Byju's hires Messi as ambassador days after announcing 2,500 layoffs

The Indian online education company was recently made an official sponsor of the Fifa World Cup in Qatar

Lionel Messi, global ambassador of BYJU'S Education For All. Photo: Byju
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Byju’s, India's biggest online education company, announced football star Lionel Messi as a brand ambassador on Friday, just weeks after announcing plans to cut costs by laying off 2,500 employees.

The Paris Saint-Germain player and captain of the Argentinian football team will be the first global brand ambassador of Education For All, the social impact arm of Byju's.

The company said Messi will promote the cause of equitable education and, with 370 million followers on social media, elevate Byju's global visibility.

Byju’s was recently announced as an official sponsor of the Fifa World Cup in Qatar, which kicks off on November 20.

"We are honoured and excited to collaborate with Lionel Messi as our global ambassador. He rose from the grass roots to become one of the most successful sports persons ever,” said Divya Gokulnath, co-founder of Byju’s with her husband, Byju Raveendran.

“That is the kind of opportunity that Byju's Education For All wants to create for the nearly 5.5 million children it currently empowers. No one represents the power of enhancing human potential more than Lionel Messi," Ms Gokulnath said.

Byju's was established in 2011 with a focus on offering online video-based learning programmes for competitive exams. In 2015 it launched the Byju’s learning app that gained 15 million users over the next three years, including 900,000 paid subscribers.

While the amount of the deal with Messi was not revealed, this is not the first time the company has recruited a major celebrity for its brand promotion. In 2017, The company hired Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan as brand ambassador.

It also became the lead sponsor of the Indian cricket team in 2019.

But the hiring of Messi as brand ambassador comes at a time when investors are pressuring Byju's to cut costs after a revenue loss of more than 45 billion rupees (about $54.4 million) in the past financial year.

The company last month announced it would be laying off 2,500 employees from its 50,000 workforce over the next six months to control budget.

Taniya Tikko, co-founder of ObserveNow, a B2B digital media marketing start-up in Gurgaon, called Byju’s decision to hire Messi “ignorant”.

“I am astonished at the audacity of Byju's. Days after a mass layoff in the name of restructuring the company, they go ahead and get their celebrity crush as the brand ambassador … completely ignorant of the 2,500 families they destroyed in a day,” Ms Tikko told The National.

The move was also questioned by social media users.

“For me, it doesn't make sense to fire employees in India just like that and promote a brand with the highest-paid celebrities and sponsor sports events for a huge cost. Cost what they spend for promotions if they had invested in employees it will be a great choice,” wrote Twitter user Prakash Kumar.

Arun Bais, another Twitter user, wrote: “On one side there are reports that Byju's is facing heavy losses, firing people, and shutting down offices ... they are hiring the second most expensive brand ambassador in the world. What exactly is their story?”

Updated: November 04, 2022, 4:18 PM