Monday, 3 August 2015

RISE Conference

Our team went for the exhibition in the RISE conference organized by Web Summit. It was fruitful to learn from entrepreneurs and investors in the community. During this event, we demoed our newborn product, Tutormy, which is a mobile market place for tutors and students to meet and communicate.

Some highlights:

Regarding products:

We visited most educational related product booths during the event. There are basically three types of products in the market.

  • Dashboard management system for schools to better manage their internal resources, including teachers, students, courses, etc. The system also serve as a engagement tool for schools to communicate with parents and other relevant entities. Most teams who are doing this kind of B2B systems are mostly working on domestic markets(spotted some teams from Delhi and one from Philippines). Some have already been quite established and looking for new opportunities(Found one Norwegian company).
  • Marketplaces. There is a HK based startup with a similar idea as us but working in a purely web based system. As marketplaces, we keep record of the transactions and take commissions out of that. That's a proven model. However, no global dominated tuition market places exist yet in the market. Honestly, this kind of web based system has already been there for a long time. A guy from Yahoo visited the booth claiming that he created a similar platform 7 years ago. There are quite a few tuition agency websites coming into the market every month from Singapore, let alone elsewhere in the world. What makes us different? For us, our key selling point is the #1 mobile market place in Southeast Asia. For the HK team, their key selling point is a better web user experience compared to some existing ones. 
  • Content providers. I did spotted some companies being more content driven. An educational game design company from Latvia, a physical education data visualisation company from UAE, etc.
Why there are still no dominating marketplaces for the tuition industry? There are a few reasons in my mind:

  • Tuition market is pretty localised in different places, a universal online experience may not be enough to scale, further localisations need to get involved to fit into a specific market.
  • The fundamental experience is to find tutors and pay tuition fees. The online experience may not be as superior compared to the offline experience, i.e., online/mobile payments may not be so convenient as the offline.
  • Either the tech side for the tuition marketplace is just too easy to be replicated, or the game changing techs still haven't been properly utilised to make a big difference.

Regarding investments:

Honestly, there are not many investment companies or individual investors dropping by to booths. Most of them just assign some staffs to collect namecards and have a short conversation. There are some collaboration programs such as InvestHK which provides a bridge to help overseas startups to grow in HK.

Thankfully, I still got some interesting advises from some top investors. A Senior Goldman Sachs partner commented that the idea is good but the business model needs to get fine tuned and tested out. A Senior Paypal Braintree director suggested us to get the payment transaction integrated as soon as possible and try to test the tier commission model. Back in Singapore, I also received some critical advises from an investor in Sequoia. His suggestion is that the star tutors in our platform would be the key ingredients if we are to compete with others.

Regarding ideas and vision:

Honestly, I did learnt a lot during this event. I think bigger and more clear about how we can possibly enter into bigger markets. I deliberately talk to some Southeast Asia education startups to see potential collaborations. There are some in my namecard list: Indonesia,Philippines,Thailand, etc. However, those who come to us seeking for collaborations are mostly startups from 1. India 2. Taiwan 3. HK.

I visited my HK friend in Google and he's very interested to help explore the HK market. I think we may add some features gathered from HK in the product refinery stage in the next 2 iterations.

During this event, quite a number of smart people approaches us. Some includes an educator from MIT, a Stanford graduate, a Cambridge graduate, a Princeton graduate.

Two thoughts blow up my mind:

The educator from MIT shared his opinions regarding teaching. He believes the randomness in the offline community is very difficult to replicate. However, that's the essential of learning and teaching. Most schools teach students to be better employees, but a great school should empower the students to be better self learners and leaders. An interesting example he proposed is that a teacher spotted a very intelligent student in the classroom/school, he can encourage and inspire the student to be more motivated. The student can be a better self-learner and possibly become a next Nobel Prize winner. The point of this example is to highlight the importance of a community with intellectual students and teachers. The random connection between a teacher and a student make the whole experience magical and amazing.

The Princeton graduate who's currently working as an intern in J.P. Morgan also highlighted some very interesting points. Her first two questions are: "What makes a super good startup and why startups fail?" My answers to these two questions:"Stats shows 90%+ startups fail because of cash flow. However, most important thing is still the team. To be a super good startup, team is not the only thing, the vision determines how far the startup can go." She only cares about the vision part, since her question is to create a "super good" startup, not a normal startup. She's very interested to creating a great education company that's fundamentally change how people learn and think. That's a big vision and she can really sell. We had a further discussion regarding how we can possibly collaborate together. Let's see whether we can bring our project steps ahead.














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