Youth Canada

TutorJam: Birth of an Online Education Start-up

28-11-2008 by Nathan Arora

TutorJam: Birth of an  Online Education Start-up

TutorJam embodies the vision of a team of talented individuals who set out to make a difference in the world of education. Without a formalized business plan in hand, they put together a spirited team to tackle the challenge of using technology to facilitate access to education. I had the chance to sit down with and interview Nathan Arora, a founding member of TutorJam and, at present, it’s Vice-President of Sales & Marketing.

Tell me, what is TutorJam?
TutorJam is our team’s vision of an e-learning environment where K-12 students can connect with a tutor, anytime, 24/7, to get one-on-one homework help in math, science, English, and social studies. Instead of commuting to a tutoring center, students can visit to launch our no-download, e-learning platform in their web browser, and get personalized homework help from their tutor. Students and tutors communicate over two-way audio, optional video, shared whiteboard and instant messaging.

How did you come up with the idea of an online learning company?
There are a few companies offering online tutoring services but we thought that their technology and educational offering were lacking on many counts. As a team of experienced educators and software engineers from the University of Waterloo, we knew we could do much better. We used our experience honed at leading technology companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Texas Instruments and developed a substantial and feature-rich environment for online education of students.

So was TutorJam’s story the “typical start-up” that began in a garage?
Sort of - TutorJam was basically a loud quad-core server sitting in my living room where I spent many evenings toying and tinkering with prototypes. Meanwhile, our management team created a compelling business model. When we were satisfied with the preliminary prototype and convinced that we had a solid business case, our management chipped in the necessary funds to set-up an office in Waterloo to work on the engineering aspects, educational content, and sales.

You hear about all these new Web 2.0 type start-ups that are building social networks and communities. How is TutorJam different?
TutorJam is about delivering a service – in this case, tutoring – more efficiently. Our business model is simple: students can purchase tutoring plans at a much, much lower cost than those of conventional tutoring centers, and get tutoring help when and where they want it. Unlike the new generation of start-ups, many with cool technologies and services, the business model we employ is quite simple and can be explained to a VC (venture capitalist) rather easily.

Speaking of VCs, is that something that’s on the horizon for TutorJam?
We’re pretty well capitalized right now and are pleased with our current ownership structure and the rate of growth in our tutoring subscriptions. If we do choose to pursue venture capital funding, it’ll have to be with the right partner and with one who is comfortable with our management’s vision.

So what’s next for TutorJam?
We’ve seen that once students see how convenient it is to get exam and homework help on our e-learning platform, they’re hooked and love it! The task for us now is to get the word about our services out to the wider world.

What advice would you give to would-be entrepreneurs?
Start with an idea that you are passionate about and one that can solve a meaningful problem for society. When you have those two elements in place, you can weather the criticism and the challenges you face as you bring your idea to fruition. And the part about solving a meaningful problem in society, well, that will help you solidify your business model – people should be willing to pay you for making their lives easier and richer as a result of your offering.

NATHAN ARORA has over 7 years of engineering experience at technology firms that include Microsoft, Slipstream Data, and Texas Instruments. He has worked extensively with non-profit organizations including Hopelink, United Way and St. Andrews Housing Group in advisory and entrepreneurial roles. He holds a Bachelor's in Math and Economics from the University of Waterloo, a Master's of Science from the University of Washington and is, at present, an MBA candidate at Duke University.

TutorJam offers 24/7 online, one-on-one tutoring programs in math, science, English, and social studies for students in K-12, AP and college levels. All tutoring programs include regular progress reports to parents, 360° tutor-student rating and analytic features that track student progress and identify their strengths and areas for improvement. TutorJam also offers After-School Homework Help and Supplemental Educational Services (SES) to school districts, libraries and non-profit organizations.
Toll Free: 1-877-I-JAM-NOW (452-6669)