceBook & Twitter.”

PlayAblo is planning extensively and here are few listed ones:

  1. PlayAblo is investing a lot of resources towards upping the ante in the Skill Development area. The technology leverage in this space has been mediocre at best with most solutions/services relying on very low-tech (if any) solutions. It believes that the existing technology advances can dramatically improve the eco system. Spoken English Skill is something that has relied almost entirely on classroom only solutions. With an optimal blend of the right technology, things can accelerate. It will have something interesting coming up here in the next few months.
  2. Looking further ahead we would also like to bet big on AR (Augmented Reality) in the space of game based learning systems. It hopes to bring something on those lines to the market over the next 12 months or so.

Some of the challenges faced by the startup have been:

“Attracting the right talent to even consider joining an early stage startup. This would be the single most difficult thing. You are ideally looking for someone who enjoys the uncertainty in the work environment while working with others to move things forward. It is a very different skill from those who are better suited for scaling up operations.

  1. Moving on from the product you visualised to begin with to achieving the right product fitment for the customer base you are targeting. Unless you do this quickly you will not get paid in time and risk running out of money
  2. Working with external vendors for various pieces that you are not ready to move in-house. This is a huge resource & mind-share drain! Unless you have all kinds of team members in place you will have to reply on external vendors. Getting everyone to align and realign to ever changing priorities takes an enormous share of your energies.”

The startup has changed its course from the direction it took on initially. And that ability and willingness to change has allowed it to discover a real opportunity where customers have liked to product enough to actually pay for it, refer PlayAblo to other potential customers in the space and helped it build the product too. The enormity of the opportunity and the potential of the real difference that can be made has kept this startup going further and achieve greater heights. It does not have any clear leader in the ed-tech space in India and the opportunity is massive. Over 200M students in schools alone. Colleges and supplementary education avenues are over and above this. For all its lure India is also a very diverse consumer base that thinks very unlike the western world. If niche in this space can be carved PlayAblo would believe it has achieved real success that is worth talking about.

When Team SoS asked the Founder for a word of advice to the budding entrepreneurs, he quickly added, “If you are a funded entrepreneur then you will have no dearth of advisors. Take their advice. That should be sufficient! However, if you are bootstrapping with funds from self or family and friends then you are in a very different situation. Estimate how much time it will be until you can begin making money to fund your venture and your household expenses, say M months. Calculate your regular monthly expenses as on today, say, Rs. E/Month. Multiple M & E. Then double that. Have that much money with you in the bank before you begin your bootstrapping for your venture.

You will not have all answers at the start but do not let that hold you back. It is important to start. You will be amazed by the kind of people you will meet at the right time who will help you peel the layers of the onion. Trust me on this one – take that leap of faith once your finances are taken care of.”

— Team SoS

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