Big Idea

Bucking the sales manual with RapL

A 500-page training manual may not be the answer to upskilling your blue-collar workforce. This Bengaluru-based start-up just may be

When we think of ed-tech, we think of Coursera, Byju’s, Udemy, and Upgrad. These largely cater to the educated and upwardly mobile among us. But what about the neighbourhood store salesman who would leave his workplace for a Rs.1,000 extra at some other place?

For instance, consider a salesman with Casio, who knows every watch in the store inside out. But these watches change every season. How will he stay updated and relevant in an ever-changing world? That’s where Maersk’s OceanPro incubator saw value in solving a problem and they roped in Arun Muthukumar, who immediately got to work in skilling high-attrition, knowledge-based workforces.

In early 2018, RapL, a micro learning app, was launched to help train blue-collar workers. The start-up graduated from Maersk’s 90-day incubator programme in late 2019. This is Muthukumar's second offering, after LinkStreet in 2011, a platform used by institutions such as ISB, IIM Bangalore, and Teleradiology Solutions to cast their distance-learning and executive training programmes.

“How do you train people spread across 600 locations? If you employ trainers, what’s the cost of such an operation and what’s the return on investment?” asks Muthukumar. He explains by citing Shell as an example. The oil and gas major employs about 40,000 frontline workers. “Safety is of utmost importance. If there’s a dispenser leakage at a fuel station, the asset needs to be shut down till the problem is fixed. The loss from that would be approximately Rs.300,000/hour,” he says. So, Muthukumar tells Shell, “Pay us Rs.300 per user per month so we can minimise the hours of revenues lost by skilling your employees to fix such snags.” 

Here’s how the app works. It comes loaded with quizzes prepared by RapL based on the client’s training manual. Every morning, the app quizzes an employee on four real-life scenarios. “It takes hardly three to five minutes to answer the quiz,” says Muthukumar. After the employee answers every question, they are asked about how confident they are. The app then categorises them on the basis of their knowledge and skill-level. Over the next two weeks, the app pops the same question to the employee to test whether they remember the correct response. It’s similar to revising for exams; it doesn’t stick if you just read the answer once.

Based on the app’s scoring criteria, organisations could allocate their best resources to crucial processes and figure out who to retain, promote or train. If an employee reduces or stops using the app, it could be an indication of disinterest. RapL monitors such activity and intends to help employers gain insight.

Muthukumar works with a 40-strong team to produce content for RapL’s 40+ clients. These include Maersk, Casio, Bajaj, Myntra, Redbus, Shell, L&T and Titan. The clients get charged on a per-seat, per-user, per-month basis; the average per-user cost comes to about Rs.10/month. Currently, Muthukumar claims to have over 60,000 users on RapL, but expects that number to grow 5x by end of 2021. They compete with the likes of Moodle, an open source software and SAP SuccessFactors.

The growth is likely to come from expansion to Asia, Middle East and the US, and Maersk offers access to all these markets. They plan to enter international markets through partnerships that they build through clients. Muthukumar says, “The propensity to pay in India is around $1-2. But abroad, you’re paid up to $10 for the same services.” One challenge remains. “The Learning and Development teams of most clients still stick to outdated methods of sending courses and manuals to their salesforce. Changing their mindset remains a trick,” Muthukumar concludes.