First published on entree.sg.
Tuition is one of the most competitive education services in Singapore. Kiasuism of the parents could be the reason why tuition services continue to thrive over the decades. Students in Singapore have two choices when it comes to tuition. They can visit a tuition centre where it normally hosts a large group of students or they can opt for one-to-one home-based tutoring where a qualified tutor will visit a few times a week for a more dedicated learning experience. In this interview, we speak with Samuel Huang, Co-founder of Yodaa, one of the popular online tuition services that match students with tutors who have many years of experience under their belt at an affordable price. Samuel shares how he got Yodaa started, the difficulties he faced and how Yodaa can help parents find their tutors in just 24 hours.
What were you doing when you had a struck of genius and started work on Yodaa?
I’d just got back from Israel on the NUS NOC Israel programme. And started going for interviews for a vocation prior to graduation. One thing that kept coming up at the interviews was what exactly I was doing in Israel all those months. That germinated something; which took root and nudge me from a corporate career pursuit.
How did the idea pop into your mind?
It didn’t actually. We’d systematically comb through various industries and verticals with gaps. There were plenty. Education was one that struck a chord with the three of us. Since we were all part-time teachers at one point, the issues we faced navigating that industry stood salient amongst us. We decided to look more into it.
There is a lot of competition, especially in education. What set Yodaa apart from the rest of the tuition services?
We knew we wanted to start off locally, then target similar demographics in the region. In Singapore, tuition is something parents are well-acquainted with. The externalities driving the industries made it so. So we didn’t really want to change anything, but just took what parents already do today, getting quality word of mouth teacher recommendations, and made it simple. No extra learning curves, no bloated features. Just an extremely simple way to get the teacher they want, while we stay out of the way. We’ve stuck to this minimal approach for the past two years, and realize parents resonated much with it.
What were the challenges faced in building Yodaa and how did you overcome it?
Tonnes. There were validation issues at the start. We needed to know if there was something worth solving here and not something we just wanted to throw technology at because it was in fad. So we got on the ground for months; went to parenting events, visited community libraries, door-to-door at various neighbourhoods. Whatever it took to get feedback and refine our directions, we did.
Then there was also the pertinent issue of getting co-founders who shared both the vision and technical prowess to get a working product up. I’m from a business finance background. So I didn’t know that many people in technical positions from the get-go. To bridge the gap, I volunteered to help out at various startup conventions; pitch at various university modules; and join as many accelerator programmes I could get access to. The idea was to know more people, put me out there, and let those smarter than myself tear the idea (and me) to bits. Perhaps if I was fortunate enough, someone may know someone who may introduce me to someone else. It sounded wishful. It is. But the stars aligned. I found my first co-founder, who together would bring onboard our second co-founder. So together, we assembled a three-person team. Then we got to work.
A couple of months in, we had a working product. We then needed to get the word out. So again, we went out. I contacted and approached over 200 education and enrichment establishments. The goal was to partner and cross advertise with them; online for offline, while keeping our costs and burn rate low. We manage to secure 25 partnerships. And Yodaa got it’s first 2000 customers on board.
Who are your tutors and what’s their background?
Active tutors are always churning. The average teacher teaches between three and six years, so we get new batches every year. We specifically select teachers who are socially adept and academically inclined, with a minimal teaching experience of at least two past students. The goal is we only want experienced teachers on Yodaa, so we hold a line as to who can come on board. So far, most teachers that get accepted are university undergraduates who have prior teaching experience, NIE trained teachers, and other full-time teachers with more than ten years teaching stints.
Is there a specific subject/s that your tutoring services excel in?
English, Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. Most teachers with expertise in those areas come to Yodaa. Parents and students seeking help with these subjects follow suit.
If parents need a tutor for their child, what’s the process like for them to engage Yodaa?
Proceed to www.yodaa.co. Send us a request in a minute. Our algorithms will reach out to relevant tutors. In 24 hours, you will receive up to 5 teacher profiles. Each profile displays a teacher’s past referrals, education background, and rates. We also pass you their contact details. You can then directly reach out to them from there.
What’s next for Yodaa?
We’re looking at moving this service to one other geography with a similar demographic issue. For now, we aim to keep this service simple for all.