Tabtor makes virtual learning real
By Hitesh Shetty
IIT trained Raj E. Valli has worked as VP of Marketing and Head of Business Development for WABCO Holdings inc. (NYSE, $3B). He has 14+ Yrs Experience as a seasoned executive with billion $ companies and has held leadership positions at Honeywell / AlliedSignal across multiple verticals and functions. His academic and professional qualification include an MBA and MS from USA
Raj is the Founder & CEO of PrazAs and their software enables real time collaboration between Tablets and other such mobile devices.
Techgoss (TG): Tell us about your educational and IT work background?
Raj E. Valli: I have a Bachelors degree in Chemistry from Univ. of Madras, a Masters degree in Chemistry from IIT Chennai, M.S. in Bioorganic Chemistry from University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, MBA from University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland. I am also a Chartered Financial Analyst and a Six Sigma Black Belt.
I have never worked in a traditional IT role that one might think of, although I have worked in many technology companies and led Business Development for a software division of Honeywell around 1999-2000 time frame.
TG: What motivated you to be an entrepreneur? How did the 'PrazAs' start up originate? Were there any support team who helped you realise the 'PrazAs' dream?
Raj E. Valli: I was always thinking of entrepreneurship right from my younger days. My goal was to pursue entrepreneurship eventually. I spoke about it a lot with my friends and family all the time. It was only a matter of time. My desire to become an entrepreneur became stronger with each passing day. I asked myself several questions that all pointed to entrepreneurship.
Nothing much is possible if you do not have other people supporting you in your goals. I was fortunate to be surrounded by like-minded friends who also thought that a fundamental shift in education was needed. The founding team is a bunch of people from IITs and BITS (Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani) and people with a strong passion for education. We are a group of people with heavy experience in technology, business and education – a dynamo combination if you will. Profiles of the management team can be accessed at our website.
TG: How does the 'Tabtor' product work? Was there any significant incident in either your or your folks life that triggered the arrival of 'Tabtor'?
Raj E. Valli: We developed a patent pending real-paper technology that makes virtual learning possible from anywhere, anytime and anyplace. Essentially we have created the digital equivalent of real paper. This digital paper makes virtual learning possible from anywhere, anytime and anyplace. It is tailored to every student using the Real-Paper technology that enables sharing and review of handwritten work, automatic grading, video tutorials and adaptive analytics
We are focusing initially on skill-based learning of math. Students are allowed to create their subscriptions and log into to learn maths skills for grades K-7. And learning such skills on the Tabtor platform comes with advantages for teachers who can gain insights offer a personalized approach for each student. For example, if a student makes a mistake while solving an equation, through real-time analytics based on key-stroke capture on digital paper, the teachers will know exactly where, which step, he is going wrong. This kind of analysis is simply not possible in a traditional paper based worksheet tutoring programs similar to the ones offered by players like Kumon and Enopi.
It will be a combination of product and services. The product itself is an app that can be downloaded from either App Stores or obtained directly through us. We have a working version of the app for the Windows platform and are in the process of launching the iPad version by the end of this summer. For the remedial and supplemental education market, we plan to target end consumers directly who will have a subscription and services delivery model with us. We do have a few successful pilots in schools and will work with schools as appropriate to reach the institutional market, but this is not the primary focus for us. A few schools have agreed to have us reach out to the parents of their students given that they were quite happy with our program. This is another possibility.
TG: What were the factors that helped you decide to make Chennai your development centre in India?
Raj E. Valli: I am originally from Chennai and had the greatest connections and friends. My school friend Rajaram was also based here and already was running a software services business and he helped me out in the initial stages by building a team.
TG: Will a technology like 'Tabtor' revolutionize school education in India by bringing an interactive and hassle free learning system? Will that also apparently put an end to the traditional rote learning oriented Indian education system?
Raj E. Valli: Absolutely. Learning, until now, has been teacher centric. But with the lack of accessibility to and availability of quality teachers, the ever expanding student population and the constant need to personalize the learning experience for every student, we are at a point where existing systems are simply not viable anymore for the long term. This is why we developed a student centric learning system. Almost all students have a fundamental desire to learn. The reason they stop learning is because they get frustrated when they do not know how to solve a problem or have trouble understanding a concept. We categorize learning into “passive” and “active” modes. Passive learning happens when a student gets to watch a teacher teach, or reading a textbook. This is not unlike learning to drive a car by watching many other people drive it. Active learning on the contrary is where pretty much all learning happens. This is where students try to solve a problem or write an answer to a question. We have solved the problem of figuring out how a student learns during the active leaning process. Until now, this whole active learning process was a black box. Every existing technology available today for educational learning pretty much misses this active learning piece completely!
Our system will not only be interactive and hassle free, but will make learning affordable, accessible and of very high quality and will in fact provide the platform for the best teaching for every concept become available for every student.
The rote learning method, which if I describe as practice of problems after one understands a concept, is still viable and efficient. Unfortunately, it has become associated with mindless repetition without any understanding of the concepts, which certainly will come to an end – mainly because it is not a sustainable approach to truly produce great thinkers and professionals.
Our vision is to become the largest EdTech company in the world by improving education for all students and transforming the learning experience for the masses. We think education has not changed for the last 100+ years and is going to have a fundamental shift in the next few years. Learning is a cradle to grave need that will only grow and needs to be made affordable and accessible to everyone in the planet.
TG: What learning tools and services will be offered by 'Tabtor' in its trial version? How do you plan to generate revenue from 'Tabtor'? Any kind of tie-ups in mind?
Raj E. Valli: We don’t have Tie-Ups yet. Although we are in many discussions right now and will be opening up our outreach much more aggressively after the iPad product launches by the end of summer. We are having many conversations with multiple virtual schools in both U.S. and India for our product and they are all actively looking to adopt our platform in the near future.
TG: Your products are currently being trialed in schools in Chennai and Bangalore? Has it bought up any issue from which you have learnt and fine tuned your product?
Raj E. Valli: Product development is a continuous learning process. We have received feedback from many students, teachers and parents who have used our application on what they really like and what they would like to see added to the product. We have a prioritization process and milestones for issuing the various releases for our product. The most relevant and very useful features will definitely be included in our initial versions and introduce the “nice-to-have” at later stages of the product release. In fact, most of our actual product testers are our end-customers. We value their feedback immensely and constantly seek them out as well.
(Picture: Tabtor Team together in USA)