Kyle Dodds. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Kyle Dodds. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Finding the right tutor at the right price for a schoolgoing child can be a daunting task for parents. Cognition.Online, a mobile app-based service bridging the gap between student and tutor, makes it easy. Using the app, parents can request a tutor for a specific time and day. Tutors in the area respond by submitting a bid, stating their hourly fee, says Kyle Dodds, founder of Cognition.Online.

It’s yet another example of the power of technology, used to link service providers with clients.

The model is similar to the one adopted by ride-sharing service Uber.

Tutors are put through a rigorous selection process. “They must also have a degree or prove proficiency in the subject they are studying, and need to have a driver’s licence.”

And in another overlap with Uber, students are required to rate their tutors, says Dodds. “It allows us to weed out poor tutors.”

Dodds, a 24-year-old civil engineer, learnt the ropes running his own tutoring business while studying at the University of Pretoria. Coping with demand was his big problem. “The admin got out of control and I had to do what no businessman likes doing: turn away customers,” says Dodds. “The solution was to automate.”

Armed with a business plan, he convinced his university friends to become unpaid equity partners with the aim of building a business free of debt.

Officially launched in August, Cognition.Online got off to a strong start. “Over 200 tutors registered in the first two months alone,” says Dodds.

For tutors a big attraction is a flat fee of just under R50/lesson payable to the firm. “Because of the complete automation of our business, we can charge less than our competitors,” says Dodds. “They have costly admin overheads.”

Parents are eager users of the tutoring service. Not the least of its attractions is the absence of a contract committing customers to a compulsory number of lessons.

It makes marketing the service a cinch. “Parents are quick to tell friends and family about us,” says Dodds.

The new mobile tutoring service proved a big hit at the recent Digital Education Show Africa.

“No-one could believe we had developed it entirely in SA,” says Dodds. “Among those expressing keen interest was [private school owner] AdvTech.”

The five partners want to extend the service to university students. They also have a plan to reach underprivileged students, using a different approach. It will involve workshop sessions in which tutors will be responsible for assisting 10 students at a time. Two corporates have already expressed interest in sponsoring workshops, says Dodds.

“We want to go international eventually,” says Dodds. “But our roots will always remain firmly in SA.”

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