One may think that all tutoring platforms are the same. After all, what could be the difference between any two offerings? This is where you’d be wrong… Smart Alec is the platform doing it better. The on-demand tutoring services fixes many issues in the tutoring world, such as fair and transparent payments, a thorough pairing process matching student needs and capabilities, and the creation of network of vetted and high quality tutors. With a breadth of knowledge in any field, Smart Alec is the right tutoring platform for anyone interested in learning.
AlleyWatch chatted with founder and CEO Nathan Kane about the young startup and how it is raising the standards for tutoring across the nation.
Tell us about the product or service.
Smart Alec is a different kind of local tutoring company. Using our website and iOS app, students and parents can book in-home tutoring sessions within as little as an hour. We also build a custom-learning profile for each student using our Smart Match engine, and then match students with tutors based on their unique learning-style.
How is it different?
After running a traditional tutoring company for 5 years, I became frustrated with the antiquated tutoring industry. Traditional tutoring companies take advantage of tutors financially, often keeping 70% of what a student pays (yes, this is really true!) while delivering little real value to the students paying for the sessions.
On the other hand, Smart Alec gives tutors almost all of the commission from each booking, charging only a 20% platform fee. In addition, our academic-personality matching algorithm, Smart Match, makes finding the right tutor easy.
What market are you attacking and how big is it?
While we are primarily focused on students in middle school, high school and college, we have also begun tutoring elementary and grad school students. The private tutoring industry in the United States is currently valued at about $12 to $13 billion, and the industry is estimated to be worth $196 billion globally by 2018.
What is the business model?
Our business model is simple. Tutors are independent contractors that operate on our curated marketplace. After tutors complete sessions with students, we take a 20% transaction fee from the overall price of the tutoring session – and the tutor receives the rest!
What inspired the business?
I’ve worked alongside gifted educators for many years, and I have come to believe that a single great teacher can radically change a student’s life for the better. At Smart Alec, we’re trying to do just that. We connect students with New York’s best tutors (we only accept 4% of tutor applicants after a rigorous interview process). Moreover, we match students with the best possible tutors for their unique learning style to make sure that students find the right teacher for them.
Why does tutoring lend itself well to the on-demand model?
In a world where students and parents are armed with smartphones and expect on-demand service from their taxis, takeout and home-cleaners, on-demand tutoring was inevitable. We don’t think the Uber-style of on-demand (i.e., a random tutor showing up at your door) is necessarily the right model, so we’ve built Smart Match to help students find the right tutor for them and offer instantly confirmed bookings regardless of whether the session is in an hour or a week from now. This way students can meet with a tutor tonight if they need a little extra help before an exam, but can also find a great tutor who can work with them between their violin lesson and soccer practice next Sunday.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?
Over the next six months, we are going to continue to focus on growing our customer base and finding more great tutors. We are also working towards expanding our services to cover more metropolitan areas across the United States (we’ve already started to cover northern New Jersey)!
What is the one piece of startup advice that you never got?
A startup’s marketing strategy should be as well thought out as its product. I think a lot of people believe that if they build a great product, customers will magically discover it, but most of the time you’ll need to work really hard to educate your market – especially if it’s something novel.
If you could be put in touch with anyone in the New York community who would it be and why?
I’d love to talk to Brian Lehrer from WNYC. He’s a brilliant radio host and seems to profoundly understand this city. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve listened to, and I think he knows our demographic really well – so aside from just wanting to talk education policy with him, I’m sure he could give us some great insights!
Why did you launch in New York?
While I am originally from the tri-state area, the real reason we launched in New York was because it is the most densely concentrated tutoring capital in the United States, making it a natural place to start our business.
Where is your favorite bar in the city for an after work drink?
There’s this great bar in Prospect Heights called The Saint Catherine. It’s just the right amount of not-fancy, they’ve got a great happy hour (which I can never make it to), and it’s pretty much the best place to read a good book at the end of a long day.