Dfavo: In Conversation With The Modern India

Dfavo in conversation with the modern india

Our founder and CEO, Mr. Harinder Aulakh and Pål Kvalheim recently spoke to The Modern India about how the EdTech industry has been booming in India. Stay with us till the end of this blog, to know how Dfavo is transforming the way students go about the study abroad journey by digitizing the process without compromising the human support element. 

Dfavo is a Norwegian company with over 11,000 students registered and 3000 channel partners which is a fast, simple to use, online platform that enables access to education, internationally. 

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The podcast was moderated by Rina Sunder.

Rina Sunder: Both company founders firmly believe, the opportunity for mobility, improves career and life prospects. Paul, let me start with you. What is the route to global dominance in EdTech according to you?

Pål Kvalheim: We are not very concerned about global dominance, what we are concerned about, that our key focus is to establish a good service in the educational industry, that sort of gives students, easy access to higher education abroad. That is a huge industry, and there’s more than sort of room for many platforms and many service providers, so we’re not that concerned about becoming sort of a dominant EdTech. What we’re concerned about is to get give young people access to higher education abroad, we normally say that talent is evenly distributed around the globe, whether you’re a woman or a man, it doesn’t matter, talent is evenly distributed. But, unfortunately, access to higher education isn’t, and that’s the main purpose of our platform is to provide potential students, with the possibility of studying abroad. And if I may add, I come from a normal middle-class family here in Norway, and I grew up as most Norwegians do. But when it comes to education, all Norwegians come from a privileged background. The thing is education is for free, and we even have this loan facility this state-owned bank that supports potential students abroad. So if you’re accepted into a good university abroad, the government even gives you a huge ground to pay for the tuition fee. And that is, to me, some of the best parts of being a Norwegian. And that’s also what we want to give back to more people around the globe, we want to give them access to higher education.

Rina Sunder: That is so true. We who are living in Norway, are very privileged when it comes to education because education is really easy for everybody to grasp as an opportunity. I would like to move over to you Harinder. Dfavo, your company has already facilitated more than 11,000 Indian students to study abroad in their first 12 months of operation in India. How do you see the state of EdTech in Norway, compared to India? What are the innovation and sector trends to watch out for in India, but you can also add some words about the global scene?

Harinder Aulakh: Thank you very much for having us Rina and for this opportunity to speak about Dfavo. What we see, we see this is a global trend since 2000 till today, the industry is, is kind of growing.

In 2018, the number was 5.6 million students who moved from their home country to a study destination country, which is projected to be 8 million students to be mobilized every year by 2025.

So this we see is a huge industry, the students need support and proper guidance and guidance in this era. So what we are trying to achieve is because this is one of very costly, very expensive and one of the very critical decision for the student life, who want to move from their home country to a destination country. So technology is just a way to give them support efficiently and effectively but at the same time, it is very important for these kinds of decisions you need a human element which we cannot ignore. So when we say Dfavo, we say it is a digital transformation of the student mobility industry but without compromising the human element. So we see day by day, the technologies innovations, and new platforms coming into the picture, who also want to help students internationally. When we say like India is one of the major markets, China is another one of the major markets. 33% of the outbound industry is from these two countries. 

This is a global industry at the students from Africa they want to move to India, the students from Nepal, they have preferred destination in Japan. So this is more of a global industry. Students from Norway want to study in the USA, right, so this is a global industry. So we are a people business and we want to contribute to one of the major decisions of the student life.

Pål Kvalheim: Yeah, and if I also can add Rina, I think you asked about the technology trends and during COVID, all over the world students have been sitting at home, having distance learning and you know all kinds of courses online. What we believe is and the purpose of Dfavo is to give people access to study abroad, and you might want to have part of the education digitized and so that you can sort of follow a seminar from your computer, but the basic underlying driver is the people want to move abroad, they want to have the ability to live and study abroad, and that’s the megatrend that we are sort of in the middle of. So we’re not concerned about the sort of technology used to enhance the sort of educational part of learning. That’s something that every university will use to a large and lesser extent, but our sort of the main driver for using our service is to get access to higher education abroad and ility to move to another country to study, live there, get new friends, new experiences in life, probably also to get some work experience from another country. So that’s our main focus.

Rina Sunder: And that’s really important because I think it really, and you grow so much as a person when you study abroad, and it gives you experiences and memories for a lifetime. I’m impressed by the numbers you have put out today that we are expecting to have 8 million students studying abroad by 2025, and in the fact that 33% of the students who are studying abroad are from India and China. Pål we are based in Norway. How do you see the Nordics? Do you think that Nordics can become a leader in EdTech?

Pål Kvalheim: Well there are some prominent sort of EdTech players from the Nordics and maybe the most prominent one is Kahoot, but you also have these other companies based here in Oslo. So, they are part of this global EdTech growth, but there is still a lot to be done within the education space. Basically, the way we teach our youngers is the same as they did in the middle of the 18th century. 

I mean, my grandfather had to go to school sit and listen to the teacher and he might have had to sort of remember a little bit more than we have to do. But basically, the way you learn is the same. So of course, technology will enhance the learning experience going forward. But what we think is that the trend that people want to, they want to travel there and live there. That’s what we’re most concerned about and in that case, I don’t think the Nordics will become a leader. The thing is in the large English-speaking countries: US, Canada, UK, they’re very much more aware of the positive economic effects of having a large student mass coming in and living in those countries. 

So, in the US, for instance, they’re concerned that US-China relations will reduce the number of Chinese students coming to study at the universities and colleges in the US. And likewise, they will then, of course, want to keep the numbers of qualified students coming from India. And in those countries, as I said there are much more positive effects of having foreign students studying at the universities, and maybe working part-time, maybe getting a full-time job after their education, and so forth, and that’s not sort of the forefront in the Nordics. In Norway, we look at education as something that’s financed by the government and it’s kind of a public sector, service, and our universities are very concerned about having students from all over the world continue to live and study here in Norway. So in that respect, I think the Nordics are lagging behind and if you look to the UK, then they are very much more aware of the positive effects of having a broad population of foreign students. 

Rina Sunder: That was really interesting to hear I would like to dig into that more later after I’ve gone through a few other questions. You’re a very intercultural team, but Harinder I would like to know since you have managed, I mean, India is a dream for many companies to be able to tap into the Indian market and you guys have managed to do that. And you have managed to scale your business you know I congratulated you with your numbers because they are amazing. Harinder, what would you say what are your do’s and don’ts when scaling your startup or your company, please enlighten us.

Harinder Aulakh: Yeah, this, the industry we are in, we are not into technology industry once again, we are into the service industry. So when it comes to service then definitely the customer is in focus. In our case, the student is in the center. So a student is a priority, the student is prime for us. It is very important that the student gets unbiased information. The real information in this industry because this is, this itself is a big industry when colleges or the university, ask the companies, the recruiters to recruit students and the recruiters, they are with 10 universities, they have a contract with any university and they are like students nowadays is a commodity. 

So the recruiters normally try to sell only the universities they have with them. So it is very important for us that students in focus, and they get what they want their information, and the information should be unbiased, not based on the contracts you have. So very important for us we are building trust with to build trust with the students, as well as the recruiters, so this our prime focus. 

The second is our planning to kind of increment, infrastructure, and operational expansion. It is important that we grow, but we grow over time, instead of putting in too much investment and having a lot of people on board. And for this industry, it’s important that as much as we are transparent when it comes to the information to the students, as well as the universities. So these are the do’s for us. We cannot compromise on our values. When we say Dfavo, we want Dfavo to mean trust, we want Dfavo to mean transparency, and we want Dfavo to mean shared success.

Rina Sunder: Yeah, and Pål, let me move over to you. I love listening to you, and I really want to dig into more and more questions I have more and more questions for you actually. But Pål, what are your goals, I mean you’ve penetrated the Indian market. So, well, what are your actual goals for Dfavo, let’s say, the coming months, or 12 months down the road. Harinder said that you want to go slowly, you want to take your time, and trust is the most important factor for you, and that it’s important for you to be transparent. Have you set yourself some goals when it comes to partners and students, please let us know.

Pål Kvalheim: I mean, the basic goal is to continue to service, students, predominantly from India but then from the whole of Asia and ultimately globally, to give students a good service that’s our main goal. But if you look sort of for the next 12 months is to continue the growth that predominantly will be in India, and service, Indian students well. We want to build our organization Dfavo into a great place to work. We want people, I mean, the ultimate goal would be to become a preferred employer in India. And then, of course, to build out the offering, by adding more schools, more options to choose from for the students, and to make the Dfavo brand more visible and more known throughout India but ultimately throughout the globe. 

The aim is to build a truly global service, we want to have students from Norway, recognizing Dfavo and using Dfavo when they are to look for education, whether it’s in the US or in Singapore and vice versa I would like students in India and all over to do the same. But in order to scale as Harinder said we have to give the students a good service, so that’s the main priority. And when it comes to the organization as I said, if we can become a preferred employer and a great place to work, then we will have done something good. That’s the main goal for the next months and the years to come.

Rina Sunder: You have impressive numbers to refer to, I mean having 11,000 students registered in India is impressive. And this actually proves that the team has managed to penetrate the Indian market. Harinder, what would you say are the key success factors to be able to penetrate the Indian market, what have been the success factors for you? 

Harinder Aulakh: Again, my answer is exactly the same, trust. The trust which we are building, and the trust is very important in this industry because this is the most, one of the most critical, and expensive decision for the parents as well as for the students. So the success is with the trust to build trust and the human element which is, which we cannot ignore, regardless of the technology you are using – the human element, the human touch, when it comes to the guidance to the students as well as parents. So, this is more of a trust and close connection with the students as well as parents.

Pål Kvalheim: And if I can add to that. The thing is to, when you’re deciding to take education abroad, that’s a major decision in life. That’s kind of a door opener to a new life and a new destiny. So it’s a very important decision, it’s like finding yourself a wife or a husband. And of course, when you do that, that process is based on trust, and you have a lot of questions. It sometimes goes down to sort of simple questions like how is it to live and work in Canada? If you’re from Mumbai and you’re looking at studying in Toronto, you would want to know how cold is it? Will I make any friends there? What does it cost to live there and so forth? 

So, at every stage of the application process it’s important that you can access that you can speak with a human being it’s not just an email you send, and we get to reply 14 days later. So when we set up our business we tried to do it so that at every step of the process you can get access to someone in our organization, it could be that it’s via that chat function or email but, or you can even call someone. And that’s important in building trust and it’s important in making the service valuable to the students. 

I mean you can imagine yourself when you apply to a university, one of the main things you’re wondering is, when do I get the letter, when do I get to know if I’m accepted? And when you use our service we provide you with a timeline that shows you when you can expect to get your offer letter, and of course, once you have an offer letter then you have 10,000 questions, and you’re able to get in contact with the person in our organization to get the help you want. So that’s kind of key driver to our success.

Rina Sunder: Wonderful to hear, but I’m still eager, I mean you’ve managed and succeeded so well in India you know just to take that decision. We are based in Norway. We know that one of the issues we are facing in Norway, which is, highly discussed is we Norwegians have good ideas, but to scale our business, that’s a challenge for winning companies and you guys have managed that. So I would like just to if you maybe these are company secrets, but still, I mean, to be able to have 11,000 students registered, how, what was the market work, I mean the field, the work you did in the field in order to manage to get the attention of so many students, how did you build this business, step by step, that has made you achieve what you have achieved today?

Pål Kvalheim: It actually starts with the kind of person, an entrepreneur that has the ability, as you say to take it from an idea and sort of set it out into motion. And that’s what fascinates me the most with Harinder. Dfavo is his brainchild. He was the founder, and he has this great ability to sort of think long term, but actually get things done. And whenever you’re setting up the business, it is about getting things done, you have to do it. 

Prior to Dfavo, Harinder set up some English prep schools, the schools that teach English where you can take an English test, which is a requirement to study abroad. So those schools are in our sister company called Flying feathers. And once you have those schools set up and they’re for physical school buildings where there are approximately 6000 students that go through every year, then, things had gotten in motion, and then it’s about sort of hiring the right people setting up the right processes. And I guess maybe Harinder’s background from engineering sort of made him good at designing the processes and tracking people and getting them to sort of start doing it because it is about getting things done. And once things were in motion, then we could start talking with hiring people that could talk with partners and students alike in order to attract them onto our platform. So it started with the personal skills of Harinder and then it’s grown in a very enthusiastic organization with this great sort of entrepreneurial spirit that will only find in India, and there’s every day they’re out there selling, trying to attract students and also sort of adding more people to the team in those processes. 

Harinder Singh Aulakh: Thanks Pål for your kind words. To add to this, I have learned a lot. Since 2005 I moved to Norway. I have learned that the way we are running our organization I had experience in 2010 when I established an engineering company, I replicated the same in India as well. So what is working for me is the Norwegian way of running an organization. 

So put people first. In our organization, our main focus is on people because, at the end of the day, they have to deliver. So we, as an organization, the success is our own people who are working with us and they are motivated, and they kind of enjoy in working, and to serve the students, that is, that is I would put like, is one of the major reasons for the success so far.

Rina Sunder: Very interesting to hear, and I’ve learned a lot just by the way you tapped into the Indian market because yes, you’re right. In order to apply for university abroad, you need to go through certain, at least English tests. Then my last question for today’s podcast, talk is to both of you actually, because you are a beautiful team. Pål is Norwegian, Harinder is Norwegian but Indian born, how do both of you view your intercultural competency to build bridges to assess failures and explore opportunities when you work globally, given your cross-cultural background? 

Pål Kvalheim: I’ve had the pleasure of working in Asia for 15-20 years in Telenor. And of course, there are cultural differences between Norway and a lot of the countries in Asia. So I tried to be aware of it but as Harinder said, you know there is some basic human sort of interactions, placing people first, people are people trying to motivate time to work with people, that’s the kind of leadership that we want to have in our organization. So that’s what we’re trying to teach the organization that they’re empowered to take decisions to perform. But of course, there are some cultural differences and in some instances, you have to be aware of that. So, whenever I speak to the organization, I’m trying not to praise, for instance, point at people that I can sort of interpreting a question as demand or something like that, that I’m aware of the titles and the people, sometimes they’re more prone to help CEO than they would sort of someone else. So, I’m trying to work on these intercultural inter-human relations, and that’s what we’re trying to build our business on. And that’s something that I learned in Telenor, you know, wherever you travel, there are so many highly-skilled, fantastic people and you learn something every day. And it is about sort of building that team building the trust. And then, empowering people to work on their own. So that’s what we’re trying to do. And I guess that’s something that I brought with me from my other organization.

Harinder Singh Aulakh: While working with oil and gas, I got an opportunity to work with many teams, and people from, for example, for instance from the USA, from the UK South Korea, and India as well. So, I have learned many, like, the plus and minuses, but at the end of the day, which fascinates the lean organizations. I’m very proud, the way we run organizations here in Norway, so that worked for us in India as well. Though we are a little different, it was a little bit challenge back in 2018. But now, the organization started liking the model.

Rina Sunder: It’s wonderful to hear both of you sharing your experiences from working in various companies and working globally and how that has made you the strong team that you are today. We have actually come to the end of today’s session. We are very honored that both you Pål and Harinder did take time out to join this seminar on EdTech.

So, that brings us to the end of this insightful conversation with The Modern India. You can listen to the full podcast here: https://spoti.fi/3muVkCG

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