Care, Tutor, Services, etc.





Amusingly at the last NJTech Meetup, we had a speaker talking about taking on large front-runners. Basic business school advice is to focus on a niche market and really own it if you find yourself in that position. But in the world of web startups, it’s hard to even build out a good niche.

Tutorspree as a business model has nothing really wrong with it. It’s a basic service posting/seeking platform that focuses on tutoring. The revenue comes from taking a portion of the hourly rate whenever a service is provided.

The problem is that Care.com also offers the same posting/seeking platform for a variety of services, tutoring included. Care.com has more financial backing, has been around since 2006, and is already advertising through various media forms. The look and feel of Care is more cluttered as it has to cater to more variety of services. But the core functionality is more impressive as it allows more advanced search and more control features (ie. requesting background check).

Therefore, we need to address that #1 question of whether the market is large enough and can you carve a niche for yourself? Yes, the market is definitely large enough, but how do you differentiate yourself from the 800-pound gorilla of Care.com? I agree that the service of facilitating payments between customer and tutor is very attractive, but there is no way to prevent Care from doing the same (if they don’t already).

I guess if you were aware of such a dominant player as Care.com already in the market and still pitched your startup, I guess I missed the most important part of the presentation where you explicitly laid out your comparative advantage.

I don’t think I need to go into more depth of what I think about the overall business model of service posting/seeking platforms. They are frankly a great idea and essential since review sites and directories (whitepages/yellowpages) deal mainly with companies and there is a need for a similar site for individuals. The only improvement I can think of is to integrate a social network so that you can see who your neighbors or friends have tried out and even ask for recommendations.

Watch on tumbledowntech.tumblr.com

Maybe it would have been cooler if I had pitched in the elevator, but this was pretty great anyway.

Summer Studying: Acing Reading Comprehension on the SAT

It may still be July, but Brendan knows that means that the SAT is right around the corner for millions of American high school students. Our private tutors know how important that is, so we’re collecting their advice on what to do.

Ah, summer. Just the mention of the season brings to mind lazy days at the pool, hot dogs on the grill, and …SAT prep? That’s right. Summer is a great time to prepare for taking the SAT. This post is for all you high school students out there. You probably have more time on your hands now than you will during the school year, when you will have to make time for homework and extracurricular activities. Why not use this time to make sure that when the SAT rolls around during the school year, you can get the best possible score? With that in mind, I’ll be writing a few posts featuring advice on taking the SAT. Since my own background is in English, my focus will be on the Critical Reading and Writing sections.

Let’s start by talking about Reading Comprehension questions, a part of Critical Reading. Reading Comp questions ask you to read passages, some short and some long, and then answer multiple choice questions to show your understanding of what you just read. Here are just a few key pointers for dealing with RC questions.

1. Always have evidence for your answer.

The SAT will try to trick you with misleading answer choices that seem right at first glance but aren’t actually supported by the passage. Before you pick an answer, you should always be able to point to a line in the passage and say, “This is my evidence for choosing C.” If you can’t do that, you need to rethink your answer. One way to help yourself in this area is to hunt for the answer to a question in the passage before looking at the answer choices. That way, you have a shot at finding the right answer before being misled by an incorrect choice.

2. Force yourself to be an active reader.

Let’s face it: SAT passages can be downright boring. You’re not going to get any excerpts from Harry Potter or Twilight or whatever newfangled books you young folk are reading these days. When dealing with the long passages, you need to force yourself to absorb what you’re reading and avoid the temptation to skim as quickly as possible. A good way to ensure that you are actively reading is to underline and jot down notes as you go. Every paragraph has some sort of main idea (To find the main idea, ask yourself, “What point does that paragraph make?”). When you finish reading a paragraph, before moving on, mark or write down the main idea. Also mark opinions and important examples. If you are completely lost after finishing a paragraph, try looking at the paragraph’s beginning for a topic sentence and the paragraph’s end for a conclusion. All this might seem time consuming, but spending some extra time reading the passage will save you time while answering questions.

3. Deal with double-passages one at a time.

On the SAT, you will be presented with a several pairs of passages that relate to each other. This can be overwhelming, so when you encounter these double passages, don’t read them both at once. Read one of the passages and then skip to the questions about it. Then move on to the other passage and its questions. Finally, you can go on to answer the questions that relate to both passages.

I’ll leave you with those three tips for now. Until next time, keep having your summer fun, but find some time for the SAT between the cookouts and the family road trips.

Looking for a great private tutor like Brendan in your neighborhood? Check out Tutorspree!

First image sourced from: http://www.gmatpill.com/practice-questions-explanations-gmat-prep/gmatpill-releases-reading-comprehension-pill-video-guide-rc/

Tutorspree: More Software Doesn't Always Mean Less Friction

Tutorspree came through Y Combinator in our Winter 2011 batch. Initially, the company’s proposal was simple: expose a hard-to-find supply (tutors) to demand (parents of students who need tutoring). Install messaging and payments, sit back, and watch.

To some extent, the team saw success there as parents sought tutoring for their kids. However, as they analyzed messages between parents and potential tutors, they saw communication frequently break down during the early phases of interaction. The right pieces of information simply weren’t getting through.

Common wisdom among marketplaces is that by building software, you can make things scale quicker, and that people will be able to work together better. But in this case, software was getting in the way. Software helps connect people, but right at the moment of booking a tutor, there’s no substitute for having a real live person get in touch.

So that’s what the team did. It’s all software up until the point someone wants to book a tutor, at which point a Tutorspree rep gets on the phone and walks people through the next steps. It makes sense–hiring a tutor is a big commitment for a parent!

Having a human being on the other end radically reduced the time needed to set up tutoring, and quintupled the average sale for the start-up. It may not have been code, but some problems for Web start-ups paradoxically cannot be solved with code alone.

- Garry Tan (YCombinator partner) - Read Full Article in INC

Alley vs. Valley, or, why we're coming home

A little over four months ago, we found out that we had gotten into Y Combinator. After we were done jumping up and down and shouting, we realized that meant we were going to have to pick up and move from NY to the Bay Area. Between running around and looking for subletters, buying tickets, packing, and saying goodbye to friends, we had glimpses of what the move might mean. We talked about whether or not we’d stay in California after YC - after all, it is the land of the startups. We were told that engineers were plentiful, investors eager, and the weather spectacular.

When we got here, we found that that was exactly right (well, aside from the fact that all the engineers had jobs and multiple offers). Josh and I were grilled on our business plan by the checkout guy at Trader Joe’s during our first week. Folks in coffee shops and bars not only thought that Tutorspree was a cool idea, they realized that we were not, in fact, unemployed. Strangers were able to give valuable advice on design, scaling, and marketing. In many ways, it was the perfect place to launch a startup.

And yet, here we are, in our last few days in Palo Alto, about to go back to the Big Apple. I keep telling people why, and I think it’s worth sharing. There are as many opinions about where to start and grow your company as there are people to ask. A lot of folks give unequivocal answers: New York, because you’re doing fashion! The Bay Area because you need super technical Stanford PhDs! Chicago because you’re Groupon! Blarg.

The truth is that every startup and every set of circumstances is entirely unique to that startup. We look at what we need in order to develop the next stage of Tutorspree - high density of students, focus on education, willingness to experiment with new technology and methods, design talent, engineering talent, etc. and we put that on the scale. For us, those factors all point to NYC as our optimal first market to conquer. But it’s not perfect. It’s 100% true that in NY we have to fight Wall Street salaries and a different view on new technology than we do in the Bay. It’s also true that our cost of working and living will be higher.

But there is never a perfect answer to a problem, and attempts to optimize for perfection generally result in iterative death. The only way forward is to weigh each of our options and decide on the best path for the company while considering every factor we could see - and hypothesizing on those we could not. And after a lot of long discussions internally and with our advisors, we decided what was best for the company.

And with that decision done, we also considered what was best for us personally. Part of the reason I became an entrepreneur was to gain freedom over my choices. Freedom to make my life what I want it to be. That runs from building an incredible company with great people to change the path of education to knowing that can make time for the things that are important to me which are often denied by the rigors of, say, strict market hours.

So we’re coming back. We’re returning to a burgeoning tech scene that is rapidly adding incredibly talented, interesting, and innovative people. We’re excited to add our voice to a rising chorus proclaiming NY as more than it’s most recent definition as the capital of Finance. We’re going to do everything we can to share the incredible lessons we’ve learned on the West Coast - lessons built on decades of success and failure in building technology companies. We’ve been exposed to different ways of thinking (and I now know how to wrap a burrito), challenges we’d never considered, and people who pushed us to the very edge of our abilities.

It’ll be hard. It’ll be invigorating, fulfilling, mind-bending, heart wrenching, and glory making. It’ll be the best thing I’ve ever done. In short, it’ll be a very New York kind of story.

(oh, yeah, and we’re hiring - engineers and designers. jobs [at] tutorspree dot com)

Why I'm Moving Across the Country to Join a new Startup, or, My Move to Tutorspree

Hi everyone!  I’m Paul deGrandis, the latest addition to Tutorspree.  I thought a good way for me to start building a presence in the community would be to share with you where I came from, why I’m excited to join Tutorspree as a software engineer, and what I have planned moving forward.  I’m not going to make any promises, but I’m willing to bet this tale will be at least as captivating as Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in a runaway love roller coaster.  Hearts will swoon and eyes will light up with excitement, I’m just sayin’.

How did I get here?

Tutorspree isn’t my first startup or even my first marketplace.  When I was fifteen, I worked for a small startup called SilverCloud Software (later Retrieve).  I worked to build out a Java-based knowledgebase system that automated the most common customer-service requests for companies.  This was in the heyday of search innovations and this rich experience taught me two very important lessons about myself:

  1. I LOVE working in startups
  2. I enjoy crunching through data.  There are great possibilities when you can bend and visualize data to empower your users.

I left SilverCloud Software and made my way to Drexel University to major in Software Engineering, all the while still prototyping apps for potential startups on the side.  I began working in research labs at Drexel full time, feverishly publishing research papers.  I was excited by the ability to push technology to the limits.  There’s an exhilarating feeling unlike anything else when you know you just discovered something completely new and your eyes were the very first to ever see it.  This cemented a personal life lesson: Always continue to push yourself to learn more and never stop asking questions.

While still at school I moved up to New York City and began working for Etsy.  Working at Esty was SO much fun and the employees were all brilliant, vibrant people.  Everyone was passionate about their work.  The company culture was absolutely amazing, focused equally on working hard and playing hard.  It was the first time I experienced a startup go through rapid growth in both users and employees and the first time I worked for a company that really felt like a family.  I learned a lot here, but most importantly:

  1. Do what your passionate about.
  2. A really great product is built on a really great vision and solid execution.  Really great engineering execution comes from really great software engineering practices.

I left Etsy to start my own company, OurShelf, a social cataloging site.  The idea was simple: capture all the items someone owns and all the people they know, and then use that to empower the user with better recommendations, more meaningful trusted reviews, and total item management.  This was my first time as both CEO - where I worked heavily on the business side - and engineer where I was still filling out the technical vision and execution.  OurShelf was really the culmination of all my thoughts about using data mining to produce a great user experience and product.  More than anything I learned: It takes a lot to make a business successful.

For the last year, I’ve been living in Oregon and working for PushButton Labs.  At PushButton, I was building out cutting edge game technology to fuel the next generation of social games.  It was fun because I was able to learn a new problem domain (the game industry) and it felt as if I was working in a commercial research and development lab.

I left PBL to join Tutorspree.

Why did I make the jump to Tutorspree?

I’m passionate about helping people, knowledge transfer, learning, education, and building really great communities and products.  The founders of Tutorspree all have a great sense of vision across the entire business. Their record of solid execution speaks for itself, and they’re all stellar, stand-up guys.

They’ve done an amazing job getting to where they are today and I feel like I can really help them grow the community and the product to exciting, new levels.  We all share a very similar outlook on how to best push companies forward, we all love metrics and data, and we’re all passionate about fixing education.  The team, the individuals, the product, and the community really embody all of the core lessons and beliefs that I’ve acquired on my journey to where I am today.

In a brief sentence: Tutorspree is the perfect opportunity for me, and I’m excited to roll up my sleeves and do something great.

Moving forward

Moving forward I have a series of customer, community, and internal goals I’d like to achieve, some of which you’ve already seen start to happen.

I believe our tutors should be able to:

  1. Easily brand and market themselves.  Tutors should be able to pull their clientele in from any outside source they want to.  They should be able to easily advertise, promote, and brand themselves.  Tutorspree should provide the tools to enable our tutors to be better and more effective tutors.
  2. Easily get support, materials, and guidance from our growing community as well as the Tutorspree team.
  3. Feel like Tutorspree enables and empowers them to teach others in way that is unique and special to Tutorspree

I believe those seeking to be taught should be able to immediately find the best tutor for their learning style, with the learning materials that will work best for them.  I believe they should feel the warmth of our community, while still feeling they’re getting a unique experience.

I want all of our users to help shape the product and have a direct hand in making Tutorspree the best possible product for them.

Internally, I want to bring Tutorspree’s engineering process to the next level.  I want metrics the whole team can understand, that will clearly show our engineering and business efforts are driving real, measurable value to our customers.  I want to revamp Tutorspree’s architecture and infrastructure to support rapid innovation and stupid-easy scaling.  I want every member of the team to have a hand in the engineering process.

I can’t thank the team enough for bringing me on board and the community for welcoming me.

Keep on learning, keep on teaching, keep on asking questions.

… and yes I’ll be tutoring programming languages and general software engineering.  Think you might want a lesson?  Check out my private tutor profile (on Tutorspree) or my personal blog to see if there’s something I can teach you!

Paul deGrandis

if {Smarter AND Harder AND Faster} then TRUE else FAIL

I was a huge fan of Ducktales growing up. I can still sing the majority of the intro song, recall most of the characters, and was always willing to allow for the physical impossibility of both Scrooge’s ability to swim through money and the existence of Duckburg as a city where dogs and various billed fowl lived in cross-species harmony.

The really interesting thing about the show, looking back, is the perfect embodiment of the Horatio Alger ideal in Scrooge McDuck. In fact, He seems to have been a thinly veiled stand in for Andrew Carnegie - a poor Scottish lad who made good through his wits and work.

As a kid, of course, there was always the repeated message told in Scrooge’s origin story: Work Smarter, not Harder (he discovers this while earning money as a shoeshine…there’s a great scene with a bicycle powered shoeshine device, but more on that another time), and success and riches will follow. But now I’m actually running my own company, and the lie of Scrooge’s words becomes obvious.

Much as I try, working smarter as opposed to harder is never a clear trade off. More than that, smarter isn’t necessarily what I made it out to be. Oftentimes, clever is a much better categorization of what we have to do - from prioritization decisions on features to design choices, to customer interaction methods. And even if you’re as clever as can be, you still have to work harder.

And then, of course, there’s the fact that even if you’re working smarter, you still have to work harder. And harder isn’t the only other piece of the equation. Harder is, I guess, a measure of time spent times the difficulty of that task (T*D). But the real issue is how fast you can do it. Throughput ((T*D)^RPM), in this kind of an environment is critical because, odds are, there’s someone else just as smart, clever, and hard working as you out there, so you need to keep one step ahead all the time. You can’t do that by working hard on lateral problems, you can only do it by solving the problems that are absolutely necessary to getting that next customer, and to keeping the majority of the ones you already have.

If anything, Scrooge was selling it easy. That’s fine, because he could swim through solid matter. I’m not so lucky, so I am constantly working with Josh and Ryan to figure out how to figure out what we need to do next, and how to execute on it without killing the 20 other things we have to do. That challenge has only gotten bigger as we’ve started to grow, and it’s only going to get bigger as we grow some more.

I’m ready for it.

Killing your startup while looking smart: Half Measure Syndrome

Aaron is a cofounder of Tutorpsree, and a tutor. He writes about what we’ve learned and how it influences what we do. This post originally ran in TechCrunch.

In the wide world of startups, we mostly like to think of ourselves as go-getters, ass kickers, “in all the way” sorts. We also like to think of ourselves as tinkerers, rapid iterators who test unceasingly. But the combination of those two traits can lead to one of the most dangerous cycles in startup - half measure syndrome (HMS).

Interestingly, HMS starts off as something very intelligent - the team does not want to commit to a single strategy until it can prove that that strategy will create the hockeystick. When controlled and focused, that impulse is an excellent driver of evolution, but when not properly grounded in the reality of where you are, it becomes quite dangerous.

Steve Blank (arguably the inventor of the rapid iteration philosophy as applied to launching a startup) did an incredible job illustrating the dangers of HMS in a post he wrote about a former student who, despite having achieved product market fit, refused to commit his full resources on the found solution - preferring to continue iterating in the belief that something bigger was hopefully around the corner. Looking at his bank account and fearing the prospect of it dwindling to zero, he became locked in a potential death spiral - continually pitching halfsies that did not go anywhere, more desperate each time, rather than committing to the seemingly proven if not 100% certain results already seen.

That mental state makes a lot of sense to me. It is, to a large degree, driven by fear of failure - and not just of your idea. As we build companies, we continually create buy-in from stakeholders - be they friends, family, colleagues, investors, or admirers. That faith in our ability to succeed is, at surface, driven by the particular success of a product. To risk the failure of that product, without the potential recourse of “but we haven’t tried everything” is terrifying. At it’s heart, it would mean that, fundamentally, you, as a founder, fell short of a goal that others thought you were capable of achieving. HMS allows a founder to continually list things that have not been tried in total, to believe in the savior lodged around the corner which they’ll get to before they run out of time. Paradoxically, that faith means that you will likely never uncover that secret - if it does exist (and very rarely is there a single silver bullet for any company). Committing halfway fundamentally means that you will not fully understand any piece of that halfsies strategy. It means that, should the strategy fail, you will not fully understand the reason for it. While, in some instances, that may mean you avoid a number of bad roads, it will also mean that your ability to identify the right road will be materially decreased.

Then how, really, can you identify whether or not you are pursuing verifiable tests, or are simply caught by HMS? Fundamentally, I believe the answer is in how you approach testing, in the type of framework you build around it. Tests are not half measures when they are designed to prove individual pieces of an overall hypotheses (can I get to 500 tutors in NYC?). Keeping a conscious eye of what the point of a test or iteration is, not just to itself, but to your overall plan and mission (how building a certain number of tutors in a given area influences student activity and community creation, rather than just the number of tutors) removes the halfsies quality of a test. Rather than continually shifting a business strategy to reflect the results of a single test, aggregating data across a set of them, and altering your strategy accordingly creates consistent momentum for your company where the success or failure are equally useful.

Within that framework, there need to be set decision points - moments where you predetermine that, based on given sets of data, you will make a decision. This is, in truth, the most important aspect of not falling to HMS. Create whatever forcing function you need around those decision points - whether a giant whiteboard, a commitment to your cofounders or employees, or an agreement with your investors or board. At each stage, map out what your confidence interval is/will be. Know whether or not you need complete data on any single iteration to make a decision, or if the aggregate will suffice. And when that decision comes, make the hard choices necessary. Get advice on those decisions if you can, but make the decision. Don’t push it off because, now that it is here, it is scary - that’s what HMS does. Take the most objective POV you can, and go. Because, fundamentally, your most dangerous enemy at a startup is time, not any single decision. Every minute you spend not deciding is a minute you’re not learning and not evolving. It may feel like being intelligently deliberate, but it might very well behalf measure syndrome.

Противоположное мышление от Y Combinator


Противоположное мышление от Y Combinator

В качестве инвестора я осваивал уроки одной из самых быстрорастущих сфер рынка.

Чтобы создать что-то абсолютно новое, что-что, что мир еще не видел, необходимо мыслить в противоположном направлении.

Peter Thiel, со основатель Paypal’а, один из самых всемирно известных инвесторов венчурного капитала, говорит, вы знаете, что на правильном пути, когда можете объяснить то, чем занимаетесь примерно так: «люди думают что это ТАК, но на самом деле это совсем НЕТАК.

Когда Brian Chesky, Joe Gebia и Nate Blecharczyk создавали свой Airbnb, мир был совсем другим: нельзя было и представить что нормальные люди захотят сдавать свой дом или комнату в нём в аренду незнакомцам.

Мы видели сотни идей, охватывающий практически все сферы жизни. И единственное, в чем они были схожи, это природа противоположности. Рассмотрим более детально две таких компании.Tutorspree и FlightCar.
Tutorspree: программа не может решить все разногласия.

Tutorspree «выпустились» из Y Combinator зимой 2011. Изначально, цель компании была простой: находить репетиторов по требованиям заказчиков, чаще всего родителей. Компания добавила функции общения, оплаты и начала наблюдать.

В какой-то степени это был успех, но команда столкнулась с проблемой, что необходимая информация не появлялась, и вообще всё заканчивалось на начальном этапе.

Команда разработчиков нашла простое решение. Через сайт можно работать до того момента, пока кто-то не захочет забронировать репетитора. После этого разговор становиться телефонным. И уже далее представитель Tutorspree помогает заказчикам совершить все дальнейшие шаги.

FlightCar: преодоление запрета.
FlightCar: Y Combinator «выпустил» FlightCar зимой 2013 с концептом предоставить людям бесплатную парковку в аэропорту путем сдачи их машин в аренду, пока сами владельцы будут отсутствовать.

Компания начала работать в феврале, доставляя клиентов «от двери до двери». Однако препятствия появились сразу же: аэропорт Сан-Франциско отправил предписание прекратить и повторно не заниматься этой деятельностью, т.к у компании отсутствовала лицензия. Выход был простым: компания взамен арендовала черные лимузины для трансферов, также выводя сервис на новый уровень.

Airbnb, Tutorspree и FlightCar доказали, что природа противоположности – необходимое составляющее успеха. Компании столкнулись с сопротивлением как на теоретическом уровне (сработает ли это?), так и на уровне воплощения идеи (позволят ли нам этим заниматься?). Но, не смотря на всё это, эти компании воплощали свои идеи и создавали ПО, чтобы преодолеть сопротивление и показать, что всё на самом деле не так, как привыкли люди.

Tutorspree Adds $800K From Resolute.VC & Others To Help Students Find Better Local Tutoring

#SuryaRay #Surya Tutorspree has been quiet of late, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still plugging away on its mission to make high-quality, local tutors in any subject accessible to any student – or finding continued interest from investors along the way. According to its Form D filing with SEC, Tutorspree recently closed on a new round of financing that appears to add an additional $1.9 million to its coffers. Co-founder Aaron Harris tells us that, in fact, the startup has closed on a new $800K in financing, which is part of a larger, ongoing round that will see it add approximately $2.2 million in new capital. http://dlvr.it/2yn07g @suryaray


^ What do they do?

A marketplace for tutors and clients.

Why are they special?

  1. Every tutor undergoes Tutorspree’s background check and internal screening
  2. Tutorspree will refund a customer’s first lesson if they are dissatisfied with the service
  3. Divert agencies and offer educators more direct access to potential clientele

Are they funded?

SV Angel, Founder Collective, Sequoia, Lerer Ventures, Thrive Capital seed ($1MM)

Who are their comps?

TutorLinker, WyzAnt

How do I find them?

Website / CrunchbaseTwitter / Facebook

What else can you tell me?

Tutorspree operates on a per-lesson commission basis. 

Scale means never having to say you're sorry?

AT&T had me locked in as a customer the other day. As far as I knew - following quite a lot of research on the interwebs - they were my only choice for broadband. I had just spent an hour getting bounced around by Comcast (including one woman who sounded like a Russian expat living in Delhi) before being told they could not help me. So, I surrendered to the less good DSL being promised by ATT.

Which is where they totally screwed up. I spent 45 minutes trying to get to a real person, but the website runs in circles, and there are no numbers to call. So I drove to an ATT store (to get DSL in my house). I waited for 30 minutes, and started tweeting my displeasure - which led to very nice and totally ineffectual responses from ATT. Fast forward to my discovery that, not only can ATT not deliver the faster version of DSL to my apartment (1.5mbps max down is what I’m offered), but they can’t “install” it until February 8. Install, mind you, meaning someone at a remote location pushes a button.

So I said fine, angrily, and then talked to the previous tenants and neighbors and discovered a much better solution.

This isn’t meant just as a rant against some of the worst customer service I have ever seen. It’s meant more as a cautionary example of what scale often does to customer service organizations. A lot of what we do at Tutorspree as it relates to customer service will be hard to scale. And, as you get larger, inertia can convince you that you don’t have to service your customers in a quality way. But to that line of thinking, I point out Dell. Once the pinnacle of their industry, and the best customer service around, they lost their customers in large part by treating them like crap.

We have a challenge - maintain that quality of service and interaction (5 different tutors thanked me today for prompt/good responses to questions) while continuing to grow. I haven’t yet figured out how we do that, but I’m sure as hell going to keep trying.