Above: Ben Sze, Duncan Anderson and Jeremy Cox from Tutor on Demand
Yesterday, we profiled three of the restless young start-ups that are aiming to become the next Aussie tech superstars, with a little help from the Startmate accelerator program.
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Below, we speak to three more of the Startmate class of 2013, which have been lavished with $50,000, intensive mentoring and a trip to the US.
Founders: Ben Sze, Duncan Anderson and Jeremy Cox
What if you were a student wanting to top up your studies with some learning via your smartphone? And what if you were a teacher after a little extra cash and the chance to help a wider pool of students?
These two elements are drawn together for Tutor Demand, which features video content of 18 different teachers discussing 15 different topics, to help high school students.
Where did this idea spring from?
Anderson: Ben, Jeremy and I all worked together at Goldman Sachs and then did our own thing. We kept in touch and Ben was tutoring a bit. He had an idea to set up Skype, so we have tutors one side of a city and students the other side of the city.
He spoke to me about an idea in South Korea called MegaStudy, which is an on-demand resource with multiple teachers. It has a market cap of $1 billion.
We thought the business model could work here in a similar way.
Why hasn’t this happened until now? It seems like quite a simple idea.
Sze: Internet speeds weren’t so good until about 10 years ago. But, also, schools are slow moving beasts.
We are focused on finding great teachers and empowering them to teach more than the 50 students they normally teach.
Another barrier to entry is the time teachers would have to take to build and then sit and upload content – there’s a lot of time commitment there and not a lot of time.
How does it work?
Sze: We record teachers doing video lectures over a week period and show it in bite-sized pieces, five or six videos.
The focus is high school at the moment. There’s a really good opportunity as no one rewards good teachers – you get the same regardless of whether you are a good or bad teacher, unlike, say, a lawyer.
We have a recording studio, so the teachers come to us, do a Powerpoint presentation and walk away. There’s no need for them to have equipment, so there’s no hassle for them.
Students get access online through a referral or their school purchases access on their behalf. They might use it for just Year 12 physics or five other subjects, for example. Four weeks before exams, we expect to see lots of students watching all the videos and doing a crash course.
Who are you selling this to, exactly?
Anderson: Initially, we saw this as additional to the schools – there’s a big market for top-up lectures and here you get great teachers at great price points.
But we had teachers come to us and say they want to purchase for a class and a few libraries asked the same. So two schools purchased from us.
We are currently looking at all channels – directly to students and parents and some to schools.
What’s the business model?
Anderson: We sell subscriptions to get access to a subject for an entire year, over two parts. So you get, say, chemistry for $25 for one part. That gives you unlimited access. We’ve found that students usually buy more than once.
Schools can then buy access for all subjects, for a price per student. We are still trying to figure that out.
Sze: One school we piloted with had nearly 50% of students using the videos getting an A or A+ in their final exams. Only 25% get an A or A+ usually. We were quite pleased with that.
So far, we’ve reached 2,700 students across 350 different schools.
For schools, it adds another level of teaching. Students get access to a great teacher whenever they need it. They have an iPhone app they can use wherever they go and consolidate what they’ve learned.
None of you has a tech background, which is strange for a tech start-up.
Anderson: Yes, it is a bit unusual. But we did get it designed and get it all done, so I’d view us as project managers that have an understanding of tech, but didn’t build the core project.
We had people help us out with recording, generally multimedia students. The back-end was initially built by friends of Ben, while the design came from a few different places.
What would your advice be to anyone applying to Startmate?
Anderson: If you’ve built a lot of start-ups in the past, you’ll probably have an easy time. But if you haven’t, get traction first.
It helped us that we had customers, product and revenue. It wasn’t just talk. If you apply, don’t just have a great idea. Go out there and build something.
You all had comfortable jobs. Why do this?
Anderson: Building your own thing is much more interesting and engaging than working for other people.
Tutor on Demand can have strong, positive effects on society. Good education allows people to make better decisions.
We feel we can empower great teachers and build something that is riskier but the reward is completely different. As Steve Jobs says, do something you love that doesn’t feel like work. You end up really caring about what you’re doing.
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