Santa Clarita’s budding tech community includes two brothers who have turned their passion for education and entrepreneurial spirit into a company that brings tutors and students together.
Justin and Brett Clark founded WhizTutor, an app available for Apple and Android devices. Parents and students use the app to select a subject, request a tutor, schedule an in-person private tutoring session and meet at an agreed upon location.
The on-demand platform, modeled on Uber and other online markets, helps tutors reach more students, manage their tutoring schedules, and guarantee payment. Each tutoring session costs $40 per hour. Estimates of the size of the in-person tutoring market range from $7 billion to $11 billion.
The online tutoring market in North America is even larger, valued at $25.27 billion last year, according to Technavio, a market research firm based in London. Intense competition among students to secure enrollments in good colleges and universities is a major driver of the global online tutoring market, the firm said in a January 2017 report.
“As more schools build curriculum around workgroups, which is better preparation for how people work once they’re done with school, we’re getting more groups that share the cost of a tutor, taking turns paying for a session,” Clark said.
He said his entrepreneurial bent emerged at an early age. “I’ve always liked and been attracted to the art of business,” he said.
Now 29, he started a small Amazon store in his early 20s, selling inflatable pool accessories made in China. “I would order samples, and ask people what they like, then add it to my store,” he said. Among the lessons he learned was the downside of selling seasonal items, which is that you can’t sell year-round.
Clark said he enjoys the freedom provided by running a startup. “I have more control over my time and my life.”
A few months ago, Clark and his brothers went to New York, where they’d been invited to make a pitch to a venture capital firm about investing in WhizTutor.
The firm made a Series A offer, a term that generally describes a startup company’s first significant round of financing and describes a class of preferred stock.
The Clarks had their local legal counsel review the offer, along with contacts they have at BoomStartup, a Utah-based startup accelerator that provides mentors to emerging tech companies.
Based on that feedback, the Clarks sent proposed new terms back to the venture capital firm, but ultimately did not come to terms both sides could accept.
“The hardest part of running a startup is the time and energy needed to raise the money to bring it to scale,” Justin Clark said.
For the foreseeable future, the Clarks plan to remain in Santa Clarita, but that could change. Potential investors point out the collaborative advantages of larger tech hubs around the country, and ask if the brothers are willing to relocate.
“There are a lot of advantages of physically being in the same workspace,” Clark said. “When fifty or sixty people are shoulder to shoulder, it’s likely that when you run into a problem, one or more of them have faced something similar and have a solution.”
WhizTutor, an app that connects more than 500 tutors in Southern California with students needing extra academic help, was developed by Santa Clarita residents and brothers Justin and Brett Clark. In a recent email exchange with SCVBJ editor Patrick Mullen, co-founder Justin Clark answered questions about the app and steps the company is taking to assure the quality and qualifications of tutors who sign up. This exchange has been lightly edited for clarity.
SCVBJ: I see on the app that tutors list areas of expertise, and some list quite a few. I understand a tutor’s desire to cast a wide net for potential tutees, but how how do you verify those claims of expertise?
JUSTIN CLARK: Brett Clark is in charge of verifying all of our tutors. He has over eleven years tutoring experience as well as two years of teaching at the university level. Every tutor is individually interviewed before being approved. Tutors are asked a series of questions that pertain to subject confidence, résumé overview, areas of expertise and dependability. In some cases, tutors are required to prove knowledge of material by quiz before being approved.
SCVBJ: How has your experience and Brett’s as a tutor shaped WhizTutor?
CLARK: We both tutored growing up. I tutored students in college for extra money. Brett, who still tutors today for WhizTutor, was an extremely gifted and smart student and has always had a knack for helping other students. His years of experience in this industry at almost every grade level gave the WhizTutor team a competitive advantage. We utilized Brett’s knowledge of this market to help build, design, and promote WhizTutor.
SCVBJ: Does tutoring fall under any regulatory body’s aegis?
CLARK: No, unless the student is being tutored in accredited course material designed to help replace or skip a specific course/class.
SCVBJ: Do tutors undergo any kind of background check before being listed on the app?
CLARK: In the beginning, we designed the platform to automatically run background checks on all of our tutors. As we grew, we had an overwhelming number of tutors apply, which made it very costly to run background checks.
Our new system that launches next semester will require the tutor to background check themselves. Tutors that have a certified background check will have a badge on their profile that informs parents and students that the tutee is background checked. Tutors will have the option to run different stages of background checks. For example, tutors can choose to run a live scan background check which is required to teach in the Los Angeles Unified School District or they can run a less invasive background check. Parents and students will be able to choose tutors by their level of background check, price, education and location.
SCVBJ: How did your development team of Jean Paul, John Salzarulo, Gerald Fairclough, and Ryan Rodriguez help get WhizTutor from the idea stage to where you are now, talking to venture capital firms about investing in your next stage of growth?
CLARK: Jean Paul is our graphic designer and front end developer. He studied graphic design at UC Irvine and is a self-taught developer. Jean Paul completely designed the visual look and flow of WhizTutor. He worked side by side with John Salzarulo and Gerald Fairclough, our two software developers.
John Salzarulo, our chief technology officer, has eight years development experience and has worked on developing multiple startups. John developed the complete back end of our system, the application program interface, or API. John created the engine that runs WhizTutor, which performs multiple algorithms and functions to match a user seeking a tutor to nearby tutors based on location, subject, and availability. He also built the platform to handle messaging, auto reminders, notifications and credit card processing. John also developed a full administrative dashboard to give us a bird’s-eye view of what’s going on at any given time so as a team we can quickly mend any issues.
Gerald is our Apple iOS developer. Gerald worked closely with Jean Paul to build his design into a fully functional mobile app.
Ryan Rodriguez is our head of growth and marketing. Ryan recently left his sales job with Tesla to join WhizTutor full time. He manages all marketing campaigns, and he and I work together to help increase our number of users and social interactions, and to improve customer engagement and student/parent satisfaction.
SCVBJ: What is the growth plan for the company? Are you profitable yet?
CLARK: Our vision is to scale our unique approach across the United States. We seek to build a single, dependable platform that will adopted by millions and supported by qualified and dedicated tutors. We recently just opened a second round of seed investment to help us continue to scale WhizTutor.
WhizTutor is projected to be profitable by the end of 2017. At heart, we are an educational technology company and our sights are not limited with just the tutoring industry. We hope to bring other products into the pipeline that will enhance the education experience. One of our current works-in-progress involves the adoption of an instant homework help that will utilize picture messaging and possibly live video. This will be a peer-to-peer platform for last-minute assistance that can be integrated into our mobile and online technologies. That’s just one example of how we can expand our services to acquire even more users. Within ten years, we are confident that our platform will have made a significant positive impact on our educational system.
SCVBJ: Thank you.