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Tuesday 7th August 2018

In this Q&A we hear from the masterminds behind Sheffield based Start-up - Tutorful. The platform revolutionising the Tuition world. Here, founders Mark and Scott tell us more about how they got their idea off of the ground, challenges they have faced, achievements and plans for the future. Read more below...

First off here's little bit about the founders...

Scott Woodley: COO & Co-Founder
Scott began his career in Sheffield and graduated from the University of Sheffield with a Masters in Law. From here, Scott went on to become a primary school teacher, and after a period of consideration left to become a private tutor. Being greatly oversubscribed in that role, he came up with the idea for Tutorful to provide a trusted network of local tutors. 

Mark Hughes: CEO & Co-Founder 
Having studied Structural Engineering at the University of Cambridge, Mark went on the spend several years as a Technology Analyst in the finance industry working for a large investment firm in Edinburgh. Mark taught himself to code in his spare time, which became a great asset during the early days of founding Tutorful. 

What initially sparked the idea to start the Tutorful venture?

Tutorful started in response to problems that Scott faced in his role as a Primary school teacher and then as a tutor. It’s not an exaggeration to say that schools are feeling the pressure of substantial austerity cuts, increased class sizes and tumultuous changes to the curriculum, at a time where the future job market is sizing up to be unpredictable and hugely competitive. The effects of which are felt on teachers and students alike. 

As a teacher Scott was asked by many parents to recommend a private tutor, wanting to ensure that their children were given the best opportunities to succeed. It was difficult to be able to recommend tutors that were reliable, local, qualified, and that weren’t oversubscribed. Eventually leaving his teaching role to become a tutor, these issues were something that Scott continued to struggle with. Being inundated with requests for help resulted in Scott establishing a network of local tutors - the early days of what would become Tutorful. 

With a high tuition workload and struggling to take more students on, Scott was able to refer that work to other tutors trusted tutors in his local network. With Mark’s input the idea snowballed, and they started the process of building Tutorful, an online marketplace connecting parents with tutors. Parents could browse and review the profiles of top-quality tutors, who were specialists at teaching their individual subject areas, at the relevant level and were of close geographical proximity to their students.

Can you tell us more about Tutorful, what it does and who it is aimed at?
Tutorful connects parents across the UK with the very best private tutors for their children, bringing transparency to an industry that has previously lacked in trust, openness, clarity and security. 

We operate as a marketplace that helps parents to find the best local tutors for one-to-one tuition, either face to face, or via our innovative online classroom. With over 10,000 tutors covering 300+ subjects, and catering for early years all the way up to PhD level, site users can freely browse and review profiles of top-quality tutors based on subject area, level and proximity to their post code.

For tutors, Tutorful provides an opportunity to advance their private tuition businesses. Tutors no longer need to rely on ads in the Yellow Pages or signs in shop windows - Tutorful helps them to create detailed and beautiful profiles showcasing their qualifications, subject expertise, academic history and personality, which are advertised to thousands of potential students every week. The platform then supports Tutors to manage communication with potential students, arrange locations and times to meet, and then handles all payment transactions.

Being a growing start-up business, what challenges have you encountered so far and how have you overcome them?
Going from a 2 person startup, to company that now employs 30 members of staff is not without its challenges. The biggest identifiable challenge to starting Tutorful has been facilitating the successful scale up. Scaling up and increasing growth rests fundamentally on the ability to communicate those aspirations to an ever increasing team, and effectively prioritise interdepartmentally.

It was a challenge to move on from only having to consider a very small number of roles within the company, to setting up departments with niche specialisms. Our rapid and sustained growth has meant we had to rethink the way our team worked, and subsequently systems were implemented that gave ownership and responsibility to the departments. 

You were one of the proud winners at last year’s Northern Stars Grand Final. How did you find the Northern Stars process? And how has it helped the growth of Tutorful so far?
Northern Stars was a fantastic competition to be involved in and we were delighted to be named as one of the top 10 startups.

The process itself was hugely enjoyable, from meeting local founders during the regional finals to having the opportunity to introduce the business to a large new audience. During the events which have followed, we've gained further press coverage and had lots of opportunities to learn from new connections made.

As a founder, the most enjoyable and useful result is getting to know other founders, who you can turn to discuss shared problems. We've been fortunate enough to get guidance on hiring and marketing, as well as being able to share what we learn about building a happy, successful team.

What would your advice be to other start-up businesses looking to get their business off the ground?

Prioritisation of resources and where to place your focus is key at the initial startup phase and continues once you move into growth. As a new business owner there will always be a million and one things you could be doing or thinking about, so setting out a clear roadmap for the business and prioritising where your energy goes is super important. This also allows you to iterate rapidly on new ideas or initiatives which have the potential to scale upwards without getting bogged down with details or becoming overencumbered with too much at once.

What do you think are the biggest barriers are in terms of growth for start-ups at the moment?

From our experience growing Tutorful, we’ve personally experienced a couple of barriers for startup growth that can be a real struggle to overcome. First is the intense saturation of new businesses across so many industries. Consumers are spoilt for choice like never before so the challenge here is in building brand loyalty and giving consumers a fantastic reason to keep coming back, rather than switching around between whoever’s offering them the best opportunity in that given moment. Those startups who solve the challenge of customer churn and keeping their retention rates high are sure to see improved, and faster, rates of growth.

The second hurdle is the lure of the capital. So many of the big-tech companies and up-and-comers are based in and around London, meaning the lion's share of tech-talent and investment opportunity naturally gravitates there too. This is one we’re still figuring out, but something we’re definitely seeing is a growing sense of loyalty to the North and the burgeoning tech scene here from everyone involved in its development. 

You’re based in Sheffield. What is it about Sheffield that makes it a great destination for tech start-ups?
Sheffield is a fantastic city for all sorts of startups, not just those operating within the tech sector. There’s a flourishing entrepreneurial scene here supported by a host of great local businesses, two brilliant universities and networks like Sheffield Digital and Startup Weekend. Being in close proximity to Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle also connects Sheffield directly with other northern startup hubs, with easy access to their networks and talent.

What would you have liked to achieve by the end of 2018 at Tutorful?
We’ve got ambitious plans for the remainder of 2018! Alongside maintaining our fantastic growth trajectory, we’re releasing our first mobile apps, designed to help our tutors manage their lesson bookings, schedules and earnings more easily.

We’re also working on enhancing our online tuition offering. There are huge benefits to moving traditional face-to-face services like tuition into a digital format - reduced operating costs and zero travel for tutors, instant access to learning materials like past papers and video content, and of course the ability for students to review recordings of their sessions to aid with revision. As digital transformation evolves, we’re making sure to be at the forefront of its place in the tuition industry over the coming years.

Follow more of the Tutorful journey over at their Twitter page here. Visit them at their website here.
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