Ye! sat down with Ozaal Zesha, the 26 year-old Founder & CEO of ClassNotes to learn about his journey as an entrepreneur in the education sector in Pakistan.
What is ClassNotes and how did you develop your idea?
ClassNotes is an ed-tech startup providing free online education resources to help students prepare for their academic and standardised examinations more effectively.
In 2017, my younger brother was in Grade 9 and studying for his exams in Pakistan. The support available for learning online was very limited and he was using a website that was of poor quality. To my surprise, I found out that, that website was actually the most popular learning website in Pakistan! Its primary purpose was to earn revenues via advertising. To access the learning resources, you had to watch 5 to 6 adverts on each page! This was very distracting for students, and time consuming! The quality of the educational content was also very poor.
That is why I decided to start a charitable project by setting up a website to help students prepare their exams without any distracting ads but with great quality content. We began as a self-funded, charitable education project. We used the‘’xyz’’ domain name for the website – as it was the only available domain that we could afford back then. In June 2017, we spent one-month creating content for Grade 9 subjects. We focused on the user experience to ensure that, for any user, they are only three clicks away from the content that they are looking for.
Later, we began providing educational materials for Classes 10, 11 and the final year, Class 12. In the past three years, our business has grown significantly and we are now a well-established and reputable resource for students in Pakistan and beyond! We have around 750,000 visitors to the website every month.
Six months after starting up, we secured an education innovation grant from Ilm Ideas 2, a project by the UKAid. This gave us the critical boost we needed to take ClassNotes to the next level. The support of UKAid ensured that we could grow our business and rent office space in Plan 9 (the premier tech incubator in Lahore, Pakistan).
How did you decide to name the company ClassNotes?
As the idea initially started out as a charitable project, we did not devote many resources to developing the company’s name. We kept it simple and named the company after what we do – provide educational support through “class notes”. Nevertheless, the materials we provide have continued to develop over the years, and now we have included study notes, flash cards, past papers and multiple choice questionnaires.
How does your business support the local community and natural environment?
Pakistan has a population of 220 million with over 60% of the population under the age of 25. We believe that access to education is a basic human right to everyone.
In analyzing the core users of ClassNotes, what is visible is that more than 25% of the students using ClassNotes come from under-privileged areas and low income communities. Many of these students are unable to access other educational avenues, i.e. private tutors or private coaching centers. We want to help these students pursue quality education and to achieve their full potential.
ClassNotes is also a sustainable, environmentally focused business, in the sense that we provide all learning resources and materials online, thereby saving paper. We are also working to digitise the textbooks that offer the national curriculum in Pakistan, in order to support students to access this material online. We continue to monitor for any changes or updates to ensure the content on our website is up-to-date with the national curriculum requirements.
At present, students all over the world are using ClassNotes! We now have students accessing our site from Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, India, and the USA!
Since 2017, we have served more than 14 million students with high quality educational resources.
Have you had any setbacks in developing your business?
Yes, we did. We did not anticipate how popular ClassNotes would become shortly after we launched! After only three months, we had over 100,000 students accessing the website. This was overwhelming for our hosting servers and the website started to crash. The shared hosting service that we could afford at that time was not able to support such high volume of traffic to our site. So, we shifted our hosting to a private cloud server, which is very expensive. After switching to the private cloud hosting provider, it was clear that we had to come up with a business model to ensure sustainability. We needed to figure out a way to generate enough revenue to keep the momentum going. At this point, ClassNotes transformed from a charity project to a startup business.
How do you market ClassNotes?
Since we started ClassNotes, we have spent a grand total of 30 USD on advertising! Most of our advertising was spent on one Facebook advert in 2018 that we ran as an experiment.
Since that time, we have not invested in advertising. ClassNotes, and its content, speaks for itself. We see students joining ClassNotes primarily through word of mouth referrals from other ClassNotes users. Nevertheless, we want to ensure that we remain relevant in the sector.
Over the last 2 years, we have promoted the website through different social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, to build followers and visibility for our company.
We are also passionate about engaging directly with students, ClassNotes core users. We selectively work with students as brand ambassadors. Through making students brand ambassadors, we invite them to share their learning experiences and spread the word in their school or college to build awareness about ClassNotes.
How has the Covid-19 Pandemic affected your business?
When the Pakistan government announced that they would close educational institutions and cancel all examinations, we saw a large drop in the number of students visiting ClassNotes. However, students are now back to learning and finding ways, such as through online and distance learning, to continue their education. ClassNotes fits right into this new digitally distanced, learning reality.
Prior to the outbreak, we had around 750,000 students visiting ClassNotes each month, and we expect this number to grow to at least 1 million users by the end of 2020. Now, with many students looking for alternative learning methods, ClassNotes, an online educational service, fits perfectly. Therefore, we are relatively optimistic about the continued growth of business.
What are your plans for ClassNotes in the future?
We have developed the ClassNotes mobile application, which enables students to access educational resources with greater flexibility. Online learning is the future of education, and the positive responses to ClassNotes from students has been phenomenal.
We are committed to digitising more educational material for students. In the next 5 years, we aim to support 18 million students per month with learning materials through ClassNotes. We also aim to support students in more than 25 different countries through our platform.
Check out the video below- ClassNotes users share their experience and feedback: