The tutoring industry’s business model has always been to charge students by the hour for each session. But that model is flawed, according to Philip Cutler, CEO of GradeSlam: “Students shouldn’t pay for the hour,” he says. “They should pay to have access to these people whenever they need them.”
After seven years of studying and working in education, Cutler launched GradeSlam’s first unlimited, on-demand, online chat-based tutoring service last September. High school and university students are guaranteed immediate access to web tutors for a $15 per month subscription. “Whenever students are frustrated with their homework or don’t understand something, they rip out their phone or take out their computer and send it to their GradeSlam tutor,” says Cutler. “They know in the back of their head that they always have that support whenever they need them.”
It took GradeSlam several iterations to arrive at its current chat-based system. Several years ago, when he was in university, Cutler ran a brokerage business connecting his classmates with students looking for tutors. When he founded GradeSlam in November 2014, it was initially an online and in-person tutoring service. Five months later, he dropped the in-person options and focused on the online-only platform: all teaching took place via video conference and collaborative whiteboards.
By then, it already had 3,000 students on the site. GradeSlam arrived at the current model after interviewing hundreds of its teenage clients. Students loved being able to get help whenever they needed to, but didn’t want the hassle to speak to their tutors, according to Cutler. “They don’t want to see or speak to some stranger, but they’d be happy to text or take a photo of their homework and share that.” The company finally launched the chat-based service last September to coincide with the new school year, and has since been growing 30%—per week, according to the founder.
The lesson Cutler extracted from his experience is still the common advice handed to all new entrepreneurs: “Talk to your customers and understand what they actually want,” he says. “We understood the business and what the parents wanted, but we needed to understand what the kids really want—how they prefer to be tutored.”
While GradeSlam is still small, it now has two offices: one in Montreal and another at GSVlabs, an educational technology incubator in Silicon Valley. The team is working on making the messaging experience as seamless as possible, and is talking to students regularly to get their feedback to integrate into the next platform update. “This is going to transform education, I’m certain of that,” says Cutler. “Now, it’s just getting people to buy in, to see how easy it really is.”
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