Meroanswer.com: Learning the Smart Way

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Meroanswer.com: Learning the Smart Way

Every year over 35,000 students prepare for engineering and medical entrance examinations in Nepal. They pay for expensive courses in institutes to compete for admission in the leading colleges. However, these institutes are mostly located in Kathmandu valley only, and students have to migrate to Kathmandu and sit through long hours of boring lectures on related subjects, some of which they might have already learnt in high schools. Having faced this problem themselves, six computer engineering students from Institute of Engineering (IOE), Pulchowk Campus joined hands in transforming the way students prepare for entrance exams with the launch of Meroanswer.com in 2013. Here’s their story as shared by three of the founders – Santosh Ghimire, Sijan Bhandari and Sujit Maharjan.

 

Idea generation

A group of computer engineering students at IOE, Pulchowk started their own software engineering company ‘Phunka Technologies’ a year before their graduation in 2013. These six lads embarked on their entrepreneurship journey with Phunka with an intention to build something of their own rather than working for someone else. They saw opportunities in the Nepali market to solve the existing problems through technology and worked on developing apps accordingly.

“The idea for meroanswer.com came up in a normal discussion we had during our lunch break at the office,” says Sijan, “We had gone through a stage where we were sitting through long hours of boring repetitive lectures teaching us things we had already learnt, and these courses were very expensive too. So we saw technology as a good alternative and started building a prototype.”

 

Team Phunka

The team behind meroanswer.com is a group of six engineer friends who invested equally from the earnings of their freelancing jobs to build their company. With equal division of shares, Sujit Maharjan, (Chief Executive Officer), Santosh Ghimire (Chief Operating Officer), Sudip Kafle (Chief Technical Officer), Roshan Bhandari (Chief Financial Officer), Sijan Bhandari (Chief Marketing Officer) and Subit Raj Pokharel (Managing Director) established their company and launched two projects Meroanswer and Flipkarma (online student profile maintaining academic projects of engineering students) in 2013.

The members divided work among themselves for the two projects and worked after classes in a small office at Patan Dhoka. The group of six worked sleepless nights building a basic version of the websites and Android app through the month of April 2013 and launched in June 2013. As they received better response with their product Meroanswer.com, they took some interns for collecting, making and verifying questions for the portal and developed their product further.

 

Building MVP

Meroanswer.com is a web and mobile platform that helps medical and engineering students prepare for their entrance exams by providing them with sets of questions and solutions for practice. Students can gain access to 30% (about 4500) questions free of cost for trial and subscribe for premium packages ranging from Rs. 500 to Rs. 2000 for specified amount of time. 

The team initially conducted various market researches and feasibility analysis before building an MVP with only a few sets of questions and testing it with few students. Observing the positive response from users, they started adding more questions and solutions, subject and topic wise questions, and added engineering drawing practice, which would not normally be taught in an institute but is necessary to obtain good grades. 

The team had a good product at hand but had a difficult time pushing their product given the scepticism of Nepalis towards the use of technology for education. Even though almost every student carries a smartphone with them and can have easy access to practice questions, they opt to turn the pages of a paperback book. A major hurdle for the team was to make people aware of their product and get them to use it. “We tried approaching teachers to market the product but they have a conservative mentality too. It was a major challenge to create a good understanding of the product. Moreover, even if one student would try it and find it useful, s/he would not share it with others because of the existing cut-throat competition,” shares Santosh.

After many attempts, their product started gaining popularity among their target market but the team realized that there were very few premium users. “As engineering students, we had little knowledge of sales and marketing. We would put up stalls in reputed institutes like PEA and NAME, and in events like CAN InfoTech and Pulchowk IOE’s event Locus. People appreciated our product but very few were buying coupons to purchase the premium package,” shares Santosh. “I remember trying out a different script in presenting the product to people in our stalls and in the very first try after the change, a student bought the coupon right away. That’s when I learnt the importance of sales skills. We had also hired an intern for a couple of months in our startup phase who taught us a lot about sales. It’s been tough but we’ve caught up with the necessary managerial skills today,” adds Sijan.

In addition to these challenges, the Nepali system of online payment was a bugger. Very few people had access and knowledge of online payment systems. To address this, they introduced the system of coupon payments in the valley. Students can now purchase coupons from various designated stationeries to make the necessary payment. Students outside the valley who can’t pay online can deposit the amount in their bank account. 

 

Financial issues

“We had started this journey with a lot of passion and ambition but we knew the growth was going to be slow. We were making improvements with each passing day and were earning some revenue too but as it is a seasonal product, we couldn’t expect a massive growth. So we used sponsored Facebook ads, put up stalls and visited colleges to market our product. We received many good feedbacks. However, there weren’t much financial returns even after a year of operation,” shares Sijan. To overcome the financial issues, they buckled down and four of them worked on freelancing projects to sustain business while the other two were fully dedicated to their product. 

Towards the end of 2014, the team was not only facing financial issues but also encountering closed doors from any investors they approached. People were sceptic to invest in technology products and they were realizing the need of having a mentor to provide them with suggestions and feedbacks to build a good business model. 

“We would pitch our ideas to seniors in our personal network and people in tech companies. They liked the idea but never went forth with investment,” shares Sijan. “We realized that investors look in the quality of the team. So we started focusing more on presenting our core competencies and the drive of the team since we were not able to make them understand the product.”

They saw a light at the end of the tunnel when they were selected in the Top 20 startups at REC@NNECT Hackathon 2014 (a competition among startups from South and central Asia) and were placed in the runner-up position. Soon they received investment from Avant Ventures (a private equity management company based in Nepal) which was a huge boost to continue their efforts and bring them to where they are today.

 

Meroanswer.com at present

With increase in awareness among people about information technology and the slowly flourishing technology market in Nepal, business is booming for meroanswer.com. There has been significant increase in website visits and activities in the website and app than a year ago. The platform now consists of a database of over 10,000 questions with hundreds of questions being added every day. There have been around 15,000 app downloads, more than 20,000 registered users, and over 180,000 tests taken at meroanswer.com. 

“Apart from the growth in business, we have evolved as entrepreneurs. Reminiscing all the late nights spent working, the times spent in stalls and addressing to people’s issues, we think it’s all worth it today. One just needs to be patient and have a long term vision and passion to reach there,” expresses Sujit.

Presently, the team is working on exploring other fields of education for meroanswer.com and developing projects under Phunka to establish the company as a leading software and data analytics company of Nepal.

 

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Guest Tuesday, 16 January 2018