This Interview was conducted by our partner Jeff Cohen, CEO of TheTextbookGuru.com
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Tutor.com offers one-to-one learning solutions for students and professionals. All of their services are live, on demand and online. Homework help, tutoring, peer coaching, professional development, training, career help –they do it all. But it really comes down to their core philosophy that when someone needs help the best way to get it is right away from an experienced expert.
MO: How did you come up with the idea for Tutor.com?
George: In college and right after, I tutored dozens of students in test prep subjects, and trained many tutors. Those experiences made me a big believer in the power of one-to-one tutoring and coaching, and the impact on student achievement. Later on, I headed up software development for a major test prep company and began to see how technology can enhance learning. At that time, in the late 1990’s, the Internet was powerful, but had little impact on education. I wanted to change that.
I partnered with a major test prep company and raised money from angel investors to create Tutor.com and launch our first site ( www.tutor.com). Fairly quickly, we had over 40,000 tutors to provide services to students searching on our site.
MO: Can you explain the development process from having the initial idea for the site to actually putting it together? What were some of the biggest challenges you faced along the way?
George: The initial idea of allowing students to find a tutor in our database and connect for offline tutoring was good, but hard to monetize and scale. And many students and parents weren’t quite ready yet to trust the Internet for education and learning. Early adopters, who were ready, told us that they wanted help right away, not to make an appointment for a later tutoring session.
With that feedback, we focused on building software that allowed students to get help online, and on-demand, without any appointments or advanced reservations. No more travel or coordinating busy schedules. Instead a student could connect to a tutor whenever they wanted to on their own schedule, from their own home. No one had anything else like this at the time. We were the first company to create, market and sell on-demand tutoring.
Once again, we found we were a bit out front of consumers. So we made the decision to sell our service to public libraries. At that time, many libraries had just updated their technology—both hardware and connectivity— and they were serious about offering new digital tools to their communities. Thousands of students walk, bus or bike from their school to the public library every day to do homework or hang out in a safe environment until a parent is home from work. Librarians wanted something educational for students to do and Tutor.com was the right solution, at the right time.
Today 83% of public libraries offer online homework resources. And our business has grown to serve U.S. military families, public schools and colleges and universities, in addition to consumers.
MO: Can you talk about how you’re improving our educational system by helping teachers and school leaders get the support they need from instructional coaches?
George: The most critical part of the education system is a having a great teacher in the classroom. Great teachers make the most impact on students. No matter what curriculum you offer, the size of the class or the school district, a great teacher still comes out on top when it comes to student achievement. This is why there is such a focus right now on training and creating great teachers.
Our MyLivePD Online Coaching Service is all about teacher effectiveness. Once again, we are the first company to create, market and sell an on-demand, no appointment professional development program that focuses on helping teachers with their specific challenges. Our instructional coaches work one-to-one with teachers all school year to give them support and fresh, timely ideas to bring back into the classroom.
The most important and exciting part of this program is that 85% of teachers report they are using the information and/or resources from a coaching session in their classroom within a week. The coaching they get is immediately working for students.
MO: Once someone decides that they need a tutor, what’s the process of actually finding one to work with? What if you get a tutor that you don’t feel compatible with?
George: Our model matches a student to a tutor using a brief assessment of their needs. Students tell us the subject they need help in, how much help they need, the specific question they want to work on and they may even upload a worksheet or resource they are using. This information is used to immediately match that student’s needs with a tutor who is most likely to help. Then a tutor accepts the request and the tutor and student meet in our online classroom within minutes of the request.
Since we’ve already thoroughly screened and vetted all of our tutors, nine times out of 10 a student is happy with the tutor they are connected to for their session. In the case that the tutor can’t help or isn’t getting through to the student, the tutor can transfer that student to another tutor.
After a great experience, students can add that tutor to their list of favorite tutors, and choose from their favorites the next time they need a tutor.
MO: What are some of your favorite features of Tutor.com?
George: Immediate help, always one-to-one, focused on that student’s or teacher’s particular issue. Also available from your iPhone, iPad, or Adroid device.
MO: Tutor.com boasts of 8 million one-to-one sessions completed since launching. Can you talk about what marketing strategies you’ve used to reach such a large audience?
George: We sell primarily to other organizations such as schools , colleges, libraries and the U.S. military. Once an organization has purchased our service, we help them implement the program and market it to their students or families. Every client has access to a suite of professionally designed marketing materials which they may use throughout their relationship with us. Tutor.com is featured in well over 100 local newspapers each year and countless newsletters, websites and blogs thanks to the local publicity our clients do to build awareness of their Tutor.com program.
This strategy of providing marketing materials to our clients has been an effective and efficient way to spread the word about our services. We are also big believers in the power of social media and word-of-mouth. Many students tell us they heard about Tutor.com from a friend. In fact, 95% of our users report they like the program so much they’d recommend us to friends and they do!
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