Ostad on a mission to help you develop skills through live learning

Five co-founders of Ostad, which provides online skill development courses through live learning. (Front) Abdullah Al Musabbir and Shourov Barua; (back) Shariful Mubin, Fahim Siddique and Mridul Khandaker.
Courtesy of Ostad

There are lots of online learning platforms, in particular, skill development platforms, available in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world. People purchase online courses frequently to hone their skills, but, as various data show, one in 10 people purchasing an online course on skill development finishes it.

A handful of people notice this gap between online course purchase and completion, let alone work on how to fill this gap. But, five newly-graduates from Khulna University of Engineering & Technology (KUET) are among them who noticed there is a severe problem in the way people develop skills in Bangladesh.

They all stayed together in Room 312 of Khan Jahan Ali Hall at KUET before they started working on how to fill this gap and the idea of Ostad, a skill development platform, was born.

Since the Internet has become available all over the country and people jump into online courses, 90 per cent of learners fail to complete them as they need human interaction and proper guidance while offline courses are hectic, costly and mostly Dhaka-centric.

"We conducted a survey on university students at the beginning of 2020. We asked students why they don't complete online skill development courses once they purchase them. Our study identified two findings. One is students purchasing online courses become lazy as nobody is pushing them to complete it and another is students want live interaction with the course instructors," Abdullah Al Musabbir, chief executive officer of Ostad, said during an interview with Prothom Alo.

Intending to solve this problem, these five KUET graduates - Abdullah Musabbir, Fahim Siddique, Mridul Khandaker, Shariful Mubin and Shourov Barua, founded Ostad in October 2020.

Ostad provides recent graduates and young professionals with skill development courses from the best industry experts through live learning and a task-based curriculum.

Employees work at Ostad office in Dhaka.
Courtesy of Ostad

"The journey of Ostad began as a live-streaming education platform. Whatever we teach, we teach it through live interaction between learners and instructors. Anyone can develop their skill from anywhere and can interact live with the industry experts with a saving of 40 per cent cost and weekly 10 hours," Abdullah Al Musabbir said.

"We aim to reduce dropout in the online education sector. So, we bring students under our 'live mechanism'; we develop our course curriculum in consultation with our instructors. It usually takes three to four months to develop a curriculum before launching a course."

Ostad started with 30-35 students and four courses and the number of students has increased to 400-450 students per month now and the courses to 28. Students from Cox's Bazar, Chittagong Hill Tracts and St Martin's Island also enrolled on Ostad's course.

When asked what inspired them to use the word 'Ostad' for their brand, the CEO said when they started working on choosing a name following the findings of their study, the things that first came to their mind is what someone usually looks for when he/she wants to learn something - a teacher.

"We wanted a name that people are familiar with, then came the word 'Ostad' that means teacher. And we say "Learn from Ostad and become an Ostad."

Challenges throughout the journey

Since all five co-founders are from an engineering background, they didn't face many challenges before the launch. They even managed the instructors without much hassle. What they faced was the marketing challenge, which was to take their service to people.

Logo of Ostad

In Bangladesh, people are familiar with online courses that are pre-recorded, and run on fixed schedules; people get enrolled and then ask for a video of the classes. So, they popularise the term 'live course' and 'live batch' in the academic market in Bangladesh.

A fund was necessary to face the marketing challenges. "So, we started raising funds and we first raised USD 25,000 angel investment from Moahamamd Maaz, managing director of Steel Tech," Abdullah Al Musabbir said adding, the education market is a bit different than other markets and it took four-five months to get people habituated with their services and they started getting the return.

On top of that, access to a device becomes a bigger challenge, to be specific access to a laptop or desktop because a student cannot fully develop his/her skills learning through a smartphone. But, the biggest challenge, for now, is to keep the pace with present growth rate.

"At present, we can accommodate 500 students at a live class, but we must scale up our live learning mechanism by enhancing our technological infrastructure and our tech team is working on it. We set a target to accommodate 1,000 students at a live class simultaneously in 2023."

Meanwhile, Ostad raised funds several times. An Anonymous angel investor invested USD 12,000 in December 2021 amid the crisis inflicted by the Coronavirus pandemic. They also raised USD 90,000 from SBK Tech Ventures of Sonia Bashir Kabir, Miyako Capital and SOSV in February 2022. SOSV invested another USD 150,000 in December 2022. Besides, they earn revenue from their paid subscriber as it costs Tk 6,000 on average per course.

Ostad talent pool

More than 6,000 students completed online courses and 3,500 of them secured jobs at various companies. Ostad has a job placement team and they work to make their graduates ready for jobs. They help graduates with CV making, mock interviews and other job-related issues, as currently, Ostad provides talent to about 60 companies.

Future plan

Abdullah Al Musabbir said they expect to reach breakeven in April with the present growth rate, but they plan to go ahead with the startup model and grow aggressively and raise funds.

Five co-founders with Ostad team.
Courtesy of Ostad

"We plan to expand across Bangladesh in the next two years before going global. To go global, we have an advantage and that is we will not require recorded content since we develop a curriculum. A student from Bangladesh or a country in Africa can follow the same curriculum on any subject like data science. All we need to find a teacher who can teach students in Africa. We are already receiving a few students from Kolkata and we are planning to launch in India soon."

Replying to a query on expectations from policymakers, the CEO said they expect the authorities concerned would work to reduce the price of computers, mostly laptops and desktops. "A person can buy a mobile at Tk 15,000. Had the price of laptops and desktops become more affordable, people could have purchased a laptop or destop by adding a little more amount with it. People would no longer need to come to Dhaka to receive training and they could attend all skill development training online from anywhere."

"It was a roller coaster ride since startup founders don't often have work-life balance. Startup has a growth mindset, but it comes with a huge burden in addition to pressure for fundraising. Startup founders maintain a growth mentality that leads to a funding crisis and that is the biggest crisis," Abdullah Al Musabbir concluded.