Saturday, July 19, 2014

The story of how WyzAnt started connecting students with tutors

The story of how WyzAnt started connecting students with tutors

The story of WyzAnt Tutoring begins with two young entrepreneurs without a mentor or an ecosystem.
“People often ask us why we didn’t raise capital,” said WyzAnt co-founder Andrew Geant, referring to the company’s founding in 2005. “We didn’t know we could raise capital. We didn’t know that was a thing.”
Geant spoke Wednesday at Chicago Founders’ Stories @1871, the monthly series in which coordinator Pat Ryan Jr. questions entrepreneurs on methods, philosophies and histories, including missteps, to gain insight into operations.
1871 CEO Howard Tullman says the events typically draw 200 to 300 attendees, about half of them 1871 members, and that Ryan makes it a point to draw out the problems entrepreneurs have met along the way, not just the successes.
“The trick is, what were the hiccups along the way?" Tullman said. "He makes it his business to make those sessions more instructive and informational.”
Geant said he and his co-founder, Mike Weishuhn, both Princeton University graduates, ran the tutoring company by themselves until it got too big. Today, their company connects students online to 74,000 tutors offering in-person private lessons in various subjects. It raised its first capital — $21.5 million from Accel Partners — last year.
The average session runs $40-$50 an hour, he said, and eases the way for students and tutors to connect.
“With the marketplace approach, we’ve drastically improved the traditional economics in the industry,” Geant told Ryan, founder of Incisent Labs.
Geant said he came up with the idea after college when he had been headed for a career in investment banking in New York but found he didn’t like working in the field. He bowed out two weeks into job training, moved in with his parents in Maine and began tutoring, but found it difficult to market himself.
Figuring that college students made great tutors for high school students, he paired with Weishuhn, moved to northern Virginia and started working on the concept.
They recruited tutors from college campuses during the day. During high school football games at night, they talked with parents seeking tutoring services for their kids. Six months into their project, by March 2006, they hit $3,000 in monthly revenue, which gave them $600 in monthly profit, he said.
“We said, ‘We made it. We can live off of this,’” he said.
They expanded to other markets, including New York, and eventually moved their headquarters to Chicago, where they had friends.
Geant said he and Weishuhn established a payment process that appealed to both tutors and their clients.
“Tutors aren’t business people,” Geant said. “They don’t want to hassle with that. And the parents can just put a credit card on file, and they don’t have to worry about cutting a check or having the right amount of cash.”
Geant said they wanted to remain a two-person operation as long as possible.
“We had this vision where we could just automate everything, sit back and watch the money roll in,” Geant said. “We pushed it really far. In 2009, we were doing like $4.5 million gross sales with just the two of us. And the phones are blowing up and the books are a mess. The site is breaking. We’re like … ‘We need help.’”
Great said WyzAnt now has 70 employees and is hiring engineers, product managers and visual designers. The next goal: virtual tutoring.
"I don’t think the in-person experience is ever going to go away,” he said. “But, we are cognizant of the fact that there are a lot of benefits to the virtual experience.”
He added: “For us, matching is crucial. The right tutor might be in Alaska, and the right student might be in Florida.”

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