Founder of uLesson, Sim Shagaya explains why the company launched physical centers in 2021 and its quick decision to close them.
Launched in 2019, uLesson focuses on the K-12 learning category and was initially available via an Android app and USB dongle. Students could plug the dongles into devices and access educational content without any internet connection. It seemed like the perfect online and offline strategy in a low-income market where affordable and reliable broadband connectivity remains a challenge. She then went further by creating physical learning centers in July 2021; he closed these centers in December of the same year.
Two years after that short-lived experiment, Sim Shagaya, founder and CEO of uLesson, told TechCabal that the physical centers were created to reduce the upfront cost of a parent acquiring or using its service. “So we would rent the space, provide the tablets, and then the students could come and learn. » It has rented space in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Asaba, using part of its Abuja office as another learning hub.
The Learning Centers were meant to be an improvement over the uLesson dongles sold at launch. User complaints suggested that the chips in these dongles were vulnerable to viruses transmitted by smartphones and laptops used by students, the source said. This technical challenge meant that a lot of support time was spent resolving customer issues. Eventually, dongles were phased out. Enter physical centers.
Physical centers and operating costs
Most Nigerians who attend university are aware of tutoring centers that help students pass entrance exams such as the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). uLesson’s physical centers were partly based on these established models.
A crucial difference was that uLesson’s physical centers were less focused on interacting with subject teachers and more focused on interacting with tabs. For a time, the centers were wildly successful. “During holiday periods, the centers were full (as) people were coming to drop off their children,” Shagaya told TechCabal in a virtual call. “The numbers would make sense.”
As the experiment continued, the company realized its “revenue couldn’t support the cost,” Shagaya said. “Holidays during a university term last about two weeks, and in a year we will have about five to six weeks. In a year, we would have about two to three months of full capacity. (But) the fixed cost of rent, electricity, all for one student. The revenue could not bear the cost,” Shagaya explained.
Besides life after the holidays, uLesson probably underestimated a cultural challenge: parents did not accept the idea of a learning space where young students end up with tabs and the Internet. Usually, it can take a long time for companies to cut their losses from experiences like this, but meeting customers in person helped the company make a quick decision.
The company’s offline strategy now consists of a learning bundle that includes a uLesson tab with a subscription that means students don’t have to worry about additional internet costs. It also introduced a buy now, pay later option for students, allowing them to pay the bill monthly. According to ShagayauLesson Group is now cash flow positive, perhaps suggesting that its new strategy was a step in the right direction.
Ultimately, Shagaya’s belief that a physical component is essential to an exciting academic experience has not changed. Only the delivery form of experience exists.
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