At its most basic level, WyzAnt.com is a place where parents and students can go to find private tutors in their area, but what makes it so special are the resources it offers parents and students to ensure they find the right match with their needs. Parents and students can find screened and tested tutors in their area, read reviews, narrow the search using advanced criteria, email back and forth with prospective tutors and run background checks. Once they find the right tutor, WyzAnt handles all payment processing, reporting, and lesson feedback. With tutors in all academic, test prep, language, computer and music disciplines, WyzAnt aspires to be a one-stop shop backed by exceptional customer service. With 60,000-plus certified and active tutors nationwide, there is a WyzAnt tutor within 10 miles of 90 percent of the population, says Drew.
Victor: Why did you start WyzAnt?
Drew: WyzAnt.com was an idea born the old-fashioned way. I had a problem, so I set out to fix it. After graduating from Princeton, I decided to do some math tutoring while I figured out what it was I wanted to do with my life. The problem came when I went online to find ways to promote myself as a tutor. There weren’t any sites out there for tutors to market themselves. I asked myself, “Are we really relying on a system where private tutors need to put posters in grocery stores, place ads in non-vetted online directories like craigslist, or rely on referrals for business?”
At the same time, parents and students were facing the same problem. Tutoring is a very private matter, and each student has dynamic needs, goals and challenges. Even if parents get a reference for a tutor from a friend or school, there’s no guarantee that he/she will be a match with their student.
I contacted my college roommate, Michael Weishuhn, and we set out to build the first tutoring marketplace.
Victor: What were the early difficulties in starting the company? How did you overcome these?
Drew: We always felt like we had found the perfect opportunity and industry to bring into the Internet era, but WyzAnt.com started from nothing. Mike and I bootstrapped the company from my part-time job as a tutor and his full-time job at an IT consulting firm. Because this was our money and time we were investing, we had to make sure that our costs were kept under control – both on a personal and a professional level.
Looking back, it was an exciting time for us. While our social life was limited to $1 beer happy hours, our Princeton classmates were living luxurious lifestyles (vacations and sit-down restaurants) in comparison. But, in the end, the lessons we learned about making data-driven spending decisions were, and continue to be, hugely important to WyzAnt’s success.
In addition to controlling expenses, we also needed to find inexpensive yet creative ways to get our name out there – with some ideas proving more productive than others. One night, we spent hours nailing flyers to telephone poles around Bethesda, Md., only to get a call from the city requiring us to remove all of them within 24 hours or incur a $500 fine for each flyer. We spent the better part of that retracing our steps and taking down the flyers… we couldn’t afford a single fine.
Since that humble start in 2005, WyzAnt.com has grown to nearly 50 employees and, as I mentioned, over 60,000 certified tutors. We also have a 99 percent satisfaction rate among our customers – a testament to the quality of our services and the strength of the business model.
Victor: How did you grow your network to over 60,000 tutors?
Drew: WyzAnt.com owes its growth to a strategy that simultaneously creates value for our two customer groups – tutors and students. In the company’s initial stages, this was our causality dilemma – much like the chicken/egg debate. The more tutors we were able to secure, the more value the service had to students; simultaneously, in order to keep tutors engaged, they needed to feel WyzAnt was holding up its end of the bargain by providing them with sufficient student leads.
For students, we provide tools to easily browse, email, interview and perform background checks on tutors without requiring any commitment. Students can read reviews left by prior students and are afforded all the information needed to make an educated decision. In addition, WyzAnt offers a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee for students’ first hour with any WyzAnt tutor. By creating a secure, trustworthy marketplace for students to search for and contact tutors, we were able to acquire new students which in turn created an attractive marketplace that tutors wanted to join.
We also believe that different economic factors have contributed to the growth in tutors. For one, highly trained professionals are getting laid off or leaving their full-time jobs, and many choose tutoring as a rewarding occupation where they can apply their professional skills and have control over their hours and lifestyles. It’s also related to a bigger trend where more and more people want to work for themselves or supplement their income with part-time opportunities. The demand for tutors is also increasing due to macro factors such as declining school quality, increased competition for college acceptance and jobs, and the movement towards a more skill-based economy.
What makes WyzAnt unique are the tools we provide our tutors which allow them to grow their business. WyzAnt specializes in online marketing efforts that drive parents and students to the site, and each independent tutor has the ability to structure their profile to stand out amongst the competition. To help them, we provide tutors with the ability to customize the content on their page, and even allow them to write blogs and add videos to differentiate themselves. We also provide tutors with the ability to proactively promote their own services by creating customized, professional quality online and offline advertisements that utilize the latest technology including HTML ads, custom widgets, QR codes and more.
In addition, WyzAnt streamlines the transaction process by processing payments directly from the student via cash, check, credit or PayPal adding security while ensuring tutors will be compensated for their time. Students also receive discounts for pre-purchasing lesson packages, a benefit that does not impact the tutor’s revenue.
Victor: How is WyzAnt different from other competitors who offer tutoring?
Drew: WyzAnt has the largest database of private tutors when compared with any competitors, so the selection of tutors is second to none. We also offer both tutors and students/parents the most tools and services to help them market themselves (on the tutor side), find the right tutor (on the student side) and maximize the ongoing learning relationship for both the tutor and student. The WyzAnt experience is easy and convenient, and we have a customer service team that is friendly and effective.
Victor: Got a favorite client success story?
Drew: We’ve heard countless success stories over the years from student’s who credit their tutor with passing a difficult course, getting into their dream school or even completing a degree. Reading some of our student testimonials can be one of the most rewarding parts of my day, and there are literally hundreds listed on our website, so it’s hard to pick out one particular story as my favorite.
Generally speaking, I love to hear stories of students whose tutoring greatly improves their confidence, because confidence is something they will take with them in all other aspects of their lives. When a student believes he or she can accomplish something great, remarkable things happen.
Victor: What are your thoughts on education, and how does WyzAnt address those concerns?
Drew: The challenges in education are well documented – and I wouldn’t pretend to be the authority on how we might to fix the entire system. But, I will say that we are firm believers that students learn best with individualized attention, obviously something that is easier for tutors to provide than school districts. And that individualized attention is why we see more and more parents and students turning to outside help from private tutors to meet academic goals.
But, what we have learned is that finding a tutor isn’t as simple as fitting the square peg in the square hole. There are so many factors that parents and students need to consider in order to find the right fit. Some of the variables include: Is your child an auditory learner (learns best by listening), visual learner (learns best through sight), or a kinesthetic learner (learns best through experience)? Will this be a long-term engagement or just a few lessons to get them through the immediate academic hurdle? And then, there are obviously some things that are intangible – the chemistry.
The only way that parents and students can efficiently find the answers to these questions is by having the right tools – and making those tools convenient is the core of WyzAnt’s service.
Victor: What’s next for WyzAnt?
Drew: First and foremost, we need to keep executing our plan to give students instant access to the best tutors, no matter where they are or what they need, while giving tutors the tools they need to grow their businesses. Beyond that, WyzAnt has a number of projects in the pipeline that will continue to add value to students and tutors.
WyzAnt believes that the beauty of tutoring is in one-on-one instruction. It’s far and away the best way to learn and will therefore always be the heart of our service. We also see many of the other trends in education serving an important function. Online tutoring, asynchronous learning, and adaptive learning are examples of new technology-enabled learning mediums that, when properly executed, can be tremendously effective. Bits and pieces of these and other learning mediums will certainly be part of the WyzAnt platform as we continue to grow and evolve.
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest. To enter the 2013 EdTech Digest Awards Recognition Program, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org