Bring­ing tu­tor­ing into the 21st cen­tury

Cog­ni­tion.On­line is an app that makes hir­ing and pay­ing a tu­tor fast and ef­fi­cient. Tu­tors who are reg­is­tered on the app also don’t have to re­lin­quish a part of their earn­ings like with a reg­u­lar tu­tor­ing com­pany and can work as much and when they like.

Finweek English Edition - - THE WEEK - By Lloyd Gedye edi­to­rial@fin­week.co.za

youknow you are dis­rupt­ing a mar­ket when your com­pe­ti­tion tries to shut you down. For 24-year-old Kyle Dodds it’s a les­son he learnt in high school al­ready.

To earn ex­tra pocket money, he sold sweets at school, un­der­cut­ting its tuck shop. Soon the tuck shop, with the weight of the school be­hind it, brought its power to bear on Dodds’ lit­tle con­fec­tionery busi­ness.

His next mon­ey­mak­ing scheme was tu­tor­ing maths and sci­ence. De­mand was much big­ger than he ever could have imag­ined. Soon he had to rope in friends to tu­tor too.

“I was run­ning a team of about 10 tu­tors at one stage, who were giv­ing over 160 lessons a month,” he says. He did this for five years, while study­ing civil en­gi­neer­ing in Pre­to­ria. But the ad­min­is­tra­tion of set­ting up all these lessons and mak­ing sure ev­ery­one had paid and been paid was a night­mare.

“It was lots of ad­min. I couldn’t cope,” re­mem­bers Dodds. “I thought there must be a bet­ter way to do this.”

He fin­ished study­ing in 2015 and soon be­gan putting to­gether the busi­ness plan for what would be­come Cog­ni­tion.On­line, an ap­pli­ca­tion that has been billed as the “Uber for tu­tors”.

The ini­tial quote he re­ceived to have the app de­vel­oped was about R2m. So he looked for pro­gram­mers who would work for eq­uity, and who wanted to own a part of the prod­uct. Dodds and his part­ners have built the app in-house with­out any ex­ter­nal funding and the com­pany is com­pletely debt-free.

In Au­gust 2016, Dodds and his fel­low founders Wi­han Horn, Corneil Clasen and Waldo Boshoff launched Cong­ni­tion.On­line.

“We have al­ways been think­ing big. We wanted this prod­uct to be able to work any­where in the world and to be able to scale up very quickly. We wanted to make sure that ev­ery part of the busi­ness was au­to­mated.”

Cog­ni­tion.On­line is cur­rently en­ter­ing its first funding round, hop­ing to sell off a 28% stake in the com­pany for R6m, which would value the to­tal com­pany at over R21m.

“We don’t want to sell off a ma­jor­ity share,” ex­plains Dodds. “A big cor­po­rate can’t man­age a start-up. If you try and do things in a cor­po­rate way as a start-up, you are doomed to fail­ure.”

How does it work?

Tu­tors reg­is­ter with Cog­ni­tion. The app al­lows you to see all lessons avail­able within a 150km ra­dius of you, al­low­ing you to pitch on lessons you want. If the les­son is within a 20km ra­dius, the app will send you a push no­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Stu­dents need­ing a tu­tor, or a par­ent of a stu­dent, set up a les­son by stip­u­lat­ing the sub­ject, grade, du­ra­tion, rate, time and ad­dress for the les­son and prospec­tive tu­tors start bid­ding on your les­son. You pick the tu­tor you like and that’s that. “We are not a tu­tor­ing com­pany, we are a tu­tor­ing ad­min com­pany,” Dodds points out. “Our draw­card is ef­fi­ciency. Par­ents want their kids’ lessons to just hap­pen.”

Cog­ni­tion, which caters for stu­dents be­tween grades 4 and 12, han­dles all the ad­min­is­tra­tion. He says a lot of tu­tor­ing com­pa­nies can’t grow be­cause of the ad­min­is­tra­tive bur­den.

Cog­ni­tion’s goal is to have 2 500 re­cur­ring stu­dents (those who have a reg­u­lar tu­tor) on the plat­form by the end of 2018. That would amount to 10 000 lessons per month for the com­pany.

Cog­ni­tion cur­rently has 400 tu­tors reg­is­tered on the app, as­sist­ing stu­dents in Pre­to­ria, Jo­han­nes­burg and Stel­len­bosch. In a few months Dodds plans to launch Cog­ni­tion ver­sion 2.0, adding Potchef­stroom, Durban and Cape Town, and ex­tend­ing its ser­vices to Kyle Dodds Founder of Cog­ni­tion.On­line univer­sity stu­dents re­quir­ing tu­tors too.

Cog­ni­tion also wants to reach un­der­priv­i­leged stu­dents, in­volv­ing ses­sions in which tu­tors will be as­sist­ing mul­ti­ple stu­dents at a time, which has raised some cor­po­rate in­ter­est in terms of spon­sor­ship.

The big dif­fer­ence be­tween Cog­ni­tion and the tra­di­tional tu­tor­ing book­ing process in South Africa, ac­cord­ing to Dodds, is that tu­tors aren’t at the mercy of tu­tor­ing com­pa­nies. They de­ter­mine their own rates, what jobs they do and when.

Tu­tors re­ceive rat­ings from for­mer stu­dents. These rat­ings act as a con­stant form of vet­ting. “Peo­ple will pay money for a qual­ity tu­tor,” he says.

While tu­tor­ing com­pa­nies usu­ally take commission off the les­son fee, Cog­ni­tion charges learn­ers a small book­ing fee when a les­son is fi­nalised.

The fu­ture

One of Dodds’ main per­sonal driv­ers is to help cre­ate jobs for the youth. “When you are a stu­dent you have such lim­ited op­tions to make money. You can waiter, work in pro­mo­tions or at a video store,” he ex­plains. “The other op­tion is tu­tor­ing.”

Once Cog­ni­tion ver­sion 2.0 is fully launched in South Africa, the com­pany will look at other African coun­tries like Nige­ria and Zam­bia, but they are still do­ing re­search on those mar­kets. Europe and the US are also on the agenda.

Dodds says that he has looked at com­pet­ing busi­nesses in­ter­na­tion­ally, but most still re­main bur­dened by cum­ber­some ad­min­is­tra­tive pro­cesses. No­body has sim­pli­fied the tu­tor­ing book­ing process like Cog­ni­tion.On­line has, he claims.

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