Defeating Odds to Study, Village Girl Runs Her Own EdTech Startup Today

Founder of TutorCabin, Neha Mujawdiya is the first girl from Madhya Pradesh’s Melkheda village to pursue higher education. Today, her startup helps thousands of students access quality education.

Since she was a young girl, Indore-based Neha Mujawdiya has loved that her birthday coincides with International Women’s Day.

“They used to air television specials on inspiring women and even back then, I knew I wanted to be one of them someday. When I was in Class 3, we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, and I was the only student to excitedly raise my hand. I wanted to become as big an engineer as my paternal uncle — he used to evoke an altogether different level of respect whenever he visited our village from Indore,” she recalls.

A native of Melkheda in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district, Neha used to travel for 8 km every day to study at the nearest high school in Shamgarh.

“We only had one primary school in our village and most parents stopped their daughters’ education after Class 8. They used to say, ‘Ladki hee toh hai, kya karegi padhkar? Aagey jaake chulha-chauka karna hai’ (They’re girls, why do they need to study more? They only have to manage the kitchen eventually). I, too, couldn’t become an engineer because my high school didn’t offer us Math. But I was determined to continue my studies, and decided to opt for arts instead,” she says.

Following her graduation in 2008, Neha not only became the first girl from her village to pursue higher education with a BA degree in Economics from Ujjain’s Vikram University but also paved the way for thousands of students to access quality education with her startup, TutorCabin.

Offering classes for students from nursery through Class 12, college and preparing for various competitive exams, TutorCabin has successfully catered to the tuition needs of 85,890 students across the country since its inception in 2018.

“After four years of researching the problems that students and their parents deal with, I realised that each one of them requires a different approach to give their academic best. It’s only when a child gets a good education that they can serve at a good designation, and contribute towards the country’s development. At TutorCabin, we wanted to offer a space that not only helps them clear their concepts but also find a way to make it interesting and interactive for them by way of edutainment,” Neha tells The Professional Times.

“While most EdTech platforms in India follow the NCERT pattern, we offer courses in all education boards across separate batches. We also focus on regional languages so that students have an easier time understanding the topics they might struggle with otherwise,” she adds.

Although TutorCabin presently offers home tutoring in Indore, Bhopal and some nearby cities in the state, its online learning services are operational across the country’s Tier-2, Tier-3 and Tier-4 cities. Classes are conducted on an hourly basis and cost between Rs 50 and Rs 800, she adds.

‘Carving My Own Identity’

It was sometime in 2009 that Neha managed to convince her parents to let her go to Indore, for a year, to explore her academic options. She had her heart set on pursuing an MBA, but soon realised that she was only in turn for more challenges.

“I discovered I wasn’t even eligible for admission because I didn’t come from a commerce background. After some convincing on my part, a lot of hard work and qualifying for two preliminary exams, I spent the next year-and-a-half pursuing an ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant) course while also preparing for an MBA,” she recalls.

Even as she managed to finally crack the Common Entrance Test (CAT), the deadline she’d been given by her parents had crossed its completion and served as a gruesome reminder of the reality she’d worked hard to leave behind.

Noting how it’s not uncommon for girls in her village to get married as soon as they turn of age, she shares, “My parents knew that their child was different and could do great in her life, but they were also bound by societal pressure. After they had decided to send me to Indore, they had to continually deal with the small-town mentality. People kept criticising them over their decision of sending their daughter off to live alone in a big city, and asked what they were trying to prove.”

“They requested me to come home, suggesting that I could do something in our village itself, but I didn’t want to. I explained how I’d scored even higher than the MBA candidates who’d taken coaching for two years, and that I deserved a shot at carving my own identity. And so, they allowed me to,” she adds.

It was then that Neha decided to begin her journey of attaining financial independence. For the next two years, while she pursued her MBA degree in finance from Indore’s Christian Eminent College, she also started providing home tuitions to children in the city.

“As a student from the Hindi-medium background, I faced my fair share of issues, but I worked on my language skills on my time. It wasn’t always easy; I used to cry to myself and study as late as 3:30 am every night. But I knew I couldn’t go back and this was the time I could work towards bettering society. Eventually, I made enough progress to be able to land a job at a coaching institute,” she says.

“It was here that I realised that despite parents paying high amounts of money to tuition centres to ensure personal attention for their children, they still didn’t have access to quality education. All this while, I thought I had struggled because my village didn’t have adequate resources, but it was the same situation in the city. I made up my mind to do something about easing out the problem,” she says.

Overcoming the Gaps

By the time Neha graduated in late 2013, she had begun maintaining a record of her own students’ academic troubles and envisioned how she could address the gaps in the Indian education system at the grassroots level. She landed her first big break in February 2016, when her independent project on TutorCabin was selected at the SURGE Summit in Bengaluru — the first Indian edition of the international tech conference.

“I received a lot of attention from the media but declined to give any interviews because my parents still didn’t know about my plans, and I didn’t know they’d react if they would. The second round of the conference was to be held in Lisbon, but I didn’t even have a passport back then. I decided to focus on launching TutorCabin in India. A week before the conference, the website development had already begun,” she explains.

The same year, Neha also started enrolling tutors for the portal, beginning with a team of 15 members. “Some of them were tutors I already knew from my coaching circles. I was upfront about not being able to pay them well in the beginning and advised them to not leave their full-time profiles, but they were enthusiastic about coming on board anyway.

I also posted recruitment advertisements in newspapers and ended up interviewing 180 people, selecting only six of them,” she says, adding that TutorCabin now has more than 1,500 tutors across the country.

“It was only in October 2018, that we launched full-fledged operations with offline home tutoring sessions for about 20 students in Indore. But within four months, their parents could see how their children’s performances had already improved and began recommending us to others. Before you know it, we had started receiving multiple enquiries from Bhopal and decided to launch our services there. Our biggest USP is that we’ve never needed any marketing and always relied on word-of-mouth publicity,” she shares with pride.

In early 2019, Neha launched a separate vertical for spoken English classes on TutorCabin on a paid basis. A few months down the line, however, it was converted into a free-of-cost facility.

“One can’t deny the importance of speaking fluent English in both academic and professional circles. Several students would like to improve their skills but can’t afford to, and I wanted to do my bit towards helping them. Owing to my struggles, I feel emotionally connected to the subject [and don’t want them to miss out on opportunities],” she says, adding that as many as 2,500 students have benefitted from this initiative.

While the COVID-19 pandemic undeniably brought forth a host of problems for most, Neha says that it helped in popularising her startup further. As the student community learnt to acquaint themselves with an online education system, TutorCabin’s services proved to be a handy tool to aid their studies, she says.

“At TutorCabin, we also have a separate login portal for parents so they can keep track of their children’s progress. In case students don’t log in to their scheduled class, their parents are notified of the same within five minutes,” she says.

“We also decided to provide free classes to school children who lost their parents to COVID-19 pandemic,” she says, adding that 155 such children are presently associated with TutorCabin.

Earlier this year, TutorCabin was recognised as the top 60 startups by Kuberans House, a reputed platform for entrepreneurs in the country to showcase their work. It has also been recognised as the ‘Best EdTech Startup’ by the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

Neha may have begun her entrepreneurial journey with a sum of Rs 25,000, but TutorCabins recorded a turnover of Rs 22 lakh during the last fiscal year. It has already recorded double the amount this year, she says.

“But the part that makes me the happiest is that we’re being able to provide affordable quality education to all parts of the country. Our services have even reached my village. The same people who used to criticise my parents now consult them for their children’s education, including their daughters. They are proud of me,” she beams.

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