Shreyas Kulkarni

“We have pumped in Rs 100 crore in the campaign”: Mark Moran, Simplilearn

From skills versus placements to the industry’s ongoing consolidation and more, here is a chat with the company’s chief marketer.

Indians, for the best part of the last two decades, thought highly of a Master's in Business Administration (MBA) degree. They thought the business degree would help them get their dream job, with salaries that would make the “non-MBA” folks green with envy.

Over the last 18 months or so, the edtech industry seems to be on top of mind for office-goers and college students. Online certificate courses and, more recently, full-time courses have become important for career advancement in this digital economy.

In an April 2021 report, RBSA Advisors said that the edtech industry is poised to grow to $30 billion over the next decade.

The promise of being relevant in a rapidly evolving tech world and good money are two of the biggest drivers for enrollment at these edtech platforms.

Simplilearn, a Bengaluru-based online learning platform, is focusing on the post-course completion rewards in its new campaign made by Bluebot Digital. Just think about landing your dream job or bagging an unbelievable pay raise; the same reward that lured parents and students to B-schools.

Ever since the COVID pandemic struck early last year, online education has taken centre stage. But what happens when every second job applicant has an online degree?

It all comes down to your choice of degree and where you are getting it from, feels Mark Moran, Simplilearn’s chief marketer. “I would recommend you consider us, or someone like us. You will get the most immersive hands-on skilling platform that ensures you come out with demonstrable skills and certifications that matter…”

Mark Moran
Mark Moran

While demonstrable skills are important, one has to face the reality that most Indian learners choose a skilling platform, keeping its potential placement ability in mind.

Speaking about placements, Moran says it is an important area and the company is focusing on it.

“We've focused on learners who are 5-15 years into their careers. They want to be a programmer or marketer or project manager, and now want to accelerate their careers.” Moran adds that Simplilearn is now looking to help freshers.

A month ago, there was a LinkedIn survey among Gen Z (18-25 year olds). It revealed that the generational cohort is concentrating on soft skills as much as, or even more than, hard skills. For a tech-based upskilling platform like Simplilearn, it’s a call to add soft skill courses in its repertoire sooner, or risk losing this growing consumer base.

Says Moran, “We’re a mid-sized, 10-year-old company (started in 2010) that needs to pace itself. We do have soft skills out there on the horizon but, right now, we're aggressively pushing out the many university partnerships we have for certification and post-graduate programs, and then our actual degrees.”

And while the company pushes its wares, so does its rivals and, let’s face it, the entire edtech industry in India has the cash to burn on advertising and marketing. So, what’s the differentiating USP?

Moran asserts that Simplilearn is “conservative with spending and limited in advertising.” But it has the most immersive product and high engagement pedagogy.

“Our competitors may have live interaction once a week, whereas the vast majority of the learning on our platform is live and hands-on… if we do a decent job communicating it, we will be in good shape.”

Did Simplilearn, like most edtech firms, face falling completion rates due to the pandemic? People sitting at home would sign up for courses with gusto, but would then switch to Netflix or log off after the first session or two.

As per Moran, there's a lot of online snacking and that some platforms (video streamers) are good for snacking... “We don't do snackable learning, but we do directed learning that will get you into the job role and move your career forward. We have seen high completion rates.”

Our discussion soon moved to the most happening aspect of the industry lately - Byju’s acquiring everything left, right and centre (Aakash Tutorials, Gradeup, Great Learning), just like Disney, when it swallowed Marvel, Fox Studios, National Geographic. How has it impacted Simplilearn?

“There's a force in the market that acquired one of our direct competitors (Great Learning), but it doesn't change our market strategy,” says Moran.

There’s a new startup every day and, as per Moran, “Most will fail, a couple will do something interesting and, maybe, it will be bought by one of us or emerge as the next big thing five years from now.”

“We very much intend to be one of the top three skilling providers in India, the US and elsewhere, and that is our focus.”

When asked about the possibility of more campaigns this year, Moran reveals that the company has “pumped in Rs 100 crore in the present campaign” and there's going to be more.

“We are one of the few players in our space that has broken even for years, while growing at 50 per cent or more… We are going to remain focused, while still hitting the accelerator on our growth,” he signs off.