IndiaGameChanger welcomed Ravi Jitani, a co-founder of Countingwell to the show. Countingwell emphasizes inquiry, problem-solving, and growth mindsets. The app was designed to place children at the center of learning.
Some of the topics that Ravi covered:
- The importance of personalized learning in math education
- The challenges and opportunities of implementing technology in schools
- The need to link math education to larger career aspirations
- The impact of capital and technology on transforming societies
- The long-term vision for Countingwell and its potential for global expansion
Some other titles we considered for this episode:
- Breaking Barriers: Overcoming Language Challenges in Math Education
- The Importance of Data in Education: Revolutionizing the Classroom
- From Calculation to Career Aspirations: The Power of Math Education
- Math Education: Bridging the Gap Between Calculation and Comprehension
- Revolutionizing Math Education in India and Beyond
Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):
Michael Waitze 0:05
Hi, my name is Michael Waitze. And we are back on India GameChanger. Today we have Ravi Jitani, a co-founder at Countingwell with us. Ravi, thank you so much for coming on the show. And before we jump into the main part of today’s conversation, let’s give our listeners a little bit of your background for some context.
Ravi Jitani 0:26
Thanks, Michael. Much appreciated to have me here on the show. Thank you. My name is Ravi, I’m r of Countingwell. It’s a math learning platform for middle school students. A bit about my background. I’ve been born and brought up in northeast state called Assam. I grew up there I did my schooling in Hyderabad, went to Delhi for my college, did couple of years in IT consulting. Okay, and then went abroad for around 15 years. Oh, well, well, then. Nairobi, Dubai, in couple of private equity firms, mostly impact funds, which kind of shaped a lot of my thinking on what you know, how important it is to kind of give back to the society from where you have taken a lot, and probably a natural outcome of that has been counting Well,
Michael Waitze 1:22
can I ask what it was like to live and work in Nairobi? And not a lot of people that I know have actually done that. And it’s fascinating, particularly in the context of what’s going on in that part of the world now, right?
Ravi Jitani 1:33
Yeah, I think, look, I mean, the, there’s a lot of apprehensions about, you know, going living working in Africa. Back in the day, when I decided to make a switch to move to Nairobi. A lot of my colleagues were moving to the US for similar kind of roles and positions. And they were like, Hey, are you crazy?
Michael Waitze 1:55
And you’re like, Yes, I am. But that’s why I’m going to be way more successful than you. It’s the craziness that makes me successful. Go ahead.
Ravi Jitani 2:00
Yeah. So I said, look up the kind of exposure and in my mind, it was the kind of exposure I’ll get there is going to be tremendous. And it turned out to be true. And coming back to your question, living in Nairobi, I think, surprisingly, Nairobi is a very, very cosmopolitan city. It has it has a very good mix of Asians, Europeans, the local Kenyans, and, you know, talking interacting to them, you feel that they are so so so well aware, well educated, you know, they articulate things so well, and an average Joe in the street, you know, can have a conversation with you on topics, which will amaze you. I mean, I’m in just a small incident, right? First time I land in Nairobi, it’s early morning, 6am. I take a you know, one of those taxes to take right to the hotel, and the taxi driver. You know, he’s asking me, Hey, are you from India? I said, Yeah. And his first question is, what’s the average GDP per capita in India? And I’m like, that just woke me up, right? I mean, who expects such kind of conversation.
Michael Waitze 3:16
But this is the point that I really want to make is that it doesn’t matter where you go in the world, right? When you get right down to it, and talk to the people that live in that country, in that city in that town. They’re just as interested in the rest of the world. They’re just as informed as you are. And yeah, it does surprise us sometimes. But the more people that do what you do, and go to the place that nobody else goes, the more you can bring back stories to people that weren’t and I’m putting in his quotes in quotes, as crazy as you were, and let them know, you missed out on an opportunity. Because you wanted to go to this very well developed, very well known place. I went to the place that nobody else go, this is the road less taken, and that’s the best way to live. Anyway, I interrupted you. I am
Ravi Jitani 3:58
no, no. fairpoint I totally agreed that I mean, probably Yeah, I mean, at that time, it it sounded a bit crazy. But once you went there, live there, you know, made friends. I think it was amazing. I mean, it’s just that, you know, if right now I’m in Bangalore, and if I look at probably in terms of weather, in terms of, you know, the vibe, Nairobi is as good as Bangalore. I mean, just probably infrastructure wise, a few years behind. But, you know, all said and done, given a chance I would go back to Nairobi.
Michael Waitze 4:33
Yeah, I mean, Africa rising there one point something billion people on the continent 50 Something countries, in a way. It’s like a microcosm of India, which is also one point something billion people 50 states in 51 states, right? It’s really interesting. And in the same way, every Indian city is different from the one even 100 kilometers to 200 kilometers away from it. And in that sense, it looks like Africa to a certain extent. Absolutely.
Ravi Jitani 4:56
Michael Waitze 4:58
Okay, let’s talk about what brought you home. Right after being away for so long. What was the pull to come back to India? And what were some of the things you said you learned from being in an Impact Fund that you want to transfer back?
Ravi Jitani 5:12
Look, I think coming back to India was very natural to me. I mean, to me, even though I was staying out of India, I never really moved mentally outside India, I was still in India. Fair enough. And also, I think, kind of places I stayed, I didn’t go into the heart of West, you know, where the lifestyle is very different. You know, I was in Nairobi, I was in Dubai. And these places seem like extension of India, you know, you know what I mean? Yeah. Right. So, I never felt I was actually living outside of India, unless, once a month when I would get the paycheck. That’s the only day I felt upset.
Michael Waitze 5:56
I won’t even ask you what that means. That’s really funny.
Ravi Jitani 5:59
Yeah, so to me coming back was natural. I mean, obviously, you know, family played a big role in it. But also, I think, to me, a large part of it was that working in impact firm, I saw society in a different way. I realized how capital, how smart capital, how technology can transform societies, right, and how it can help people elevate from their levels to a different level. And you really see the, you know, impact it has on people on the ground. I mean, yes, on the paper, everybody can create impact. But when you are in a place like Nairobi, and you kind of go and visit some of the companies, you know, where capital has been deployed, and you see how it’s not cheap. It’s kind of, you know, impacting the entire ecosystem.
Michael Waitze 6:51
Yeah, and it’s weird, right? Once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it, and then you look at the world through a completely different lens. Yes,
Ravi Jitani 6:58
exactly. So at the back of my mind was, hey, you know, what I need to kind of give back to the society, but my personal experiences also kind of, you know, as a child growing up, when I was in school, as part of the Indian education system, maths was something that I was very good in the classroom setting, but never really translated into good marks, right. And I realized that, you know, maybe I’m doing something wrong, which nobody is able to pinpoint, hey, this is what you’re doing wrong. Right. So to me, all of this started coming together. When I was in Dubai in 2014. I did my executive MBA at INSEAD, that also kind of, you know, we had a class of around people from 20 different nationalities, the firms that I worked in, you know, had similar kind of mix of people. So all of it really, you know, came together. And I said, one way to give back and be a part of that is, you know, kind of get into education, and maths being such a structured subject. And it’s a life skill. So how could you kind of bring it all together and create a platform for kids to understand, you know, better and kill that phobia of maths, which is big. I mean, not just in India, globally,
Michael Waitze 8:25
everywhere, I want to talk a little bit about math and math, education, just in the public schools, at least my experience. I loved math like you did. And it was, again, one of these things where once you saw like, how it could work, you could never unsee it, and you see it everywhere, right? And we can we can talk about that too in a second. But I do remember plenty of the kids in my calculus class in high school, all of whom were really smart, way smarter than I was, would constantly ask the teacher like, Okay, I understand how to do derivative equations. But when am I ever going to use this? Like, why do I even need to know this? Right, right. And I think that the way math is taught at least I’m probably 25 or 30 years older than you are right? But at least math, the way it was taught to me what it didn’t make it seem useful, which is sad, because math to me is like music. Right? It’s not invented, it’s discovered. Just think about this, right? Like, there are many places in nature, I mean, all of nature’s math at some level, but where the math just exists, right? Pi is the perfect example of this, right? It just exists in nature, we just had to figure it out. So then we could figure out how to calculate the circumference of a circle and the area of a circle and all this other stuff. But once you see it, it’s there. So I agree with you. It’s like the most impactful thing you’ll have in your world. It is a life skill. And everybody should know how to do math better than they do because it’ll change the way they look at the world. Talk to me about the founding of counting well, who you work with to found it and then what the like, short to medium term to long term goals are for building this because it’s really important. Yeah.
Ravi Jitani 9:57
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, look up Just to reflect upon what you were just talking, right? Fundamentally, I realized that, that when math is being taught in the classrooms, there’s a huge emphasis on calculations only. You’re just taught PE you know how to multiply, how to add how to divide, but not necessarily, as you rightly said, taught on how it is applied in real life. Right. And I’ll give you a very simple example, that kind of, you know, set the foundations for counting. Well, so this is back in 2018 19. We’ve been just conceiving counting Well, you know, and one of the Theses we had is look, calculation is something that kids are very smart, and they know how to calculate, right. But I think the problem is not calculation. The problem is beyond that. Do they understand the context? Do they have comprehension abilities to understand what is needed? And a simple example, right? This is 11 year olds, grade six students, we did a serve kind of an experiment, where we asked around 1000 Kids in different setups, what is 768 divided by eight? Right? Simple. What is 768 divided by eight, and we got 90% of the students got it right, right. Now, we asked somethings same in a slightly different we asked him, there are 768 students in a school, one out of eight have a computer at home. How many of them have computers at home? Right? Hey, suddenly, the numbers fell drastically, right? I mean, effectively the same calculation. Yeah. But they couldn’t figure it. Right. Because language is still a big a big barrier. Which, you know, you might find it strange that how is language barrier when it comes to maths, but that’s how it is. That’s the fact. Yeah, right. So I think, a lot of other factors that come into play, right. And so hence, we took x kind of a skill based approach to learning maths. And I think we have kind of been successful. I mean, we’re getting a lot of love from the parents, from the students from the teachers. In the way we are approaching this problem.
Michael Waitze 12:32
Can I tell you a funny story? Right, please, please, please. So I have very similar feelings to you about mathematics, I think about it a lot is math facts, I can’t stop my brain from calculating things. If I see like, six dots in a row and five dots going down, I just think 30 I just, you know what I mean, I just, that’s just what my brain does without even thinking about it. Yeah, when my daughter was 14, or 15 years old, she was in high school here in, in Bangkok. And I was always trying to implore her to understand exactly the point you’re making that Math is everywhere. And if you know how to use it, your life is just so much better. And I gave her the example of going to a restaurant, I think you’ll find this quite funny, actually. And I said, Look, you always you want need to make sure you have enough money by knowing what you’re buying. And then what the other fees and what the taxes is on top of it. And she was like, Okay, no problem, you know, kind of dismiss me, although she did well, in school, we are very well. One day, she called me from a restaurant in the mall here. And she’s like, Michael, I don’t have enough money to pay for this. And I said to her, like we talked about this, right? If you know what you buy, and you you just calculate the tax on top of it, you should have enough money. So I get there. And I just sent it to her again. And she said, I didn’t know there was a service charge. So she was basically saying to me, I knew how to do it. And I did it right. But I didn’t know there was this extra thing. So it’s very funny. But I think you’re right. If you teach people in the right way how to do it. They’ll always do it. Tell me how counting wall works.
Ravi Jitani 13:56
We have seen a huge boom in ad tech, pre COVID during COVID. Right. I think. I mean, you’ve had a lot of success stories from India when it comes to attack, globally, I mean, globally successful stories, but I think one common thread among them have been they’ve all been very consumer centric. That means I’m talking of in the K 12 segment in the school segment, a lot of the solutions, the likes of by Jews, and you know, all of them have been hugely successful, but they have developed solutions for the consumer directly for the student directly got it right, I would say where how the first generation of tech players kind of focused on and look at solving the problem. Right. Now. What we felt is that as we were conceiving counting well as we go into the journey, that if we want to create the impact, the kind of impact that we want to create right I think we need to build a solution that works not just for the students, but teachers also have to benefit out of it.
Michael Waitze 15:08
Yes, you’re flipping it upside down, right? Yeah. Yeah. Because
Ravi Jitani 15:11
you see, ultimately, if you look at the education system in India, and parts of, you know, developing worlds emerging world everywhere, most of the industries are not data driven. But schools are still not data driven. They’re still driven by hunch, by experience by, you know, what we wanted to do was kind of create a platform where we empower the teacher with data for better decision making, number one, and at the same time, you know, kind of create a personalized learning environment for the student. So and that’s how we kind of build a platform that gives the teacher the tools to make their learning or teaching more effective in the classroom setting.
Michael Waitze 15:58
Yeah, this is such a great idea now that you’re saying it, I hadn’t thought about it before. But you’re right. And again, I’m going on my own experience, which is slightly older, but still, the teacher would be in front of the class teaching the same exact thing to the same 25 or 30. Kids. Without knowing who in the class specifically, I’m sure they’re graded the tests and stuff. But even when they’re grading the test, there’s not enough data retained for them to understand where they’re falling down, and where they’re not falling down. And it should inform how the teachers teach as well. If it makes a better manager to have more data for the people that he employs or she employs, then it has to make a teacher better in the same situation to have more data, so they can teach better. But also, like you said, personalized and customized like, oh, maybe Bobby didn’t get this one part clearly, because he’s missing it here. And then focus on that for him. This is a killer idea. No,
Ravi Jitani 16:48
absolutely. A lot of us are used to assessments in the classroom, which are assessments of learning, that they assess you just to grade you or pass you a failure. Yeah, but what we are doing is assessment for learning. That means assessments to identify gaps in learning, and then use that to kind of further develop remedial plans. So it’s not necessarily, you know, just to say, hey, you know, you are great. It is to give that environment to figure out, you know, where, as you rightly said, Where is Bobby lacking? Where is Robbie lacking? Can I create, you know, two or three cohorts? And based on that kind of do personalization?
Michael Waitze 17:33
Yeah, I mean, I’ve always thought you want to teach kids how to learn, and frankly, adults as well. You want to teach people how to learn, great boxer, you’re kind of indifferent to the facts. And in the same way, you’re kind of indifferent to the calculations, you just want to teach them how they can learn. And if data informs that the learning is going to have to be so much better, I’m really curious what the revelation was for you and your team, right? Because it is upside down from what, from the way most stuff gets taught. Right, right. The second thing is, what was the reaction from the teachers in the school systems when you said, this may be a better idea?
Ravi Jitani 18:09
What we have seen, there has been a massive cultural change post COVID. One is working for us. One is kind of going against us. Right? What’s working for us is certainly the teachers got used to technology during the COVID. World, they don’t have the technology phobia that they had probably, you know, three COVID. Right. So one, the willingness to adopt is very high. And when they see a platform like this, the initial reaction is Wow, I love it.
Michael Waitze 18:40
It helps them so much. Right?
Ravi Jitani 18:43
Right. But on the other hand, there was so much of exposure for the children on technology side with the mobile apps, and you know, tabs. And so there has been some restraint by the parents, I don’t want the kids to get exposed to, I want just him to go out and play rather than learn on a tab or a platform. So I think it’s an interesting position to be and I think, you know, we’ll kind of working our way through navigating those challenges to solve it. So that yeah, the reaction has been very good. I mean, teachers love it. I think it’s just a matter of figuring out how to scale it and make it work.
Michael Waitze 19:25
What is the status of the business right now, when you said it was founded in 2018? What’s the status of it now? Login? How do you see it growing?
Ravi Jitani 19:33
So it was not founded in 2018 1819 20? Is when we were kind of doing a lot of experiments, making sure that you know, are we building something right? Talking to people? So we first came to market in 2021. So it’s been a couple of years now. I would not say we are where we wanted or where we envisioned ourselves to be whenever there have been Yeah, there have been a lot of challenges in learning as we go along. But I think my state of my reading of the situation right now is that we’ve got a good product. And we are taking the school route, going to the schools approaching them, rather than taking the b2c route. We are going b2b Right now, considering what the market, you know, sentiment is at a certain section of schools, they are loving what we do, and would want to adopt it. Right. What we are still trying to figure out is, how do we scale this? I mean, it’s currently a lot of feet on the ground model, where you have to go knock at the school, show them the product, get through a pilot and all of that it’s a process, right? We still need to figure out how do we kind of short circuit this and scale this?
Michael Waitze 20:54
Look, it’s a common problem, you’re dealing with an institution at scale that is very conservative, and frankly, should be right, they shouldn’t be making massive changes every day in the way that things get taught. It’s a long game, and it should be.
Ravi Jitani 21:08
Yeah, absolutely. It’s a I mean, if I have to put an outside of you, I would say it’s a very boring business. But
Michael Waitze 21:17
I mean, it isn’t it isn’t right. I mean, think about it, you weren’t educated, you couldn’t be doing any of the things you’re doing today, right? So it needs to be just like foundationally conservative, because you don’t want sort of insanity to happen inside of schools. But on the other hand, you do want there to be progress, because as the rest of society is progressing. It should try to keep up. It’s just hard. Right? So it’s a long game, but it’s a game definitely worth doing, I think. Yeah,
Ravi Jitani 21:39
Michael Waitze 21:41
So what is your day to day, like when you’re running your own company? I worked at big corporations for most of my life. And I’m running my own company now. It’s growing nicely, and everything’s okay. Right. But it’s still a completely different lifestyle. Right? Like, I was literally up at five o’clock this morning, because I had a seven o’clock call. And I’ll be up until like, 11 o’clock at night, because I’ve got a call with London in New York. I’m curious what your day to day is like?
Ravi Jitani 22:09
Look, I think it’s very different from the corporate life. Currently, you know, my day to day is many ways. You know, I kind of get to choose what I want to do when when Yeah, right. But also a lot of time it’s driven by you know, there’s a lot of firefighting to be done, for sure. All through the day, right. So, typically, you know, I’m an early riser. I go to bed early, I rise early. You know, I have a 10 year old son morning’s times, I like to spend some time with him, help him get ready, drop him to the you know, there’s a school bus pick up, I drop him there. And then I like to play in the morning. So either it’s a badminton or squash. So one hour of that early in the morning. Get that out of the way. Light breakfast, and I usually start work between nine and 930. How good is your squash game? I would say intermediate. Right?
Michael Waitze 23:08
It’s one of my favorite sports. I love playing squash. It’s really great. Most people don’t ever get experience exposed to squash. Right? Right. But once you start playing, it’s addicting. It’s like just one more game. Okay. Kind of yeah, you’re in the box. Yes.
Ravi Jitani 23:19
Yeah. And this is this is I picked up in Nairobi. So
Michael Waitze 23:25
fair enough. Fair enough. I love it. You are you teaching yourself how to play?
Ravi Jitani 23:29
Ah, no, he is more into soccer right now football and cricket.
Michael Waitze 23:33
At some point, someone’s gonna have to explain cricket to me. We’ll chat
Ravi Jitani 23:37
about it at some point. If not that will hijack this conversation. It will
Michael Waitze 23:43
I saw one of the I let me just say that I worked in an office in Hong Kong for Goldman Sachs. And let’s just say that two of the biggest cricket loving countries in the world were represented inside that office without saying who they were. Let’s just say that the managing director in the Office was from the smaller country. And that one of the mid level guys was from the bigger country. When the cricket match between those two countries was on. It was almost like there was no managing director. And there was no there was no level because they were really going at it. The Cricket following is like it’s a different level completely.
Ravi Jitani 24:17
Absolutely. No, I can relate to that. Having worked in Dubai, I was in a similar situation. So I can totally relate what you’re talking about. If and if I don’t have to name the countries.
Michael Waitze 24:27
You know exactly what it’s obvious. It’s pretty obvious, particularly to you and me. Right? So like, what have you learned along the way? And where do you see counting while going if you could predict where it was going to be in five years? Right. We talked about it being a long game. Tell me where you think it goes and the impact you think it’s going to have?
Ravi Jitani 24:46
Definitely I think it’s a long game. I think what I’ve realized is the education space, you will start seeing the power of compounding, you know, as you go along. It’s not instant. It’s not ecom what’s new? Right? Yeah. So So you have to be patient. Number one, what we are working on? And what we are developing is a global opportunity. It’s not just a
Michael Waitze 25:12
India opportunity. Yeah. 902 global opportunity for sure. Go ahead. Sorry, it’s
Ravi Jitani 25:16
a global opportunity, the way we have built it and matches global, you know, similar kinds of problems everywhere. I see this us definitely going out outside India, once we’ve got some credibility within India. So, you know, Middle East is a natural extension, parts of Africa is natural, and, you know, look to even go towards the US and Europe at some point. So I definitely see that as a way forward for us, as we kind of, you know, grow counting. Well, number one, number two, another insight that we have figured out as we have gone through and interacted with multiple parents, kids, you know, parents don’t necessarily get excited by the fact that, hey, you know, I’ll make your child good at math. That’s fine. They think probably the school will do that job, that school’s responsibility, you know, not much, but the moment I kind of link it to a larger career, aspiration, that’s when it gets excited. Yeah, we did an experiment where we packaged some maths concepts in a course called financial literacy for kids, where we were teaching the maths around savings, interest, all of this, but bundled it in a different, and certainly we saw a lot of parents are wanting to kind of enroll for that course. Exactly. So So I think what we have learned along the way is that, you know, then it needs to be packaged and marketed much better. And linked to a larger career aspirational, so make it an aspirational offering. Right. And that’s when people relate to it. So and it kind of boils back to the conversation that we were having earlier, that what is the application of it, right? How do I use this? So I think the moment we are able to do that and tell the parent because ultimately you see the parent is also part of the same system, even they don’t know where it is used and how it’s used for him. So the moment we create applications and say, you know, this is where it’s used. And this is how it will help your child as they, you know, step into the big bad world after their education. That’s when it starts kind of relating to them.
Michael Waitze 27:37
And Ravi, that is the best way to end this conversation. Ravi Jitani a co-founder of Countingwell, this is really important stuff you’re working on. Keep going. Really good stuff, man. Thank you.
Ravi Jitani 27:47
Thanks so much. Appreciate it, man.