India’s Byju’s acquires WhiteHat Jr. for $300 million

Byju’s has acquired edtech startup WhiteHat Jr. for $300 million as the Indian online learning giant looks to expand its dominant reach in the country.

The all-cash deal makes 18-month-old Mumbai-headquartered WhiteHat Jr., which offers online coding classes to school-going students in India and the U.S., the fastest exit story at this size in the Indian startup ecosystem.

WhiteHat Jr., which had raised about $11 million from Omidyar Network, Owl Ventures and Nexus Venture Partners, claims it has achieved an annual revenue run rate of $150 million. It will continue to operate as a separate entity for now, a Byju’s spokesperson told TechCrunch.

“We started WhiteHat Jr. to make kids creators instead of consumers of technology,” said Karan Bajaj, founder of WhiteHat Jr., in a statement. “Technology is at the centre of every human interaction today and we had set out to create a coding curriculum that was being delivered live and connected students and teachers like never before.”

Byju Raveendran, the founder and chief executive of the eponymous startup, said Byju’s will make “significant investments” in WhiteHat Jr. and hire more teachers to expand it to new markets. WhiteHat Jr. recently announced plans to expand to Canada, U.K., Australia and New Zealand.

Unlike most edtech startups, WhiteHat Jr. assigns one teacher to each student. These classes are live and each session costs about $10, Bajaj told TechCrunch in an interview last month. More than 5,000 teachers currently work with WhiteHat Jr., said Bajaj.

“WhiteHat Jr is the leader in the live online coding space. Karan has proven his mettle as an exceptional founder and the credit goes to him and his team for creating coding programs that are loved by kids. Under his leadership the company has achieved phenomenal growth in India and the US in a short span of time,” said Raveendran in a statement.

Byju’s, which was backed by Mary Meeker’s Bond last month, is currently valued at $10.5 billion.

The announcement today illustrates the growing phase of education startups in India as they report skyrocketing growth at the height of a global pandemic. “Delightful to see such an exit in the Indian startup ecosystem. Happy to see WhiteHat Jr. find home at the world’s most-valued edtech startup that will enable them to reach more students globally,” said Sajith Pai, director at Blume Ventures, in an interview with TechCrunch.

The acquisition of WhiteHat Jr., which according to a person familiar with the matter had also received interest from several investors for financing its next fundraise, comes as top online learning startups in India are aggressively engaging in M&A talks with several younger startups to further their dominance in the nation.

Facebook -backed Unacademy last month acquired PrepLadder for $50 million and led an investment round of $5 million to acquire a majority stake in Mastree. Other major players Vedantu and Toppr told TechCrunch last month that they were also open to explore similar deals.

Separately, Byju’s is also in talks to acquire Doubtnut — a two-year-old startup whose app allows students from sixth grade to high school to solve and understand math and science problems in local languages — for as much as $150 million, TechCrunch reported earlier.

Byju’s, which acquired U.S.-based startup Osmo that develops interactive play apps that tie into custom hardware in a $120 million deal early last year, currently leads the edtech market in India. The startup has been looking for ways to expand both outside of India and make inroads in smaller cities and towns in the country.

A venture capitalist who did not want to be identified said the acquisition of WhiteHat Jr. will allow Byju’s to gain access to top-tier families that can afford to spend big amounts on education. “Today it’s coding but I’m sure Byju’s will replicate WhiteHat Jr.’s model with math and other STEM subjects soon enough,” the VC said.

Byju’s, which has raised about $400 million this year, is ensuring that it acquires younger firms before their valuations get even higher, said Jayanth Kolla, chief analyst at consultancy firm Converge Catalyst. “Much of the capital they are raising right now, they appear to be using it for acquisitions. It’s an outright land grab play. We expect several similar moves to continue throughout this year,” he said.