Sneha Sundaram is the founder of ‘Kutuki’ – an early learning app for Preschool kids. Sneha did her masters in Organizational Psychology from London school of economics and is trained in Carnatic music. From working with organisations like Infosys, Diageo and ‘Teach for India’, She turned to be an entrepreneur along with her husband Bharat. Sneha shares more about her entrepreneurial story with WOI- Womenpreneursofindia
Surround yourself with people who believe in you and your mission, have a strong sense of integrity and the ability to remain resilient especially when the chips are down. Be open to asking for help when you don’t have an answer and build a product with empathy, honesty and no compromise on quality even if it takes time, keeping your end users at the heart of it all!
I am a trained classical singer,music educator, a student of psychology and the Founder of Kutuki with an audacious mission to re-imagine how 200 million of India’s youngest learners learn! While I am currently based in Bengaluru, I was born and raised in Mumbai. I also lived in London for sometime where I pursued my Masters in Organizational Psychology at The London School of Economics as a Tata Scholar. Since the age of 4, I have been deeply involved in the creative arts and discovered my love for music. I trained in Carnatic music initially and moved on to exploring Western Classical music, mainly Opera – which was pretty unheard in a middle class Tamil family. My mother would often catch me switching between Varnams and Puccini’s Tosca much to her bewilderment. While I hold two Masters degrees, my mother always encouraged my musical pursuits along with academics.
In the stint of 15+ years that I trained as a vocalist, I not only got the opportunity to perform with some wonderful artists but also see the impact of creative arts on young children. Having worked in organizations like ‘Teach For India’ and setting up multilingual children’s choirs in slum communities, I realized that the creative arts give every child a level playing field to discover and express themselves. Storytelling and songs and other creative mediums are far more appealing to children when discovering something new, as against mere instruction. I was tremendously drawn to this idea since I was 18 and continue to be to this day.
Along with my creative pursuits, I had the opportunity to work in some of India’s leading Organizations like Infosys and Diageo in various roles in the People Practices Division. In my last Corporate avatar, I was leading Learning and Development initiatives for over 3000+ employees in Diageo, South. While these roles certainly brought a lot of important learnings, growth and stability along the way, I always had the entrepreneurial itch, especially the desire of creating impact through the creative arts. I felt like I was not doing what I was meant to do with all my potential.
Around that time, I got married to my best friend – Bharath, who also happens to be my co-founder at Kutuki. He is a trained Carnatic musician and guitarist, an ISB alumni with various Consulting stints who shared entrepreneurial aspirations similar to mine. We decided to quit our respective corporate jobs to explore the world of music and creative arts professionally.
Through our journey to explore music, we taught music to thousands of students, upskilled ourselves as audio producers, performed with Grammy winners and created award winning original content and composed audio signatures for brands like Titan, Nestle to name a few. We continued our experiments and designed experiential learning tools through the medium of music and songs for young children. Our work there took us to organizations like ‘Teach For India’ and preschools where educators expressed their frustration in singing the same old nursery rhymes and using learning resources that were force fit from the west with little or no relevance to the Indian context. In one of our interactions a veteran teacher told us that 33% of children in her preschool were being screened for a learning disability, in fact, the problem was difficulty in understanding the accents, language and contexts in the audio-visual learning aids being used. The same concept when explained in familiar accents -their mother tongue while using everyday Indian contexts prompted a flurry of questions and participation among children. While the children’s songs that came out of this experiment were a success we also came to terms with how underserved the early learning space is in India. This pretty much sowed the seeds for Kutuki!
Early learning in India is broken and a grossly underserved market with close to 200 million children in this age group and less than 40,000 preschools catering to them. Despite strong evidence that 80% of brain development happens under the age of 7, the lack of access to good quality preschools and contextual resources has exacerbated the gap in foundational English and Math skills in India, more so in smaller cities outside of the big metros. The Right to Education Act (RTE) had not been applicable to this space which has made it that much more unstructured. This is a huge problem to solve.
Bharath and I built Kutuki from the ground up. After many months of research, we brought together a passionate and committed team of educators, artists, musicians and storytellers, with deep experience in working with young children, to build Kutuki from scratch and launched Kutuki in 2019.
Before we officially launched our content on the Kutuki app in 2019, we were beta testing our content with parents and children for a few months through offline Storytelling and Music workshops at preschools, community spaces and even birthday parties. We wanted to see, first hand, how children, parents and educators responded to our stories and songs and get their feedback.
Some of the mothers who we met at our workshops continue to be ardent supporters of Kutuki and among our first subscribers. In just over a year, we now have a library of 100s of fresh, original, multilingual children’s stories, rhymes, interactive quizzes all in line with preschool aligned themes such as language development, S.T.E.M, Indian festivals, Colours and Shapes, Life skills to name a few.
The Kutuki community has grown to 100,000 + mothers and children and 150+ preschools making us India’s most loved digital library for preschoolers. Most of it is happening through word of mouth and strong recommendations coming from early educators across India. This took time, effort, dedication, research and a relentless desire to provide only the best learning resources for India’s youngest learners driven by a talented and creative team. Children, in my opinion, are the toughest audience to please and to receive this kind of reaction for Kutuki’s content has been very gratifying.
Kutuki is not just a Tier 1 use case, our users span across Tier 2, Tier 3 cities and some even in rural India. 75% of our core users come back after the first 30 days and what they like most about Kutuki is that their children immediately connect with our stories and songs and enjoy seeing their names in our stories, learning about shapes through bindis, counting with Pooris and singing songs about their Dada and Dadi and Thatha and Paati. Learning through storytelling and music is far more appealing to children than mere instruction.
We’ve received emails from educators in Majuli, Assam who are using Kutuki to teach children who are first generation learners from the Mising tribe. NRI parents have written to us saying that Kutuki helps their little ones stay connected to their roots and learn their mother tongue.
In Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, where there is limited or no exposure to English, young children and mothers find it easy to understand and connect with the English stories after they have first watched them in Hindi for example. Children were able to connect खिलौना with Toy , नीला with Blue and more complex vocabulary like slender with पतला more easily.
Another common pattern that we observe across demographics is that there is a strong sentiment of trust among mothers towards Kutuki over YouTube. We’ve had mothers refer to Kutuki as ‘home cooked food’ and liken content on YouTube to junk food. We’ve also had some incredible collaborations this year making some of Kutuki’s content available across 4 million Xiaomi Smart TVs, Ola Prime cabs and more partnerships in the pipeline.
Our efforts in the early learning space have been recognized by the NITI Aayog and the United Nations with the prestigious Women Transforming India Awards – 2019. Feedbacks and experiences like these are incredibly important milestones in Kutuki’s journey.
At Kutuki, we have a great team, a strong community of parents and educators, an exciting, creative and scalable solution and a problem that is waiting to be solved. This keeps us going every single day. We still have a long way to go. Kutuki’s journey has just begun!
Lastly, we are opening up our entire library of learning resources with 100s of Children’s Stories, Rhymes, Phonics and Quizzes to help parents keep their preschooler meaningfully engaged at home during this lockdown. WOI followers can access Kutuki free for the next 60 days using this unique link for Android & iOS – Click here
Thankyou Sneha. ‘Kutuki’ is definitely an amazing online learning space for early learners with Indian roots. We are very glad to feature your business story on WOI. We wish you all the best for future endeavours. Keep Inspiring!