Today, we have with us Abhimanyu Singh Rathore. He founded Solar Study, an online learning marketplace dedicated to solar energy and its applications.
What motivated him to start it, what challenges he faced, and how he plans to scale it up are a few of the questions we have, and Abhimanyu patiently answers them. Talking about his motivation to start Solar Study, he mentions, “We were creating relevance to a larger audience by giving quality training, getting them placed and helping them innovate instead of just following the conventional practices. This was our motivation to start Solar Study.”
To know more about how Solar Study is training clean energy leaders, read the full interview below!
INSELLERS: What was your motivation to start Solar Study, and who all were there in the founding team of Solar Study?
ABHIMANYU: Beginning from my experience, let’s get into a flashback of one year before we started Solar Study. I started capacity building in solar energy in 2017. I was working with an IIT Bombay start-up, which was working in a similar space. I had learned a lot of things. I was a key instrumental player in bringing down the partnerships for that capacity building in solar energy programs with the World Bank, Tata Sky, Maharashtra government, and Rajasthan government.
I brought up the collaboration of NABCEP, the world’s most renowned credential in clean energy certifications. The turnover that I reached from a personal contribution was around Rs. 6-7 Cr in the 18 months of my tenure over there. That has created a direct impact on 3,000 students with 9 lacs+ training hours imparted to them. Around 60-65% of 3,000 students were also placed in companies, like Adani Power and Tata Solar Power, that install solar plants at a larger level in India.
This was a great motivation for me to move into the sector where we could perform much better. We were also creating relevance to a larger audience by giving quality training, getting them placed, and helping them innovate instead of just following the conventional practices. This was our motivation to start Solar Study.
There were a lot of gaps in government like there’s an MNRE (Ministry of New Renewable Energy) that focuses on the entire renewable energy sector in India. MNRE gives different funds to the implementing agencies like NISE (National Institute of Solar Energy), Gurgaon. It is a government-run capacity-building program called Surya Mitra. The funds that come from MNRE go to NISE. NISE has around 40-50 training partners across India, and it gives them individual targets per stage.
For example, I am from the X company; NISE gives me a target to train around 50 students in Rajasthan and 40 students in Haryana. They still follow the same practice, and the main issue is with the monitoring of the training across those 50 partners. The efficiency turns out to be just 30-35% of training. The majority of them weren’t even imparting training and were just taking funds from the government and acting as frauds for the entire value chain. Thus, I have witnessed the ground reality and know the possible factors for the model, policy, or the entire capacity building program to fail even from the government’s side. So, we have come up with certain products that were seen as a solution to these problems. We are doing partnerships with governments, corporate CSR funds, and universities to train their students. We also have other B2C courses.
We started the Solar Study in 2019. Initially, I was the only founding member. Since then, we have added one more who is an ITB graduate in Master Design. He works on technology, design, and product development. Since 2019 itself, we have been Asia’s only NABCEP PVA registered training provider. By now, we have 1700+ students and 700+ hours of content consumption.
INSELLERS: Who are your target customers, and where are they located?
ABHIMANYU: There are two markets majorly: the US and India. As the customer purchasing behavior is quite similar for the Indian and American markets, it is a favorable market. Our next biggest Market after India is the US. We had also done a Dubai partnership for the students from the Middle East. We also serve students from Australia and New Zealand through our B2C model. However, the US and India are the bigger markets for us right now.
Talking about the qualifications and age groups we target, we have several projects for fresher students. We have distinct online courses for students with a specific amount of prior experience. We are also launching our K-12 products that will be more focused on climate change, which is our essence. We are only focused on renewable energy and clean mobility. It is important to teach kids about sustainability. Also, research shows that when kids learn about sustainability, they teach that to their parents as well. That’s what is required right now, and we are working on that.
INSELLERS: What is your Go-to-Market strategy? Is there any difference in your approach and other companies’ approach which would be providing similar services?
ABHIMANYU: Our Go-to-Market strategy differs across the variety of products that we have. The K-12 product is still in the beta stage. Right now, we have a NABCEP PVA certification, which has a pay-after-placement kind of model. So, the student doesn’t need to pay anything upfront for the course. They only pay after they get an assured placement from our end after the nine-week program ends. This is the strategy we follow for one of our products, and we are sure that they’ll definitely get a placement through it. We primarily promote our courses on the value they are creating.
Talking about the difference, I wouldn’t say that our go-to-market strategy is different from our competitors’ rather, I would say our product is creating the difference. We have the interacting technology kind of model. We are not only teaching conventional solar energy just like our competitors, but we’re infusing technology. We are creating broader possibilities for people who are working in the energy sector. Right now, we have courses on python programming in solar energy explaining how to analyse data through python programming.
Earlier, people relied majorly on PVsyst and HelioScope software. These two software are extensively used to design the solar PV plant, but there was no idea of how the software collected data or simulated their models. They were able to relate through Python the exact lines of codes through which the software performs in a particular way. We took a step back and customised the software as per their individual geographical needs. This is our value proposition right now, and it’s doing really well. So, I won’t say that we need to change our strategy to approach the market. Ultimately, our product is differentiating us from others.
INSELLERS: Do you do sales online only, or is there any offline channel as well which you follow?
ABHIMANYU: We are completely online as of now.
INSELLERS: Could you give us a brief idea about your revenue streams? What portion of it is spent on sales and marketing at Solar Study?
ABHIMANYU: Right now, we are spending 45-50% on sales and marketing, from the revenue generated per month.
INSELLERS: Are there any challenges which you faced in doing sales at Solar Study?
ABHIMANYU: There are as such no challenges that we faced. I would say that it’s all about your product and market fit. If you really understand that this is the right market to tap for this product, then like us, you won’t face any challenges as such. A major challenge for start-ups is the number of team members you can involve and the fund restrictions. Down the line, you need to develop your products that have market relevance, and you have to grow along with it. So, we cannot spend much on product development as of now, due to the lack of funds. We also need to take care of the people who are working in sales and marketing, selling our existing products. Fund management or resource management is a challenge in the initial stage, but I don’t see any challenge in making sales if there is a right product-market fit.
INSELLERS: Was there any challenge other than sales that you may have faced at Solar Study?
ABHIMANYU: It’s resource management. Since everything depends upon the conversion, if you are having between 5-8% of conversion, then you will neither get the attraction of any investor nor manage your expenses, both things negative. Once you have started reaching around 15-20% of conversion, you are eligible for both. You can sustain by yourself without raising any investment as well as once you pitch, investors will also respond for the same because they check whether the founder is irrelevant in operating. They want to see its replicability and that how it will operate without the founder. So, automation and conversion are the keys for the same.
INSELLERS: Are there any other major competitors in this industry, and are there any substitute services for Solar Study?
ABHIMANYU: Yes, there are, but we are building more aggressively towards creating an entry barrier and developing exclusive products from Solar Study. Right now, there are courses on Python programming and solar energy, but there are no courses on the infusion of the technology. There are no courses on how these technologies work together. We won’t say that it can be made because it’s too easy to understand these courses. It can be replicated. It can be made, but we are focusing on more exclusive content that is not easily copyable or duplicable. That’s what we are focusing on, right now.
INSELLERS: Do you feel that any technological change has helped Solar Study in any way?
ABHIMANYU: Definitely, our entire system is backed by technology only. It’s with time and the number of user base we have. We keep on changing and advancing our technology that definitely helps.
INSELLERS: What are your future growth plans for Solar Study? And where do you think the industry is headed in the future?
ABHIMANYU: If I talk about from the Indian perspective of this industry, we are going to have complete renewable energy by the year 2030 for our energy consumption, diesel and petrol cars will be obsolete, and only electric vehicles will be sold. If only EVs will be sold, then there will be a charging infrastructure for the same. And the charging infrastructure will get electricity from any of the renewable energy sources, more preferably solar energy. So, It’s around USD 250 billion of opportunity by 2026 itself. That’s a huge opportunity.
INSELLERS: Have you ever outsourced any verticals like sales, marketing, finance, etc., at Solar Study?
ABHIMANYU: Nothing! We have everything in-house.
INSELLERS: So, are you planning to outsource anything in the future?
ABHIMANYU: As of now, we are not planning or haven’t scoped out to any specific vertical that needs outsourcing, but we may outsource if required for scaling up our business.
Insellers’ View on Solar Study
Solar Study is Asia’s only NABCEP PVA registered training provider with 1700+ students and 700+ hours of content consumption. It is creating relevance to a larger audience by giving quality training, getting them placed, and helping them innovate instead of just following the conventional practices. It follows a B2C model primarily serving the US and Indian markets. It targets customers based on the value it is creating for them. Its value proposition is that of customising software as per the customers’ individual needs, and it focuses on providing exclusive content.
Solar Study may go for raising funding based on the projected future cash flows and rising popularity for its courses in the future. The funds raised could also help in product development. As solar energy could play a vital role in the charging infrastructure needed for electric vehicles, it could leverage people’s increased interest in its courses. It may also hire domain-specific employees for better resource management which would, in turn, increase its conversion rate and attract more investors.
We wish Abhimanyu luck and hope that he reaches the target he has set for Solar Study!