Notebook - Interview with the developer of a fantastic app

Did you have any prior development or coding experience?

I come from a background in Civil Engineering and Management. So my work has seldom needed any kind of development or coding. However, since my younger years, I have been extremely curious about technology and taught myself a few programming languages back in the days - Basic, C++ and Java. Later, while working in Africa, I worked in Product Management and Product Marketing, which added to the interest in technology and user experience.

What was the most challenging aspect of developing mobile app?

India is a country with more than 280 million students in schools. The app is intended to make their studies a more engaging experience. Having left school years ago, the most challenging aspect was to internalise the challenges of students who are digital natives, and develop a solution that could offer them an enriching experience.

Subhayu started his career as a Civil Engineer with L&T Construction in rural Andhra Pradesh. During this time, he started noticing the stark information divide that existed between urban and rural India. After finishing his MBA, Subhayu used to work for a Telecommunications Services company and was posted in Africa for an extended period of time. During this time, he set up a business unit across Africa and Middle East and travelled extensively across the region. Seeing abject poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and contrasting affluence in Middle East, Subhayu had been thinking of ways to use mobile technology to bridge the economic gaps that exist in the society - both in India and abroad. Subhayu came back to India in 2014, and led the South Asia business for a Sports Data MNC. During this time, he worked with the use of Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Machine Learning in sports. In 2017, Subhayu started working towards articulating the gaps in the school education system in India, and possible models to address them. He is tasked with ensuring the right mix of creativity, functionality and technology at Notebook. He and his team work on the AI and Machine Learning systems that will power the product going forward.

Name a few of your favorite apps and reason you love them.

My favourite apps are Netflix, Goal Live Scores, and Wikipedia. Netflix for its rich user experience. It feels so fantastic that a global app has cracked the design philosophy to appeal to content consumers across the globe. Goal Live Scores for its speed and fast match visualisation. I used to work for Perform, so a little biased there! Wikipedia - just for the thought. A team of people put information collection and dissemination at the centre of all that they do!

How long have you been working on this app?

The first time we decided to make this app was 2017. We spent more than 15 months on the drawing board without a single line of code being written. We kept working on it, adding and removing elements as we got to understand the student's psyche better. Coding began in September of 2018, and we appeared on the Play Store on 1st April, 2019.

What need of the user did you have in mind when developing this app?

A student in school is often graded based on marks in exams. These marks are seen as a reflection of the student’s proficiency in a particular subject or topic. However, in reality, it is often a function of engagement. More engaged students indulge in research and internalise topics far better than disengaged ones. Our effort was to offer a user experience that matches our best-in-class content, make it easy to use and useful, and offer a reason for the student to keep coming back to the app.

In what way do you think your app is better than similar apps on the market? Please describe in detail what innovation you think you bring and what you are proud of in your app.

When we started we set out to build an engaging educational experience. As time passed, we realised that we will be judged next to other apps and products in the segment, and what differentiated us, would become our reason to exist. In content, we ensured an engaging use of sequential art, almost like a video form of a comic book, to make lessons more engaging. In user experience, we deliberately stopped benchmarking against other educational apps, and instead compared ourselves to the video streaming apps like YouTube and Netflix. In fact, the video delivery for our app is done through Anvato - the same platform that powers YouTube. We set out to make learning a stress-free, engaging, fun process, and this conscious deviation from the usual encyclopedia-esque design helped us achieve that. Another thing we are extremely proud of is that we managed to keep the app to just 17 MB!

What are your future plans and expected features of the coming new versions of this app?

This app is the starting point of a long journey ahead. We have started with a limited set of content, which we develop in-house, for students. Going forward, we will keep adding more subjects and topics. We will also be adding intelligent assessment systems that will keep identifying weak spots in someone’s school learning on an ongoing basis, and make recommendations to overcome those. We are also building a machine learning-based back-end that will allow us to recommend personalised learning pathways to students.

Assuming new users of your app are reading this page. What do you want to ask them to do (contact you about X, Share the app, etc.)?

First, I would like to thank them! You put your faith in us, and we will not let you down. You are our first set of users, and we will keep evolving as you tell us how we can improve. My request is that you use it, ask your friends to use it, share it, spread the word around. And then all of you give us your feedback. Help us improve. You are not customers - you are our co-creators, and your feedback will be of immense value to our journey.


About App: Notebook is a mobile-first product that combines video and text content to deliver best-in-class learning according to school curricula. Notebook aims at delivering an environment for stress-free learning for school students to study. With productive engagement in mind, educational audio-visuals are used in a way to create maximum impact through short-form content. The syllabi across CBSE, ICSE and multiple state boards are broken down into topics and sub-topics. Every sub-topic is then converted into a script for the video. The videos include an instructor-led component as well as some graphic visualisation elements to reinforce the storytelling. Besides the sub-topic video, there are short recap videos to recapitulate the key learnings as well as solved questions provided in the video form. The objective is to make homework for every lesson an interesting, engaging experience.

Categories: Education

Date: May 1, 2019

Developer: Subhayu Roy

About developer: Subhayu started his career as a Civil Engineer with L&T Construction in ... Read more



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