Wesley Sanders

Taking Education Personally

We talked to Wesley Sanders (Economics and Politics 2011) who told us about how his new business, Athena Tuition ltd., aims to match students to tutors and about what he hopes to achieve in the future.

What does your company do?

Our company, Athena Tuition ltd. (www.athenatuition.co.uk) connects top quality private tutors of academic subjects with parents and students who need their services.  We recruit, interview, DBS check and select recent graduates or established teachers who have a passion and flair for teaching in a one to one setting. Then after being contacted by parents or students who need a tutor, we select and put them in touch with the best-suited tutor. From this, we earn a commission on the lessons which take place. Right now we’re based in London but we’re planning to expand to new cities very soon!

How did you first come up with your idea?

After graduation, I was living and teaching in China on a British council programme for a year, and I saw the magnitude of demand for individual one to one teaching (for me in China this was mostly focused on teaching English).

The year after I had return to the UK and I worked for a software startup in London. Whilst here me and my business partner Nelson Lo (also an Exeter graduate) both started to tutor in London on the side of our jobs. However, we were unimpressed by the service offered to individual tutors, from payment delays to poor communication, a lack of technology utilisation and old-fashioned offline management. We could see that London had a unique combination of clusters of top universities, top schools, large numbers of students and an excellent transport infrastructure to enable tutors to help many students easily. We knew the opportunity was there, but wouldn’t last forever, so we jumped for it!

How did you begin to develop your idea once you had thought of it?

The first thing we did was to research the industry, from how it worked, to how tutors got jobs, rates of pay etc.
The next goal, aside from building a website, was recruiting tutors in large numbers, which is always a goal of ours. Initially we started with our contact books, but I’m happy to say after a lot of work we now have had over 700 applications, 250 of which are approved tutors with us.

The next major piece in the puzzle was working out how to generate a flow of clients at cost effective rates.

What were the toughest challenges to overcome when setting up your own business?

The toughest challenges initially in the business were probably getting online pay per click advertising working in a cost effective way, and organising and keeping tabs on lessons before we used software to do that. Doing it the old fashioned way initially was the right way to start, we then learned what really needed to be automated!

Where do you hope to see your company in a year’s time?

In a year’s time, we want Athena to be a UK-wide company, in multiple cities, not just London.

We are also strongly moving into linked fields like home-schooling provision and education consultancy.

We also have our own tutor search site which is up and running, offering a purely online way to find tutors yourself alongside our agency.

What would be your top tips for people thinking of setting up their own businesses?

  • Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons: i.e. because you’re actually passionate about seeing your ideas come to reality and providing a product or service to people
  • Success usually goes to those that work hardest for it, so put the hours in… (This makes the above tip more important - it’s too hard to force yourself to put in the hours if you don’t love what it is you’re doing!)
  • Try as many strategies as you can - some will work and some won’t – but you really won’t know until you try - (for example we tried many methods of marketing to parents, but one turned out to work so well it brings in more than the others combined.) Experiment, especially at the beginning.

Date: 26 June 2015

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