Byju’s better half


Divya Gokulnath’s seven-year-old son Nish is a happy camper these days. Like many professionals, his mother— the co-founder and director of Byju’s, India’s largest education technology (edtech) company—is at home a lot more. “And my son loves it,” she says with a smile. Why wouldn’t he? Before the restrictions on movement imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the 34-year-old worked 12-hour days, leaving for the office at 8.30 a.m. and not getting home until 8-8.30 p.m. “Besides my maternity break, I have never stayed at home for this long!”

Because, by her own admission, Divya is a workaholic, continuing to juggle board responsibilities, team calls, and her online live classes even during the lockdown. If anything, her schedule has become more gruelling. She had been closely involved in launching Byju’s free live classes for students as schools across the country were shut down. In March, 6 million new students joined the online platform for free live classes, while another 7.5 million signed on in April. “Students were missing the regularity that schools provide. We wanted to bring that back,” points out Divya, who has been conducting daily live classes on biology for students between grades 8 and 10, and mathematics for grades 4-7.

Like her husband Byju Raveendran, the 39-year-old founder and CEO of his eponymous edtech company, Divya has strong academic prowess and a keen willingness to share her knowledge. As Raveendran puts it, Divya is a “teacher foremost”. And that helps her bring “compassion and business nuance” to their shared vision for Byju’s, the company they co-founded in 2011— under the aegis of Think & Learn Private Ltd. “She’s been with me on this journey since the beginning and, being a teacher first, has got her priorities in place—a seamless learning experience and student betterment is at the heart of every decision she takes.”

This has helped Byju’s become India’s most-valued edtech company with 70 million registered users and 4.5 million paid subscribers. Not surprisingly, given the nature of the business, Byju’s has raised just over $1 billion in equity funding this year alone, despite the pandemic, according to data from analytics firm Tracxn.

Divya’s pivotal role in her husband’s journey from Azhikode, a coastal village in Kerala, to becoming one of the youngest billionaires in India, goes back to her own early days. Growing up in Bengaluru, where her father is a well-known nephrologist with Apollo Hospitals, and her mother, a retired programme producer with public broadcaster Doordarshan, Divya’s upbringing was academically inclined. She studied at Frank Anthony Public School, and later went to R.V. College of Engineering to pursue her B.Tech in biotechnology.

After graduating in 2007, she decided to take the GRE, an admissions test requirement for graduate schools in the U.S. That’s when serendipity took her to the preparatory classes conducted by…

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