LEAD was founded in 2012 by a team that had a deep understanding of what worked and didn’t work with affordable private school education in India. The founders understood that the problem of curriculum went beyond content development to content distribution, delivery and execution. And they have built a two-prong model that combined both directly owned schools and a partner network. Today LEAD’s business directly impacts the education of 300,000+ students in 800+ schools.
LEAD is Elevar’s first non financial services investment in Education. Their experienced leadership, obsession with grade level outcomes and excellence, and focus on scale has the potential to transform the entire education sector.
LEAD School’s mission is to empower India by making excellent education, accessible and affordable to children in underserved communities.
Based on a study in 2016, only 45% of grade eight students were able to read simple sentences in English and 43% were able to do a simple arithmetic division, a decline of more than 20 percentage points over six years.
Sumeet Mehta, Founder, has over 18 years of experience, of which over 10 years have been in the field of education. Prior to starting LEAD School, he was the CEO of Zee Learn, where he significantly expanded distribution into schools across India. He has worked in leadership roles in marketing at P&G, managing major healthcare and beauty brands across ASEAN, India and Australia. He takes a strong interest in teaching mathematics, science and conducting leadership trainings.
Smita Deorah, Founder, has over 17 years of experience, with over 6 years in education. Prior to starting LEAD School, she founded an NGO working with Early Childhood Learning Centres. Previously, she worked in leadership roles in finance at P&G, managing product supply finance and corporate finance in the Asia region. She takes a keen interest in teaching and training related to literacy and early childhood learning.
OUR APPROACH: WHY DID WE INVEST IN LEAD?
Our conversations with parents in low income communities had revealed that moving children away from government aided schools to affordable private schools was a high priority in their wallet allocation. Affordable private schools all over the country are typically set up by local entrepreneurs with limited resources and hence, beyond a point, struggle to scale.
Elevar’s early investment in Varthana (in 2013) had addressed the critical need for providing capital to schools to build infrastructure and expand capacity, and enable greater ‘access’ to education within low income communities. Elevar had looked at numerous opportunities in education before partnering with LEAD. Two aspects specifically stood out with respect to LEAD. First, a ‘comprehensive solution oriented’ approach, vis-a-vis a product led sales approach, that was steeped in the learnings of the entrepreneurs having personally run schools in remote areas for several years. Second, a concrete plan to build out distribution into these markets, and to own the distribution at meaningful scale.
LEAD’s proposition aligns well with our e.M framework, and vision for companies that create and thrive on momentum.
LAhWS Proposition: The typical owner of an Affordable Private School (APS) is sensitive to the price paid by its service providers. However, an integrated platform such as LEAD School is not just a service vendor, but a partner that plays a central role in enabling the school to deliver its core “education oriented” value proposition. So even though LEAD’s price point is quite low at the per-student level (low ARPU), the total spend on LEAD constitutes a fairly high percentage of the school’s wallet share – and a high share of mind as well. That makes the APS school a LAhWS customer.
Customer Business Value: LEAD’s systemic approach to school management including curriculum, content, administration, assessments and delivery, enablement of fee collection and parent engagement, helps drive up the Customer Business Value substantially.
The e.M Twin Flywheels: LEAD’s solution orientation improves school outcomes, which in turn increases school enrolments, pushes down prices, and builds high parent and child stickiness and loyalty, all of which helps affordable schools grow.
“When I saw the first mail from the guys at LEAD, I said we might go into deal mode with this. We normally develop that kind of confidence only after one round of meeting with the pipeline companies. And remember that we are also very selective – we only evaluate one or two deals in parallel at a point in time. We had spent a long time in education till then, and this seemed to be the right kind of entrepreneur and experience. The mail itself displayed a certain decisiveness in its tonality, along with execution capacity.”
“It is a close relationship. We have seen them build out a high performance driven culture focused on integrity and educational excellence from close quarters and often been part of team meetings and town halls with their teams.”
“Their revisions of business plans have been upwards, always, and that is an interesting fact pattern.
As an example, their original ambition is now revised to impacting 8 million students by 2025. They are also very nimble at responding to challenges. Their business model gave them the unique situation of being able to plan by academic year. This means that if you miss a year’s target it is difficult to recover halfway through the year. But it also means you learn to plan for the whole year in advance.
They got really good at it fairly quickly. They set up a SWOT team to plan for the next year while not disturbing the current year’s education.”
“We started LEAD because we both are people who tend to solve a problem when it bothers us. Sumeet is from a small town, his parents were teachers. He realized that the opportunity available to kids from small towns is not the same as kids from large towns – he was one of the few privileged who got a good start.
As for me, when we came back to India, I saw slums in my vicinity and wondered what was happening to the kids there. And when I visited them, I was deeply disturbed. We decided our lives can’t be about just us and our kids. That’s what got us both into education.
We started with a school in a village in Gujarat, in 2013, with less than 15 kids. It was fun. Some of them continue to be with us, they are like our babies. They come from very humble farmer families, and when they talk with us fluently in English and with high confidence, it all feels worth it. Even today when we see videos and messages from kids learning with LEAD, it gets us more and more committed to our course.”
— Smita Deorah Co-founder and Chief Learning Officer, LEAD