SA-based Skillup making it easy to find and communicate with tutors

SA based ed-tech startup SkillUp is a platform for tutors and students to get connected. The startup recently received an undisclosed amount in series A investment from South African investment firm Knife Capital. The startup was born out of a realization of the ineffectiveness of the private tutoring industry. Naturally, the main aim of the company is to make it more efficient by making it easy to find and communicate with tutors and facilitates the purchasing and scheduling of both in-person and online lessons.

SkillUp spoke to TechMoran in this candid interview about their company and goals for the future.

Tell us about yourselves; your team, your educational and professional backgrounds
SkillUp was started by four friends, we all are young graduates and come from technical backgrounds. Kent Hawkings leads our mobile development, having previously built the Superbalist Android app. Andrew Cowley leads our marketing and product, everything you see of SkillUp likely came from him. Federico is our lead Engineer having studied Engineering at UCT along with myself, and he previously held a senior development role at LekkerSlaap. I came from a system engineering background and have the pleasure of leading the SkillUp team.

How would you best describe Skilluptors, what does it do?
Need a tutor? Come to SkillUp. Are you a tutor? Come to SkillUp. SkillUp has thousands of tutors scattered around South Africa who provide in-person and online lessons to our thousands of students. We pride ourselves on being the most tutor-centric service in the country which enables us to attract the best tutors, offer them the best service, and ultimately offer the best service to our students.

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What market gap did you spot that motivated you to start this company?
To earn some extra cash I started tutoring maths again to some neighbors. While the other companies slowly withered away, and I looked to get more students to tutor I realized how ineffective the private tutoring industry was. Private tutoring companies (1) took 50%+ commissions, (2) forced tutors to charge a set rate, and (3) put boundaries between tutor-parent relations.

It was then that I pitched my idea to 3 friends, much smarter than I, to start development on a service that (1) took half the commission fee, (2) let tutors charge what they want and (3) adopted the Airbnb type model of direct student-tutor interaction.

Who is your target market?
Our customers are parents of high and junior school students. We offer them a service that is convenient, professional and ensure that every effort is made to both remove stress from their life as well as build academic confidence in their children.

How does your company make money?
We take a service fee for every lesson between a student and tutor, very much like a brick-and-mortar tutoring company. We pride ourselves on having the lowest fees in the country as well as paying a tutor more the more they tutor until we essentially covering transaction fees. In 2017, we had 4000 lessons and have surpassed that already this year.

Who would you say is your major competition in this space at the moment?
In South Africa, we compete primarily with personal tutors, i.e. a tutor who is simply teaching one or two students that he met in the neighborhood without a desire for more. However, we think they are a valuable part of the ecosystem, and aim to continue to improve our product for both students and tutors so we can eventually attract the majority of users onto our platform. Other than that we have our vision firmly placed on growing our online product internationally. (https://www.skilluptutors.com/online-lessons). For that, we look to compete with companies such as VIPKid.

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What is your vision for the company in the next 5 years?
The biggest market opportunities we see are integrating tutors into any content providers. (1)This includes Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) because South Africa has the cheapest, high-quality English speakers in an effective time-zone for SE Asia for example.
(2) Other market opportunities include giving large content websites (Khanacademy, Codeacademy, Coursera, etc) the ability to upsell their content by offering on-demand tutoring. And lastly,
(3) our service can be integrated into universities wanting to offer live, online assistance to their students.

What advice would you give upcoming entrepreneurs?
In your business, only plan as far ahead as as many days behind you. I.e. if it’s day 1, only think about what you can do today and tomorrow, after 1 week, plan 1 week ahead, after 1 month, plan 1 month ahead etc.
Surround yourself with people who inspire you. Having a team who can challenge you is a special thing, If you are serious about it, find someone who is crazy enough to travel the road with you, I really believe it is always possible to find some, and why it is important to always be networking. They often act as a good, honest gauge or mirror.
There’s only one thing that really makes someone an entrepreneur, Sales, i.e. can you add value to someone, value enough for you to continue doing so, value enough that they are paying you. For this, Begin with the end in mind (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/begin-end-mind-matthew-henshall).

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