Edtech startup Shikho acquired Bohubrihi, a skills and professional development-focused online learning platform, in 2021. At the time, Shikho was less than a two-year-old company with a focus on K-12 but with a bigger ambition of democratizing education in the country. The company's vision states that it wants to build a digital learning ecosystem for Bangladesh. Bohubrihi was already a several-year-old lean bootstrapped startup with a focus on skills development and a reputation for quality work.
After several months of discussion, the acquisition was announced in November 2021, a strategic move that allowed Shikho to diversify its portfolio and build a strong position in a new vertical without losing its focus. After the acquisition, Bohubrihi co-founder and then CEO Yanur Islam joined Shikho as the head of Shikho’s skills and professional development arm along with the entire Bohubrihi team.
From a strategic point of view, it was an excellent move on the part of Shikho. It allowed Shikho to build a position in the fast-growing skills and life-long learning vertical along with a significant user base without losing its focus on K-12. Improved Shikho’s market position overnight as an ed-tech company with a comprehensive presence across verticals, while acquiring a team that was expert in an important vertical and a solid business that would have taken any company several years to build.
The synergy was unmissable and is even clearer today.
After almost a year and a half since the acquisition, Shikho relaunched Bohubrihi with major updates in early May 2023.
“Towards the end of Q3 2022, we simplified Shikho and we also simplified our thinking around Bohubrihi,” explains Shikho Co-founder and CEO Shahir Chowdhury in an upcoming interview with FS. “The way we think about it is Shikho specializes in academics, in science subjects from class six all the way through admissions. Bohubrihi is going to be specialized in specific professional upskilling segments — engineering and product, creative and design, and business and finance. Piash (referring to Bohubrihi co-founder and now business head of Shikho’s skills and professional development vertical) has got a couple of these segments and he's built new courses. He's built new technology and modules in version two of the relaunched platform. I'm more excited about Bohubrihi in 2023 because it's all new.”
Bohubrihi was a company we regularly covered at FS before its acquisition. Shikho has been one of our favorite companies since its inception in 2019 for its high quality and unique work in the market where many players often find their comfort in the lowest possible denominator in the name of the scale. Shikho has so far resisted that pull.
It is hard to predict anything in the world of venture building. Excellent companies routinely suffer bitter fates. And not-so-excellent companies find ways to prove everyone wrong. So far, the acquisition of Bohubrihi has proven a strategic win for Shikho but we will have to wait a few more years to fully realize the impact. For now, with the launch of the new version of Bohubrihi, apparently more is coming and we’ll hopefully see some of that impact at work.
On the eve of Bohubrihi's new launch, we look back at Shikho’s acquisition of Bohubrihi, how it happened, what we think about the acquisition after a year and a half, the new Bohubrihi, and more. Let’s get into it.
When Shikho announced the acquisition of Bohubrihi in 2021, we were elated by the news. It was a rare occasion in Dhaka’s fledgling startup scene. More so if you consider the broader business culture in Bangladesh. Culturally, people don’t believe in this kind of approach. If a company finds the work of a competitor or distant competitor interesting, they would copy that and start an in-house separate arm to do it. Acquiring that company or potentially building a strategic collaboration is the last thing most companies would consider.
To that end, Shikho’s acquisition was almost counter-cultural to the prevailing business norm in the country. It was more important because it was one of the early meaningful acquisitions in Dhaka’s fledgling startup scene. These acquisitions and collaborations are important for the growth of any startup ecosystem. It indicates the exit potential and maturity of an ecosystem and also helps create new wealth.
Similarly, it also indicated that Shikho as a company was coming from a different cultural orientation and values. So we had our reasons for finding the news exciting and inspiring.
The acquisition took place through a systematic month-long process and the story itself is interesting.
The Co-founder and CEO of Shikho Shahir Chowdhury and the Co-founder and CEO of Bohubrihi Yanur Islam Piash got to know each other around 2019. Both founders connected immediately aided by their common vision and values. Communication started casually as two founders in the same industry.
“We started with exchanging ideas and views,” shares Yanur Islam Piash, then Co-founder of Bohubrihi, who now runs Bohubrihi as the skill and professional development arm of Shikho. “We also started to follow each other's progress. It also happened that we started to grow respect for each other.”
Shikho was in its early days. After months of work, the company officially launched in April 2019. Shikho had only one course at the time — SSC math. But the quality was impressive. It was different from anything in the market.
“I was impressed by the quality, thoughtfulness, approach, and pedagogy of Shikho's work,” Yanur reminiscences. “It matched our ambition to produce high-quality work and we admired it. As we came to learn more about each other and each other's work, we started to delve into the discussion of how we might work together. After a while, Shahir bhai proposed that we join Shikho and build together. However, It didn't move right after that. We took our time. We observed the market and ourselves. We discussed it extensively internally. The conversation gradually gained pace and the deal happened towards the end of 2021.”
Shikho was closing its first seed round at that time. Shahir was still in London and leading the company from there and his Co-founder Zeeshan was looking after the operation in Bangladesh. When Shahir finally decided to move back to Bangladesh to run Shikho full-time, the conversation to acquire Bohubrihi and merge the teams started to gather pace.
“I had always been a fan of Bohubrihi,” says Shahir Chowdhury, Co-founder and CEO of Bohubrihi in the previously mentioned upcoming interview with FS. “Shikho is in a very different market from what I personally would normally look for learning opportunities. It’s not something that is relevant for a professional. But we could go to Bohubrihi and probably find something that we would like to buy right now. So it was relevant for me all the time. I really liked the name as well, Bohubrihi means multi-dimensional. So the appreciation was there from a brand perspective and from the way they had designed all of the courses. I would say it was in line with our ethos of quality. He (referring to Yanur) did all the right things and had created a business that was successful and was doing well with limited resources. What we didn't know and weren't sure at the time was, how Bohubrihi could successfully create synergies and become part of the broader Shikho story.”
Since both parties were invested in the idea, it was rather smooth sailing.
“We discussed and agreed on things,” says Yanur. “The process was similar to any other acquisition deal. There was both stock and cash involved. Shikho was super professional. I tried to do the same on the side of Bohubrihi. It was relatively straightforward because the idea was that the Bohubrihi team would join Shikho and operate as it was. The only difference would be we would become part of Shikho.”
One interesting thing Yanur did during this period was he went on an extensive cycling tour. Away from his team and work to think clearly and see things from different perspectives. “We were still having the conversation,” says Yanur. “I would text while traveling during this period. I would cycle the whole day and do some documentation work at the end of the day. I thought about it from different perspectives throughout this period. At the end of the tour, the day I returned to Dhaka, I signed the term sheet to begin the due diligence.”
Shikho wanted Yanur and his team to run Bohubrihi after the acquisition. It was a priority for Shikho that Yanur and his team stay with Shikho for a longer period after the acquisition. Similarly, Bohubrihi had its preferences such as meaningful rewards for the founder and meaningful opportunities for the Bohubrihi team. “For me, the priority was to ensure everyone in the Bohubrihi team got the opportunity to benefit from the deal,” says Yanur. “We have tried to maximize the value for everyone involved.”
Everything aligned toward the end of 2021. Shikho already had set up their new HQ in Banani and the Bohubrihi team joined in and started working out of the same offices.
While it appears simplistic that the two founders liked each other and found a synergy in their approach to work and vision and hit it off, in reality, it was not that simple. Deep strategic thinking went behind the decision.
“We both had different considerations,” says Yanur. Around 2018/2019, we were quite confident that Bohubrihi had found product market fit, our customers valued our product and we were growing consistently. The challenge became how we scale this to the next level. We in fact started planning the relaunch we are doing now at that time. We wanted to move to a new platform so that we could scale quality and scale users from 2 lakhs to 10/20 lakhs. We had already started working on these areas but the progress was quite slow due to resource limitations since we were a bootstrapped company.”
For Yanur and his team Bohubrihi at the time, this was an important consideration. They had ambitious goals. But they hadn’t yet figured out a path to that vision. When the opportunity to join hands with Shikho came along, part of the allure was that it could potentially help Bohubrihi achieve its true potential.
“We could see that we could leverage the excellent resources Shikho had — talent, resources, tech, engineering, relentless focus on quality, ambition, and so on,” explains Yanur. “The things that made me fall in love with Shikho in the first place. Shikho was already doing excellent work. Shikho videos were well-made with excellent quality. Their website and tech stack were world-class. I already had a deep respect for Shikho because of these things, which played a significant role in my decision to join Shikho. I wanted to take Bohubrihi to the highest peak and I could see that joining hands with Shikho was the best path to doing that.”
For Shikho, the considerations were different. Shikho has always been a hyper-focused company. Do one thing. Do it well. And then go to the next thing. For instance, Shikho started with only one course: class nine math. They wanted to make one course, launch it, collect feedback from users, and make the next one. They had and continue to have this systematic and focused approach to doing things. Even today when you go to the Shikho website, the company only covers science subjects for classes nine to twelve.
For the Shikho team, it didn't make sense to dilute its focus and get into a new vertical such as the skills development where Bohubri was operating. At the same time, Shikho had a greater ambition.
“Our thinking with Shikho has always been to create a learning ecosystem,” Shahir tells us. “That’s our overarching vision. We want to create a digital learning ecosystem for all Bangladeshi education stakeholders. We believe that the opportunity starts from secondary all the way through to tertiary and continuous learning.”
Since Shikho aims to build a learning ecosystem and build across disciplines and subjects, Bohubrihi was a perfect fit for the company to get into continuous learning. Since Shikho didn't want to do it all at once, doing it from scratch didn’t make sense when the company still had a lot of work left to do in K-12 alone. Instead, the company wanted to have people who could build it and let them do what they are good at.
To that end, it made perfect sense for Shikho to get into skills development and continuous learning through Bohubrihi. Bohubrihi already had a growing business in the vertical. The Bohubrihi team had already proven their strength. If Bohubrihi joined Shikho, it meant Shikho had an early foot in the door of the skills development vertical without building from scratch. It could save Shikho time and focus while helping it leap into a new vertical with growing potential. Bohubrihi was a perfect opportunity to expand Shikho’s vision of making education accessible for everyone.
It made even greater sense from the business perspective. Bohubrihi could help Shikho increase the lifetime value of its users. Shikho aims to serve users up to university admissions. Bohubrihi could then serve the same user after admission and graduation. It expands the lifetime value of each acquired Shikho user for a much longer period of time. It could also allow both Shikho and Bohubrihi to cross-sell and acquire customers more efficiently.
“Shikho users are eventual users of Bohubrihi,” says Yanur. “It means we can acquire these users with significantly less investment when they graduate from the Shikho platform. They would already know us because they would already be within the Shikho ecosystem.”
Today, when we look back, the acquisition worked out quite well for Shikho. In the real business sense, it has added value. It has allowed the company to reach a user base who could contribute to each other’s business. It has helped solidify Shikho’s market position as an important player in the ed-tech space in Bangladesh. It has strengthened Shikho’s narrative of democratizing education in Bangladesh. And Bohubrihi, given the new launch, has managed to reach a different level and serve its users even better.
After the acquisition, the first thing was about syncing two teams. Once it was done, the Bohubrihi team got to work immediately.
“Since our intention was to rebuild the platform ground up and then relaunch, we wanted to run a few experiments to understand what works and what other things we could do differently from what we were already doing,” Explains Yanur.
Experiments and active learning have been a critical part of the Shikho DNA. The company had already built an approach of rapid experimentation and iteration when it acquired Bohubrihi. Right after the acquisition, Bohubrihi took on the same values. What followed was a year and a half worth of frantic experimentation, hard work, and lots of building.
Bohubrihi kept its existing operations. At the same time, as the arm of Shikho’s skills and professional development, it started a series of experiments around the brand, courses, content, approach, tech stack, platform, etc.
For instance, at one point, it was decided that Bohubrihi would focus on Career Track and premium value-added courses. The low-cost and smaller courses would be offered through a second brand called Shikho Skills. As a result, the smaller foundational courses that were on the Bohubrihi platform were shifted to Shikho Skills. Additional courses were made on less demanding topics such as Email Writing, Microsoft Office, etc. Shikho Skills became a separate brand focusing on this segment of skills development. Separately, Bohubrihi was focused on more comprehensive career track courses.
It was a major change and the company quickly found itself in a multi-pronged challenge managing it. “Maintaining two separate brands was a huge challenge,” explains Yanur. “It became a challenge for both our internal teams and our external audience. Our thesis for the change was the thought that there was a significant difference between the more high-touch segment and the low-touch segment of users. We thought these two groups were different but quickly realized, in reality, it was not like that.”
The company discovered that customers don’t buy courses based on prices, rather they buy courses based on their individual needs. If they needed to learn a skill, they would take it regardless of the price. It worked both ways. People routinely bought both types of courses on Bohubrihi, expensive ones and also foundational courses that are less costly. When Bohubrihi separated low-cost courses from Bohubrihi to Shikho Skills it led to a customer experience problem because now a customer had to go to both Bohubrihi and Shikho Skills to learn two different skills. Communication also became a problem. You are now spending twice to reach the same customer. It also reduced its power to cross-sell to a user.
“After a while, we dropped the idea of Shikho Skills and reintegrated all the courses with Bohubrihi,” explains Yanur. “Then we started to double-down on Bohubrihi as a one-stop platform for all types of skills development with a focus on careers. We started to position ourselves differently. You could do beginner or foundation courses on Bohubrihi and then if you wanted to learn something in-depth with more complex skills, you could choose a career track or advanced course. For instance, if you want to learn the basics of Python, you could do one of our foundation courses on Python and after that, if you want to go in the direction of programming or data science, you could do it with a career track course on these skills. We redefined the customer journey from this angle. We could see that the same audience was taking both types of courses.”
After this detour, Bohubrihi redefined itself as a one-stop platform for skills and professional development courses. The platform has since double downed on this ambition.
This, however, was only one of the many experiments Bohubrihi ran. Another significant experiment was offering live courses. Until that point, Bohubrihi only had self-paced recorded video courses. Students could attend quizzes and assignments separately that Bohubrihi would score separately. It had mentorship support, etc but there was not any live component in the course.
But there was some demand for live courses from its students. The logic was that live courses would allow them to interact with teachers directly and learn better. Based on the feedback, Bohubrihi launched several live courses as an experiment. Before that, Bohubrihi had small live workshops that it called mini-series but didn't have comprehensive long live courses that ran for two to three months.
Doing live courses is easier than doing recorded courses because there is a limited need for preparation when you are taking live courses. In a recorded course, you have to prepare and be slightly perfectionist. In a live class, you can be flexible. So it was easier to convince teachers and find excellent instructors. Moreover, unlike in its early days, Bohubrihi now attracts many credible instructors who want to work with it.
Bohubrihi had ambitious goals for its live-class product. “We thought since live classes are easier, we would bring high-profile people such as Bangladeshi diaspora living abroad and working for international companies to do live classes with us,” says Yanur.
So they launched several live classes. The initial response was good. It was better business-wise. “Our unit economics was better in live classes,” says Yanur. The challenge, however, came from the operations side. It was an operation-heavy business. It required a ton of effort to generate a volume and make it meaningful business-wise.
“We realized, if we wanted to make the live classes work, we have to shift our focus from our existing recorded career track courses, which didn’t make sense for us at that time given the success of our recorded courses,” says Yanur. “At the same time, users were telling us that live class was an inferior experience compared to the recorded one. Students told us that they could get more value out of recorded courses since they were already time-poor.”
Bohubrihi eventually decided to focus on what was already working — recorded courses and dropped the live-class product after a while. But it made some significant changes to its recorded course modules. Bohubrihi came to see that students value both live and recorded courses for different reasons. So it decided to consider the sentiment and now offer a blend of the best of both worlds.
“We learned that both live and recorded courses have their own benefits,” reflects Yanur. “We spent time understanding what people liked about these two different modules and we decided to make a product at the intersection of both, which is our current career track courses where we have most lessons recorded but we also have certain components that are in the live format including a weekly and bi-weekly live class component. We now offer the best of both worlds. The sweet spot in many products is in the middle. Many people say they want live classes and others say they want recorded classes but the sweet spot is in the middle. This was the case with our audience experiment, course experiment, and module experiment. So we have decided to explore this middle ground and double down on it.”
Bohubri has also changed its brand guidelines to match its new positioning, which is premium, substantial, and basically a lot more serious. “While we offer basic and foundational courses at lower prices, our primary focus is on the career track and job readiness courses. These are high-end in nature,” explains Yanur. “To match that, our new branding has a sense of credibility and stability. It offers a sense of elegance and we wanted to ensure it portrayed the premium nature of the product. We have changed the look, feel, and tone of our brand.”
After a series of experiments over the last one and a half years, Bohubrihi launched a new version of its platform early this month. It has not only changed its tech and platform, but it also upgraded its courses and content, its approach, and everything in between.
“There are several aspects to our relaunch,” explains Yannur. “One is technology. Our previous platform was built with WordPress. It had severe user experience issues and had many functionality and scalability limitations. We have changed that. The new platform is built with a new tech stack and is smoother and better.”
Bohubrihi started working on the new platform right after joining Shikho. It has always wanted to launch a new website but couldn’t invest in one because of resource constraints.
“We started the research from the early days of Bohubirhi as part of Shikho, says Yanur. “We asked our users for feedback and analyzed their feedback to understand what we need to do. It was not possible to offer an authentic e-learning experience through our previous WordPress-based platform. We designed and launched our current platform with all these considerations. We have used the latest technologies such as graphQL, GoLang, and MongoDB on the backend. On the front end, we have used Next.JS and React. JS. The same engineering minds who lead Shikho, lead Bohubrihi's tech development. This is a major part of the relaunch.”
Another major part is the content. Bohubrihi has remade many of its popular courses including some of its best career track courses as well as its foundational courses. It has introduced new courses on new subjects that were not offered before. It has improved on content. Changed the approach to curriculum design and course-making. Improved modules and onboarded new instructors.
“We have created several new courses such as a product management career track by Ahmed Fahad of Pathao,” explains Yanur. “We have launched a spoken English course. We have launched a bunch of new courses in the foundation courses category on PowerPoint, resume writing, etc as part of the relaunch.”
Shikho has one of the best content production studios in Dhaka with sophisticated technologies and superb capabilities. As a brand of Shikho, Bohubrihi has separate, dedicated facilities within the studio. Bohubrihi courses are now made using this highly sophisticated facility, which is definitely reflected in the quality.
Bohubrihi updated all its career courses and launched completely new versions of some of the more important ones.
The other aspect is the quality of content and instructor. Bohubrihi has added new instructors and improved content quality. It has remade its best-selling web development course from scratch and brought together some of the best instructors to teach the course. It has also designed a new process to design its courses.
Yanur offers a rough approach they take to create courses now:
Bohubrihi prepares an initial curriculum based on our understanding of the field and user feedback. A consultant then reviews the curriculum — Bohubrihi works with highly capable consultants. For instance, the consultant for its web development career track course currently works at Amazon and previously worked as CTO at several Bangladeshi IT companies.
After that, Bohubrhi takes the curriculum to one of its industry partners such as Brain Station 23, one of the leading IT companies in Bangladesh. A group of business heads and engineers of Brain Station then further review the curriculum and vet it. Since they work in the industry and hire people regularly, they add feedback regarding the most sought-after skills in the current job market. Bohubrihi then incorporates all this feedback into its curriculum. Once the curriculum is finalized, it reaches out to instructors who are some of the best people in the field.
For instance, its web development has seven/eight components, Bohurbrihi went to separate instructors for each component and onboarded them. Each of these instructors works at some of the best institutions and companies. They prepared different components of the course together. But Bohubrihi mapped out the entire course ahead to ensure coherence across the course, although it is taught by several different instructors. This is how Bohubriho now creates its Career Track courses.
It is an extensive and meticulous process that indicates that Bohubrihi is obsessed with quality. The platform says it is a rare feat in Bangladesh where this many talented people teach one online course together. “With the relaunch, we are now setting a new benchmark of quality,” adds Yanur.
Similarly, Bohubrihi has always wanted to explore job placement opportunities for its students, which has been a big part of its relaunch. The platform now has a recruiter panel for companies to hire its students. It has built partnerships with a long list of companies including Brain Station 23, Chaldal, Foodpanda, Pathao, iFarmer, etc. The partner companies would receive exclusive access to graduate students from Bohubrihi courses. It also plans to proactively put students in touch with these companies.
“We are gradually expanding this partnership with companies to create placement opportunities for our students,” says Yanur. “This is a major area of focus for us going forward. We want Bohubrihi graduates to be placed with the most in-demand employers in Dhaka. We want to be part of every forward-thinking company’s strategic recruitment process.”
As part of the relaunch, Bohubrihi has introduced a flagship seminar program called DeCode. Under the program it plans to organize workshops on different university campuses on career opportunities in fields it teaches and how students can prepare for these fields. The company has organized one workshop at Dhaka University this month and plans to go to one new university campus every month. Before Bohubrihi had a quite successful campus ambassador program that aimed to engage students with its platform. The new DeCode program expands that program.
“I'm not going to talk about the long term,” says Yanur when asked about the plans for the platform. “Instead, I would tell you what we are doing now and where our focus is for the immediate term. One of our goals is to improve user experience on the platform. We have redesigned the platform and our platform is now so much better. But we don’t want to stop here. We have many interesting features in the pipeline and want to launch them to take the platform to the next level. We are now working on those features and chasing that vision.”
Bohubrihi plans to productize its customer support and automate it so that it could support more students better. Retention remains a key focus of Shikho across its verticals. Improving across products and services is one surefire way to ensure retention.
Bohubrihi also aims to improve its job placement feature for both its students and recruitment partners. “Currently, we send CVs to our partners manually but we eventually want to automate the whole thing where recruiters will be able to access and do their job where we wouldn't need much manual handholding.
Finally, the platform plans to introduce more new courses in the coming days.
“We are working on a few more career track courses,” says Yanur. “We are currently working on a data analytics career track course. We have a presence in five categories now. Our plan is to further strengthen our position in these categories and then scale into other areas gradually. The focus is on reaching as many people as possible and as efficiently as possible. That is the priority for this year.”
After a year and a half and hundreds of experiments, Shikho has figured out its approach in running Bohubrihi as a complementary upskilling brand. The company views Shikho and Bohubrihi as two separate brands catering to two distinct user groups. The company now plans to amplify the strength of both brands over time.
“Obviously, we're one company, but we are two brands,” explains Shikho CEO Shahir. “Shikho is the hyper-focused academic brand, and Bohubrihi is the hyper-focused professional upskilling brand. We operate in two different segments of the market. Bohubrihi looks and sounds different purposefully because it can then actually cater to an audience authentically. The teams are different. It has separate marketing, products, and engineering teams. This way when they're building it, they're not muddled in their thinking, which was what happened last year when we experimented trying to do “Shikho Skills” at the same time. Now it's very clean. It's a very specific customer profile that each team is thinking about. As a result, when the team launches a product or a marketing campaign, or a new feature, they're speaking to the right users with a very clear head. I'm more excited about Bohubrihi in 2023 because it really is all new and there's a lot of very exciting things to come.”
This in my opinion is the best approach for Shikho. Most acquisitions do not work because companies often try to impose unnecessary controls. When you try to force something, it creates unintended consequences. Successful acquisitions require open-minded flexible thinking and the ability to meaningfully deal with the innovator’s dilemma — allowing the new entity to operate independently while making the team accountable. Shikho has so far shown that the company has it in ample amounts by allowing the Bohubrihi team meaningful independence.
Thank you Ayrin Saleha for reading an early draft of this article.
Update: This article has been updated with new information on 11 May 2023 at 16:03 PM. Last updated on 11 May 2023 at 19:01