When it comes to making career choices, Indian parents have traditionally leaned towards fields like engineering, medicine, or accounting. Consequently, there’s no dearth of edtech startups and prep schools that help Indian students prepare for such a journey.
But what if your interest lies in pursuing creative professions in the field of music, cooking, or filmmaking? What if you decide to change course midway and start something on you own — that is, become an entrepreneur?
That’s where Bengaluru-based Mento comes in.
Founded by Varun Agarwal in April 2018, Mento is an edtech platform offering creative courses in entrepreneurship, filmmaking, music, design, public speaking, and more.
What makes Mento stand out, however, is the fact that all its learning courses are conducted by the leading experts in their respective fields.
From entrepreneur Ritesh Agarwal of OYO Rooms to film-maker Nitesh Tiwari to celebrated chef Pooja Dhingra, startup Mento brings together the best in the business to help students learn alternative career skills.
In fact, name an ‘alternative’ skill and chances are Mento already has an expert in that skill teaching that course. The startup also offers certifications for all its courses. These certificates are personally signed by the industry experts and celebrities, who teach the particular course.
The aha! moment
Growing up, Varun wanted to pursue an alternative career. He was interested in filmmaking, writing, and entrepreneurship. “Neither was there much information available nor many colleges that would teach these courses. That’s the problem we want to solve, and that is the reason we built Mento,” he tells YourStory.
A BTech graduate, Varun has also authored a fictional book on entrepreneurship titled How I Braved Anu Aunty & Co-founded a Million Dollar Company.
Mento is Varun’s second venture. His first startup, Alma Mater Store, a customised merchandise brand catering to clients including Google, Amazon, IIMs, IITs, and Yahoo, was founded in 2009, along with Rohan Malhotra. Varun is also a public speaker and has delivered lectures across 400 schools and colleges in India, and at corporations across the globe. He also runs a YouTube channel where he posts his films.
Mento was initially launched in April 2018 as Grades Don’t Matter. He says, “I felt the market was not ready back then,” Varun says. Thus, after testing the product-market fit, he relaunched it in February this year.
Identifying the challenges of the current generation with limited attention span, Varun built Mento as a video-first platform. The founder says he worked with an attention-deficit disorder specialist for three months before deciding on the teaching format.
The startup’s videos are much like watching a movie. “The idea is to make users binge-watch educational content like a television show on Netflix,” Varun says.
Backing the format, Varun says that Mento’s courses have a 80 percent completion rate, compared to only 20 percent completion rate of other edtech startups.
“We want to remove the stigma of creative courses and want parents to think of these fields as actual career options and not just hobbies. Over the last two years, India has seen a boom in the number of youngsters pursuing creative careers, so we feel the time is right to launch,” he adds.
The bootstrapped company has a 12-member team spread across the country and working remotely.
Learn from the best
Mento’s courses are taught by experts from various industries. According to the startup, these celebrities or experts work with Mento on a revenue-sharing model, and more importantly, because they want to do their part and give back to the society.
The platform has on-boarded biggies like illustrator Alicia Souza, director Biswapati Sarkar, author Amish Tripathi, actor Kubbra Sait, producer Siddharth Roy Kapur, and artist manager Gaurav Vaz, among others. Varun himself teaches a course on personal finance.
Users can access these courses from Mento’s webpage or mobile application. They can either learn one course or opt for an annual subscription, which provides access to all the courses on the platform. After enrolment, users can watch the video content, and are also provided with a workbook for reference.
Varun says the duration of most of these courses is less than two hours. Once the course has been completed, users will receive a certificate.
The startup charges Rs 499 for individual courses. However, if users want an annual subscription and want to access all the courses, they pay Rs 699.
While Varun claims Mento has no direct competitor in India, the startup competes with the likes of San-Francisco based MasterClass.
“While on MasterClass, Martin Scorcese talks about how he makes his movies, on Mento, director Nitesh Tiwari teaches filmmaking as a course and not necessarily talks about how he makes movies,” Varun explains.
He says India, as a market, is not ready for a product like MasterClass. “We need to bring more awareness about these careers because majority of Indians are still in the discovery phase,” he adds.
Other learning platforms that Mento is competing with include Skillshare, Udemy, Lynda.com, moodle, Khan Academy, Coursera, and LinkedIn Learning.
The numbers game
Mento’s target audience differs for various courses. The course on entrepreneurship targets people between the ages of 18 and 24 years. For personal finance, the audience is between ages 24 and 40.
When Grades Don’t Matter was launched, it had recorded 15,000 registered users. With Mento, Varun says, “We were able to acquire 50,000 registered users without spending on marketing.”
The startup claims to have on-boarded all its initial customers organically. It promotes itself through Instagram and Facebook. However, going ahead, Varun says they might spend on digital marketing to create a larger impact.
According to Varun, Mento’s user base is growing 100 percent month on month, but is still in its nascent stage. “Right now, we are focused on reaching many more learners and then looking at a bigger revenue model,” he adds.
Mento is currently in talks with a couple of investors, and plans to raise its first round of funding soon. The company plans to grow in three phases. First, focus on creating 101 courses that would be taught by 300 different experts, then move on to build 50 more courses, and finally, start year-long advanced certification courses.
Varun says COVID-19 had an adverse impact on Mento as the platform was unable to publish new videos, but the pandemic also had a silver lining.
“It has been a blessing in disguise with more people willing to learn and understand new skills, which has resulted in an increased rate of growth of our platform,” Varun says.