Announcing our investment in Stoa

Nov 11

We're excited to announce the first company that we backed via our Keeping Up With India syndicate. This is also a special deal for us because I've known one of the founders (Raj) for several years and our conversations back in 2019/2020 inspired the newsletter's first post on Upskilling not ISAs. (Another fun fact: Raj was one of the first 30 subscribers of the original paid WhatsApp newsletter). The company is none other than Stoa School, and we're open sourcing a redacted version of the memo we sent to our LPs for the syndicate for today's newsletter. Natasha from TechCrunch also covered the company’s fundraise.

Stoa is building an internet-native university for the developing world, starting with India. The internet has flipped the paradigm on education and learning by democratizing access and reducing the overhead costs to deliver education.

Stoa's first program, the 24-week MBA Bootcamp, helps ambitious talent in the country break into generalist roles at fast-growing companies. And unlike most universities and education institutions, especially in India, where students learn passively, Stoa has an engaged student body and vibrant community of educators and guest lecturers. Moreover, its curriculum is focused on a very specific objective - upskilling its students in practical business fundamentals that help them achieve their career goals.

The company is raising a $1.5M round led by Rainmatter - an investment fund and incubator started by Zerodha. FirstCheque and Better Capital are also participating, alongside leading operators from the US & India.

Aditya (CEO), Raj, Sharmad and Manoj are the four co-founders of the company and lead complimentary verticals at the company. We have known Raj and Sharmad from their time at Nova Semita when they were thinking through their coding bootcamp and ISA program and my reservations around the ISA model in India. Aditya and Manoj also bring their experiences working on products and companies in the education and upskilling sectors. We're psyched to back this team because we know they are focused on the outcomes from the education and not the education alone.

I wrote the following in the newsletter about Upskilling and ISAs in India:

With rising unemployment rates and colleges education not being enough for getting jobs, students need alternative sources to upskill themselves. Students should have the opportunity to work in industries and roles they would like to rather than just accepting the first offer they get. So companies that help college graduates/current college students learn these skills is where I think the bigger opportunity lies.

The Indian college education system, both at the undergraduate and the MBA level, does not prepare people for jobs at the modern-day internet company. The curriculums were developed decades ago, the students are so burnt out getting into these institutions that they aren't as excited or engaged after getting in. There's an infamous anecdote how most engineering graduates in the country aren't fit to be hired. Large IT services companies, which are still the largest engineering employers in the country, focus on very specific, long-duration training programs that are limited in their curriculum.

Old education institutions are largely surviving on their brand name, rather than the actual quality of education they deliver. This is where Stoa comes in. Its focus is on providing practical training to its students. MBA programs in India are still very popular in India and have become a de-facto degree that is needed to enter a generalist role. But like almost all courses, the curriculum at most MBA institutions is stilted - many still have a focus on just Finance, Marketing and HR. That is not reflective of the complex nature of roles generalist at most organizations in the real world will be undertaking.

In addition to a more practical approach to course work, Stoa also benefits from its operating model. Being a completely digital program, the company doesn't have a campus or full-time faculty so they can operate their programs with a much lower overhead and administrative costs. And being a newer institution, Stoa cannot be complacent in letting the quality of its courses drop since students come to Stoa for the sole purpose for learning and better opportunities. For students, there is real value add in Stoa’s offering. A more applicable learning experience, that compares extremely favorably on cost to most MBA or other professional postgraduate programs.

Their initial program is currently on its third cohort and is starting its fourth cohort soon. As the company scales, it will

  • Expand to additional geographies

  • Build programs for specific company functions

  • Cater to students across experience ranges

The company is in its third quarter of operations. It currently launches a new cohort every quarter but plans to scale that up as it raises its next round and ramps up. The company is growing Y% quarter over quarter, and both the number of fellows per quarter & the average cost per fellow have been growing. The company is also already cash flow positive and is already experiencing some network effects that help grow its programs.

With each cohort, alumni talk about the Stoa and its programs online or with their peers that leads to more potential fellows going through the program and bringing forth even more fellows. As long as Stoa keeps the quality of its education high, and is able to continually successfully help its fellows get jobs and roles they look for, the network will keep powering future growth.

The company already more demand than it can accommodate and needs capital to grow its student intake. It wants to offer programs to accommodate more fellows and needs resources to support scaling the operational work that comes along with such growth.

Several founders who are a part of the Keeping Up With India community have raved about the team members they’ve hired from Stoa, so if you’re a founder who’s looking to hire across marketing, product and operations roles, hit me up for an introduction to the founders.

And if you’re looking to upskill yourself or break into startups, apply for the Stoa’s latest cohort (applications close on Nov 20)

Apply here